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This is the third and final installment of my experiences in the first Beta weekend for The Secret World. I've focused principally on the Missions aspect of the PvE experience, given that it's the primary PvE activity available in the beta weekends and the game trades heavily on the strength of the immersion, investigation and puzzles presented. Our Templars are in over their heads with the ragtag survivours of Kingsmouth but we can't quit now, there's too much at stake!

Kingsmouth Zombies

GIANT SPOILER WARNING - lots of gameplay spoilers and a fair few plot giveaways.

Kingsmouth is littered with missions tucked away all over the place, some given by NPCs who show up on the map as being interactable, but most come from objects found in the environment that you have to keep an eye open for the small icon nearby. Those don't show up on the minimap and I'd advise making good use of the map marker option. Interactables have a little red outline to them, but it will only highlight when you get close.

Much has been made of the fact that TSW has puzzles that need to be solved to progress the missions, and these often involve carefully observing your surroundings hunting for clues, looking for tiny interactibles and paying attention to signs, notices, diagrams, markings on the floor and so on. This is all demonstrated in Kingsmouth with everything from googling password hints and figuring out Masonic imagery, to making clever use of being dead for gathering information to red herrings that will catch you out if all you do is click on the first interactable you see. Missions in this game are not for those looking for absolute waypoints and big sparkly objects, and it is a theme which is dividing the current player base: those who want the more cerebral game play, and those who don’t. All I’ll say at this point is: The Kingsmouth Code & Something Wicked. Those two mission chains are easily some of the best I have ever encountered in any game full stop. The default key binding for 'b' is an in-game browser that takes you to Google search. There's a reason for it. To find out more, play the game because it would be criminal to spoiler those two!

The main mission revelation: you can usually only pick up one mission of each type at a time, aside from delivery which caps at 3, complete with cut-scene and voice-acted narrative if you got it from an NPC. If you accept another one of the same type while you're partway through an existing mission, it'll 'pause' your progress at the start of the Tier  (step or stage) you were on in the previous mission. You won't be able to continue with that one; interactable objects won't be etc. To be honest, I don't like the idea of not being allowed to multitask. I have to remember or flood my map with notes on where all the mission pickup locations are so that I can come back to them later. Another issue that wound me up was that there are warnings that pop up when you stray too far from the mission area, and the mission will actually fail if you don't get back inside the quest area within a short period of time. Short period of time is 5-10 seconds, barely long enough to read the notice let alone manoeuvre the character! I hope this behaviour is only related to these particular missions, and will be looked at by FC as being too ludicrously short. Such railroading is extremely unpleasant in my opinion, and given the fact is often complained about in the zone chat channel, in everyone else’s. At least you can turn missions in remotely when finished, which makes sense in a world with mobile phones – the mobile phone interface is ubiquitous and you’d be surprised where you have maximum signal strength, for example sewers and the Hollow Earth. If there is a choice of mission reward and you don't specifically click on the one you want, the game will default to the first one in the list.

I found one mission in particular that annoyed the hell out of me: I had to follow a raven. The raven was tiny and hard to see because it kept vanishing from my client. There were no waypoints or directional arrows and you couldn't even target it to make it more visible. Though sheer luck I eventually stumbled into the right area after restarting it several times, however my mission got stuck again after killing a mob and using an item. Getting fed up of this, I went into the nearby church and picked up another mission in the hopes that by pausing the previous one to resume it later, it might reset the buggy part. It's dark in here, wtb flashlight. Or a light spell. Or even a smartphone with a torch in it. Guess my Templar is too broke to get a fancy phone. Area triggers, such as going to a location marked on the map, seem to be very iffy in terms of when it will register that you've arrived. It can sometimes take a fair bit of running around inside the highlighted circle before it updates, which can be frustrating if there are mobs you have to kill after the update, but they swamp you running around trying to trigger it. It'd help if the compass had the map's mission waypoints on it too, as FC did with Anarchy Online.

Some missions are repeatable and once completed have a 24hour cooldown. It's not obvious which missions are repeatable and which are one-shot until completed however. Repeating missions for SP/AP and perhaps the rewards (at least to break down for parts) seems to be the idea. The difficulty seems to be rather arbitrary, supposedly based on the amount of SP/AP you have gained, but the mobs here are no pushovers (except for the basic zombies) until you’ve ranked up a fair few skills and animas and got your full suite of 7/7 abilities. If you aggro more than 1 at a time, you'd better be extremely careful. I couldn't seem to find an ability to knock back mobs in my skill wheel, which bothered me because as a shotgun user, melee mobs in my face cause problems and in the tutorial flashback I did have a knockback power so I know they exist somewhere.

There are escort missions which are a personal pet hate of mine. As in every game with escort missions ever, the escort characters trigger a lot of mob spawns at regular intervals regardless of where you are, what else is attacking you and so on. This means that you can very quickly get overwhelmed by numbers. You can't simply run away from the mobs because the escorts will stop and engage them. You have no choice but to kill everything that aggs the escort: mobs will go for the escort rather than you until you can pull the agg off. If the escorts die or get more than a few metres away from you, they reset back to their starting point. This is where grouping with others on the mission comes in handy. Updates are passed to all that participate in the Tier and are around when it completes: for example summoning a mob and then killing it - if someone on the same Tier arrives halfway through the fight and starts to wail on the mob as well, they too will get the update. This is a good thing.

Other things to keep in mind while out on missions is that audio cues are extremely important to let you know if something is about to hit you, if you've tripped a security alarm, if something is lurking behind Door nubmer 2 and so on. Stealth can be critical; avoiding security cameras and so on. There are also plenty of creepy moments and surprises lurking around and I swear Silent Hill must be the next town over on his godforsaken Solomon Island.

My final thoughts on the missions are that I'm concerned about replay value. Once you've cracked the puzzles the first time around, you feel pretty accomplished but thereafter when you know what's what I'm not sure the charm will remain. Perhaps the missions run a bit differently for the three factions. Some of the mission-giving NPCs are rather too fond of philosophising soliloquies, particularly the ones that tell you outright they're 'simple country folk who don't know nuttin' about literature'. So far the missions have been soloable if you're careful in terms of mob difficulty, but grouping up with people to solve the trickier puzzles seems a natural progression to me.

Templars, Assemble!

Crafting in the game is called Assembly, and it works on the surface much like crafting in Minecraft: lay out base materials into the shape of the item you're going for, add some glyphs to tweak the stats and powers, et voilá.

The assembly window has a 5x4 grid in which you drop refined materials to form rough shapes. Different materials and runes give the item different properties. Toolkits are usually needed as well, and the better the quality of item being made, the more refined the materials and glyphs need to be. There are runes and glyphs and animas to faff with as well, but I didn't come across enough parts to have a proper go at figuring out how to do all of that.

You can disassemble items to reclaim parts as well, naturally you get back less than you put in. Building requires Refined materials and disassembling (and looting) gives you base materials. Refining is a case of stacking up base materials into any slot in the grid and clicking Assemble. 5 Base materials will give you 1 Imperfect material.

The disassembly allows you to see the shape in the grid that corresponds to the item you want to make, which is extremely helpful. So far I've not been able to disassemble Head Talismans, only Weapons and Minor Talismans. Annoyingly, disassembling doesn't automatically stack the materials, so your inventory gets flooded with individual parts instead of stacks of parts. The stacking and splitting stacks interface is awful as well. No quick option to type the number to split, or scroll it, or grab 1 off the top etc.

Odds and sods

There is a large and extensive list of character emotes, although many of them seem unrefined and I wonder if this is linked in to the statement from FC that animations are mostly placeholders at present.

Whilst much of the setting is a fictionalised version of the modern day, some of it bleeds over such as DI Shelly's scathing comment about the Daily Mail and there's a ton of Easter eggs and references to famous fiction and FC's other games.

My completionist streak kicked in and I spent several hours running in circles in London sniffing out every last bit of Templar Lore. I almost found every bit of lore in Kingsmouth too. As one might expect of Ragnar's setting, the Lore hints at much and provides nice background to the main themes of the zones you are in. Sometimes it can provide inspiration for a tricky investigation.

Zones are instanced based on character load. If you zone in somewhere and it's not the same instance as the rest of your team, you get a popup asking if you want to join them. There appear to be servers, although whether it functions as one super-server per region, making full use of instancing after that, or if it's a suit of servers per region as per most current games, is as yet unknown.

Death is an annoying inconvenience with hazardous resurrection, but you don't lose anything really. You don't lose accumulated XP, and your stats aren't diminished for a time although buffs given by consumables do get nuked. I suppose this works out when tied into the portions of the game that use dying in a creative way.

Inventory space is limited and I didn't find any evidence of bags nor of a bank I could put stuff into. Instead there is an 'add more space' button which gives you an extra 10 inventory slots for 500 Pax Romana (main currency).

Grouping up isn't as friendly in this game as it is in Rift, and there doesn't appear to be a 'looking for group' interface either. Everything so far has been soloable if you're careful in terms of combat difficulty, but grouping up to hunt for clues and solve missions seems to be the intention, and there's been a good headscratcher or two so far that's benefitted from several people putting their heads together.

I had an entertaining moment on logging in when everyone's character models glitched out and the world was suddenly filled with naked bald men in tiny briefs.

Clone Army

Overall impression

TSW is not going to compete with Guild Wars 2, Diablo III or WoW simply because it is a completely different game. The Primary PvE activity is Missions with Dungeons and the Missions are for the most part wonderful once you've got the hang of the fact FC doesn't want you to make a laundry list of quests and instead to make use of map markers and paying attention to your surroundings. The lore and stories being told are enthralling, and coupled with the cerebral nature of many of the puzzles and investigations, it's a very unique MMO experience. I'm sure it'll divide the community and take up residence in its own niche. How popular it'll be is hard to say and will depend a great deal on whether FC takes on board the criticisms about combat and general polish. I'm extremely intrigued to see more of the world Ragnar has created and I will be watching eagerly.

Next Beta Weekend

I will be playing the next Beta weekend as solidly as I did the first, in order to see what's new and to delve into the murky world of Assembly. I'm still undecided on Pre-ordering and playing it - at least initially - for the following reasons:-
  1. This was a limited Beta, missing several things that will be available at release such as new animations, according to FC. At this point I cannot gauge what will change between now and then. If there is a major polishing up session then it will be worth it. If not, then it won't.
  2. Combat was slow and clunky, with movement being important yet hobbled. Turning is slow, collision detection is suspect and I've only seen a selection of the basic powers, none of which were particularly inspiring.
  3. Quality of Life needs massive amounts of tweaking and I'm not convinced that FC agrees. We shall see how it goes.

Amusing lines seen in the game today:

"You successfully used the Sprinting."
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the sky is falling. Not quickly - that would be ridiculous."


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May 2012

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