The Secret World: beyond Solomon Island

, | Game diaries

Developer Funcom wisely put Solomon Island at the beginning of The Secret World. This area is the most accessible, familiar, and varied. As Chris wrote in the previous entry, it’s arguably the strongest part of the game. It certainly affords ample hooks from which to hang the usual horror tropes. HP Lovecraft’s New England by way of Stephen King’s Maine with room for zombies, ghosts, Native American graveyards, re-animators, and more bigfoots than you can shake a dowsing rod at.

But, after the jump, there’s more to horror than King, Lovecraft, and Coombs.

I get the sense that a lot of players are disappointed by Egypt and just plain fatigued by the time they reach Transylvania. At that point, the fresh has worn off The Secret World. The grind is laid bare. There’s less wow left once you’ve made it through the three sections of Solomon Island. Furthermore, Egypt pushes Secret World’s resources to the limit. This is where the engine is barely — just barely — able to accomplish what the designers imagined. Wide-open swathes of desert and towns torn by civil war aren’t easy to do with this graphics engine and this usual MMO model of static quests and static mobs. Luckily, a lot of Egypt is the expected ancient ruins and raidable tombs, but how many times have you Lara Crofted your way through that content already?


But what I like most about Egypt is the aesthetic: open terrain, modern day Egyptians, and especially sunlight. Horror and daytime aren’t easy partners, which is why I admire it all the more when they’re paired. Egypt can be like the better parts of Resident Evil 5. Or the unsettling opening of The Exorcist. And it’s got its share of distinctive set pieces: the lush watering holes gone bad with Filth, the abandoned hotel where an unwrapped mummy keeps watch from the roof, the burning scar across the middle of the desert, the fabulous entrance to the City of the Sun God, and then the City’s diminutive protectors in their shrines.

But Transylvania might be my favorite part of The Secret World for how it’s a slow burn toward something I haven’t already read in a Stephen King potboiler. At first, it resembles the forests and towns of Solomon Island. “Oh, I’ve been here already,” you might think to yourself. But you haven’t. The fact of Transylvania is that it reveals itself gradually, with a unique setting based on the interaction of magic and technology, mythology and politics, the Cold War and Medieval history, rusting industrial hulks and crumbling monasteries, gypsies and fascists. The problem — if you could call it a problem — is that it’s not immediately familiar, and you won’t get it if you don’t follow the storytelling. Transylvania doesn’t hang itself from hooks you’ve already installed. It’s new and even a little demanding. It asks that you listen to the dialog, watch the cutscenes, and read the lore. Funcom rightly made Solomon Island accessible because The Secret World doesn’t know yet if you’re going to stick around. By the time you get to Transylvania, you should know enough to realize that if you pay attention, Funcom will reward you. And I feel they’ve saved some of their best rewards for last. To wit:

Anastasia and her gently undulating gypsy wagon, breathing, breathing, remembering. “A four wheeled Wikipedia edited by faeries,” she calls him.


Sophie and the Forest God are another strange endearing pair. I love just listening to them talk to each other.


The forest is full of hidden sites like this chapel. You can walk past this thing a dozen times and not even know it’s there. Go inside and, sure enough, you’ll find a quest chain.


This ancient ruined town, patrolled by the robed deathless, is the site of a curse I’m starting to unfold through quests. Being in here reminds me of Dark Souls.


Some areas of Transylvania remind me of Call of Duty.


These midget vampires have a very definite political agenda. Aren’t they cute with their stubby fangs and outdated communist ideals?


Is there nothing the Orochi group won’t screw up? That could be Taylor Lautner in there!


This is a water treatment plant. I don’t think they’re doing it right.


How can you resist the gnarled little forest witch who knows how to turn into an owl but can’t figure out her 80s-era PC?


One of my favorite things about The Secret World is my own frequent “what the heck is that?” reaction when I see something new. Speaking of which, what the heck is that?


5 stars

Up next: the clothes make the toon
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