Secret World: these are the houses that Ragnar built

, | Game diaries

Being a horror themed game, Secret World has its share of haunted houses. Two of them are among my favorite quests in any MMO. This isn’t necessarily saying much, given that the bar for making a good MMO quest is notoriously low. But these two haunted houses are examples of everything right and everything wrong with Secret World. For better and worse, this is what happens when you play an MMO partly designed by Ragnar Tornquist, the creator of the Longest Journey single-player adventure games.

After the jump, I won’t spoil anything

If you’ve played The Black House and The Haunting at Franklin Mansion, you don’t need me to tell you how good they are. But if you haven’t played them, you don’t need me spoiling how good they are. Instead, I’m just going to tell you why they’re good, and what they have to say about Secret World.

The Black House is an unmistakable landmark in Secret World for a few reasons. It’s burned husk makes a remarkable first impression when you first see it, a remarkable second impression when you then decide to walk into it, a remarkable third impression when you do the associated quest, a remarkable fourth impression when you likely run into one of Secret World’s spectacular failings, and a remarkable fifth impression once you reconcile yourself to it.

Because Secret World lets you replay quests as much as you like, I’ve done The Black House three times. It has never once worked. And the problem with how it’s broken is that there’s no indication that it’s broken. Something that’s supposed to happen at a stage of the quest simply doesn’t happen. Yet there’s no indication anything is wrong. Instead, you are left to wander and wonder, with no inkling that it’s a problem with the game instead of a problem with your problem solving skills. The Black House is one of several places where Funcom will destroy any trust you put in them to make puzzles hard instead of impossible.

There are ways around the issue, which isn’t even a puzzle. However, as of the latest patch that was supposed to fix various bugged quests and did no such thing, The Black House is apparently impossible to finish. I filed a petition and was told by a GM that they can skip any character past the broken stage just once, but if we want to play The Black House again, we have to wait until they fix it. No word was given on when this will be. Which makes The Black House a ruined husk in more ways than one.

Having actually gotten through it twice, I love how Black House was supposed to work, even though it’s one of those Secret World quests that gets slightly ruined by having other players play it simultaneously with you. Imagine The Blair Witch Project with about a half dozen camera crews running around catching sight of each other. But aside from the necessary evil of this being an MMO, Black House has no business being included in the game in its current state. It ultimately does more damage to the game than good.

Then there’s the Franklin Mansion, which also has its share of glitches. When I first arrived at this stately, brightly lit, well maintained mansion in the Blue Mountains, I saw a piece of something I wasn’t supposed to see until later. Way to spoil the secret, Funcom. Of course, I didn’t know it was spoiled until later, so maybe it wasn’t spoiled. By the way, be sure to click on the mansion’s many cats. They have names worth knowing.

The notable quest here is called The Haunting, which has a great set-up, follow-through, and payoff. You probably won’t do it until you’ve already explored the mansion a bit, including one quest that’s exactly the sort of scavenger hunt more MMOs should be willing to do as quests. This willingness to force us to pay attention in new ways is Secret World’s greatest strength, and therefore its greatest weakness when it breaks. But once it comes time to do The Haunting, the game doesn’t attempt anything radical. Instead, it just asks you to walk back and forth. It’s an example of dead simple gameplay mechanics wrapped in a simple and effective gimmick, and it even manages to work around the issue of doing a quest while a bunch of other yahoos are doing the quest at the same time. It’s well worth doing a second time just to admire some of the details. How many MMO quests can you say that about?

Funcom has announced that they’ll be providing monthly updates with free new content. If this is the sort of content Secret World can provide every so often, this could be a rare MMO worth sticking with for the content instead of being thrall to the grind.

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