Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The best MMORPG you might not try...

I have been playing Secret World now since launch and I am afraid that, in the rush to compare numbers and the misinformation about them being propagated out there, you might not look at this game so I want to call out some reasons you should.

(1) The classless/level-less system actually works.
While it takes some practice or analytic skills to do good builds, it rewards that work with greater flexibility and depth of play.  Perhaps even more importantly, you don't have to go back to "first level" to create a second or third build.  You can use your existing build to quickly gather the points for that alternate build.

This does raise the question of "what good are alts"?  Frankly, the only reasons for alts I can see at this point are role-play reasons.  for that reason, Funcom might want to consider letting you "clone" your alts rather then starting from scratch again, but thats a small com,plaint over-all.

(2) The setting is really different and interesting.  If you are as tired as I am of men-in-tights games and teen-power-fantasy games, you might enjoy this too.  The real world setting brings a subtle level of connectedness that I think adds to the immersive feel of the game.  It is a dark and foreboding world where every time you turn around, there is some new horror awaiting.  It is a world that makes me feel small, which is a much more interesting feeling and lends a much greater feeling of accomplishment when I win out anyway.

(3) Raiding is integrated into the story flow
In a lot of recent MMORPGs, there have basically been two games.  The leveling game and then, when you are done with that, the raiding game.  This creates a number of subtle problems but the biggest one to me is that it takes what is often to me the most interesting part, the story driven leveling, and encourages people to rush through it to get to what, to me, is the least interesting part-- the repetitive raids.

TSW integrates the raid mechanic into your character progression.   There are "dungeons" in each major area of the game and spending some time in them equips you best for the are you are going to next.  This integrated "mini-raiding' mechanic I think works better then the aging "end-game raid" mechanic and keeps your focus centralized on the deep leveling content.

(4) The depth and breadth of play is phenomenal
This is the biggest thing for me.  The grind just doesn't feel like a  grind to me and this is because you are constantly being presented with new challenges that take new strategies to solve.  Although there are "kill X foozles" quests, the foozles look, feel and most importantly play differently from each other. I never get the feeling that a quest is there just to mechanically slow me down in progression, and thats what every other MMORPG I have played has felt like.

The story lines are deep, intertwined, and most importantly integrated with the play.  If you don't listen and think about the stories, you will find it very hard to play the game as the mechanics necessary are constantly shifting and the clues as to what you need to do are in the dialogues and descriptions.  TSW does the best job I have seen to date of being an action adventure game as opposed to a CRPG.  Although there are mechanics to optimize in terms of builds, and the requisite crafting and loot collecting, your most important attribute is the brain of the player.  I find this refreshing, exciting and incredibly immersive.

The number of story layers is also very impressive.  Every time I go back to an area I thought I was done with, I find plot threads I didn't pick up first time through to explore.  More then just "side quests" these deepen the world and my understanding of it.

To this, TSW adds multiple mission styles.  No longer is every mission a hack-a-thon.  Some missions are designed and flagged as "sneaky" missions.  Other missions are flagged as majoratively puzzle solving.  This labeling is more important then I would have initially thought.  i am not always in the same mood when I play and making it clear what kind of mission is what allows me to tailor my experience to where I am at the moment.

To sum it up, this is the first MMORPG I've played where play didn't end up feeling like boring, repetitive work.  Is it perfect?   Ofcourse not.  The "solo quests"have an annoying way of breaking up groups and in general, this game still suffers from the "how do I meet people" MMORPG problem.  Its still alot more a single player game then I would ultimately like my online worlds to be.  But its a major step fowards in  a lot of important ways.

Will this be "the next WoW"?  Its doubtful.  Even WoW isn't "the next WoW" anymore.  What I think we are seeing is an industry that is bifurcating. On one side are the cheaply produced/run mass market crud that can really be profitably off of the drips and drabs they can skim off the users.  On the other side we are seeing more niche products that give a smaller market a much deeper and richer experience-- one they can charge real money for.

For many reasons TSW is a niche product.  It requires too much thought and effort to play for the masses.  It doesn't serve the teen-age wish fulfillment market.  And it was a comparatively expensive game to produce and operate.  But it serves a niche well, and I think therefor long term is going to see greater retention of its paying user base.

And if this is a game space that interests you a all, you should at least give it a try.  (Funcom is currently running 3-day free trials.)

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