The Secret World: A beautiful mess?

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?


8 thoughts on “The Secret World: A beautiful mess?

  1. thade May 14, 2012 / 12:11 pm

    I am totally with you here; I feel the same way. TSW is very rough around the edges now; control is awkward…extreme growing pains. However, the presentation is great, the missions have so far been interesting, and I honestly can’t wait to see what they do with the ARG.

    I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll sub or not…but it’s now purely an issue of time than an issue of interest. The game has some promise; they’re doing some interesting stuff with and it and have a lot of potential.

  2. Kemwer May 14, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    “It’s interface looks as though it utilizes Flash”
    The funny part: it actually does. Most big games today use Autodesk Scaleform, a middleware that renders Flash inside the game’s 3D environment, so they make the UI on Flash and import it to the game engine.

    I’m very curious about The Secret World, it seems to have a lot of potential to be a great game. I’m still just struggling with justifying paying monthly for another MMO when GW2 is so close to release. I’ll probably give it a try if I manage to grab a beta key, or a limited demo is released later on.

  3. thade May 14, 2012 / 12:18 pm

    $15 for a month’s worth of entertainment is pretty good bang for your buck; that’s not even the cost of a single evening out on the town. 😉 If you play the game even once a week, your value for money is very, very good. That is, if you’re enjoying yourself.

  4. Kemwer May 14, 2012 / 1:18 pm

    It’s very relative. I have played WoW for many years, so it’s not like I don’t understand the value/benefit exchange there. But when I compare the box price + monthly fee value of an MMO like WoW, The Secret World or similar, to the “entertainment per buck” value of playing Diablo 3 this month (one time $60), Torchlight 2 next month (one time $20), or Guild Wars 2 (one time $60), among many others that I can pay once and play as long as I desire, I find it very hard to justify spending those $15 a month.

    An MMO needs to be REALLY GOOD for that, or on my specific case, it needs to be as fun as, or more fun than GW2, otherwise I’ll just use my time to play GW2. The truth is: after playing GW2 during the beta weekend, I won’t buy/subscribe to any MMO without testing it first. My expected quality standards got really high.

  5. Killington May 14, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    It is pretty rough, especially the character creation… but despite all the stuff that still needs worked on, I have to say I am loving the game. I got interested in the idea behind this game right away, and so far the story is as good as what I hoped it would be. In TSW I find myself taking my time and enjoying everything I can find along the way, instead of rushing around just trying to get leveled up like I seem to do in other MMOs. I am definitely preordering this game, but I think I will stop playing the betas so I don’t ruin the game for myself once it actually goes live.

  6. biophazer242 May 14, 2012 / 3:08 pm

    I enjoyed the 3 day beta peak this past weekend a lot, spent so much time with the skill wheel switching out various combinations. I have to say that once that outer ring of skills and the misc skill blocks unlock the depth of that skill wheel will be insane.

    I really liked how a lot of the missions were not marked on the mini map and only noticeable when I got within sight of the mission giver. It really encouraged exploring the zone more and was nice to not just run from quest hub to quest hub for a change.. though the police station did serve as the one big quest hub of course.

    All that being said, they need to really spend some time on smoothing things over in the game. Of course this was a beta weekend so bugs are to be expected and I do not hold that against them, but the game itself still feels unfinished. The animations are quite poor and combat itself felt very stale.

  7. Drannos May 14, 2012 / 3:48 pm

    “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…”

    It’s so funny you say that, because that’s exactly how most people I know describe Lord of the Rings – not LotRO, but the actual books. The game does a great job of giving us an epic story that parallels the main story that we all know and love – all inside a vibrant world that I honestly want to explore.

    “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.”

    And that’s exactly how I felt about SWTOR – very polished (in most places), but ultimately VERY shallow and unfulfilling. I enjoyed the class quests enough to run through 2.75 of them to the end, but generally I found the rest of the “world” hollow and extraordinarily dull. So dull I just couldn’t bring myself to run yet another alt through anything but the class story…to each their own, I suppose.

  8. OneShard May 14, 2012 / 5:16 pm

    Nice post, but would go so far as a mess. Yes there is the odd smelly sock and the zombies left a stain which is going to need more than white wine. But and I am going to /slap myself for this comment… it is still beta. 😉

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