I may be a lifetime member of The Secret World, but more than that, I am a lifetime fan! Why? It's not because I live and breathe the game; I don't need to play daily for hours on end to truly appreciate its qualities and what it brings to the MMOverse. But there are plenty of reasons that TSW has earned my loyalty, not the least of which is demonstrated in Joel Bylos' recent game director letter. Tucked in between talk of the 2014 content and the upcoming improved new player experience is this little gem: The team intends to open Tokyo up to all players! Beyond the story and the events, it is how the team constantly focuses on bringing customers a genuine experience that remains true to the spirit of the game. Is everything about The Secret World perfect? Not at all. There's plenty of room for improvement and added content. But I feel confident in the direction, and the following reasons are why I will continue to champion this gem.
Let's start with the obvious. TSW is awesome because of the setting! If you are a horror fan or conspiracy nut, there's no better MMO! Sure there are other games out there to satisfy those itches, but how many of those allow you to wander the world with friends? The Secret World is unique in the fact that it brings a whole new genre to the MMO table. And not only does it set a place for fans, it provides a delectable meal with hearty portions of just what fans are hungry for.
Setting-wise, TSW is top notch at creating the appropriate atmosphere, from sights and sounds to people to places. The ambiance is unparalleled; I've never had another MMO keep me poised on the edge of my seat with my nerves frayed as I anticipate what is around the next corner. And I love it! No other game draws me in and makes me feel as if I am there like TSW.
On top of that, TSW remains true to that setting. The whole look and feel of the game is not cast aside for the sake of holidays or new content; instead, each addition fits into the world.
After carefully crafting the world, the developers show their dedication to the game by researching and take pains to make sure things are true to the setting; nowhere is this seen more abundantly than in the Halloween and Christmas holiday events. Instead of just throwing in something whimsical and light-hearted (as we see in many other titles), TSW digs down into the darker lore of our world and pulls out appropriately themed celebrations. They feel like a real part of the world, not just something tacky tacked on. And the fact that the events are getting better and better each year -- not just adding an extra goody to all the same old tasks -- goes a long way toward ramping up my enthusiasm for the game! I honestly can't wait to see what Funcom comes up with next year.
Part of what is so great about the Halloween and Christmas events is the story behind them. There is just no denying that TSW does story well. Maybe not every storyline throughout the game is monumental or intricately involved, but many are phenomenal. And even the smallest ones are woven into the overall fabric in some way. The fact that so much is tied together, and that little gems are sprinkled about just waiting to be found is a valuable asset -- it makes me want to ensure that I do every mission and poke into every corner so I don't miss some tasty tidbit.
Add to that the fact that storylines are not predictable and you have me always coming back for more. The ability to throw me a curve ball or misdirect me, startle me so I literally jump, or just drop my jaw in shock are prized commodities, and TSW does them all.
Another reason I am a fan for life is the fact that The Secret World is brain food. No other title has ever spurred me to learn new things like this one. I've studied ancient empires, learned to read bar codes and Morse Code, and brushed up on my Egyptian and Norse mythology. The game has prompted me to go listen to classical music I haven't taken the time to enjoy in a while and forced me to pay careful attention to my surroundings. It's given me puzzles to solve, making me work my grey matter, not my keyboard and mouse for my reward. For me, this is so much more satisfying than just mashing buttons until a mob falls and the loot appears. And that knowledge I glean is with me even outside of the game, not to mention infinitely more applicable to real life than any button-mashing abilities. A game that can inspire folks to learn -- that's just priceless!
As much as I am a proponent of supporting a game I love and play game financially (after all, I actually bought two levels of packs, including the grandmaster), I understand that subscriptions are not always the way to go. Funcom's switch TSW to a buy-to-play model was by far the best decision for the game. This way, people can consume the content at their own rate and buy more when they are ready for it. In my mind this eases the pressure some folks feel to "get their money's worth" and allows players to truly sit back and enjoy the content. it sure does for me. I don't want the guilt of wasting money hanging over my head when I log in, clouding my enjoyment and possibly spoiling the experience.
And quite honestly, I feel that if devs had to try to maintain a content rate that is expected with a sub game, it would seriously water down the game. We'd just plain lose what makes TSW so special.
The cash shop is cosmetic
Cash shops seem almost inevitable now, even if a game is subscription-based. I am not going to debate the merits or pitfalls of the existence of said shops, but I am going to extol The Secret World's implementation of it. The item shop is chock-full of cosmetics and fluff, not game-changing pay-to-win items. A B2P game needs to earn revenue somehow, and I think this method is the best. Fluff things are fun, and games are about fun right? There's nothing in the cash shop any character has to have to enjoy the game, not even the DLcs. If course, if you want even more of the story and world, then you buy the DLCs. Likewise, if you want a particular look, you can buy it. But you don't need it. I certainly don't feel anyone has an unfair advantage because she has a spiffy dress that I don't.
Speaking of clothing options: The fact that TSW lets you look how you want is a big plus. Many people want to differentiate themselves from the crowd and express their individuality, be it for roleplay purposes or otherwise, and The Secret World lets you do this both in appearance and in skills. Another bonus!
A developer's enthusiasm and dedication goes a long way in my opinion; when devs really care about the game and the players, they are going to do right by it and them. While not everything has gone smoothly at all times for our favorite conspiracy-laden game, I have no doubt that the developers do care about it. They show this in many ways: by keeping true to the theme, working past obstacles to still bring us content that is worthwhile and not cranked out just for the sake of releasing something, and just plain not giving up on it.
It may seem like a small thing to some, but the fact that devs are innovating and keeping things interesting is a huge deal for me! I love TSW all the more because as the years have rolled on it hasn't just been more of the same old, same old wrapped in a slightly different package. Even if I don't log in for a while, I eagerly anticipate each new addition to the game. Coming up with new ideas isn't the easiest thing, either. That they are willing to stay involved and put so much into the creation instead of just mailing it in for the paycheck shows me my hope for more awesomeness is not misplaced!
Listening to the community
Finally, a reason I am such a fan of TSW -- and will be for a long time -- is that the devs really do listen to and value the community. Some evidence of this is behind the scenes (for example, when Bylos goes to bat for the community when talking to the corporate folks). But some instances are very public, like the aforementioned opening of Tokyo.
I completely and totally agree that the missions and like content of Tokyo should be purchased, but I do not like that things like holiday content are gated behind a pay and content wall. For the past few holidays, including the anniversary, players who have not purchased issue #9 The Black Signal (or haven't reached it in the story mission) have been unable to fully participate in the festivities and are even denied holiday achievements. That is not OK with me, and I have said as much before. Holidays should be completely accessible to the entire population. Zones should be accessible (though no promises on surviving once you get there!).
It's not as if this precedent hasn't already been set. Players can freely travel to every other zone via Agartha regardless of their gear and skill levels. There are missions within these open zones that are not available to players unless they buy the corresponding DLC. So why isn't Tokyo the same? Well, true to form, the devs listened to our concerns and desires and have announced that they are considering opening up the Venice and Subway portions for everyone to access. Sure, folks who want to do the missions or get the story behind everything (and trust me, you really should) are going to need to get the DLCs. And that is as it should be.
Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ on Thursdays 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and she'll jump on the case!