I have a rule about what makes a great novel. Wanna hear it? It’s pretty simple. In every chapter, something interesting, something gripping has to happen. Life’s too short to fiddle about with books that ask me to invest in 150 pages of plodding build-up to the awesome parts; you can have awesome in chapter one and chapter 120. You just need to be a good writer. Not all of it has to be mind-blowing; there just needs to be a reveal, an element of the world explained, an action performed, something that makes me want to keep on reading more.
Could this rule be ported to MMOs? SWTOR keeps me playing because there’s always something interesting about each step of the class stories, and I want to find out what happens next. LOTRO’s world is compelling to me because it’s in the larger frame of a novel that always feels like it’s moving forward. And with The Secret World, I think there’s a great chance that we could be getting what I’m going to call a beautiful mess. Its graphics leave much to be desired. It’s interface looks as though it utilizes Flash. It’s got that weird Funcom brand of slightly-off characters, gutter talk for the sake of the M rating, and your character never speaks. It’s not always clear how things work, and I spent the first couple hours in the beta wondering if I liked or disliked this.
It’s a mess, but it’s beautiful. It’s way easier to identify with because it takes place in a contemporary setting. You can use shotguns and assault rifles the whole way through if so desired. Its world where “everything is true” embraces conspiracy theories and cryptozoology galore and has fun with it. It forces you to focus on a small handful of quests at a time so you can absorb the story instead of rushing through a quest hub. It’s got mysteries galore, creepiness in spades, and a scare or two in waiting. It feels very unlike most other MMOs out there right now, and every new locale I visit makes me want to see more. If it was a book, I’d be flipping through it in one marathon sitting, I think.
It’s rough and raw, but you know what else? It’s interesting. It’s a place I genuinely want to explore. I honestly can’t say that about most MMO worlds. Give me a beautiful mess over a polished bore any day of the week. Messes can be cleaned up, but a polished turd is still just a turd.
Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to get a ton of time with this before the launch, mostly because I want to retain the story experience for my first run-through. I’m reading a lot of chatter on this that echoes the “beautiful mess” part — people aren’t being shy about bashing it for its faults, but many are also testifying to how compelling it’s turned out to be. The dark knight of 2012 or a flash-in-the-pan flirtation?