+ Secret society concept
+ Some puzzles
+ Area design
- Technical issues
- Some puzzle design
- Some bugs
Final score: 7.5 / 10
Controller support: No
Minimum system requirements
Windows XP with SP 1 or Vista with SP 1 or Windows 7 with SP 1
nVidia 8800 series 512 VRAM or Radeon HD3850 512MB or better
2.6 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent AMD CPU
2 GB RAM for Windows XP and 3GB RAM for Windows Vista and Windows 7
30GB of free hard drive space
DirectX 9.0c Compatible
512 KBPS or faster Internet connection
The Secret World is a game about the sort of worldwide conspiracy filled with secret societies and mystical threads that everyone knows about, and the contradictions inherent to the above phrase create a good view point for the entire game, which was developed by Funcom and is currently available on the PC with a subscription payment model.
The premise is that you have acquired knowledge and potential which allow you to join the Templars, who tend to be ruthless but somehow heroic, the Illuminati, spiritually inclined, or The Dragon, with an Eastern take on the secret society concept.
Regardless of what a player chooses, he will do missions, advance in hierarchy, get new skills, new weapons and items and he will get ever closer to piecing together the story of what’s happening on a global level.
After a while, the factions tend to blend into one another, but The Secret World managed to keep me interested by offering a lot of really well-designed quests, especially the ones linked to puzzles rather than combat, and by creating a sense of a world for the game that I never found in the behemoth of the MMO space, World of Warcraft.
The development team at Funcom has done this by spending resources on area and town design, especially for the hubs of London, New York and Seoul, going so far as to model buildings with impressive architecture that one will never visit and even include street food vendors that the game could have done without.
The Secret World is an MMO that tries to get ahead of the core mechanics of the genre by implementing a set of innovative mechanics and by adding supernatural and mystical elements to create an atmosphere that is highly effective at intriguing and scaring the player.
There are solo missions, Player versus Player zones, cooperative elements, a lot of combat, as in any other MMO, but The Secret World manages to distinguish itself by adding puzzles to the game and quite a bit of atmosphere.
It’s impressive how many monsters and creatures Funcom has managed to cram into the game, and I lost quite a bit of time in the in-game browser learning about many of them and also looking for clues linked to the many good – but overly difficult – puzzles that the creators introduced.
Battle is engaged
The combat itself can be fun at first, as more options and skills are opened up, but it tends to become a little repetitive and boring later on, especially for those characters who are unwilling to mix abilities and try out different roles in a group.
One of the more interesting innovations in the game has to do with inventory management, where the player can quickly create Bags (with the option to name and then hotlink to them) which hold different types of items and allow the player to easily organize his belongings, which have a tendency, as in every other MMO, to multiply at an incredible pace.
The overall User Interface is also well designed, allowing quick access to all the important tabs, but Funcom has recently had some troubles, which are supposed to be soon fixed via patch, with the in-game chat system.
Graphics and audio
Before the launch of The Secret World, Funcom took great pride in the modern look of the game, which aimed to deliver a high-end graphics experience even to gamers who lacked top-of-the-line gaming PCs.
Unfortunately, even with a solid computer and one of the best graphics chips on the market, the Nvidia-made GTX 670, The Secret World has some visual issues.
At least one of them seems to be linked to the Dreamworld Engine that the MMO uses, the same core technology that Funcom also used for its previous effort, Age of Conan.
Despite the upgrades, the technology struggles at times, especially when moving from enclosed areas to the open spaces that have more details and more characters to show and when the on-screen action gets too hectic.
The loading times also tend to be quite long and there are moments when even the usually crisp and well-designed cutscenes suffer because the game still loads textures in the background while they run.
But when The Secret World works in terms of graphics engine the results are impressive, a blending of real-world locations and mystical beasts that mesh well and, at times, really awes, especially when entering an area for the first time.
When it comes to voice acting, The Secret World is pretty uneven, which is only understandable given the amount of dialog that the development team had to record.
Some of the characters manage to inhabit their roles and really convince the player they are part of extensive secret societies dedicated to protecting the Earth from supernatural threats, but others fail to install any kind of passion in their lines.
The music is solid for the MMO space, easily blending into the background most of the time, while also delivering a needed punch during the toughest action sequences.
By design, MMO titles are social and they promote the creation of tightly-knit groups that share burdens, swap information and support each other.
It seems that this is even more important when it comes to The Secret World because of the nature of the game and the way puzzles need to be reasoned out, rather than simply be mechanically solved in the game itself.
The close collaboration probably favors those groups that can talk about The Secret World in their real lives and work out in advance what they plan to do in the MMO.
This does not mean that the solo player should stay away from the Funcom-designed game, but everyone should be aware that to fully enjoy this experience, a solid group of MMO interested friends is a big advantage.
The subscription barrier for The Secret World also means that it can take some convincing to get all your buddies to play the game and, in the longer term, it can lead to groups coming apart just as the end-game is in sight.
The Secret World has a great idea behind it and I can understand why so many people were excited about what the game could be: a freedom-imbibed title that messed with most of the core rules of the genre while introducing a sense of real mystery in place of the conventions that have defined the MMO genre for so long.
Some of the promise is present in the game that developer Funcom delivered, but I fear that it’s not enough to make the game a solid long-term product, especially given the fact that it relies on a subscription model that is rarer than ever.
The combat and character progression system is still linked to tropes of the MMO space and the mysteries, which should be the big stars of the game, are often too weird for a normal player, geared towards those who already have a solid interest in the supernatural and secret societies or are willing to learn.
The Secret World, as Funcom created it, can be a fine experience for the grizzled MMO player who is looking for something new that still falls within his field of expertise.
For those players who tend to focus on solo play, the best thing to do at the moment is to give The Secret World one year to deliver more updates and go free-to-play and then check out what it has to offer.