The Secret World: 2016 is a wash… will 2017 be better?

Let’s be frank here: 2016 was a really lackluster year for anything new in The Secret World. Looking back of what we got so far:

  • Issue 14 (March) — The only solid, full content release of the year.
  • Issue 15 (May) — A repackaging of side missions with one new investigation mission
  • Halloween — The Hide and Shriek spinoff and a disappointing new community-wide mission/world boss fight

Aaaand that’s it. No mention of Issue 16 so far, so there’s virtually no chance of its release before the end of the year, meaning that 2016 has been one of the skimpiest year of original content since the game’s launch. This is not only frustrating for us players, who thrive on new missions and stories, but definitely hurts the finances of the game, since selling issues is one of the big money-makers.

So it’s with a glad heart that I hear the news that Funcom has a “big update” in the works for the first half of 2017. If it’s anything short of a new zone, I will be incredibly disappointed at the wait. We’re done with Tokyo and it’s time to move on.

Players and pundits are chewing over the curiously vague and slightly troubling phrase of this update being a “major upgrade to both retention and acquisition mechanics and content of the game to counter the declining revenues.” Sounds like some business model changes, but here’s hoping that Funcom is figuring out a way to pump out quality content at a faster pace. Perhaps smaller but more regular updates? I could go for a new mission every other week or so.

At least working on my leveling character will keep me very busy for months to come. I still have Transylvania and Tokyo ahead, and at this pace it’ll be a half-year or so before this character is good to go on anything brand-new at the top of the game.

The Secret World: Judgment Day (City of the Sun God #6)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

The Stained Oasis (action mission)

We come to the oldest daughter, Nefertari, or as I nicknamed her, Old Stick-in-the-Mud. She’s all about justice and doing duty and not questioning father, just as her younger sister berates her for always being such a rule-follower. “You know, being a stone statue really suits you.”

So lovely getting in the middle of family squabbles. ANYWAY. The oasis has become less a refuge and sanctuary and more a place of ugliness thanks to the Filth and creatures. Seeing as how stone statues have a very low success rate at killing mobs, I guess I’ll pick up the slack.

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The cool twist to this mission is that you’re not just killing cultists — you’re exposing their souls and calling down judgment upon them. The first guy was burned alive by the breath of a terrible monster, so let’s assume that it’s not going to be bouquets of flowers for good behavior from here on out.

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As I find out when I come across a camp of corpses and need some back up, this guy is Ammit or somesuch, and he is a wickedly wonderful ally to have at your side. Wish he could join me on a journey through the rest of the game, but we’ll always have our time tearing through waves of cultists and their corrupted spirits.

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The world is falling into apocalypse. Filth, cultists, and a Black Pharoah with a massive army are ready to pour over the countryside. All I got is seven statues and a chainsaw. Bring it on.

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The 3rd Age (investigation mission)

The statue family conversation du jour concerns why, exactly, the Atenists were called out into the desert instead of consolidating their power elsewhere. Nefertari notes that “the sand is thin” and what is underneath is much more easily found. Such as ancient artifacts? Go now, Syp, and investigate, for this is an investigation mission and that is what you do!

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The fun begins when I find a clockwork key and a treasure map, the combination of which suggests something that shall while away the hours with light-hearted fun. Or I’m off to Comic-Con.

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Oddly enough, the cultist map points to the location of four mini-custodians. You know, those giant clockwork robots that guard Agartha? So what are they doing out here?

Each custodian, when wound up with the key, doddles a fair way until it points at the location of a disc quarter. It took a bit of traversing the zone, but I found all four of the parts of the disc, including one stolen by a now-dead Orochi soldier. That one required some information from a Marx Brothers film, because why not?

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Probably the hardest part of the mission, for me, was finding the entrance to the underground temple where I was supposed to take the disc. It was some location I’d never been to before, so I got to know this annoying desert map a lot better than before by the time all was said and done.

Here is me whistling while I roller-skate through an underground complex. I do not believe in mummies. I do believe in mummies. STAY THE HECK AWAY FROM ME MUMMIES.

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All of this leads me to a hologram-spitting sarcophagus. That’s neat and all, but where are my answers? The bad guys were after third age artifacts, sure, but… what are they? What is this hologram robot guy saying? Can I use the artifacts? Funcom, will you ever end a mission with some sort of satisfying conclusion other than an abrupt halt?

Try-It Tuesday: Hide and Shriek

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Well, it’s Halloween — or at least it was yesterday — and so I thought it would be appropriate to tackle something more seasonal for this week’s Try-It Tuesday. Plus, I got shoehorned into doing a Twitch stream with MOP’s MJ in which she beat me six ways from Sunday, so I might as well dig out a post from all of that pain.

The game this week is Hide and Shriek, Funcom’s strange 1v1 scarefest. It’s a small game, one that’s definitely going to have limited appeal after the holiday considering its strong tie to Halloween, but the low price and the novelty of it certainly roped in some attention.

Hide and Shriek is not quite like any game I’ve played before, even PvP ones. The whole action takes place in Little Springs High School (go Jackalopes!) — only four classrooms plus one hallway of the school, to be specific. Two players are made invisible and go about laying traps for each other while attempting to pick up orbs and return them to their teleporting altars. It’s a points-based game, so you’re trying to rack up a high score for orb return, tricking the other player, and screaming at them (a special, long-cooldown action that is tricky to do due to the other’s invisibility). Get the high score after 10 minutes or perform a string of three screams in a row, and you win.

I do not win this a lot.

The game mechanics are, for the most part, interesting. Every game is defined by five random runes out of 20 or so, and these runes and their combinations can really change the strategy for a given game. There are lightning traps, runes that teleport you across a distance, traps to send the other player into what I call the “Bubblegum Dimension,” scare traps, decoys, and so on. You can sometimes fuse two or three runes together to make advanced traps, but you can only hold one set of runes at a time until you use them. Also, you can trigger your own traps, so you need to remember where you put stuff.

Not being able to see the other player (unless you use certain runes or see them carry an orb) is somewhat disconcerting but makes the whole thing work. Despite what I first feared, Hide and Shriek isn’t really that scary of a game. I’m not a big one for the jump scare graphic when your foe manages to successfully scream you, but for the most part very little is frightening. Even the school itself is relatively well-lit, vibrant, and fun to explore. The environmental details and art of these classrooms is really well-done, especially the science room with the teleporter, glowing handprints, and desks floating about in the air.

Speaking of which, as a Secret World player, I’m fascinated to unravel what Funcom has created in this TSW spin-off. You can find story pages (journal entries) that fill in some of the lore. What I found so far in these stories and from looking at the rooms is that this takes place in 1991 in an Arizona high school that is a magic-school contemporary of Innsmouth Academy (which is its East Coast rival). There are pictures and busts of some of the monsters from TSW, mentions of Montag (the Innsmouth Academy headmaster), discussions of training up warlocks, and some Orochi products. I’m going to have to scrounge up a full list of all of the grimoire entries if someone takes the time to write them down.

I’m very curious why this is set in a high school in 1991 and if Funcom will be addressing this more in The Secret World at some point. Did something happen here? Something with the teleporter or the plant-growth? Inquiring minds want to know. Also, if there’s time travel involved, I wouldn’t complain.

I wasn’t the best Hide and Shriek player — too easily distracted, too prone to turtle up in a room, trap the doors, and twiddle my thumbs — but it was an interesting diversion for an evening or two. I think the $5 price tag was appropriate for what’s being offered here, and considering how weird and scattered the TSW Samhain event is this year, Hide and Shriek might well be the “real” Halloween content.

The Secret World: Death Toddler (City of the Sun God #5)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Foundations (side mission)

You know, I’m not even exaggerating all of the dead Orochi in the game at this point. I kind of suspect that an ambitious-yet-lazy level designer went crazy on the cut-and-paste with one corpse and now the game is stuck with a thick carpeting of dead corporate suits. So what’s up with this schmuck? Looks like he got himself burned for a piece of the Ten Commandments or somesuch.

Maybe he’s just napping. Or tanning! Tanning, yeah.

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Um guys? WHAT did that skeleton used to be? I have never asked that before, probably because I’m used to giant skeletons in fantasy games, but this raises some disturbing questions.

Anyway, you know how I mentioned before that it is wise not to underestimate The Secret World’s side missions, because sometimes they turn out surprisingly complex? That’s just the case with Foundations. It’s kind of a mini-investigation quest in which you use the clues on each tablet to navigate the whole map and find the next one. Four tablets later, and I’m once again asked to kill myself (The Secret World might be the only game I’ve ever played that talks up suicide) in order to finish out the mission in the spirit world.

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Fashion show break! I used some of my bonus points to bulk buy those 80s bags, and scored a few nice cosmetics — including the sweet roller skates. I didn’t realize it before, but the skates also come with a unique travel animation. I am so using these for the rest of the game. Now to queue up a playlist of nothing but 80s hits. Kenny Loggins, take me to the DANGER ZONE.

I find the mouth-breathing Great Architect (he built the statues, I’m guessing?) and travel with him back to his skeleton, which I suppose is cathartic enough to end the mission. I’m a hero! I’m also wasting time!

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Buried in Sand (side mission)

A mysterious (aren’t they all?) crate in the desert lets out several spirit fragments that necessitate a round-up. Hey, I’m of the opinion that if you love something, set it free, but that’s not how MMOs work. You capture them and bind them to your iron will, making them pay in screams and XP.

This short quest is merely a breadcrumb leading to the nearest statue, Huoy. As his dad says, Huoy got to channel the spirit of Anubis, the lord of the underworld. So… you gave the powers of death to a toddler? Death Toddler, coming soon to a theater near you. I would watch that.

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A Farewell to Arms (action mission)

Huoy and some of his siblings are recalling another chapter of their sad, lonely life in which their father brought them a movie to watch — Lawrence of Arabia. It’s so pitiful how this was pretty much the highlight of their lives to date, being trapped in stone and in his hellish landscape for so long. Huoy uses the discussion to mention how the cultists are moving materiel into the city, which bodes well for no one. Well, other than the bad guys, of course.

It’s all a jolly good excuse to get out there and shoot up half the countryside. Sometimes that’s all you need from a mission, you know? So I head out and work my way through an extensive Atenist camp, slaying cultists and smashing their crates full of equipment. None of it gives me any trouble, including the end boss who is really committed to the dress code of the cult.

Geary says that the bad guys are running circles around the statues thanks to a better organization and overnight shipping. CURSE YOU AMAZON PRIME! YOU HAVE DOOMED ALL OF HUMANITY WITH YOUR FREE SHIPPING!

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The Binding (investigation mission)

If you have ever wondered, as I have, what the deal is with this zone, the dad, and the seven statue-kids that watch over it, this mission has a lot to help with clarification. It starts out with Huoy asking his siblings to recount their story from the beginning, which is told in a vague sort of way. There was a bad pharaoh way back when, and the high priest of the land had to choose between him and his gods. After a great war, the priest somehow found a way to protect the land and preserving his children’s lives, although at a cost. The priest has also, apparently, lived many lifetimes. Reincarnation? Goes with the Egyptian theme.

A nearby talking falcon — not the first time I’ve been instructed by a bird in this game, nor probably the last — tells me that the high priest is starting to despair and needs to be reminded why this is all worth it. He says that there are objects buried where the statues’ gazes intersect, which means that this ENTIRE MAP has been hiding the coordinates for a massive scavenger hunt right in front of our eyes the whole time. Also, this is going to be annoying as all get out. How do you do this? Copy the map and start drawing lines while you go investigate in-game? There aren’t a lot of easy tools for this.

Five pieces scattered all over the map, and it takes ages to find them. And this is only tier one of ten, people!

Once assembled, the Staff of Amun talks about being placed in the center of a chamber, so it’s time to go tomb diving.

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Once the staff is used in the super-duper special area, a cutscene kicks in, showing Ptahmose – the high priest — praying to his gods. This is interspersed with grainy black-and-white shots of him working over his dead kids, transferring their life essence to these statues. What I want to know, what I really need to know right now is, did he kill those kids? Or were they dead and he’s trying to save them the only way he knows how? Because that’s a huge difference in my book.

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The mission sends me over to the lioness statue, who promptly tries to blow me up with awesome eye lasers. I was so stunned, I didn’t even get a good screenshot of her going all Star Wars on me. But it was VERY awesome. Then comes another cutscene where three of the siblings bicker about fighting the enemy and the appropriate response for this new and strange threat.

Meanwhile, I stroll into the statue’s base and discover a scroll leading me to the Black Pyramid. Wish I had eye lasers. Oh well.

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Instead of going underneath the Pyramid — that comes later, sweetlings — this mission sends me up to the middle-topish, where rooms contain frescos showing the story of Amun confronting the Pharoah, sacrificing his family to 3,000 years of statueville, and his eventual victory.

Yet it’s intensely bittersweet, isn’t it? I don’t think I can forgive this guy for offing all of his kids just to win a war, even one with such high stakes. And the closing cutscene, in which the dad spends time with his statue-children, is acutely depressing. Some of the kids are just gleeful to see him, hear stories, play games, and get another postcard on the wall. But one of the older girls radiates impatience and anger, wanting to know how long they’ll have to keep this up.

“As long as it takes.”

The Secret World: Fill in the blank endings (City of the Sun God #4)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Bugged (side mission)

Clearing up a couple of missions on the north side of the Black Pyramid, I get the marching orders to exterminate some locust nests with extreme prejudice. Actually, the game often presents these quests as initiative on your part instead of someone telling you, “Go here, do this.” Maybe my character just really doesn’t like bugs? Doesn’t believe in a live and let live kind of world?

Not a hard mission. A tedious one, to be sure, lots of killing bugs and hives, but nothing hard. I only got in trouble when I accidentally tagged about three hives in a row and got literally swarmed by giant locusts. I valiantly put up a fight, but there’s only so much I can do, y’know?

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Ghoul, Well Done (side mission)

Out of all of The Secret World’s enemy groups, I can’t say that I’m particularly up to speed on the ghouls. I’m not even sure what they are, other than stock monsters. Did someone make them? Are they filth related? Bah, no time to google it, I have an article to write!

Our fascinating story begins with the above ghoul totem, which is apparently six third-grade art class sessions more sophisticated than one would normally expect from ghouls. Someone has been organizing and training these ghouls in deadly artcraft — but who?

Turns out, a grumpy jinn. Grumpy jinns are the cause of a lot of problems in this zone, so that’s not so much of a surprise as a, “oh, there’s another dead Orochi.” Just take it for granted.

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Points of Impact (side mission)

It’s time for a little rant about one of the most frustrating aspects of TSW. We all praise the game’s storytelling, strong characters, and voice acting, and that’s all deserved — at least in my opinion. But it’s not perfect, and probably the place that it starts to come apart is in the conclusion.

Every quest is a three-act story (more or less). The cutscene — or text box — serves as the introduction, delivering the backstory, setting up the field, and giving us motivation. Then there’s the action on the part of the player to complete the mission. And then there’s the conclusion — or, more often than not, no conclusion at all. No resolution. Just interesting questions and situations that are scarcely explained. It’s lazy and frustrating and it always makes me feel like I *missed* something or that I have to go to outside sources to find that resolution.

This side mission is a good example. I find a weird meteor impact in the desert and am told to investigate other landing points for something “sinister.” The meteor in fact turns out to be a whole lot of lava golems that have crash landed. I kill about eight of them and then run off to warn the nearest statue-child about their existence. And then… the mission is over. No closing text — and no answers.

It’s a small mission, but what’s going on here? Are these lava golems from outer space? Weapons sent by the Black Pharaoh? A botched science experiment? If I’ve killed them all, why am I warning the statue-child? There’s just a big hole where explanation should be. I guess we’re supposed to fill in the blank with our own ideas and thank the game for being so magnanimous.

In all fairness, TSW has seemed to be getting better with more definite conclusions and better explanations, going so far as to occasionally including ending cutscenes. But nothing infuriates me more than a mission that shudders to an awkward halt with a form letter when you turn it in via the HUD.

OK. Enough ranting. Let’s move on.

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The Dark Places (action mission)

It’s time to meet another one of the stone children: Thutmose. He’s the oldest son and, from what I can tell, a complete drip. Kind of wonder why these kids haven’t gone completely insane from a thousand or so years being trapped in statues with only their siblings to talk to. My kids can’t go 20 minutes without getting into fights if they’re in the same room.

Anyway, Thutmose is dismayed that a bunch of filth ghosts are starting to make trouble nearby and enlists my help to cut them off at the head. Guess that’s going to take a lot of bullets.

/Syp puts on the Ghostbusters theme. WHO YOU GONNA CALL?

I have to hand it to this mission: It really surprised me. I expected to just go blasting through waves of mobs, but from the start, it turned out to be very unusual. For starters, I was tasked to go to a high point and scope things out with binoculars. The second I did that, the game startled me by throwing a large bird creature at me that knocked me off the perch and down into the canyon. Follow that up with an onslaught of mobs that ended up killing me within a minute — and that’s all part of the mission progression.

I had to find help in the spirit world. Fortunately, there was a “ghostly warrior” hanging out nearby. Wonder what he does in his off days.

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It doesn’t get any less surprising from here. Using portals, I hop back and forth from the land of the dead to the land of the living, winning myself a magical sword that somehow rallies a quartet of identical ghost warriors to join me in my crusade against the spirits.

Then it’s a rematch of the battle that I first lost, only this time I have a full party with me. We plow through an entire liquor cabinet worth of spirits, slicing, dicing, and shooting. It all ends with a showdown against a mini-Flappy, but by then it was ridiculously easy. Way to keep me on my toes, game!

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The Eye of Horus (action mission)

With the Black Pharaoh raising an army and the statues challenged with waning power and a distinct lack of mobility, it once again rests upon me to save the world. At least Thutmose promises that if I can craft a sigil, he’ll lend me some of his power. We hope that it will be useful power and not, say, the ability to eat pop-tarts without gaining weight.

This mission took me to the Reformatory, just another ugly grey-and-tan-and-sandy temple with a lot of Atenists, filth, and nary a food court to be found. Again, this isn’t a particularly difficult mission — it is very straight-forward — but it does embrace the tedious side, as you have to assassinate a string of specific mobs all around the place. At least I’m having fun with my AoE field build that I’ve been tweaking. My kingdom for one more passive ability slot!

Afterward, Geary said that the Illuminati are supporting the statues not just because of aligned interests, but because their desperation makes for a good opportunity to gain leverage later on. They’ll owe us, big-time.

The Secret World: I want my mummy! (City of the Sun God #3)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Considering that my last Secret Adventure installment was back in April, I think it’s safe to say that the City of the Sun God is the dark, bottomless pit where my enthusiasm for The Secret World goes to die. I know it has its defenders, but this is twice now that the zone pretty much put me off the game.

But I will conquer it. Oh yes I will. Arriving in Transylvania with a completed zone at my back will be my greatest accomplishment! So here we go, folks. More sandy deserty goodness.

Behind Every Golem… (side mission)

Easing back into the swing of missions (and continuing my counter-clockwise progression through the zone), I picked up this quest starring a random golem arm and a whole lot of golems with two functional arms waiting to pound me into the dust. No problem at all… save that I took on one at a time. I’m still remembering my rotation here and multiple mobs can flatten me if I’m not careful.

The end boss for this quest was in a cave and covered with flies for some reason (perhaps it was a poop golem instead of a rock golem). What is weird is that nearby there was a clickable dead scarab, but the game simply said that I had to find more of them (or a live one) to figure out what killed it.

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Mummy Issues (action mission)

Boy am I a sucker for a really punny quest title. Love this one in particular. Anyway, it’s time to travel over to human-hating Amir, a Jinn who barely tolerates me because the bad guys are somehow even worse. He’s all up in a tizzy because some humans tried to attain immortality by becoming mummies, which kind of drove them insane and made them evil. If I go kill a bunch, perhaps Amir will invite me over for tea and we can become besties.

No? It was worth a shot. Also, what does this say about Said? Dude seems pretty together to me, and even sort of a good guy to boot.

Even though this is labeled as an action mission, it doesn’t mean that it’s mindless. Sometimes The Secret World likes to blend elements of different mission types together, so here there’s a modicum of puzzle-solving as I make my way into temples with progressively tougher mummies. One part has me fighting mobs for tablet pieces to assemble, while the big boss fight against Rib-Hadda (great name, btw!) requires taking out four statues that are supporting his shield — and as a twist, you get knocked down if you go anywhere near those shields. Yay for ranged weapons, I say.

I like mowing down mummies. Great enemy mobs.

At the end of the mission, I learn two things: That Amir is a Jinn prince, apparently, and that Kristen Geary does not like Hugh Jackman. But he’s the Wolverine!

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Envoys of Rib-Hadda (side mission)

Following the mummy boss fight with Rib-Hadda, I find one of his reports nearby asking the Black Pharoah for reinforcements. Uh-oh, better head out and stop those envoys from summoning apocalyptic adds!

The first two envoys I find are already dead: one crushed by a falling meteor and the other by the hand of cultists. The third is in fighting condition, although I have to report that this is no longer so following our encounter.

“The closest the Kingdom gets to the danger zone is watching it on TV,” Geary texts me at the conclusion of the mission.

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Sparked to Life (side mission)

Near Amir is a strange green brazier that, for some reason, points me toward a nearby temple. Wonder what’s inside! Treasure, perhaps? Another invincible sword? Probably mummies, though. Yeah.

The temple in question is locked, and there’s an object puzzle to unlock it. You have to create a torch somehow, and the process is pretty intuitive, starting with some mummy wrappings and working your way up to AWESOME GREEN FIRE ON A STICK. Then inside you fight some mummies. Darn it. I was really hoping for the sword.

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The Way of Things (action mission)

Part of Amir’s supreme unlikability is that every conversation with you starts with three minutes of insults and condescension, after when he then asks for help. I do sometimes wish, greatly, that The Secret World had dialogue options for your character. Taking guff like this mutely chaffs.

So what does Amir want this time around? About the same as last time, to sweep through the area and kill everything corrupted and evil. I guess he’s upset that some of the jinn have gone over to the dark(er) side of the force, so it’s time for some payback.

The Way of Things is an escort mission, although this is the GOOD type of escort mission — the type where the escort functions as a powerful bodyguard instead of a helpless waif. Amir’s manifestation can be summoned from urns littered all over a huge temple, allowing him to show up, douse me in protective magic, and lob fireballs at the enemy. We clean house, top to bottom, stopping several jinn summoning rituals from taking place.

I am quite liking the build on this character as I get to know it once more. It’s pistols/elemental with some nice synergy and utility. My two AOE fields become available every 30 seconds, which is usually good for each fight, and the only skill I don’t have that I want is Hard Reset (which brutally strips buffs from enemies, a necessary skill for some mobs).

The Secret World: 80s fashion show edition

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You know me and you know that I throw emoji frowny faces at the presence and use of lockboxes in MMOs. I’m not going to spend real money on them, but if there’s a way to earn them in-game or get one for free, why not? Free stuff is free stuff.

So I’ve been accruing a lot of bonus Funcom points in The Secret World thanks to my grandmaster sub. I have nothing left that I really want to buy, so those points are just sitting there, waiting in vain for the next mission pack to come along. I don’t feel bad blowing a wad of them, then, on the new retro-themed costume packs (along with a few of the other packs, just because I was curious).

I was pretty pleased to get a wide assortment of goofy costume bits, including Terminator glasses (now with glowing red eye!), a headband, legwarmers, one of the tackiest jackets ever (not shown), and my favorite, a neon fanny pack:

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ALL HAIL THE FANNY PACK. It brings any outfit together.

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I also got a pair of dogs — one fire rescue Dalmation and one police K-9 doggy. Considering that I still have a hypnotic C’thulu as a pet, none of these stand a chance at being used regularly, but still, nice to have.