Tokyo in Secret World was never just a city in Japan. In terms of the lore, it is ground zero for the supernatural horrors that make The Secret World what it is. Tokyo is the source of mobs, quests, character skills, filth, villains, ghosts, and everything else that makes The Secret World more than a game about people living quiet lives on a New England coast. That would have been interesting, but a terrible MMO. Then, somewhere into the game’s mid-life, Tokyo became the name of promised new content that wasn’t just more instanced adventures or a new branch on the skill tree or more costumes. Tokyo would be a whole new area for folks who had exhausted Egypt and Transylvania. Tokyo would be the fourth act. It would be the next giant step. Tokyo. Would it ever arrive? Why was it taking so long? When would Tokyo get here? Tokyo was an eldritch El Dorado.
Tokyo is finally here as part of Issue #9: The Black Signal, available now for $9. For a little more than twice that amount, you can get a collector’s edition with special in-game doo-dads and a Japanese schoolgirl uniform. Lest you think the schoolgirl uniform is just gratuitous cheesecake, there’s a tradition in Japanese horror of schoolgirls in their uniforms dispatching monsters. Which is gratuitous, to be sure, but you can’t blame Funcom for knowing their source material.
More information about Issue #9 is available here. I should probably temper my expectations for Tokyo, since it’s “only” a new issue. But given how distinct Funcom made the other three regions in Secret World, I can’t help but have high hopes.
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. Continue reading →
In college, I spent many hours in the Ellis Library at the University of Missouri. The gigantic old building is a huge and somewhat forbidding place. The farther up you go, the less light you encounter. Shelves of books press together against narrow aisles, with study desk cubbyholes squeezed in wherever they fit. I’m guessing it’s fairly typical for big universities. But whoever designed the top of the Innsmouth Academy knows places like the Ellis Library.
After the jump, shhhh! Continue reading →
Who doesn’t like variety in character skins, clothes, and weapons? There’s no reason every sword and helmet should look the same. But I can’t help but wince every time my character, who relies on pistol skills in combat, fires her “pistols”, which are the nicest ones I’ve found. It sounds as ridiculous as it looks.
Up next: the wisdom of Solomon Island
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When an MMO launches, it does so trumpeting the boldest of intentions for its continuing evolution and development. That’s especially true for a game launched with a subscription model, like The Secret World. Sure enough, when Funcom released the game 16 months ago, Game Director Ragnar Tornquist bravely predicted monthly content updates would follow.
You could almost see the disaster coming here. An ill-advised publishing deal with EA produced no significant pre-release marketing, but may have contributed to the game being rushed to launch. As released, The Secret World was plagued by frustrating bugs to fundamental things like quests and chat that the Funcom team struggled to fix over a six week span of time. Sales were awful, large-scale layoffs at Funcom ensued, and when Tornquist abruptly “stepped aside” a year ago, I’d have laid even money that The Secret World wouldn’t live to see 2013.
After the jump, it’s not a bad little tree at all, Charlie Brown. Maybe it just needs a little love. Continue reading →
Tom: Secret World is not an easy game to jump into, especially after you’ve been away for a while. You only ever have a few skills slotted, but the array of skills and how they fit together is incredibly meticulous. This is a tinkerer’s game. Or a game where you just load one of the preset templates and mash the buttons. But who wants to do that?
After the jump, let’s get meticulous. Continue reading →
Tom: While Secret World is uniquely suited to solitaire play — at least at a thematic level — it doesn’t always work out that way in terms of gameplay. The scenarios, for instance. But even in the wider world, it’s nice to have a sidekick. Or be a sidekick. It depends on which one of us you ask. Personally, I think Hornbostel (pictured, left) is trying a little too hard with the eye patch. That’s like something a sidekick would do.
Chris: The eyepatch makes me look tougher! Plus I’d just gotten it as a drop and it matches my outfit. The hell is that burqa ninja getup you’re wearing, anyway?
Tom: I’m a nun. A bad-ass nun. Or maybe a chick jedi. I haven’t quite decided, but either one of those is better than a transgender Snake Plissken.
After the jump, me and one-eyed Jane. Continue reading →
This is a sad tale of both how great and how awful The Secret World can be. It is a tale of the investigation missions, which are unique in a genre when so many missions involve collecting ten boar hides or delivering a doo-dad to the next quest hub. It is a tale of backstory and clues and demonic rune alphabets and world building and characters. It is a tale that spans the globe. It contains spoilers. And I should warn you that it does not have a happy ending.
After the jump, meet Daniel Bach, who’s covered hell, you know. Continue reading →
Secret World has been out for about a year and a half. In an MMO, this normally means the population has fallen off and maybe a bunch of servers have closed. It can be hard to find people to group with. Maybe you can’t talk your friend into playing because he’s playing something else. So you’re on a lonely journey through what should be a thriving world built for parties of adventurers. It’s depressing. Like Baltimore.
Well, as you can imagine, the player population of Secret World isn’t what it used to be. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
After the jump, alone in the dark. Continue reading →
Videogame site Polygon has paved the way for reviews to be living breathing documents, like the Constitution, the Bible (the Catholic one), or a Star Wars movie. Their reviews can evolve and grow, like a Mitt Romney position. One day, SimCity is a nine. The next it’s a four. Tomorrow, it might be a seven. What’s Battlefield 4 today? Let’s check. It’s a very Buddhist approach to reviews: the only constant is change, never stepping in the same river twice, let a thousand scores bloom, yadda, yadda, yadda. Where some people might see a lack of commitment, others see a willingness to change one’s mind. You say potato, I say waffle.
Fair enough. Why hold a game accountable for any given single state? Let’s roll with it by re-reviewing Funcom’s Secret World, a game I really wanted to like when it was released, but couldn’t because its launch issues undermined what was great about it (although I followed the two-star review with about ten articles detailing what was great about it). Now that Funcom has had about a year and a half to tidy everything up, let’s take another look and give it a new rating.
After the jump, a first chance to make a second impression. Continue reading →
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.