Secret World: The Morninglight burns

Yeah you keep on talking to that teddy bear, you Orochi loon. Meanwhile, I’m going to actually be doing something productive.

So — and keep in mind it’s been a while for me since I’ve been in this part of Transylvania — but I don’t remember Carpathian Fangs being rather light on its content offerings. It definitely has fewer quest givers and overall missions than the previous two zones, although this might be due to the story going faster and being more guided at this point. It’s all good; it’s a pretty enough place, but I don’t feel a need to linger.

I’ve been blowing through quest after quest, again right now focusing on main missions rather than side ones. I think once I get to Tokyo I might do side missions if I run out of other things to do, but time’s a-ticking and I shouldn’t dally.

For the life of me, both times I’ve seen this cutscene, the vampire queen Mara here looks like some pop star on the way to a performance. Fangs and teeth, so very pale, and so very angry.

Of course, this zone is notable for being the place where we really start encountering and interacting with Emma. She’s a curious mixture of helpless girl, prophet, and superhero-in-disguise. There’s a lot of pain and loneliness and confusion in her too, which I guess fosters a sense of protection on the part of the player. Heaven knows that we’ve had our share of books and movies where a strong character has to watch over a kid. Maybe Logan will take her under his adamantium wing.

The insertion of a few Morninglight beats feels a tad out of place, but then, the whole Morninglight story doesn’t ever flow well until you get to Tokyo. It just pops up here and there, awkward and confusing.

I will tell you one thing. Out of all of the mysteries and secrets that Secret World has raised so far, the actual identity and look of Morninglight leader Philip Marquad is at the top of my list. He’s absolutely shrouded in secrecy and I think that there’s a huge reveal waiting for us.

This was an unexpected surprise. As a grand master, I get a free cache key every day, which to this date hasn’t really netted me anything much more than some currency, potions, and the occasional purple weapons upgrade bag. But this past week? I got both boots and a jacket from the cyberpunk set.

And that called for a new outfit! I have to say that I am totally head over heels for this jacket, so I mix-and-matched with some of my Gaia gear to make it all work. I am thrilled with the end result and might have to stick with this from now on.

I might have skipped over Cost of Magic, but I actually tackled The Castle the other night. And you know what? It wasn’t so bad this time. Maybe it got tweaked a little bit in the translation, but I only got caught once at the beginning and had no problem with navigating the rest of it — and even fighting the boss at the end. Capping that quest felt like a small victory in and of itself.

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Octavian, you’re my Secret World hero

It’s time to both finish up Secret World’s Shadowy Forest and meet back up with Octavian. Despite only being a small part of the story in this zone, he still manages to make up a large footprint. He’s the “eagle,” one of three key figures destined to stand against the vampiress Mara and her boss Lilith. But he ain’t doing so hot…

There are many reasons to admire Octavian, but let’s start with his character model. MAN, I love this model. It drives me so crazy that Secret World doesn’t let you craft characters that look like this — heavyset, old, bearded, scarred — because if I could make this type of guy, I would play him to the end of days. That right there is my ideal male avatar. But it is sadly not to be.

I do think that Funcom stumbled a little bit with Octavian, mostly because the story abruptly throws him into the proceedings and then yanks him out of it almost as quickly. He would have been a great guy to get to know over the course of this entire zone, but no, his whole character arc here has to be squished into two cutscenes. You don’t even do any missions for him, for Pete’s sake!

Still, it’s not a waste. We meet Octavian lying on his couch like a psyche patient, snapping for us to go away. He’s a Roman centurian who was blessed/cursed with immortality by Lilith and has now lived for 2,000 years. As a 70-year-old man who limps around the place. He’s haunted by his failures, by the perceived uselessness of fighting and struggling. He just wants it to be all over.

So how do you get him to change his mind?

Why, that’s simple, my dears. You literally bait his sort-of girlfriend so that wolves try to eat her, prompting him to shake off his apathy and realize that there is something worth fighting for. And if there is one something, then perhaps there are a lot of somethings.

I want it on the record that this whole baiting segment is a complete jerk move and I kind of resent the devs making me do it without any other option. Geez, Secret World, take a cue from modern adventure games and allow us different solutions for the same problem! You don’t have to call in the wolves every time something isn’t going your way, just saying.

Always liked this moment. It’s soft and tender, a contrast between young and old, beautiful and aged, optimistic and defeatist. The decision to frame the hands in this shot shows — not tells — us of their relationship. That it’s something more than casual friendship but not necessarily romantic love. There’s a bond here, a deep one, and it’s what ultimately drives Octavian to doing the right thing. Not for me or what I stand for, he says, but for her.

And that’s it for Shadowy Forest! On to the final stretch of Transylvania, the Carpathian Fangs. I took a few moments to look at the map and marvel once again at the sheer detail that the artists put into these maps. Have you ever noticed that each region has its own map style? And each dungeon as well? It’s the only MMO I know that does this.

One thing I’m doing with this playthrough is giving my character a new outfit every time she enters a new zone. So it’s out with the hotpants and leather jacket, and in with something a little more appropriate for the snowy weather! Nothing original, but it looks warmer and cozy.

Secret World: Of bridges and tolls

You know that feeling when you’re enjoying a really good book or TV series, thoroughly enjoying it, and it starts to come to an end and you want to draw it out as long as possible? That’s kind of how I felt wrapping up Shadowy Forest in Secret World Legends this week. Even though I had done it before, I was just reveling in this zone, its characters, and quests. I felt a reluctance to move on — not that Carpathian Fangs are bad, exactly, but they don’t have the warm, otherworldly charm that this zone does.

Out of all of the zones of this game, I feel that Shadowy Forest is the one that feels the most “fantasy” rather than contemporary, or horror, or sci-fi. It’s actually an exemplary fantasy zone that made me wistful more MMOs couldn’t embrace the weirdness and richness of the possibilities of this genre rather than fall back to tired and well-mined tropes.

There’s a man fishing here who used to be soil and rock in ages past. There’s a woman who talks to her wagon, which is apparently a “wikipedia made by fairies.” There is a camp of vampire-hunters who are holding the line against the darkness. There are disturbed farmers making sausages of cannibals. There’s a forest that’s alive, a city overrun by Deathless, a lady questgiver who does not speak at all, Dracula’s cemetery, and more.

It doesn’t mean that this zone is perfect. I do have two big gripes that I feel could be fixed if the developers gave some more attention to the region.

The first is that the investigation quests, what few of them there are here, are not that exciting. Sometimes you come off of investigation quests on a heady rush of accomplishment and appreciation for the ingenuity involved in the quest. Here they are a little too obscure, requiring jumps of logic and reasoning that aren’t always apparent (I’m looking at you, The Abandoned).

And while this zone brings out some great characters and sets up some interesting stories, it doesn’t always deliver satisfying conclusions to them. Secret World is forever doing this, giving us great beginnings and middles without much of an end, and the weirdness of this region and its characters requires more explanation than not.

All that’s left now is to go through the main story quest and move on to the mountains. I did note that the Nursery chain wasn’t available yet in Besieged Farmlands, so I was assuming that it might have been reworked into the main storyline. I’ll go back and check to see if it’s triggered before I go on to the Fangs, because I don’t want to miss it.

The wild beckons in Secret World Legends

One thing I realized the other day is that I really hadn’t been in the Shadowy Forest for years now and that I had started to forget that this was, in many ways, a terribly special zone. Maybe I didn’t even understand that the first time through. But now that I’m about to finish things up, it’s striking home.

The progression through Transylvania is quite interesting when you look at it. You start out in the Besieged Farmlands, which features more human-made structures and outposts (besieged as it may be) along with some vampire camps. But it’s not really the wild. The fae presence is on the fringes, because this is the human area.

That all flips with Shadowy Forest, which is primarily ancient growth, a graveyard, an abandoned village, bogs, and, like, one farmhouse. You get the feeling that the more you head into it, the more you leave civilization behind. Even the main settlement, so to speak, is nothing more than some campers forming a makeshift enclave in the middle of the forest. It’s also a nice break from vampires, focusing more on spirits, fungal threats, some angry tree-things, and the Deathless. I should read up more on the Deathless, they seem like an interesting crew.

Of course, for all the great things Funcom has done for writing, stories, and body language, it cannot make a normal-looking kid to save its own hide. Have they seen kids? Because that up there, that is not a good example of what a human larva should look like. They couldn’t fix THAT when they rebooted this game and took away all my stuff?

I like to imagine that he stands there, looking all imperious, for hours and days. Just hoping that some adventurer will come along and be impressed. He’s probably sick of reading the same two pages of that book, too.

I don’t think that Transylvania as a whole has as memorable a cast of NPCs as Solomon Island (or even Scorched Desert), but it’s not a wash, either. The Iele is a completely fascinating quest giver. She doesn’t talk at all, but communicates the theme and objectives with her actions instead.

Also, that girl with her faerie wikipedia wagon is pretty awesome. A shame that she only gives one quest.

It’s my favorite spot in this zone! The cafe door with the heart that makes no sense!

One thing I’m trying to get back into the habit of doing is to go through all of the get-to-know-you dialogue with the quest givers. I stopped doing that on the second playthrough and I think it was a mistake. I’m learning a lot more about these people now that I’m taking the time to talk. Well, “talk” as I can. Maybe I slip them note cards so they know what I want to hear them blather on about.

Touring Secret World’s amazing London

When the conversation comes around to well-crafted and detailed MMORPG cities, any list would be lacking if it failed to include Secret World’s London. I’ve been taking this town for granted for years now, but recently I was roaming through it and reminded once again of how intricate and interesting this zone is despite being a “city hub”.

Agartha can hold the status of being the social hub and all that, but for me, London is the true source of civilization and heart of The Secret World. There is just so much packed into a relatively small space, with tons of nooks and crannies to explore, quests to pursue, secrets to find, and even a few unsettling sights to take in.

There’s nothing like it in MMOs, that’s for sure. In London, you can find a theater devoted to actual player roleplaying, an interactive fight club, a barbershop, a huge store devoted to cosmetic outfits, a customizable museum, secret Roman excavations, a dark market populated by all manner of beasts, a love machine, at least three different clubs, Templar headquarters, a puppet show, a cultist recruitment booth, and tacos. Love them tacos.

Here are a few sights that caught my eye taking a tour through the town. Tabula Rasa — not the video game — is some bizarre hotel/safe box place with all sorts of pocket dimensions. It plays into at least two different quests that I recall.

The park’s center has a fort called CAMELOT with a few of the more mentally unhinged folks hanging out beside it. There’s also a statue nearby with a plaque that lists some of the more prominent members of the Secret World community.

Almost all of the stores  — and there are many of them — offer interesting window shopping. Not very subtle at all, but they offer some interesting light reading.

Voodoo shop off the Haitian market? Sure, why not! Darkside is one of the coolest ideas of London, kind of a Mos Eisley of normally vicious creatures.

Saw these ladies in a bathroom in the Crusades. Don’t know what all that’s about, but the girl on the right looks homeless and the one of the left… she sick? Concerned? There’s no dialogue, so no idea.

Everyone loves this guy. He’s definitely more in the know than he lets on.

This record store is neat, aside from being all shades of pink and purple. I guess TSW had a music contest back in 2013, and the winners got to have their songs included in the game. You can hear some of them if you hang out in here.

Losing traction in Secret World Legends

When you juggle playing several MMOs at any one time, it’s very rare — at least in my experience — to be equally interested in both or all of the games. Usually there’s one that’s the favored child of the month, demanding the most attention and delivering the most personal excitement. The one that, if I had to choose, would be the game I’d log into any given evening.

But I know that playing MMOs involves ebbs and flows of excitement levels, and so I binge when I want to (within reason) but otherwise generally try to rotate my attention and get a more balanced game experience.

Earlier this summer, especially in July, I was all about Secret World Legends. I’m glad I had that wind of excitement at my back, because it did well to rocket me through the first six zones. But now that rocket ship has slowed to some slower form of transportation. A Segway? Roller blades? Riding Hodor beyond the Wall? Something like that. Still going, still interested, but definitely at a slower pace.

And there are a few reasons for this. While I’m really thrilled to finally have passed up my previous playthrough character to get into the rest of Transylvania (which is a fantastic region, all in all), I’m pretty set in my build. I’m at the level cap. I don’t have much else to do for character development other than grind up gear and flesh out my skill trees for those extra stat points. Combat has also slowed down from the heady, zip-along days of Kingsmouth, too. Feels more like old Secret World, to tell the truth.

But probably the biggest reason is that SWL has ebbed while my interest in LOTRO has flowed, shifting my interest over to the latter so that I don’t want to be spending a ton of time every day or week in Secret World. I don’t feel that pressured to pick back up the pace as long as I’m making some progress. We still have until the new year, more or less, before the story is going to march on, so I’m probably just fine tackling a handful of quests a night and being content with that.

After Solomon Island, Transylvania is my second favorite region of the game. There’s just so much to explore, lots of pockets of civilization, old world horror aspects, and plenty of neat ideas — like the Red Hand experiments, the “good” mythical creature forces that you meet, the reversal of the whole Dracula legend, and of course, all of the Emma stuff. I’m still finding little cool details and places that I missed my first time around, so no rush to finish up before my curiosity is fully sated!

The Secret World is a fashion disaster

For fashionistas, The Secret World/Secret World Legends is both a godsend and a nightmare. It’s actually great to have an MMO with contemporary clothes for once, so instead of plate armor and robes, you’ve got jeans, sweatshirts, and jackets. There’s an amazing number of outfit possibilities as you mix-and-match between collected pieces. And while there is no dye system (for shame), at least Secret World often provides multiple color options for pieces.

My only major complaint with the system is the fact that you still can’t save multiple outfits, an omission that I hope will be rectified in the future. I’m forever tweaking my outfits and seeing what cool look I can come up with.

But let’s also be honest here: Secret World is a fashion disaster. I’d estimate about half of the clothing items are normal, everyday items, and the other half are from a bizarre Halloween costume party that has never ended. And players being players, people gravitate toward making themselves as weird as possible to stand out from the crowd.

Just take a trip to Agartha on any random day, and you’re sure to be treated to the sight of mostly naked men with horse heads dancing for your delight, or a butcher with the head of a pig wielding a giant sledgehammer. I’ve always gotten the impression that we are not so much heroes as an asylum’s worth of deranged serial killers coming together for a convention.

And I largely suspect that this is what Funcom wanted. The game keeps giving you all of these weird cosmetics like pumpkin heads and leatherface masks as rewards, and there is not one normal hat option available. This game and hats, I tell you. I’ve almost never been able to incorporate a hat into any of my outfits.

I guess this is part of the charm of the community, which has little recourse for personal expression apart from what they wear. Maybe the weird outfits help us stave off the trauma of everything we encounter. But let’s not pretend that this is anything but a fashion disaster!