The Secret World: Alone vs. Together

alone1I’ve been thinking a lot about The Secret World lately, despite not having played it for over a week since I finished up Issue 10. Maybe I should pick back up my project of playing through the game and detailing all of the quests; I think I’m still in Savage Coast somewhere.

Anyway, I’ve pontificated enough in the past about how brutally difficult The Secret World can be, which leads one to the conclusion that it’s simply better to play with a duo or in a group. Not that every quest will allow groups to progress together (there are some forced solo instances), but for the most part you’d think that it’s a game that was designed for groups rather than the single individual.

alone2And I wouldn’t fight you on that if you insisted. In the past, some of the best times that I’ve had in TSW are with a regular group. It’s a rip-roaring time to experience the same story together, to figure out clues as a group, and to plow through fights so quickly that you forget what slogfests they can be solo. It’s like watching a great movie with friends, only that you all have parts to play as well.

But having done a significant part of the game by myself, I can’t deny that some aspects of TSW work a lot better when you’re alone. The scares and atmosphere hits you a lot harder when you’re on your own, especially because you’re not being distracted by what your group is saying. There’s a deeper satisfaction, I think, to solving quests on your own instead of piggy-backing on the efforts of your teammates. And going solo means that you don’t have to worry about keeping up with your friends, giving you freedom to really soak in the details and be a tourist to your heart’s content.

TSW has a lot of small details that deserve noticing.

I’m glad that TSW is making most of the game a lot more solo friendly in the next update, although I would also like to see a much better LFG option so that peeps can always have that option of teaming up. Just about every stranger I’ve grouped up with in TSW has been friendly and fairly patient, and I owe my success to more than a couple of quests to the knowledge and skill of another player.

So maybe I don’t have to choose one or the other. Alone is good, but so is together. Having the choice means that the game adapts to what I want to do that night instead of forcing me to play according to what the game demands.

More tales from The Secret World’s cutscenes

I’m continuing my mission to go back through TSW’s terrific story cinematics and post some of my favorite screenshots:

v1Move over Twilight — THIS is how The Secret World does vampires.  And you should be very, very afraid.

v2That could really be the motto of this entire game.

v3The Vampire Hunter is quite antagonistic to the player character, not because of anything they’ve done, but because of their association to the secret world.  This is one of the notable heroic characters who is not anima-powered but is waging a war against the forces of darkness even so.  I don’t blame him for his bitterness.

v4If only you knew who this kid was.  Really, if only we knew at this point.

v5Sometimes — often times — not everything is explained.  We only get bits of a story and are left to fill in the rest with our imaginations.  That can be even more effective.

TSW: Welcome to my nightmare

love1All of the roads and the struggles in Tokyo have led to this: the Dream Palace.  As I go in, my head is buzzing with questions.  Who is the Rabbit Killer?  Why is Orochi a jerk?  Who set off the filth bomb?  How can things be set right?  Is that lady back in Kingsmouth still killing zombies beside her gigantic bonfire?  And, most importantly, who is John?

I think we’re about to find out.  Lots of spoilers, obviously.

In the lobby of the hotel is Kaoru, a transgender receptionist who’s working for the Phoenecians (“You did not come here because our beds are soft but because our sails are purple.”)  She mentions the Morninglight, but more importantly, John.  A key is passed to me.  Go upstairs and find out who he is.

Going up the stairs I find a piece of black lore that warns me that there’s no reason to go to the AV room — and that it would hurt me if I did.  Awesome.

The AV room is creepy as all get out.  As I investigate different pieces of equipment, electronics keep shorting out and an angry voice calls me “Chuck” and warns me off again.  Filfth floods the room, I fall asleep, and the voice — John, I assume — tells me that I’m going to take on the dreams of those who have fallen asleep here.

love2I am OH SO GLAD I’m playing this at night after my family’s gone asleep.  The Secret World still makes me so jumpy.

The dreamscape takes me to outside of the Fear Nothing building, where a young man whose face I can’t see (but has the “John” name tag on) talks about being afraid when he went in but anxious to be chosen.

love3Inside the building, John takes me on a horrible tour of his time with Fear Nothing.  How he loved Bingo cola.  How he was in love with one of the instructors.  How Che flew in to mold him like a “clay dinosaur.”  I get a closer look at John’s face, and it’s a raw, red thing.

The mission thus far hasn’t been hard, mostly like walking around in an interactive cutscene.  John and Che go out on the town and get into a brawl at the diner, get completely drunk, then have a dance-off with Ricky Pagan (which I, hilariously, have to do as well).  If you didn’t think Che was a slimy jerk before, then this mission will convince you.

love4Well after that bit of fun, I saw John meeting with THE Philip Marquard, the leader of the Morninglight.  This was a huge moment, since up to this point we’ve only heard about him… and even here, all we see are his hands.

love5Then John goes to his apartment, scared about the bomb, and I have to fight giant Lilith busts shooting laser beams and accursed skulls at me.  Just another day at TSW office, really.

love6Next up in our nightmare tour is a visit to the pre-bomb Tokyo subway.  Everyone’s frozen in place, creating a strange maze of human bodies to navigate.  Eventually I get into the subway car and see John from a distance… closing in, it happens.  He starts seeing Lilith everywhere and detonates the filth bomb, becoming part of it.  Or at least able to see through filth creatures’ eyes.

Then John looks into me, into my past — a week ago, although that’s laughable considering how much time has gone by.  But we’re back at the beginning of the game, except that this time everything’s slightly different.  A black filth bee flies into my mouth instead of a good bee.  The TV reports on the military eating the victims of Tokyo.

love7As seen from my adventures, um, last week.

John takes over the TV in my apartment to fast-forward through my adventures in TSW to date, which is one of those “dang this game is so cool” moments.  Seeing old friends and NPCs like Carter and Danny again, wow.  John asks me if I want to know which ones of these are going to die.

The next portion of the mission is John fast-fowarding until he sees a boss he likes, and then he makes me fight them.  One for each of the AEGIS types — Beaumont, the Black Pharoah, the vampire queen.  Total trip down memory lane.  Beaumont was a little tricky, but it got easier from there.

love8After that, my memories show John that I’ve met Lilith, back when she was lasering off my leg and telling me of all of her names.  John is obviously, sincerely terrified of her, but he’s actually impressed that I’m brave enough to stand up to her.  And so, with that realization, he turns from an enemy to an ally and vows to unlock the Orochi tower so I can go get her.

But that ain’t going to happen until Issue 11.  This is as far as I go… for now.

love9While there are a lot of questions left to be answered, I’m pretty darn satisfied with the big pieces of the puzzle that were delivered with this mission (and I’m 99% sure that Kaoru is the Rabbit Killer, because who else would be?).  The story of John and how he came to Fear Nothing, was manipulated to become the filth bomb deliverer, and his intense fear of Lilith (although I’m still not quite sure why he’s so scared of her) was engrossing to watch.  I felt pretty bad for him afterward.

TSW: Safe house

bb1In our previous episode of The Secret World’s Issue 10 storyline, I busted right through the belly of a Morninglight clubhouse to uncover all sorts of disturbing facts as well as have a brief encounter with the Rabbit Killer.  Now, I’m hot on his/her tracks, scooting across Tokyo to check out a series of safe houses containing Morninglight execs.

Well, they aren’t that safe, let me tell you.  One has a lady pinned against a door frame, while another almost gets me killed when the Rabbit Killer cuts a shipping container (with Morninglight guy inside) to fall on my head.  Well, let’s see what this third safe house contains — poisonous porcupines and spectral snakes, no doubt!

Well, it’s a shade of a sabotage mission, which means lot of insta-death traps — tripwires, cameras, turrets, and the like.  Also, dead bodies lying amid a field of candles.  But that’s your typical experience in Japan.

My favorite discovery was an entire hallway full of moving laser fences, because of course this is something that I deserve at this point in my secret world career.  Repeat after me: I’m here to heeeeelp!

bb2I head down to the basement to destroy a generator that’s powering one of the laser grids, which is a really dumb move because doing that triggers poison gas.  I then try to rush out of the hall, only to run right into a camera, trigger a turret, get shot, stumble backwards, and step on a mine.  I’m like some freaking cartoon.

I figured that equipping my trusty CDC respirator from Blue Mountain would help me get through the gas — as it has in other parts of the game — but here it’s no dice.  Have to make a fast dash through the hall, hope that you don’t hit mines, and get to the next staircase.

Continuing on with my cartoon theme, opening up a door triggers a shotgun blast to my chest.  Why I don’t retire in the Bahamas instead of putting up with this nonsense, I do not know.  At least the apartment is interesting, what with that filth monstrosity in the corner, a 2013 calendar (so the in-game world is forever stuck in 2013 then?), and a GIANT SHRINE that takes up a good portion of this small pad.

Next up on this fun factory tour, an elevator ride!  First I have an extremely claustrophobic fight with a massive Cordyceps in the elevator, and then the whole shebang crashes down on me.  At least it brings me to another generator to blast and one step closer to — I only assume from the traps — Wiley E. Coyote.

Suffice to say, the mission continues on in this vein for a while.  Trap trap trap, Syp dies, runs all of the way back, questions why devs think that this is fun, trap trap trap.  But it’s all worth it when I come upon a camera feed and discover…

bb3…THE RABBIT KILLER IS IN THE BUILDING!

Okay, that was not so exciting as to warrant the use of all caps.  I apologize.

Well, the bunny means that this next Morninglight coward is already dead, which also means that I’ve spent over an hour stealthing my way to a corpse.  I try not to think of how that might reflect on my life.

bb4There’s only one safehouse left, and it’s here that the mission kicks into full story mode with a cutscene (and thankfully no puzzles).  A pock-scarred woman goes on a depressed monologue about how she used to handle the kids, looking for a potential in the Morninglight, and eventually finding John.  John, she informs me, is waiting between the silences.  He’s also bringing a super-awesome day and a message, which I can only assume involves balloons, cake, streamers, and the apocalypse.

bb5The woman hands me a card for a reservation for the Dream Palace, saying that this is where it all began.  The card has a shockingly familiar name on it — Che.  As in, that Morninglight dork from Kingsmouth Che.

I head out of the apartment right as the Rabbit Killer drops in.  I like how there’s a nice moment between the Killer and my character — we nod at each other in understanding and go our own ways: Me to the palace, and the Killer to shoot the lady.

bb6

Tales from The Secret World’s cutscenes

I was going through my (many) Secret World screenshot folders the other day and realized just how much I screenshot the heck out of the game’s story cutscenes.  Here are a few of my favorites that illustrate a small slice of TSW’s narrative talent:

f1The Boogeyman gets one of the best lines in the game.  Also, that hand.

f2Several of the cutscenes have action going on in the background (which is a rarity in gaming cutscenes, I’ve found).  Here, Nassir does his rifle-pony dance for my endless amusement.

f3Maytag drops a bit of his tragic backstory, oh-so-matter-of-factly.  It’s chilling.

f4The Hell storylines have a weird twist to them.  I still don’t feel bad for the demons, though.

f5Another background action bit — this girl is hacking up a werewolf with a chainsaw while me and this other lady are chatting.  Kind of amusing to me.

f6Nassir and Said so need their own spin-off TV series.  It would be the best thing ever: a movie-quoting freedom fighter and a 1500-year-old sarcastic mummy.

f7Part of what makes this all work is that each character — as weird as they are — have such distinct personalities, perspectives, and speech inflections.  Makes each very memorable.

f8I really liked this story.  Very touching.

f9In this universe?  Nothing.  Nothing is weird about it.

f10The player character never speaks in cutscenes — which is sort of a running gag in the game — but he/she does get to have physical reactions to what’s going on or being said.  I can think of only two times in the game when my character started revving up for some imminent action, and this is one of them: when a girl was being verbally and physically abused by a Morninglight cultist.

TSW: Into the belly of Morninglight

club1After going on a scavenger hunt through the dangerously packed Orochi housing projects in Tokyo, I had found a door to “The Clubhouse” — a secret place for youth with potential.  After I didn’t find anyone to go in there with me, I told myself to man up and do it.  I had seen worse in this game, right?  I should be a tough footsoldier of the secret world, and not a babbling ninny who jumps at shadows.  Then again, this game keeps finding new ways to unnerve me.

club2Some more of the head-messing meta-humor that TSW loves.  A journal entry noted that getting to the Clubhouse was like an ARG — something TSW has done a lot of in real life.

dollAnother doll solemnly overlooking a… suicide, I guess.  Why dolls?  WHY IS THIS GAME OBSESSED WITH DOLLS?

club3The Clubhouse initially comes off as an underground hangout-slash-YMCA — nicely decorated with plenty of fun stuff to do (arcades, pool tables, swimming pool, um… firing range).  The neat-o vibe is only thrown off by (a) the many massacred people who have been sliced up and (b) several filth creatures lurking about.  Oh, and pods in the swimming pool.  Somehow I don’t think that it will end as nicely as it did for the old folks in Cocoon.

I began a careful investigation of the Clubhouse, methodically exploring rooms while killing all of the bad guys.  In addition to the main story quest that propels you through the instance (and it is fairly long, I might add), there are a pair of side missions inside that task you with finding various notes and journal pages.

johnJohn… is not a nice guy.  If he’s a guy at all.  There are a LOT of theories in the TSW community about John, which is compounded by the fact that there are a LOT of Johns in the game.

These are actually really cool, because as you’re exploring the current situation of the place, you’re also learning about some vital backstory.  The journal comes from the perspective of one of the teens who got locked in the Clubhouse when the filth bomb went off in Tokyo.  It describes how the military tried to quarantine Kaidan, how that failed, and how any kids who tried to escape from the Clubhouse were either stopped or never came back.  It also mentions how there’s more to this place (another level) and how the kids ended up getting so hungry that they resorted to cannibalism and other desperate acts.  It’s all quite heartbreaking and definitely raised my ire even further against the Morninglight/Fear Nothing crowd.

club4The Dreamers are at the core of the conflict in TSW, although they’re not well understood.

Eventually I was able to access a secret door to the auditorium, taking in some truly creepy frescos on the way.  The only guy in the auditorium was a babbling leader who had some filth issues of his own (I wasn’t clear on how the filth go into the Clubhouse, but I guess it’s a moot point).  It was a slightly challenging fight at first, but nothing too horrible.  Then I was off to the cafeteria, and it was here that I got my only true scare: Two mobs burst throught the door the second I opened it, and I was not ready for that.

rab1After more cafeteria and auditorium hijinks (including another boss fight), I made my way down to the next level where flickering lights made it all moody — and not in a romantic sort of way. It was here that a major cutscene kicked in, where the Killer Rabbit (previously only seen in security footage) went all Kill Bill on a bunch of Morninglight lackeys.  Not only was the outfit with those black eye holes disturbing, but the fact that the KR could teleport short distances gave it a distinct edge.

rab2The Killer Rabbit didn’t seem interested in me; when it saw me it tapped its wrist.  Time?  Running out?  Meet up later?  It seemed fixated on a series of monitors, and according to a computer that I searched through, these were higher level Morninglight peeps that had scrammed to various safehouses.  Guess I know where to go next!