What you’ll find in Secret World’s new horde mode that you won’t find anywhere else

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The latest update for Secret World, dubbed Issue #8, is out tomorrow. But even if you don’t buy the $10 add-on to this ridiculously generous free-to-play MMO, you’re still getting a lot from Issue #8. First up are augments, which is a layer of customization added to the skill system. The core of Secret World is a set of skills based on your choice of two weapons. Do you want a sword and pistols? Or are you more of a shotgun and blood magic guy? Every weapon has a huge set of skills, and you can mix and match freely from whichever two weapons you equip. Last year, starting with a rocket launcher, an auxiliary weapon slot was added so you could complement your fighting style with stuff like flamethrowers or chainsaws. I’m currently leveling up my whip. Now here comes the augment system as a whole other set of skills based on crafting, upgrading, and applying tweaks to your active skills. They’re like gems in Diablo or Path of Exile. If you thought the skill system in Secret World was detailed, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This is all endgame content, so it’s not going to be dropped in your lap when you start playing. But even for us active players, the augment system is simultaneously daunting and thrilling.

So how do you get these augments? By playing scenarios. And what are scenarios? They’re randomized missions run in the Venetian Council’s virtual mission simulator. Each scenario consists of three waves of random enemies attacking clusters of survivors, with a boss and a special event between each wave. During a demo today, our group’s events were traitors (some of the survivors opened fire on the other survivors) and a supply drop of special weapons crates (one of which contained a rude surprise in the form of an unfriendly golem). Our first boss was an experimental zombie hulk. The second was a very angry undead bear (pictured).

As you fight, the monsters drop augments and the bosses will drop particularly choice augments (at this point, the scenarios are the only place you can get augments). There are three maps, each playable in a variety of difficulty levels and set for solo players, pairs, or full groups of five. One map is freely available to all players; the other two are reserved for folks who purchase Issue #8. The basic gameplay model — defending survivors from three waves of attackers — is consistent on all the maps, but Funcom has plans to add new modes and new random events. There are tentative plans for later maps based on getting across an area with a minimum threat level (I hesitate to call it stealth, but the model is the sabotage missions already in the game) and escape scenarios similar to the snowmobile sequence in the Issue #7. I haven’t played that yet. I’m too busy leveling up my whip to gad about on a snowmobile. But I’m never too busy for randomized horde modes. The scheduled time — fingers crossed — for Issue #8 to go live is tomorrow morning.