Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ok, For Real This Time: What's So Great About The Secret World?

Late last night, I finally finished the Tyler Freeborn storyline from Issue 5. Good stuff.

I'm making it a policy here not to post any spoilers without a strong and highly visible warning beforehand so that those who don't want spoilers can easily avoid them. With a game like TSW, I believe it's only fair and respectful to those who choose to honor me with their readership.

That said, I think it's within those parameters to say that the Tyler Freeborn missions indicate to me that we can look forward to DLC content in this game that will be more than worth the asking price in terms of entertainment value. Combined with the huge amount of great content that comes with the game itself at no extra charge, I think TSW is likely to be one of the best MMO values of 2013. What remains to be seen, of course, is if other players like myself, those who bought TSW last spring, played for a while, left, and then came back when they lifted the subscription requirement, come back to the game in big enough numbers (along with the new players the buy-to-play move is hopefully generating) to keep the game afloat at the quality and consistency level it's maintained until now.

Unique games interest me. I loved Eve-Online so much I played for three years. Fallen Earth excited me as a concept and kept me interested for quite a while. Had GamersFirst not botched that game's free-to-play conversion as badly as they did, I might still be logging in regularly today instead of just once or twice a month.

When I first heard of The Secret World I was highly skeptical, in part because it's a Funcom game. I'd tried both Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, but neither game particularly impressed me, certainly not enough to spend actual money on. At the time, the information on TSW was just starting to hit the mainstream, the point when the gaming companies generally shift gears from occasional teases at conventions and online to actual serious marketing for an upcoming release.

At some point during this period I heard that Ragnar Tornquist was the creative lead on TSW and my interest level heightened immediately. I'd loved "The Longest Journey" and so anything created by the author of that game was something I wanted to check out. I did some research, liked what I was reading, and applied for the beta.

I also participated in a couple of the ARGs and even won a couple of in-game sweatshirts for my efforts.

By the time Funcom opened the doors on open beta I was more than ready, and I obviously wasn't the only one. The streets of Kingsmouth ran red (or maybe black) with zombie blood and there were points when it just wasn't worth logging in because there were so many players on that the split second any zombies appeared they were immediately set upon and instantly obliterated by dozens of players.

After the official launch, the game was still pretty busy, but nowhere near as overcrowded as it had been during those first few days of open beta. I hadn't really had a chance to explore the game as well as I'd have liked during beta, in part because certain zones were still closed off. Still, I was enjoying myself enough to scrape together enough to fund a three-month subscription, and set about developing my character.

The first thing I noticed was the in-game culture. By that I mean I was surprised to see players passing by a fight jumping in to help an overmatched player take down an enemy. Yet, at the same time, it also seemed like there was, and still is to a large extent, a lot of solo play going on, with players mainly only teaming for dungeons and PvP.

Personally, I currently have zero PvP and dungeon experience in TSW right now, but I'm hoping that's going to change very soon because I've just joined a great cabal, my first in this game.

As time went on and I played through more of the content, I also discovered something else: The deeper I got into the storyline, the more involved with the game I became. For me, the real reward for completing the missions in TSW is as much about the storyline answers you get when you beat them as the experience and loot drops. You don't just get spoonfed a general overall storyline that connects one battle or mission to the next and the next, you get real stories that you have to earn the endings to. Probably more than any other single factor, it's wanting those answers and those final chapters that keeps me logging into TSW again and again. The stories in this game are so well-done that you can't help but want to know how they turn out.

Now, having played TSW for about three and a half months altogether, having left and come back, and having picked up pretty much right where I left off but with plenty more content to play through than there was when I left the game originally, I'm pretty happy with TSW overall and I expect to be playing it for a long time to come, especially now that paying for a subscription no longer factors into whether or not I can play the game.

One thing that Funcom desperately needs to get its shit together on is the TSW cash shop. Personally, I believe that nothing short of a complete revamp is in order. They need vastly more clothing and style options available and more stuff that looks like what people actually wear in the real world. I mean, the only skirts they have for sale are those kilt-things? Seriously, how many women do you see wearing skirts like that in the real world? Someone needs to strap those clothing designers down and force them to read the Style sections of Cosmo and GQ for the last ten years. Hell, even the Sears catalog (if it still existed) would be an improvement.

If Funcom wants to run this game on the profits of their cash shop, then goddam it, people, give us some stuff worth buying! And for Goddess sake, remember that girls play this game too and generally speaking most of us don't dress like prostitutes and strippers. It may titillate the boys, but at least some of us want to look like ladies, not sluts.

Another thing that would help would be better convenience items in the cash shop. I immediately got myself a run speed boost to get to level IV, but that's a one-time purchase. I can craft my own potions by disassembling drops I don't need, but if you're on a particularly tough mission those can get used up pretty quickly. I'd suggest making pre-made potion bundles of 5 or 10 at available at every level for purchase in the cash shop. With the recent gear durability nerf, I'd expect those to be very popular.

One thing I hope Funcom doesn't do is to rely solely on the DLC sales to keep the game afloat. Surely those will be critical to the overall bottom line, but it's also an all-or-nothing proposition. If a player doesn't want or can't afford the DLC, they don't buy it, but they may be more interested in a less-expensive bundle or two of potions or other consumable convenience items.

Right now, we're on the cusp of what likely will either prove to be a big success or a big failure for Funcom with TSW.  I think a lot will depend on how they handle things going forward, particularly because TSW has shown itself to be very attractive to a certain niche market but not as much to overall MMO playerbase.

I suspect the end result will be that Funcom will find itself with another game much like its other two MMOs, one that boasts a loyal core following but just doesn't generate the kind of broad-based appeal of a WoW or GW. There's nothing wrong with this model, of course, I just wonder if TSW can survive it and still turn out high-quality monthly content updates. Time will tell, I suppose,

There's more to say, of course, but that's a conversation for next time.