It's not that I'm terrible at combat. On the contrary: I'm pretty good at slicing things up. I've got solid DPS and a couple of powerful heals that make me a force to be reckoned with. It's just that my judgment and self-preservation instincts seem to be more or less entirely absent.
In other words: this week, when I had time to play The Secret World, I died a lot.
Last week, I spent much of my time in a duo. This week, the scheduling stars did not align with any of my friends or family, so I spent most of my time solo. And really, that's okay. The world of Kingsmouth is designed for players to be able to navigate and fight in on their own, as long as they are smart about it.
The part where I dove for the boss in the crate while still only at half health from fighting the two mercenaries standing guard outside the crate? Not smart. Please choose the anima well at which you would like to resurrect. PS: Serves you right for getting cocky.
But death in The Secret World is not particularly punishing, and I'm glad for that. In many ways, the game hearkens back to the adventure games of the 1990s. And while some folks enjoyed the player-killing attitude found in the King's Quest series, I always preferred the LucasArts philosophy to the Sierra one. The manual for the original Secret of Monkey Island read: "We believe that you buy games to be entertained, not to be whacked over the head every time you make a mistake. So we don't bring the game to a screeching halt when you poke your nose into a place you haven't visited before. We make it clear, however, when you are in a dangerous situation."
I immediately remembered that old manual, because Funcom seems to share the philosophy. Granted, there are many deaths, because it's an MMORPG with combat and not a pure adventure game. But The Secret World is also a series of nested mysteries in a carefully built, highly detailed world. You're meant to go exploring, to look into nooks and crannies and see what's there.
That's how I ended up doing a huge number of item quests in Kingsmouth this week. Scattered quests are everywhere, organically. There's a policeman's badge in a crashed and abandoned cruiser. A dropped PDA along the side of a road. A phone on the corpse of an unfortunate cleaning lady. A complaint's form on a policeman's desk. The world is full of the dropped and forgotten objects of daily life, clues to the stories of the people who once held them.
And speaking of the story, I left side missions alone for a while to spend some time advancing through the story of the disaster that befell Kingsmouth. After a few quest tiers—each tier, itself, a small self-contained mission—my Templar contact congratulated me on my persistence and warned me in no uncertain terms that I was not yet ready to pursue the mystery farther. He may as well have said, "go do side quests and level up some more first." Except, of course, there's no leveling.
So the main story will have to wait, while I dig through the other mysteries of Kingsmouth. But now I'm eager to learn more, because the story I uncovered so far was chilling. And along the way to uncovering it, I cracked passwords to violate HIPAA, killed some eldritch horrors, had detailed conversations with other eldritch horrors, and followed the music.
There's a lot of following in The Secret World. Follow the ravens, follow the music, follow the trail of blood, follow the clues. It creates the sense of always having a destination, always having a "to" and not just a "from," but the ends are always shrouded in mystery, hidden when you first step out.
They're also usually shrouded in monsters. Next week, I will be smart enough to take health-recovering breaks in between. Death isn't punshing, but boy am I tired of the trek back from the anima wells.
Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.