The Secret World: Trials of the Dragon

rom1The monsters of The Secret World may be fearsome foes from our nightmares, but the Drăculești?  They’re the ones the monsters fear.  And in last night’s adventures through Trials of the Dragon, the final “sidestories” mission for our TSW group, we found out why this group of Romanian fighters are so hardcore.

The mission starts out with the two camp kids being trained to fight.  I both love and am creeped out by these kids; Funcom did a great job with their personalities and voice acting, but those models are so off that you have to wonder if the devs actually know what kids look like or if they created these characters based on vague descriptions.  The boy is hesitant to fight the girl, because girl, but as he’s reminded, “Monsters come in girl as well.”

It turns out that they got off rather easy.  The rest of us are tasked — for some reason — with going through the full trials of the Drăculești.  It’s an investigation mission, so there’s less hand-holding, but it’s actually more of a mish-mash of several mission types.  It also quickly landed on my list of “missions from this game that I never want to run again and will do my very best to purge from memory.”  Each of the five tiers was apparently in some sort of one-up contest with each other to be as frustrating as possible.  Oh, the inner rage was in full-force that night.

The first part is a boxing match with one of the Drăculești, reusing the boxing interface from Last Train to Cairo.  It wasn’t too hard, although it took me about three or four tries to get through.

rom2Then we moved on to, y’know, hell, because the Drăculești are not messing around.  You actually have to go into one of the hell dungeons (you don’t have to fight anything, so you can go in solo).  This glitched hard for us last week, but resetting the mission and going in separate helped.  In here, you have to slowly walk over a series of grates and coals, gradually burning alive as you unlock the path to the end.  There’s a very specific pattern you need to walk and since you can’t heal or use skills, it’s in your best interest to put on as much health gear as possible just to survive.  I loathed this puzzle.  Must’ve done it 20 times.

Then — why not — we got a stealth portion of the mission through the zone’s lair (which is super-elite content that will kick your butt).  This part just suuuuuucked.  It was so hard to see mobs and you had to avoid all of them to get to a glowing column.  Some of the mobs were dark shades that would just pop up out of the ground and tag you, which definitely did not feel fair.

rom3Finally, we were challenged to go on a scavenger hunt through the old Drăculești town, which is fully populated with bad guys.  So lots of fighting and running past mobs as you’re trying to find the next clue which is, of course, written in Romanian.  Some of the clues made sense but others were just… bizarre.  The last one that said some gibberish about the moon was downright impossible to figure out, especially as the game was currently in the day cycle.  I’ll admit that I broke down and used a walkthrough at that point just to finish things up.

Finishing this mission also finished up all four sidestories, which netted each of us a free mystery box (I got a lot of currency) and the Inspector’s Gadget, a really neat elite gadget that gives you a good heal/health boost on a two-minute timer.

Nice rewards, but there is just no way I’m ever doing this again.  Never ever ever.  Ever.

On the upside, it looks like Tokyo’s coming in May, probably toward the back end of the month!  My gear still has a few blues in it, but overall I’ve got a good set and a couple of good builds, so I’m ready to go.  Between Tokyo and WildStar’s launch, I’ll have my hands busy around my birthday (May 31st, get your shopping done early!).

The Secret World: The Abandoned

ab1Our Monday night Secret World group hit a snag as the third investigation mission from the Sidestories pack bugged out on us pretty severely.  We switched over to the fourth mission so as to reset the third, which we’ll attempt once again next week.

So we ended up doing The Abandoned in the Shadowy Forest last night.  This one starts with the good ol’ bridge troll Mosul, who is one of the many old world fairy tale-ish characters that exist in Transylvania.  I kind of like him: He speaks slow like an Ent yet never lost my attention.  With this quest, he’s worried that the stories of the fantastic creatures in the woods are in danger of slipping away and charges me with learning about them and passing that knowledge along.

ab2While I’m totally on board with learning all about fairy tales, the reality of this investigation mission wasn’t so much storytelling as it was translating.  Lots and lots and lots of translating.  We first had to translate the message on this coin, of which my only contribution was to identify it as Greek.  I didn’t take Greek in seminary, because no one told me that one day I’d need it for a video game mission.  Who knew?

We had to find apps and virtual Greek keyboards to type in all of this, which pointed us toward a crypt that had something to do with Iele.  You see, I just didn’t get much of the story of this mission because the translations were kind of cryptic and the mission itself never stopped to really tell you what was going on outside of little fragments.  I enjoyed the trappings of it, but honestly I could not tell you what all of this was about.  There’s a tomb and a book and three sisters and some eggshells and a Blanji (the gnome dudes with big buck teeth).

ab3Probably the most interesting part — to me, at least — was getting this picture book and having to track down where it happened in the zone.  It’s a simple story about this creepy lady who lures a guy down a river and then rips his heart out and eats it.  Good old-time family fun.

ab4When you see it recreated, it’s hard not to be simultaneously charmed and weirded out by her.  I like the details that the devs put into her, like her little clapping hands emotes and the fact that she’s dirty and wild and has this shredded dress on.

Later on in the quest we had to throw broken eggshells into a river and follow them down (no, I do not know why).  As we walked down the creek, watching our eggshells bob and weave with the current, we were secure in the knowledge that this is probably the only MMO that asked you to do such a thing.

We encountered another bug with the next step, as the Blanji bugged out, so I looked up where we were supposed to go.  It involved dying and having ghost Blanjis put the eggshell back together.  In a cool closing twist, the final step of the quest asks you to share the story (the egg, which has painted scenes from the quest) to another player.

It wasn’t a hugely challenging quest, past the annoyance of translating things from Greek and Romanian (MMOGC said that her ex-boyfriend was Romanian but she didn’t think he would respond nicely if we called him up asking him to translate stuff from a video game).  I really do wish that I grokked more of the story itself, so I may have to do a little research and see what I missed.

 

The Secret World: A fistful of bees

Our Monday night Secret World group reconvened to tackle the second of the four investigation missions: Immersion, AKA “The Game.”

game1The mission started out with one of the very few alive Orochi in the game, this one in the camp in Scorched Desert.  I didn’t really catch the purpose behind this mission, other than to grab an Orochi tablet and try to make contact with Tokyo.

game2
Once we connected with Orochi headquarters, the tablet started us playing “The Game v1.0″ — a bonified, electrified, genuine text adventure game. In an MMO. Yes, chalk this up to another thing you’ll never see in any MMO other than this one. It’s a pretty robust game despite having a rather weak text parser (sometimes you have to be very precise in what you’re asking). The weird thing is that the entire game mimics the world — what happens in the text game and the places it describe can be found outside of The Game. This is actually the point, as you need to play through each leg of The Game to find where the SD card with the next version is hidden. We ended up hopping all over the world, from London to New England to Korea.

game3
Despite the occasional frustration of “what do I do now?” The Game was pretty entertaining. It was fun to do while chatting in a group, because we were able to groupthink it and laugh about the funnier lines. And we died a lot — once on purpose because the quest demanded it.

game4
The encounter with the Hive Hum — the bees — in The Game gave me chills, especially as the bees themselves seemed to be very aware of the meta nature of this exercise.

game5
Best line ever? I agree.

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I can only imagine how long it took this developer to make The Game and how much of his or her sanity was sacrificed in doing so. It’s a pretty lengthy quest, with five versions of The Game needing to be found.

game7
The Game eventually led us to one of the Council of Venice “holodeck” rooms, which started up and displayed a few eerie messages before shutting down.

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And the last word displayed before the quest closed out was the name “John.” Who is John?

One other thing: Each stage of The Game gave you passwords to continue into the next stage, and these passwords seem to be telling us a lot about what’s to come:

  • FILTHYMAN
  • BLACKSIGNAL
  • THE COUNCILLIES
  • TOKYOAWAITS
  • THEENDGAME

The Secret World: Frankenstein II

Our Monday night Secret World group has agreed to dedicate four weeks in a row to exploring the four new investigation missions that were added last week, so last night had us going through our first one: The Animate Clay.

f1It was my first visit back to Dr. Anton Aldini in New York since a long time ago when I got Yeti’s new makeover (ain’t she a cutie?) and did the chainsaw acquisition quest.  Aldini has since not stopped with his insane plastic surgery experiments and things have gotten worse now that one of his creations has gotten loose and started killing.

What I love about this game is that there’s a real desire to take old myths, stories, and events and give them a fresh twist.  Yes, this is basically Frankenstein: The Quest, but it’s made far more complex by a meta self-awareness — Aldini is descended by the guy who inspired the novel (and he is NOT a fan of Mary Shelly’s work), and this new creature is quite aware of its literary counterpart.

I don’t want to spoil the mission for those who haven’t done it, but as far as investigation missions go, it was a really good one.  There were several puzzles that required out-of-the-box thinking and out-of-the-game actions: reading up on Frankenstein, a phone call to the United Kingdom (no, really), a music puzzle, a bar code scanner, and an awful lot of attention paid to details.

f2Ten Tentacles and I spent some time dancing in the NYC sewers as we waited for MMOGC and her husband to join us.  The homeless guy there was quite entertained.

We did this mission as a group and without a guide.  This was a ton of fun, because we got to shoot ideas back and forth as well as splitting up the foot work.  I don’t think any stage really had us stumped for long.

f3Best key pad ever?  Yes indeed it was.  And what happened next had us both laughing and retching slightly.

monsterThe final showdown with the creature took place almost entirely in shadow, making it very hard to get a clear glimpse at what this thing looked like.  That actually worked to heighten the creep factor, although I did get a couple of screenshots (above) that showed a few details.  In the end I felt a bit bad for this guy and a bit wiser in the ways of Frankenstein.

What is wrong with The Secret World’s combat?

combatThe Secret World’s combat system is often cited as one of the more significant roadblocks for people getting to like the game.  I’ve seen enough comments on Massively and elsewhere to know that either a small group of people really, really hate the combat and mention it any chance they get, or a lot of people feel that there’s something not quite on here.

I wouldn’t argue with the latter crowd.  I don’t hate TSW’s combat, but it’s not great either.  There’s something… off with it that makes it a less satisfactory experience than it should be.

It could be the combination of several factors melding together:

  • A lack of auto-attack (and resulting finger fatigue of always having to mash buttons)
  • The length of combat, as even a standard mob takes longer to kill in TSW than a contemporary MMO would
  • You just don’t feel like you’re really hurting the enemy, even with reaction animations — maybe this goes back to the time-to-kill length
  • Overused and sometimes awkward animations
  • The pattern of combat, which involves spamming a builder and then eventually firing off your two closers without much variation
  • Range combat seems to have an inherent advantage

Little things but significant and ones that add up.  Combat is one of the game’s core systems (happily not the only one, however) and as such it should be fun.  Instead, it’s often a chore.

It’s not all a wash, of course.  Some of the attacks are viscerally enjoyable to use, you can cast on the run, the footwork you have to do for fights certainly keeps you on your toes, and the flexible skill system lets you create the type of attacker that you want.

Seeing as how Funcom’s not going to want to redo the combat system from scratch, I have to be realistic in what recommendations I’d make to improve it.  Off the top of my head:

  • Significantly shorten combat time but perhaps make mobs more challenging in other ways
  • Allow us to put our builder as an auto-attack (have to make a change to how the global cooldown works to allow us to interrupt those to fire off other skills)
  • Add more varieties of animations

I also really like what Guild Wars 2 did a while back, which was to add little symbols by flying damage text to show that this damage came from burning or confusion or whatever.  That would be really excellent to see in TSW.

I’ll admit that while I’m excited about Tokyo, I’m a little nervous about the devs adding another layer of complexity on top of the combat system (the AEGIS shields) without taking time to address some of the complaints people have had about the basic system.  We’ll see.

The Secret World Screenshot Tuesday

Our normal Monday night Secret World group was mostly MIA due to various issues, so as a replacement for a tale of our thrilling exploits, I’ll do a screenshot dump with commentary.

t1We need more missions involving this possessed wagon.  I really want to see what’s inside of it.

t2“Ritual preparation available on request” sign outside of a butcher shop in London.

t3Dude, Bigfoot is ripped.

t4I appreciate the sound effects that you hear when you get close to this arcade cabinet, but Funcom really needs to program in the ability to play this game.  How cool would that be?

t5I don’t know what amuses me more: That Sam Krieg has a musical in NYC, or that the Illuminati have taken out a billboard in Times Square advertising how little the population knows about the group.

t6Even the denizens of Hell like to have a good time!  Someone rigged the Overlook sign to read out “hell” and someone else doodled a cute little cartoon deviil on the side of the building here.

t7This is like every bad dream I ever had.

t8Don’t make him tell you twice!