It's no secret that most massively multiplayer online games take place
in either fantasy lands, sci-fi galaxies or apocalyptic dominions, which
is why it's so refreshing that The Secret World is ambitiously set in a
twisted take on our own world where apparently everything that ever
happened on The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fringe is
With The Secret World (Electronic Arts, for PC, $49.99, with
30 days of game time), developer Funcom has a created a mythical virtual
Earth populated with haunted houses, secret societies, vampire cults
and zombie invasions that feels completely distinct from other titles in
the genre like the hugely popular World of Warcraft and Star Wars:
The Old Republic.
The adventures begin in New York, London or
South Korea, depending on whether recruits choose to join the
clandestine Illuminati, Templar or Dragon factions. However, that
decision hardly matters because players of any ilk are quickly
dispatched to a dark corner of New England where they pursue - solo or
together - all the same quests.
The Secret World has abandoned a
typical class structure in favour of abilities determined by weapons
such as shotguns, swords, assault rifles and magical books. Players can
equip two at a time with a total of seven active and passive abilities.
The freedom is welcome, but it probably sounds more groundbreaking for
the genre than it plays out.
While many quests are of the
kill-an-X-amount-of-this or fetch-a-Y-amount-of-that variety, the
developers have neatly masked such MMO grinding with storylines that are
both spooky and funny. They've also created mind-boggling investigation
and puzzle-based missions, some of which require players to do stuff
like decipher Morse code or read the Bible.
innovations are continually undermined by the game's cadre of glitches -
incomplete quest descriptions, disappearing objects and the like - that
continue to exist even though the MMO went live more than three weeks
It's tough to be forgiving of such bugs, as well as build
enthusiasm for investing time and money in The Secret World when an
online shop stocked with virtual goodies requires real cash for
purchase, perhaps foreshadowing that this experience is already headed
toward a free-to-play venture. That or the game's makers are just way
To be certain, The Secret World is an MMO for
players more interested in globe-spanning expeditions than gun-toting
raids. The player-versus-player zones provide minimal action, and the
chances to bombard dungeons are sparse. Unfortunately, those less
compelling diversions provide some of the best opportunities to gain
ability points and nab the best loot.
Despite the shortcomings, The Secret World is most certainly an online role-playing game that
shouldn't be kept secret. With its intoxicatingly cerebral blend of
haunting landscapes, engaging plots and thoughtful quests that actually
require a brain, The Secret World is proof that an MMO doesn't have to
be mindless fun.
Rating: Three out of four stars.