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.

Update: Gaming for Introverts‘ Pamela has written two excellent posts on The Secret World beta at The Really Big TSW Beta Post and Opting Out of The Secret World

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23 responses

  1. adfd says:

    One of the better MMOs I tried so far this year…

    • Amanda says:

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I wish the graphics hadn’t been so rough with regard to my motion sickness so I could have given it a more substantive try. I’d love to hear what you enjoyed about it for other readers to hear.

  2. 49er says:

    When I read a review I expect to actually read about the gameplay and not just how apparently terrible the graphics are…

    • Amanda says:

      And my review on the gameplay is that it triggered my motion sickness so badly that I quit after 90 minutes. While it might not be the review you’re looking for, there are tons of people who suffer from simulator sickness like me that might like to have a heads up about that.

      Good luck finding a review that’s more your speed! :)

  3. chris says:

    I think it’s important to realize that you’re playing a beta. Which by definition is not the full release. Funcom has stated that there are very limited options for char creation at the moment – and that’s going to change for the full release.

    Combat’s not *incredible* but it’s not horrible either.. and frankly, I am *far* more excited about skill points and the ability wheel.. no more “I play a priest who specced in healing” – the world.. the mythology.. the story lines.. are all so rich and so detailed that I can overlook the *TINY* issues I’m having with the Beta at the moment.

    After all, it’s not the full game.. and what they have shown me this weekend has me seriously looking forward to the full game.

    • Amanda says:

      This game does have a ton of potential, and I sincerely hope Funcom can pull it off for the crowd who definitely will love it.

  4. Ashlotte says:

    You and I have had very, very similar symptoms of playing TSW beta, Amanda. I only lasted about an hour… I know there are people out there looking for a ‘This game is awesome!’ review but after playing the game even for a short while, I can’t possibly see this game survive for very long unless Funcom pushes out updates as fast as Trion does for Rift. It makes me wonder what was Ragnar & friends thinking when they set the launch date so soon yet the game still feels as if it’s in earliest stages of Alpha.

    After getting downright sick of the game(I was expecting it to be as fantastic as Age of Conan currently is- even the beta testers from AoC were downright insulted by Funcom when they played TSW) I logged off and went back to Tera Online, spoke with my friends and randoms about their beta experience( They told me I would be back in an hour or less before I played the beta. I didn’t believe them) and they, as well as I, felt as if someone slapped their souls in the proverbial face… I still can’t get over how poorly executed the game was. Funcom has some of the best ideals and concepts on the gaming market but they seem as if they can NEVER-EVER execute them properly if at all.

    :( *sigh* OK, rant over…. Sorry, but you can tell just how upset I am over a game I had waited for since 2009. I even kept my hype in check after the vast disappointment to the Star Wars franchise and mmo market that is SWTOR.

    • Amanda says:

      Aw, you definitely have my condolences! I can only imagine how disappointed you must feel right now. We too were let down by SWTOR in the end, but we only waited anxiously for that for 6 months or so. To be waiting three years only to be offered a taste of this unfinished mess must have been heartbreaking.

      You’re absolutely right about Funcom though. If they pulled this off, it could have been amazing. And, if they had pulled it off, maybe more companies would be braver about stepping out from under WoW’s shadow and trying something new, which this market is absolutely desperate for.

  5. FaNaT says:

    Interesting you did not mention the quests…the most important things in an mmorpg. I really enjoyed about 80% of the quests. Did you guys do a single investigate quest ? Those quests were awesome each one of them kept me busy for hours.

    • Amanda says:

      You’ll notice I did briefly mention the quests in my closing. Unfortunately, the game left me so motion sick, I was only able to play about 90 minutes. For me, however, quests are just about the least important part of an MMO. Combat and aesthetics are the most important aspect to me, that’s why I’m so thoroughly enjoying Tera. Tera’s repetitive and basic quests get me out fighting without having to be bothered with things I don’t care about.

      The Secret World probably has an amazing questing experience, but I was too ill to experience it.

  6. Tom Bryant says:

    “In order to Sprint, you need to repeatedly toggle with X”
    True…however the normal walk speed is much faster than in most MMOs where you go into settings and select “auto-run.” It’s really a ~50% speed boost like riding a horse, which is a toggle skill in most games. This function is par for the course.

    “And, in order to be truly punishing, there is no /dance command”
    There are a bunch of different dance emotes. Did you do an emote list or ask anyone?

    “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.”
    Yep, TSW is not an action game. You can dodge some stuff like in most MMOs, but you will absolutely get hit and take damage eventually. The good news is that unlike in Mario Brothers where you die after one hit, you get a lot of “health points” in these types of games.

    “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.”
    There will be additional starter clothes to choose from when the game launches, but when you compare this against other MMOs, you have a lot more variety. Most MMOs have a few pieces of “starter gear” and every looks identical wearing the same “rusty breastplate” “small shield” and “iron short sword.” Did you look at the cosmetics you could buy to differentiate your character’s look? What was lacking there?

    “Which brings me to the fact that there’s a distinct inability to group up early on.”
    Right click and “Invite to Group” and BOOM you’re in a group. Did you ask anyone how to group up in this game?

    Sounds to me like the takeaway from your review is that TSW needs to do a better new user tutorial. There’s a lot of things you were looking for in the game that you did not know how to do, and your experience is going to be similar to other people new to these types of games.

    • Amanda says:

      My husband and I were unable to see each other because of the overflow servers (or whatever they’re calling this in TSW). We couldn’t find any way, short of restarting the game repeatedly like a pair of our friends have been doing to play with each other, to group with each other. Right click, Invite would have been just peachy could we have right clicked on each other.

      In most MMOs I’ve played, the thirty or bazillion people running around the starter areas looked different to me. Sure there are people running around with the same Small Shield, but there were different hair colors and skin colors, and casters start out in robes while the tanks are running around in mail. It stood out to me, in this game that everyone looked the same. Everyone with dark hair. What seemed like 90% of the men wearing the same outfit. What seemed like 90% of the women wearing the same outfit. It struck me as odd compared to other games I’d played, so I mentioned it. It was just disheartening to have the choice of a starter outfit only to find that everyone picked the same as me.

      And, again, I was only able to spend 90 minutes with the game because it so severely triggered my simulator sickness. This is my review based on my experience with the game. I’m not IGN or Game Front or any of the other big reviewers. I’m just a girl giving her review of her personal experience.

      I appreciate that your takeaway is that it needs a better new user tutorial, and, maybe it does. Maybe it would have helped me a ton to be able to do the things I wanted to do, but I still wouldn’t have been able to give the game any kind of favorable review since I spent the rest of the day lying in bed begging all kinds of deities not to make me puke.

    • Amanda says:

      And, you know what, since I’m working on my issues with social anxiety and confrontation, I’d just like to say a few last things: I get that you’re totally better than me. I get that I’m a complete moron since my last experience with a game was obviously watching my hypothetical big brother playing a video game from the early 80s. Thanks for the hand-holding. I appreciate your lessons in MMO.

      Not everybody on the Internet has thick skin. Thanks for the tears. I’ll cherish them until my next hater.

  7. Amanda, I know this is a month old and I have not read any of the rest of your site. However. 1. Good job on relating your experience with the game to the rest of us. I have been looking forward to this game for at least a year and now because of you I am definitively not pre-ordering. So thank you. 2. My wife suffers from the same simulator ( motion sickness) that you do when trying to play games that move around allot so I completely understand the effect, by the way do you know of anything to make it more bearable? My wife can’t even stand watching my play a FPS with out puking. 3. Hey sweety, I don’t think Tom was trying to be a royal dick with cheese on his comment, people view things differently and like different things. I know women generally don’t work as well with compartmentalization as most people with , but you should try to think of your web persona as being somebody separate from who you as a person really are. After all while I don’t think Tom was too negative against you as a person there are some people that really meet the “Greater Internet Fuckwad theory” and manage quite successfully take it to an all new level.
    So any ways. Enjoyed reading your about your time with the game. Best of luck with the website.

    Me

    • Amanda says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I know I’ll never be Captain of the Internet with my inability to handle criticism/confrontation, but taking little steps has been a work in progress.

      A while back I actually wrote a post about some of the things that can relieve game-related motion sickness. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time doing everything I can to avoid looking at the TV while the husband plays. FPS games seem to be the worst. It’s something about the way the camera/the character bobs or the field of vision I believe.

      The things that help me the most are, unfortunately, avoiding the games that trigger it the most and making sure I have light and fresh air. I’ve heard very good things about all the remedies designed for seasickness (the wristbands specifically), but I haven’t really tested them out myself.

      Your wife might be helped by sitting back a bit further from the screen though. If she can take in the wall around the screen and the screen at the same time, it might help her brain realize “hey, we’re not dying!”

      It’s a tough one, and she definitely has my sympathies.

  8. Alexander says:

    I think this review is a disgrace to be honest. I have read a few bad reviews in my time but this absolutly goes to the very top with its blatant errors and abusive attitude. This is what i would expect from an angry 14 year old writing on hes own personal blog not from a place such as this. I can only shake my head in sadness that this drivel was ever allowed to see the light of day. Mr. Tom Bryant has allready pointed out a few of your more obvious errors, and they are just the tip of the iceberg. You should really find yourself something different to do because you are quite clearly not cut out for this.

    • Amanda says:

      1. This is my personal blog. What kind of a place do you think this is?

      2. I get it. I tried to write something I thought was clever about how much I disliked a game. Apparently, I actually suck at life and should just off myself. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll try not to suck so hard next time I hate something.

      3. Have a lovely day!

      • Alexander says:

        Well to be totally honest i came here via a link and i went on the assumption that this was more than just a personal blogg. Seeing its your own blog page it alleviates what you wrote somewhat. Your entitled to your oppinion after all. To a certain degree.
        For instance i could well mean and say that Leonardo da vinci was a really stupid man. But it would be a stupid meaning and i would come off as the stupid one saying it. When you say things like you do you should atleast strive to be logical and reasonable in your points, otherwise its no better than what a 8 year old child sprouts: mommy that man is stupid, the cat is bad, i dont like the washer etc. Logic and reason is what elevates us from the animals, and your review is sadly lacking in said department. You have a lovely day too.

  9. Ilan says:

    The ability wheel was what made me pre-order the game, but I was mighty disappointed about the overall ‘feel’ I got from the game. Feels so sluggish in movement, in fact, it felt more like a f2p game. Sad story, hope that the game undergoes some major changes before it’s launched. Give me that “WoW” feeling! Which is so hard to find, but I’m not ready to revert back to WoW just yet..

    • Amanda says:

      There’s nothing worse than that let down of disappointment for something you were excited about. I’m truly sorry that TSW wasn’t as good as you’d hoped.

      Have you checked out Tera’s combat? It’s pretty standard in its overall gameplay (quests and whatnot), but the combat on most classes is a blast, especially once you get to BAMs at 20. I’m not sure what you’re looking for out of a game, but Tera’s combat is the most-recent thing to give me that WoW feeling — that epic excitement.

      Good luck in your future endeavors!

      • Ilan says:

        Well I just gave Rift a try, seems to be my kind of game. Although I must say seeing all those different classes and subclasses gave me a short stun. After the third character I finally got it right. Was looking forward to playing this evening all day so I guess I’m hooked, for now.. Cheers

      • Amanda says:

        That’s awesome! Rift really is a blast, and that expansion coming out looks so tempting.

  10. Ingo says:

    I just got over your review and must admit I was a little surprised. Of cause, have I read many reviews in between and found either extreme love or extreme hate, like with almost every other game. But to say you hate this game seems a little bit tough. I understand that motion sickness just like sea sickness or air sickness are the hell on earth. But it’s not the vessels fault when one gets sick. Nobody actually knows why one get motion sick and one other not. Neither does anybody know what exactly triggers this kind of sickness. There are some theory around, but none is proved yet. But I hope that you will not suffer in the future or presens from any game.
    TSW may not include you in their prime target group. That’s ok. Chanel No. 5 doesn’t include me. But Funcom built a game for adults with some education, intelligence and who favor story telling and questing, also as solving puzzles and finding answers by small hints. Next to the ability wheel, no classes and levels this makes the core of the game. Besides it really is based on a card and board game.
    The graphic is fine with me and the combat works fine. It works for me, the guy wo doesn’t play FPS or is the Most Wanted on the virtual shooter list. Entertainment doesn’t mean to take an existing user interface and complicate the action stuf, so that people run away that play occasionally. I understand your point, but there are more players out there that don’t like to haste in combat. I sure don’t and my wife and my friends neither and so on….
    Your personal opinion is and always will be your opinion and I respect that, so please to fell to be offended because I didn’t intend to do so. I don’t what this game will be rated in the US or Asia, but over here in germay it’s 16+ and this means kiddies are excluded and that’s a fantastic point. Not only my opinion, I’ve read this while beta already more than once in the chat.
    All the best.

    Ingo