Oh hey, a Secret World TV show. Wait, what?

One of the reasons that I’ve loved writing MMORPG news over the past seven years is that you never quite know what surprises lay around the corner. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, well, Johnny Depp comes along to bring The Secret World to the television.

You can’t make this up, folks. Well, you CAN, but it’s so patently weird and ridiculous and unlikely that no one would believe you . And yet this is the reality we’re facing this week, as Depp’s production company is partnering with Funcom to make a Secret World TV show:

“The TV series is based on the universe of the Secret World IP and centers on a team of undercover agents and the shadowy war between secret societies, the Illuminati, Dragon and the Templar. Central to the plot is the battle against the supernatural in an adventure that spans across our world, multiple dimensions, and incorporates the realms of ancient myths and legends as well as today’s conspiracy theories and headline news.”

The media rights were optioned out in 2012, but apparently the strange conspiracy angle only recently caught the attention of this company, who has already written a pilot. And with that bomb of incredulity dropped, Funcom skipped away without further elaboration.

So.

Really.

I don’t know what to say. I have a lot of thoughts, but they’re really disorganized, because this is so unexpected and exciting for many reasons. I think the second thought most people had — other than “wow, awesome!” from the Secret World faithful — is surprise that this MMO, out of all of them, got picked up for a shot at a TV show. Defiance was developed from the beginning to be both a show and a game, but here we have a very niche (if beloved) cult MMORPG that’s been out for five years and has just relaunched in an attempt to save it. Nobody could’ve made this call.

OK, I want to put it out there that we Secret World fans shouldn’t get our hopes TOO high here. I mean, it’s so great that this was considered at all, but it’s a long road from “this IP got picked up for a TV pilot” to “this pilot got picked up to be a full-fledged series.” It might never happen — never be broadcast, that is. And even if it is, we all know how iffy adaptations of video games can be. Be cautiously excited, that’s my advice.

I think it’s a great shot in the arm for Secret World Legends and has made a lot of people outside of the gaming market done a bit of a whiplash today in seeing Johnny Depp’s name connected with an online video game that features secret societies, a Boogieman, and a thousand-year-old mummy. It’s going to put SWL on the map for some people who might not even know it exists, and hopefully Funcom will leverage what media attention it can get to direct more people to the game itself.

Further thoughts, in no particular order:

  • I would venture that the show would be a prologue to the game from the description and the timeline issues. Free it up to explore stories that aren’t explicitly covered in the MMO.
  • If Said and Nassir aren’t the two starring characters, I’m out. Well, not really, but they would be the best leads ever.
  • Also, Montag should be involved. And about a good dozen other great characters from the game. But how great would it be to see occult-wrangling Montag before he was the headmaster of Innsmouth Academy?
  • Does this mean some sort of additional cash infusion for Funcom out of this deal?
  • It’s going to have to be a mature-rated show.
  • Another possibility is to follow the half-dozen or so main Illuminati, Dragon, and Templar characters that were starring in the pre-launch cinematics and opening tutorial.
  • If at all possible, it’d be awesome if the game would feature connections and content related to the show.
  • It’d be less awesome if the show completely distances itself or disconnects from the game entirely (i.e., a reboot of the reboot).
  • Funcom has shown a lot of willingness to expand the Secret World IP to other properties — ARGs, The Park, and Hide and Shriek in particular. I guess it’s not completely out of left field.

I think this is a strong contender for “strangest MMO news of 2017.” But as a strong fan of The Secret World, I am excited that this is a thing, period.

Was Secret World Legends’ reboot worth it?

I think it’s fine to admit that I’m slowing down with the whole one-zone-per-week plan that I initially had with Secret World Legends. I feel more at peace with a less frantic pace now that I’m back to Transylvania, and so I log in most nights to do a handful of quests and feel accomplished for that.

I also did one of the Whispering Tide fights out of curiosity, but I’ve done this fight so many times back in TSW that it doesn’t hold any appeal — nor does the loot boxes. I’d rather be spending that time working on missions, so that’s what I do.

But as I’m boldly strutting through Transylvania, I’m also finding more time to reflect on the overall success or failure of this reboot project. Now that we have some distance from the launch and subsequent Steam release, it seems a good time for this.

So was it worth it? Was the reboot worth uprooting an entire game population, forcing them to restart and adapt to new mechanics and systems?

I suppose that question could be answered many ways from many perspectives, so let’s go through some of the more obvious ones.

Was it worth it for the added press and publicity? Well, it’s certainly given Funcom something else to promote other than Conan Exiles this summer, and it’s definitely gained more attention from MMORPG sites, bloggers, and more mainstream gaming sites. But unless Funcom can announce some big numbers or other boastful facts, it’s not going to have anything super-exciting to reveal until it gets its next zone (i.e. the first real new content that’s not just carried over from TSW).

Was it worth it for a financial boost? No idea. Again, unless Funcom announces something substantial, we won’t know until the next earnings report. This is what I’m holding my breath for. If it’s a big uptick, we can hope that the resulting fall-off will still be better than what TSW was doing.

Was it worth it for the “improved” combat and game systems? Here’s where opinion comes more into play, and I’m very divided over it. Generally, I’ve gotten used to how this version of Secret World functions, and it doesn’t feel any more or less enjoyable than it used to be. Combat is still sloggy and limited (especially as you work up in zones), the visuals look exactly the same, and what few quality-of-life improvements there are don’t seem worth the fuss of doing all of this. Probably my biggest complaint — which has grown as I’ve played — is how utterly boring most of the combat skills are. In TSW, it was actually pretty cool to fiddle about with builds. Here, I’ve settled into something that works early on, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that has that “wow” factor that you kind of want to see in classes and builds.

I’m not angry with the game or anything, but two months in now, I can’t say that Funcom has convinced me that this was the best way to go about turning the game around. The gear upgrade system is so grindy that I don’t bother with it most days, leaving it as a chore to be tackled when I can summon the energy.

But. It’s still The Secret World. It’s still the quests and stories that I love. And we game in hope and on the promises of the devs working on the next phase of the game. I want to see where all of this goes, but I have a while to go yet before I’m ready for it. I try hard not to think about the fact that I *was* ready with a very capable character not just three months ago. Now I’m leveling through it again and asking myself, “Was it worth it?”

Yes. No. I hope so.

6 worst quests in Secret World Legends

As you well know, I adore The Secret World in any of its incarnations and the inventive, narrative-driven quests that it offers. But with all of the effort applied to making increasingly intricate missions with elements that we haven’t experienced before, sometimes the team went a little overboard in making a quest too hard, too frustrating, or too obtuse.

Today, let’s go through my personal list of the six worst quests I’ve experienced in the game to date!

1. Hell and Bach

This one hits players early as a Savage Coast quest at the Overlook Hotel, and it is supremely annoying. You have to interact with no less than four different diagrams across the game world, inputting a specific sequence of symbols for each to progress. Get one wrong, and you start over. And there’s some trial-and-error with these, so that is the pits too.

It just takes a long while and every time I’ve done it, I’ve sworn that this was the last that I was going to bother with it. No more, no thank you.

2. The Castle

I’ve not been shy about voicing my displeasure over the sabotage missions in this game. You can’t brute-force your way through them; you have to stealth and sneak and then enjoy getting caught and starting all over again. The Castle is a lengthy and challenging mission in this regard, although I’m sure repeating it a few dozen times would trivialize it somewhat. I loathed it and am not looking forward to doing it again in the near future. Exploring a vampire castle should be WAY more fun than this.

3. The Bank Heist

Another horrible, stupid sabotage mission that involves moonwalking over pressure plates and figuring out ways past robotic sentries and extremely limited time windows. Do it right, it can be a breeze, but I spent two of the worst hours I’ve ever had in this game banging my head against this mission. It’s incredibly unforgivable.

4. In The Dusty Dark

Sometimes a Secret World mission can be long. Very long. Like, “sit down and read a 500-page novel” long. In The Dusty Dark is one of these, a marathon trek through the interior of a pyramid. While some of the rooms are neat, all require puzzle solving, and the other rooms can take shy of forever to finish. And the big finale is a journey through a labyrinth infested with unkillable monsters and various traps. Words cannot express how much I loathe this mission. I skipped it in SWL, because I’m a grown-up and I can.

5. The Cost of Magic

Yeah, everyone’s favorite mission, right? Well, everyone’s favorite mission to gripe about. It’s like a badge of honor to have finished this quest and then get to whine about it to the internet at large, so consider this mine. For starters, it has multiple stages, each one with its own frustrating mechanic. There are knock-offs from high platforms, disappearing jumping platforms, a deadly toxic swamp, traps to be avoided, and so on. It’s like a perfect storm of terrible quest design that exists to give us all PTSD.

6. Wetware

There are a few challenging Tokyo quests, but this relatively new one is a real bear. It’s probably the longest investigation mission in the game (feel free to correct me on that) with lots of stealth, puzzle-solving, hunt-and-click fun, and robotic controls. The story behind it is great, as are some of the creepier parts, but it’s just way too long and at times too tricky for its own good to be enjoyable.

Two surprising sources I’ve found that explain Secret World lore

With an unparalleled depth of world building, twisted story lines, and a motto that “everything is true,” The Secret World has no shortage of interesting lore and tales to deliver to people. But it’s also confusing as all get out, even if you have played through the game multiple times, talked to all of the NPCs, and collected all of the lore… er, “legends.” Even after playing for five years, I confess that I had little idea how all of this pieced together in the writers’ room at Funcom.

What really mystified me is that for all of the documentation of the game’s quests, there always seemed to be a lack of real in-depth explanations and explorations of the lore save for the occasional forum thread that would cover a particular topic. There used to be a wiki, CryGaia, but it went down for a good while and then came back rather bare-bones.

But recently I’ve found two incredibly helpful sources that connect the dots on lore and give me those explanations I’ve been craving. Thought I’d share these with you today. Of course, there are TONS of spoilers here, but if you’ve played through the game and want things cleared up, here you go!

TV Tropes

While TV Tropes might be best-known for its distracting trips into TV shows and movies, it also covers video games and comic books equally well. And the entry on Secret World has a lot of neat lore nuggets that clear up those bizarre mysteries and connections. It’s not well-ordered, but there is a lot here to read and absorb, plus they do try to hide some spoilers here and there.

Villains Wikia

Never heard of this site before the other day, but I did a search on Lilith and found myself amazed at reading a document that basically laid out the ENTIRE plot of the Secret World and connected everything from the scarecrows to the Filth in one place. Lots of entries here and I’m still picking through them. Awesome stuff.

Secret World Legends: Racing through Egypt

I blame the issue on complacency.

You see, ever since Secret World Legends’ launch, I’ve had a goal to wrap up a zone — it’s main storyline and all other missions — at a rate of one per week. So far I’ve been doing well, knocking off Solomon Island over the course three weeks. I even finished up Blue Mountain two days earlier than the deadline, planting the seed of that complacency. I was the hare, beating the tortoise by a landslide, and so I got lazy and distracted.

Leveling up that new World of Warcraft Shaman was part of it, but the other was that I simply didn’t keep my eye on the clock. I was really laid-back the first few days, until around Thursday I realized that unless I got the lead out, there was no way I was going to get Scorched Desert done. Thus, I buckled down on Friday and Saturday and powered through a few dozen missions, a whirlwind of death and purpose with a shotgun. Just two hours before midnight on Saturday, I opened the door to the City of the Sun God and bolted through.

Now the timer has reset. Another week, another zone. It’s gotten a little bit more difficult to push myself through these areas as I’m getting closer to the content that I recently did. Solomon Island seemed like so long ago, and felt fresher because of it. But I just bloody did Egypt a few months ago, and it wasn’t my favorite even then. City of the Sun God is a nasty barrier to my fun, and I’m going to approach it at a full sprint with the hopes of getting through it before I lose momentum.

It still gives me chills to see a flash of Emma in this cutscene.

Going back to Scorched Earth, it was a pretty good ride all things considered. The new mission order with the overarching storyline is a little strange, but it worked out in the end. By my memory, there are a few missions that Funcom removed entirely, like the two that you get from eavesdropping on the local bad guy and one that had to do with earthquake readings from the Oxford people. Even so, there are so, so many quests in this zone. Fortunately none of them were that lengthy or problematic, save one.

The Roman time travel one posed a bit of an issue. Not from the stealthy part — I’ve done this mission so many times that I have the safe route memorized — but from a glitch that wouldn’t let me craft an item that I needed to finish the mission. A guildie helped me out by pointing me to a workaround (basically, log out and back in to redo the mission), which fortunately worked.

I’m missing my auxiliary weapons. There’s that one Egypt mission where you originally got the whip, but now it’s all walled off and it left me feeling a little sad.

Speaking of weapons, I’ve been experimenting around with some others, but I keep coming back to shotgun/hammer as my dependable staples. I have everything I need in this build, from cleansing to firepower to protection to healing, so this is probably what I’m going to be at for the rest of the game.

Not for four more weeks, John. I still have a mountain of zones ahead of me. Be patient.

Secret World Legends: Surviving zone transitions

As I recently moved on from Blue Mountain to Scorched Desert in Secret World Legends, it was like night and day — in more ways than one. The abrupt and significant shift in the zones, themes, and even horror genres is a lot to take, especially when you’ve spent so long getting used to the previous area.

Back when I was first following The Secret World, I was under the assumption that areas like Solomon Island would be about the size and length of a standard MMO zone and that we would be hopping all over the world to many, many such zones. I didn’t realize that at launch there was only going to be three areas divided into eight zones and that we’d be spending significant time in each of them. That investment of time and interest acclimates one pretty strongly to Solomon Island, Egypt, Transylvania, and Tokyo so that while we may be ready to move on, the actual move itself is slightly traumatic.

Here’s the basic flow of the game:

We start in Solomon Island, which is dark and murky, set in New England and sporting the most “American” aesthetics (holidays, architecture, etc.). The horror genre is a blend of overt Lovecraft and Stephen King as well as a hearty dose of the zombie apocalypse and ghosties.

Then we shift over to Egypt, where the sun is blazing and the architecture is old and couched heavily in the desert biome. There is some modernity, but more antiquity than what we had before. The horror genres du jour is more mummies, creepy cults, giant insects and a dash of Indiana Jones and Aladdin.

Once we’ve adjusted to two zones of sun-blasted heat, it’s over to the old world of Transylvania with its craggy countryside, Soviet architecture, and European style. The three zones embrace a lot more of folk tales and traditional horror staples, such as vampires, werewolves, cannibals, ghouls, and fairies (yes, fairies are horror staples, at least to me). It’s… more Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing.

The final shift, at least for now, takes players to the “ground zero” of Tokyo, which is a golden opportunity for the devs to capitalize on all of the Japanese horror tropes. The Filth is by far a greater threat here than in zones previous, but there is plenty of room for spectres, Japanese demons, and intensely clean places that are sullied with too much blood. Tokyo is also the most modern and urban of all of the adventure zones, so there isn’t much in the way of roaming a countryside.

I love the diversity, even if moving from one area to another can be a shock to the ol’ gamer system in me. Egypt only pleased me in the fact that there was more light, but I couldn’t wait to leave it before that long.

It makes me wonder a lot about what’s ahead for the next adventure area. I could see both the Congo and South America as featuring more primal horror in jungles and whatnot, but Antarctica could hold a few surprises with snow-shrouded scares (just watch The Thing for some inspiration).