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Chaos Theory: Increasing The Secret World's replayability with Issue #8

MJ Guthrie

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The Secret World just keeps getting better and better. While the horror-themed conspiracy game is obvious not perfect (heaven help the rest of the MMOverse if it were!), it is definitely traveling steadfastly along that long, dusty road of improvement. Every time Funcom delves deeper into the lives and plots of The Secret World's denizens by adding to the story, it gets better. Every time new experiences are offered through new missions or features, it gets better. Ditto every time more choice is added through new weapons or customization.

But for all the advancements and added content over the past year, there are a few issues that, when addressed, would get the game really trucking down that road and make for one heck of a ride. Luckily for fans, it just so happens that one of those very issues appears to be getting some attention come Issue #8: replayability. Behold the hope that is scenarios!

Putting a ring around it
All the single games (all the single games)
It's no secret that this particular world has been likened unto a single-player game, where you mosey along enjoying the content the first time through knowing that you really can't go back again. But we are MMO players -- we want to go back again! Many of us want a world that we can stay in and have new experiences on a regular basis as opposed to just a storybook that you finish and then put away until the sequel. If that were the case, we'd be frequenting and playing the single-player games instead of seeking what we desire in massively multiplayer games. And as fans, we want this world to be The Secret World!

What we don't want is to be relegated to redoing the same tasks over and over without variation and no hope of anything different. After all, you know what they say about doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome. But more than that, repetition breeds monotony and boredom. Variety truly is the spice of gaming life; we thrive on it. We crave the excitement of the unknown, the what if. As a species, we have an innate drive to seek out new trials and new experiences. We want to boldly go where we haven't gone before!

Field research -- insanity?So how do you feed this need and keep happy players? Some games address this in part by offering different classes to play with unique stories and quest only available to each class. Want to experience something new? Then go make a new character and try a new class. TSW, however, does not have classes; it is skill based. Wait a minute, you say. What about the different factions? That's actually a sore spot with some players who desperately wanted to see some differentiation between the Illuminati, the Templars, and the Dragons; currently, the only differences are a few faction specific cutscenes, a little variation in the faction quests, and different dialogue on some quest reports. Well, and deck outfits. The potential is there, but it's not realized.

So without classes to provide something different, what does TSW have to keep players from falling prey to boredom in the world they love? Until the recent announcement, not really much. While some might suggest PvP, the current incarnation of that system can get very monotonous before long, not to mention it doesn't help all the folks who don't even want to participate in it. But the May Game Director's letter injects hope that all that may be starting to change. As much as I truly love the idea of snowmobiling, base jumping, and living through more storylines in Issue #7 A Dream to Kill, what captured my heart and my hopes was the part about the upcoming scenario system.

Without a doubt, new content is vital to a game, but there is no possible way a developer can push out enough to keep up with gamers' voracious consumption rate. So the next best thing to weekly content updates is to implement systems that allow for repeated use by integrating variety. In Issue #8, players will get their first taste of just such a system.

While the idea behind the scenarios is that they are training grounds the Council of Venice is using to test players' readiness to go farther into Tokyo, in game terms it is a a solo or group play instance that will offer up random elements to provide a unique situation each time. I swear my heart skipped a beat when I read this:
"These scenarios are designed to be repeatable through the use of certain highly random elements. This means that a scenario will play out differently every time and that players will need to adapt to circumstances on the fly... We hope that the randomness of such elements will bring tactical decision making to the fore and create challenge in these scenarios every time that they are played."
Next, I was served words like dynamic and engaging. By the time I finished reading, I was salivating. Could it be? Could Funcom truly get that all we want is to keep having new experiences in the game we love, to be actively engaged in a dynamic world that isn't completely predictable (after the first run through, of course)? I think it does. I think the devs know that people do love their world and want to be in it. So this is a step toward making TSW a more vibrant and dynamic world. It may be a very small step, but we are assured that they "we will add additional Scenarios at a later date." And I believe they will.

TSW screenshotGo all out!
Now, with that, I also understand that the system may not be nearly as robust in number of scenarios at its release as I would hope; I am trying to temper my enthusiasm for it a bit. In fact, I'm glad the devs are taking their time to implement this new system (and even glad they teased us with it to build our excitement even though I don't really want to wait) because I want them to take their time and really build it up instead of coming out with only a couple variations of possibilities embedded in each scenario that go stale after just a handful of playthroughs.

Preferably, each scenario will ultimately have a list of like 25 different possibilities, and each time it runs it randomly draws maybe three from the list. That gives 13,800 possibilities! Heck, even a list of 10 gives 720 choices. And start adding multiple scenarios to that. Ooo ya, there's a lot of replayability right there. Just please devs, don't go at this half-heartedly and release with only a tiny list of random possibilities.

If done well, scenarios will be a big step toward increasing the replay value of The Secret World. They will keep players playing longer, which of course is better for the population and ultimately the game's bottom line. There are certainly other ways to increase replayability (scenario mode dungeons perhaps?), but that conversation will have to be left for another time. For now, I am going to go start counting the months until we can get Issue #8 and be very thankful that I'll have Issue #7 to distract me for a while.

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ every Monday as she infiltrates The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. Heard some juicy whispers or have a few leads you want followed? Send them to and she'll jump on the case!

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