The Secret World: Welcome to Happyville

I looked up and the clock said 12:15 a.m.  Not good.  I just felt like I had gotten into the game, and here it was three hours later.  I guess what I’m saying is that The Secret World is initially proving to have the “just ten more minutes” effect, and that’s a good thing.

It’s easy to be over-excited and exuberant on the first day of a game, but even so, I’ve got a special feeling about this title.  Whether it lasts a long time for me or is good for a couple months is almost irrelevant; I’m not looking for a new long-term MMO home, I just want a good game with a great story.  I think The Secret World may prove to be just that.

I rolled Sylvia “Yeti” Perkins as a Templar, which apparently 80% of the early start crowd did too (if PvP reports from guildies are to be believed).  I’ve spent maybe five hours in the game so far, and have come away charmed by a very different type of MMO experience.  I think “different” is good in TSW’s case, because even if it relegates to a permanent niche status, at least it’s hard to label as a copycat of anything else.  It’s just kind of its own beast, and it takes a large mental shift to get into the game’s desired groove.

So here’s a jumble of things I did and did not like after the first day:

Things I Liked:

  • The NPC characters and voices are, on the whole, genuinely interesting.  I have no problem just going through all the dialogue options with everyone, because they’re short stories in and of themselves.  Maybe you can argue that they’re all too colorful, but that’s part of the fun here.  I’m finding these NPCs much more interesting than the questgivers in SWTOR.
  • I don’t get the accusations that TSW’s quests are same-old, same-old.  Honestly, they feel incredibly varied and much more involved with narrative.  I like how there are different types of missions that give you widely different experiences, from straight-up fighting quests to put-on-your-thinking-cap investigative quests to stealth-and-sneakery sabotage quests.  The little intro cutscenes to each quest are much more interesting than text boxes (although you get those too).   I’ve already done such a wide variety of missions, many of which challenged me to observe and think, and that’s a major thumbs-up from me.
  • I like how you can only have a handful of quests at a time.  It really forces you to focus on a particular story or two, and keeps them from feeling like you’ve picked up a grocery list of things to get and do.  There are also plenty of objects in the world that trigger quests, and those are fun to find along the way.
  • Funcom’s definitely added character customization options so you can — with careful planning — not look hideous.  And the clothes are cool.
  • Actually, the whole contemporary setting is cool.  It’s something we connect with so much stronger than fantasy, because we have a lot more experience with it.  It’s what I liked about Fallen Earth as well — the contemporary trappings.
  • Climbing ladders was a pleasant surprise.
  • It’s definitely a dark game, and if you like a little bit of horror and edginess to your stories, TSW has it in spades.  I can’t say I’ve been creeped out or scared yet, but the opening town of Kingsmouth is definitely like Halloween a la Stephen King.
  • The ability wheel and skill point system allow for a lot of flexibility, and I like constantly earning points to spend in them.  I initially started with chaos magic, but found I disliked it.  No problem: I dumped some points into shotgun, found a weapon, and there I go.  No need to reroll or anything.
  • Because the game is divorced by levels, the only barrier to progression is just getting stronger across the board.  But since I’m not outleveling mobs (not that I can tell), I can still earn XP and keep that AP rolling in.  So I’m very much taking my time and hitting everything I can.
  • The zombie mobs look fantastic if you examine them up close.
  • I definitely want to learn more about the secret world and its lore.  Lots of stories here, and I’m ready to experience them.
  • I didn’t experience any bugs, and only had one crash to desktop when I was fiddling around with the in-game browser.
  • Nice customization of UI.  Every option I needed was right there.

Things I Disliked:

  • My goodness are some of the NPCs insanely ugly.  I’m not expecting them all to look like models or anything, but a few of their faces (especially the women) can be off-putting to behold.  Even the main character of Rose looks all duck-lipped.
  • Three magic schools, three melee weapon types, and three ranged weapon types seems… limited.  I know there’s a lot of mix-and-matching and advanced specs, but at first glance, it feels smaller than it should.
  • Mobs can go from two-shot easy to long, drawn-out fights, and I’m having a hard time putting those tougher ones down.  The jump of toughness seems a little uneven.
  • Guild/cabal roster doesn’t seem to be working.  Can’t see who’s logged in.
  • Can’t figure out how to make chat font size larger.  Maybe I’m missing it.  But it’s too small for me on this resolution.
  • There are just three main PvE areas of the game — New England, Egypt, Transylvania.  I know there are multiple zones within them and a LOT to do, but that feels very limited from what should be a world-wide jaunt.  I was hoping for many more locations.
  • Not all mobs drop loot.  Haven’t found any costume pieces yet.  Don’t really know how all the stats work or what I should be going for.
  • Being armed to the teeth and almost constantly surrounded by others really limits how scary this game can be.
  • Some of the mobs move too much and I can never get a clear look at their faces.  Small thing, but I like seeing details.
  • The in-game store was pretty borked and it took a long time to claim my pre-order items.

But all of that is, of course, very initial impressions.  Looking forward to getting some good time in with this title this weekend and bringing you back more tales.

I’m not ugly, and other TSW happiness

Only been in The Secret World for a little bit (I’m Yeti on Arcadia, say hi if you’re on!), but dang, am I loving this game.  I’m going to save longer impressions for later, but three quick things:

1. I was able to make a female character that isn’t incredibly ugly.

2. These zombies are appropriately terrifying if you look at them up close.

3. Every game needs to let me have a shotgun.  I’m backwheeling and shouting “WHEEEEE! KA-BLAM!” all the way home.

RIFT’s Mentoring: Helping by hurting

Happy The Secret World Early Access Day for Hopefuls and the Faithful!  I’m looking forward to getting some time in with this odd new MMO at some point today if the server gods are kind.

I’m sure I’ll be talking more about that later, but right now I want to share my delight with RIFT’s new mentoring system.  Like just about everything in the game, it’s ridiculously smooth and easy to use.  You just right click the level number under your portrait and use the slider to set your new temporary level.  Your abilities and stats scale down with the levels, but you don’t lose any of your abilities either.

I was thinking that this system would be great for teaming up with friends at lower levels or engaging in instant adventures, and while that’s true, last night I found an even better use for it.

I’m cleaning up the last few quests and achievements in Scarwood Reach before moving on, and I’ve been a little upset because I’m way overleveled not just for this zone, but for the next two.  It’s not as much fun when you steamroll everything and get no XP in the process.  Enter the mentoring system: I just tweaked my level down from 40 to 31, and suddenly all of the mobs were at-level and giving me loads of XP per kill.

And then it clicked: This system frees me up from worrying about my level relative to the zone I’m in (as long as the zone isn’t way over my head, of course).  It frees me to progress at my own pace without worrying that I’m not getting XP for anything or being challenged.  I love that.  At this rate, I’m going to hit 50 way before I even touch the actual endgame zones, and that’s fine with me.  More XP can go toward planar attunement that way.

So bravo, Trion.  Even though this had to be a butt-load of work, you make these features look effortless in the face of the competition.  I wish every game had this feature.

A night with RIFT 1.9

Are we over the Guild Wars 2 hubbaballo yet?  No?  Oh.  I’ll give you a minute to collect yourself.

Good.  Now let’s talk about something exciting that’s already happened versus will happen, which is RIFT’s 1.9 patch.  Even with the expansion on its way later this year, the Trion team had time to put out an insanely meaty content update for the summer.  And let me tell you, it’s a joy to behold.  Our guild was going nuts last night exploring all of the new goodies, and while I wasn’t able to check out the new 3-faction Conquest (not being 50 yet), I did get around to quite a few of the highlights in the few hours I had to play.

Stylist: While there are no new hairstyles or tattoos, it’s still awesome to be able to finally tweak how our character looks with the in-game stylist.  Adjusting height and facial features is expensive, but just messing with hair and markings is affordable.  I gave my Dorf a new ‘do and a cool facial stripe, and she’s good to go.

Summerfest: With the patch comes a one-month Summerfest event.  I looove RIFT’s festivals, because they always have you doing something different, and plus, the rewards are usually awesome for fluff lovers.  As far as I can tell, the bulk of Summerfest is a scavenger hunt across the land.  There’s two versions, a lowbie and a highbie one, and I took an hour to complete all five steps of the lowbie ones.  They’re actually pretty clever and even funny, and you get a nice pile of currency when you’re through it.

One of the best activities was a “human barrel ride” down the falls in Scarlet Gorge.  You just do a bunch of jumps off ledges into pools, attempting to hit rings on the way down.  It’s silly, but I was laughing the whole time.  Awesome stuff.

I also did the new fishing and cooking dailies, which didn’t take up much time.  I haven’t worked that hard on my fishing skill, but everyone tells me that it’s worth it because of the cooking buffs, so it’s on my to do list.  Plus, it’s a really relaxing activity for the end of a play session.

My two big gripes about Summerfest are the annoying hedge maze that is a pain to navigate with your camera, and the relatively few ways to earn the currency.  There’s bug squashing and a dog show for Ascend a Friend owners, but it’s certainly not as varied as the anniversary festival was.

I did learn that there are rare pets roaming the countryside that you can trap, and I’m determined to hunt a few down between now and the end of the event.

Auto-bag sort: This isn’t something I’m going to use terribly often, but I applaud Trion for putting it in.  It’s the little conveniences like this that make RIFT a cut above the competition.

Mentoring/instant adventures: The new lowbie IAs weren’t working when I first logged in, but after a hotfix, they came back up and I spent my last 45 minutes doing my first IA in the game.  Because the new mentoring system can temporarily lower your level so that you can participate in these and still get XP and rewards, IAs now cover the gamut from 10 to 50, even though there are none from the 29-45 range.

The Instant Adventure that I got thrown into was in Gloamwood.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a modular, multi-stage quest where your raid does an activity in an area of the zone, then it tells you to go somewhere else and accomplish a different goal, and so on.  At first we were squelching torches, then headed over to Spider Avenue for a showdown with a big mama, then we had to face off against a horde of vampires in the cottage.

It’s not so frantic that you can’t follow what’s going on, but it definitely keeps moving and I wasn’t bored.  The final activity was a rift, and it was certainly fun to be doing those with a large group of players.  So IAs get a big thumbs-up from me, and I’ll be sure to do at least one of these a day from now on.

Conclusion: So while I haven’t fully explored the patch, I’ve touched on the highlights and found it a great addition to the game.

D-Day

The day of dates is here: Guild Wars 2 is launching August 28th!  Now we can start adjusting our schedule accordingly, I suppose.

To be honest, I didn’t expect the GW2 launch until much later this fall, perhaps even as late as November, so this is an unexpected surprise.  I’m still a little worried we haven’t seen Asura or Sylvari in beta yet, but there’s two months to go, so there’s still time to get them in and tested.

Personally, this date works pretty well for me.  I really want to be spending the summer finishing the Great River content in LOTRO and working on my RIFT cleric, with a side order of The Secret World.  GW2 on top of all that would’ve been nuts.  However, fall’s going to be pretty crazy now as well: GW2 in late August, Riders of Rohan barely a *week* later, and RIFT’s expansion some point thereafter.  At least I won’t be bored!

P.S. – I’ve added a countdown widget for GW2 on the right there, as well as adding the date to the MMO Timeline page.

P.P.S.

The Secret World: Are you in?

It’s T-minus two days until the early access for The Secret World begins, and the question of the hour is: Are you in?

More MMO music! More! More!

A few small additions to the MMO Music page here on Bio Break:

As always, if you see any MMO soundtracks being made available (legally), either free or paid, let me know!  I’m particularly keen on finding, either on CD or elsewhere, the soundtracks for EverQuest, EverQuest II, Ultima Online, Wizard101 (not just the ringtones), and Runes of Magic.