Update: If you like or want to like The Secret World (TSW), please feel free to walk away now. You will not like this review, and I’ve taken enough berating over it already. I played the game for only 90 miserable minutes of the first beta weekend and attempted to write something silly about my bad experience. Apparently, that didn’t pan out. Comments are now turned off. Thanks for stopping by!
The Secret World, Funcom’s newest contender in the MMO market, launches June 19. This weekend, they’ve provided a free-of-NDA-restrictions beta experience that tons of people signed up for. You’re limited to a Templar character this weekend, and to be guaranteed access to later closed beta weekends, you’ll need to pre-order.
Gamespot was giving out beta keys for this weekend like crazy, so the husband and I snagged a couple to investigate. We have no real interest in playing the game based on what we’ve heard about it thus far; we’re just not in the market for a hotkey MMO, even if it’s trying to masquerade as more than that. We spent a very short time with this game developing our first and final impressions because The Secret World, unfortunately, is just a vivid demonstration of “To the Pain” from 1987’s The Princess Bride.
Don’t worry, there’s no “mushy stuff” in this review, and you really don’t need to have seen the movie to know what I’m talking about. I’ll try to explain thoroughly. Though, if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, what are you waiting for? Go watch it! It’s fantastic. I’ll wait right here.
There, all better?
Back to our story, then. Our dear Westley, the stable boy, who you might remember from his cameo in Southshore lies in a bed too weak to move. His nemesis and potential murderer threatens him with a presumably rather pointy and painful sword. He is far too weak to lift his own weapon, let alone defend himself against this man, so he attempts to bluff.
This is where our soon-to-be-quite-tortured metaphor comes in.
“To the death!” cries the evil Prince Humperdinck.
To which Westley demands, “No, to the pain!”
To the pain is exactly what Funcom has threatened us with through The Secret World.
“To the pain means the first thing you will lose will be your feet.” And we are cut off right at the ankles in The Secret World. The animations and movement controls are painful. The characters run stiffly, and the camera seems to be suffering from an equivalent stiffness. In order to Sprint, you need to repeatedly toggle with X. And, in order to be truly punishing, there is no /dance command.
“Then your hands at the wrist.” I wish I could say that the combat controls were okay. Well, I suppose I can say they are okay. They are just so very standard. Spells, for the most part, are frontal cones or standard target an enemy and hit a number key. With the movement being so stiff, I can’t see PvP being a fluid experience. They train you early on that you can avoid some big enemy attacks, but you can’t dodge all enemy attacks which leads to a disjointed, confusing experience.
The combat controls aren’t exceptionally bad, but they’re not good either. They’re certainly not an improvement over WoW or SWTOR. You would think with their no class selection system that your options would be exciting and fresh, but with so few abilities to actively use at any given time, I feel like my choices are being taken away from me rather than heaped upon me.
“The next thing you’ll lose will be your left eye, followed by your right eye.”
This is the crux of The Secret World’s failings. This game is ugly. Everything from the characters, which Syp over at Bio Break has cleverly pointed out, to the scenery and spell graphics are hideous. I struggled to create a character that I even felt comfortable with, let alone loved. And, much to my dismay, once I’d created her, I found that everyone and their dog were wearing the exact same clothes that I’d chosen to start in.
The skin on the characters is strangely mottled through with a pattern of blueish speckling which makes them look sickly. During the videos that move the story along, faces animate strangely and over-the-top. The voiceover work and mouth animation is subpar; it was distracting.
“Your ears you keep, and I’ll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weaps at your approach, every woman who cries out, ‘Dear God, what is that thing?!’ will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.”
And, that’s a substantial exaggeration of how I feel after playing The Secret World. You’re probably wondering why I stopped playing after only an hour and a half. It’s an MMO after all. This game should at least have playability through the weekend if not for months or years.
I’ll be honest with you: I died. I died very early on. I, in a hissy fit over being irritated by the combat, decided to be a pacifist in-game and just explore. Unfortunately, a certain someone nearby encouraged me to try the combat to check out the loot system. This led to a major overpull on my part and I was quickly clobbered to death. The death effect’s wonky swirliness left me so motion sick, I had to actually log out of the game, and focus on not getting sick.
The whole of the early game that I played had too much screen shaking and other disorienting effects that were pushing me toward motion sickness, but I couldn’t take the death animation. There is no fun in feeling nauseated while playing a game. It left me wishing for some iocane powder in my juice.
I suppose Funcom could be bluffing with their whole “To the Pain” thing. Maybe they do have the strength to stand and overcome with a little focused polish. Unfortunately, I don’t see them accomplishing everything that needs doing by their suggested launch date. These things take time, and I’m thinking they need a lot more of it than they’ve got.
The whole affair felt like stepping into a single-player game with lots of other players milling about. In fact, early on I was quite convinced I was playing a new iteration of the Left 4 Dead franchise. Half the time I had trouble discerning what was friend and what was foe in my little story instances.
Which brings me to the fact that there’s a distinct inability to group up early on. If this is indeed an MMO, and not a single-player experience, why can’t I play with my friends whenever I want to? These are social games. Let us be social!
In parting, I would like to point out that there were a few things that I did think were neat. Being able to find quests from items on tables while exploring was interesting. I did appreciate not seeing tons of random strangers with exclamation points over their head. Being able to choose your starter weapon was a neat experience, once you moved beyond the shotgun introductory stages. And, as much as I disliked the graphics, the feel of the game was enhanced by them. The darkness really did feel a bit ominous, and it probably was the kind of world where anything could happen.