Secret World Legends’ (new) gear grind

I still can’t get over how fast this current playthrough of Secret World Legends is turning out to be. But looking back, it makes sense. The first time I went through TSW, I was figuring everything out and playing content as it (slowly) released. The the second time was artificially slowed, what with screenshotting and documenting the adventures for my blog series.

Now it’s like the constraints have been lifted, the time-to-kill lowered, and I’ve taken off at a sprint. Really, it’s just about as fast as I’d play any normal MMORPG, but TSW always felt tougher, harder, and slower than “normal” MMOs.

I’m finding that I’m going through six or so quests and (yes) side quests every night, in addition to killing any world bosses and taking advantage of pop-up kill quests along the way. Blue Mountain is crumbling before my continued assault, with only Franklin Manor and the main storyline to go. I’m actually getting addicted to the speed, so that’s probably a sign I should slow down a wee bit to do more poking around and taking pictures. But then there’s that voice in my head that keeps prodding me on to “catch back up” with myself where I was before.

I do try to finish up the main five daily challenges every night, since you get a chunk of Marks of Favor with those, and I’m saving up for some much-needed inventory space.

So with all of the quests and such, I’m racking up a great amount of loot bags. I’ve got to say that with all of the big changes of the reboot, the one that I’m finding that I like the least is how loot and gear function.

Honestly, it wasn’t like loot was terribly exciting before. Maybe it’s Secret World’s somewhat generic loot icons that don’t seem as interesting as ones you’d get in other games, but it’s been quite rare to ever get that interested in looting items.

SWL’s changes are a little odd for a few different reasons. First is that your standard mobs just never drop loot. Like, ever. Unless it’s a lockbox, of course, in which case they fart those out regularly. So your primary source of loot is from quests and the one-time rare mobs. But you don’t get specific loot; you get random loot bags that hold just a type of loot (talisman, weapon, glyph, etc.). They do stack nicely, but apart from that, they’re not that thrilling to get or open them. Mostly you hope for a blue or a three-pip item with the stats that you desire, then you hang on to those for dear life.

I was initially in favor of how SWL allows you to use unwanted gear to “feed” and level up your desired gear to higher levels, stats, and rarity. In theory, this is great. In practice… it’s getting old, really quick. I must spend about five or ten minutes every play session doing nothing but leveling up items, leveling up spares for fusion, and then fusing them together. With all of the spares and bags and whatnot, I keep running out of inventory terrifically fast.

Again, the concept is decent and I like just sticking with the gear you want and gradually making it better. But the process is onerous and repetitive, and I can’t help but wonder if there was a more streamlined or elegant way that this could be done. Plus, I keep thinking that one day I’m probably going to toss this gear I’ve been painstakingly leveling once I get into an elite dungeon and have some awesome purple drop or something.

As for what I’m wearing, I’m going for mostly attack gear with the headslot devoted to healing stats and one other talisman devoted to protection. Not super-specialized, but a little more rounded to give my character survivability.

Looking at Secret World Legends’ roadmap

Last Friday, Funcom finally posted its promised post-launch roadmap for Secret World Legends, giving players an idea of how it will be reinstating TSW content and then proceeding after that. Here’s the condensed version:

  • July – Elite dungeons (out already)
  • July – Remainder of Transylvania missions
  • July/August – Whispering Tide event
  • August – Tokyo part 1, lair mega-bosses
  • September – Tokyo part 2, Orochi Tower, NYC raid
  • October – Halloween event
  • December – Winter event
  • Late 2017/early 2018 – Dark Agartha, agent missions, new story region

First of all, let me say that I am having an absolute blast in this game so far — much more than I had anticipated. The reduction of the time-to-kill on mobs and the general enthusiasm over the relaunch has kept me logging in night after night, even though I’ve done all of this several times before. I’m up to my neck in Blue Mountain, so hopefully sometime this week I’ll make the jump over to Egypt.

I’m also pleased, of a sort, that the studio got this roadmap out. Like most everything with this launch, it should’ve been done weeks ago, but at least it’s here and we have an idea of how the next half-year or so is going to go. So what do we have?

Well, right now SWL is in an odd place where it is catching up with itself — that is, re-implementing content that The Secret World had already before its “retirement” and the reboot. So while I’m sure PR is going to herald this roadmap as a “wow, look at all of the stuff we’re doing for the game!” I see it as “wow, look how much you didn’t have ready for the relaunch last month!”

At least it looks like we’ll be caught up, so to speak, by the end of September, which isn’t too bad. And I know that the maps and some missions are requiring revamps, not to mention the reworked AEGIS system, so I’ll acknowledge that it isn’t merely copying data over.

For me personally, this content rollout should do just fine. I’m not going to find myself racing into a content wall for a while, and the task of getting through Tokyo and gearing my character up through epic dungeons will most likely take most of the fall. That’s just as well, because what we all really wanted to know — what NEW stuff is coming — isn’t going to be here for a while yet.

Funcom was definitely cagey about the new-new info, but we do know a few things we didn’t before. There’s going to be some sort of WoW garrison/SWTOR crew skill agent assignment system, which is the sort of thing I actually like as long as it doesn’t get too spammy. Dark Agartha sounds really intriguing, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Dungeon? Quest? Community event? It’s very vague.

And then there’s this: “As a results of the events that ended at the top of the Orochi Tower, continue the main story mission and follow up on a lead which will send you on your way to a brand new country.”

YES. We’re getting a new region and a new story, which is partially why most of us vets are putting ourselves through the full game again. We want to see what happens next. But what is really interesting here is that initially Funcom posted “continent” and then changed it to “country.”

Why does that matter? There are pretty much three accepted theories as to where we are going next: the Congo, South America, or Antarctica (with the Moon being a distant fourth). If it’s a new continent, then Africa was ruled out as an option, because we already went to Egypt. But then they changed it, so now I’m thinking the Congo or mid-Africa region is much more of a possibility. I am rooting for Antarctica myself, but we’ll see.

Secret World: Hell is other zombies

Smile! This is how all of the pros take camera pictures, just hold it like you’re doing a superhero pose.

Now that I’ve put a good week and a full zone behind me in Secret World Legends, I’m starting to feel as though I have a much better grip on what this revamped game is and how to approach it. My initial discomfort and concern over the UI and combat system has simmered down with familiarity, and I can honestly say that I’m having a great time in the game. So much so that I genuinely want to log into it every night.

It is freeing to just play the game and not have to blog every single mission, which is what I was doing with my last character. Plus, the faster pace of combat really has taken one of the more irksome design flaws of the original game and made the world more enjoyable to traverse and explore. When you’re not constantly worrying about getting into encounters — not because you’ll die, but because it means 30-45 seconds of tedious fighting — then it has a refreshing effect on the game as a whole.

I’m not utterly in love with all of the combat skills, which I don’t see as that much more interesting than what we had before, but at least I have a workable build (I’ve settled on shotgun/hammer, which was the favorite of Ye Olde Yeti).

Mr. Freezie! You are the real hero of this game. As a weird aside, Secret World has a moon problem. Something is really wrong with the moon in its skybox — it’s more oval than circle and semi-transparent, so stars shine through it. What’s up with that?

Anyway, enough systems have changed, like currency and gear, that it’s taken a few days to get used to how things work now. Finishing off daily challenges is important to earning marks of favor, which can then be spent on sprint upgrades, cosmetics, inventory space, and other essentials. So glad to get Sprint 2, Sprint 1 was like a semi-quick toddler crawling.

There’s been a lot of concern and consternation over what was changed in missions, mob placements, and whatnot. I’m only in the first part of Savage Coast, so I can’t say for sure, but what I think Funcom did was really rework Kingsmouth to be a lot more newbie friendly and then give lesser tweaks to other zones. It’s not insultingly easy (I still died a few times, especially when I wasn’t being too careful), but I can kind of understand why some of these changes were made. Investigation missions are largely untouched, other than new rewards, so a guide and/or brain is still needed.

I’ve been setting a pretty fast pace, at least for me (I keep seeing people boasting about hitting level 50 and getting into Transylvania, which is a long way off right now). It helps that I know these quests very well and don’t have to slog through combat. If I can get a zone done every week, then that’s seven more weeks until I’m through the end of Transylvania. End of summer? Tokyo should be up by then, I would think.

The reboot isn’t perfect and I do see a lot of saltiness around the business model. That’s a little more difficult for me to ascertain, since I’m grandmaster and don’t have to suffer with the F2P restrictions. I was really glad to hear that Funcom’s been listening and evaluating feedback from the launch crowd. It only has a few weeks to really shape things up before the Steam launch, and that’s the last big “first” chance this game is going to get. So I’m sure the devs are under a lot more pressure than otherwise to get the business model right.

Here’s my personal top five wish list for the game as it stands:

  1. The promised roadmap of what’s going to be happening, especially post-Tokyo.
  2. A monthly stipend of Aurum for subscribers/lifetimers. Kind of silly they don’t have this already, guess they assumed we’d be trading in currency at the exchange for it.
  3. The ability to save multiple outfits so that we can just switch between ones on the fly.
  4. A closer look at some of the weapon gimmicks that are more annoying than useful (AR grenades anyone?).
  5. Real housing. Yeah, this is a pipe dream, but still. New game, new feature?

Secret World Legends first impressions

There’s a metaphor for how Funcom treats its players in this picture here. I can’t quite articulate it, but it’s there.

All right. Here goes. The Big Reset. Starting over from scratch. Secret World 2.0, AKA Secret World Legends. It was probably best I missed the messy head start weekend, but even so I feel a little behind.

Before I dive into all of this, let me just share that I remain intensely conflicted over all of this. I deeply love The Secret World as a game, but Funcom can eat doggy doo for making all of us start over and forcing these changes on us. There is no good reason why a better combat system, a new business model, and some of these other changes couldn’t have been worked into the existing game. It’s a weird case of there not being ENOUGH change to warrant a “nuclear” hard reset of an entire playerbase’s progress. Some change, sure, but at the core SWL is still TSW. It hasn’t magically transformed into some exciting new beast, and I really can’t help but think that all of this is a cheap ploy at new reviews, at grabbing a different audience, and at Funcom’s lack of ability to think of a more elegant solution.

Anyway. Rant over, let’s look at the game itself.

To start things on a good note, the legacy transfer went off for me without a hitch, and my newly created Yeti (Yeti 2.0, even more Leet than before) had most of her cosmetics, pets, mounts, and her grandmaster status brought over.

I did my best to make her look as close as possible to my old character, choosing as 80s as a look as possible. The roller skates please me to no end. I wasn’t entirely pleased that you couldn’t just mix-and-match your weapons at character creation; you had to choose a fixed pair. I went with shotgun/hammer, although I’m angling at doing shotgun/chaos as soon as I can find myself a chaos weapon to equip.

The NEW and IMPROVED tutorial ended up being LONG and ANNOYING and VERY LONG and IS THIS THING STILL GOING? It’s a weird mish-mash of the old intro cutscene, the old tutorial, a new four-stage tutorial quest, and the faction transition bits. It took far too long from character creation to getting into Kingsmouth, which I feel is far more of a detractor.

Oh! New Agartha, let’s talk about that. This is one of the big changes I’m actually really pleased about. Agartha got its own social/vendor hub that’s large and impressive, and — even better — now has jump pads that take you right to zone hub portals. No more weird whizzing about forever on paths trying to get to the third area of Transylvania.

I probably spent a good half-hour at the start trying to sort out the new user interface and control scheme. I won’t lie, it’s a shock to go from The Secret World’s setup (which wasn’t bad at all) to this. I got the most annoyed at not being able to zoom in with my mouse wheel to see finer details and take first-person shots (you now have to hit V to go to the vanity camera and then do that sort of thing). It’s a little like Neverwinter, and bit by bit, I was able to ease into it. I do think there needs to be more gameplay options in the settings.

Probably the most off-putting thing of the first night was some weird bug or glitch or something that made every NPC talk as if they were horribly dubbed and their jaws were (as Aywren put it on Twitter) a Nutcracker’s mouth. The lady who came to do the Templar invitation talked so badly and was animated so poorly that it was like a deleted scene from The Room (anyone see that movie?). This did get better following a hotfix on Wednesday… but I still stand by my character’s dubious expression up here.

I really want to know how this zombie got all of the way up to the top of this gas station sign. The birdies flew him up? Got thrown? Parachute? There’s a story here, darn it!

OK, so I’m just going through combat clicking like crazy and kind of enjoying feeling like my shotgun is actually doing damage (I do like the shell-changing mechanic). Everything having levels is weird. The combat animations don’t seem that radically different, however. Again, why was this so radical that it required a reset?

The quest flow is an interesting change. The whole zone isn’t open for business when you first get there; quests open up slowly as you venture through and unlock them, so you can’t just go willy-nilly everywhere. Probably better for a coherent story flow. I do like that the map turns icons from color to grey when you do a quest, so it’s easier to figure out what you have left to do if you’re a completionist.

Another positive map change is that rares are labeled when you’re in the vicinity of one, and since they have loot bags — and you really do need those now that loot isn’t dropping that often — they’re definitely worth taking down.

One rare I fought was Susie of Susie’s Diner. Can’t recall ever seeing or fighting her before, but she was something else. Multiple rows of teeth, one bloodshot eye, claws, and way too powerful for me. While the mobs of zombies have been pushovers so far, Susie at level 8 took my level 4 character to school. I gave it a couple tries but couldn’t take her down right then. Maybe later.

Always makes me wonder about Andy when he casually throws in “human sacrifice” as one of the darker sides of town life. Guilt eating you up there, man?

Over the course of two nights, I made good progress into Kingsmouth and leveled up to 10. And I also started to feel my impressions change from irritation — at the UI, the combat, the changes — start to shift to enjoyment. Not ecstatic delight, but I started to see some definite positives to this revamp.

For starters, combat is no longer a soul-sucking slug-fest. Encounters are, for the most part, fast and fun, and instead of avoiding mobs during travel, I found myself getting into fights just for the XP and fun of it all. And I started to hunt down rares, take on the new random missions (just local tasks that pop up to kill X whatevers or do X things), and even ran Polaris (which was a success). Once I started to get a feel for this new format, it started to click. I think I could live with this, yes indeed. I just need to get a good build going.

Speaking of which, instead of chaos as a secondary, I went with assault rifle. Guess I just like my range, plus I couldn’t find a chaos weapon for the life of me no matter how many loot bags I opened. Mapping a single-target DPS ability to the left mouse button and an AOE to the right gave me quick options on the fly, with the other four skills on the bar dedicated to more specialized situations. I’m also kind of excited about gadgets, which are new to Legends. I have a healing one and a stun one, both of which are useful in a pinch.

We will see how it goes. I’m not 100% happy or satisfied, but I’m not running away screaming and declaring the end of Secret World. Slight changes to the world itself keep throwing me (where’s that ice cream truck?!?) and the combat/UI takes some getting used to, but if TSW taught me anything, it’s that it is important to adapt to new challenges.

Secret World Legends: Plans for a do-over

Being a pretty die-hard Secret World player, you’d probably expect that I did nothing but jump head-first into the rebooted Secret World Legends all weekend and come out with some sort of first impressions piece for today. This is not what happened.

In actuality, right now I’m on our youth group’s summer mission trip, which ended up being bad timing in relation to the headstart for SWL, so I’m going to have to miss the debut weekend. I’m OK with that, I guess. Look at the mess that happened with FFXIV: Stormblood’s head start, and I can only imagine what issues Funcom’s going to have here with this reboot that, frankly, had too little testing and is clearly being pushed out the door quickly and just scant seconds ahead of an NDA drop. I’m happy to give it a few days to calm down before I get to it.

But that hasn’t stopped me from thinking about what I’m going to do when I do get into SWL, so here’s a few things to expect from me:

1. I won’t be doing a mission-by-mission commentary

Been there, done that, literally got the in-game t-shirt. I don’t think you all want to hear me rehashing the same missions I did a couple of years ago anyway, so I’ll probably do more observations and daily adventure pieces while commenting on what (if anything) has changed.

2. I’m going to recreate Yeti

Yeti was my TSW main, and as much as possible, I’m going to bring her back to life for the reboot. I have already reserved her name, and since she’s got a lot of cosmetics porting over, I can probably dress her up in her customary ’80s garb. That also means I’m rolling Templar. As entertaining as Illuminati is — and it is, really — I’m a Templar at heart.

3. I’ll be getting an impressions piece on the big changes to you soon

This includes the combat, revamped Agartha, and smaller populated playing fields. The “feel” of the game is important to me and that’s what I’ll be paying the most attention to, for sure.

4. I’ll try to enjoy the quests anew

Thinking about the “big picture” of how many quests have to be done to get to where I left off in Tokyo is massively daunting and will definitely ruin my fun. Instead, I’ll just take one quest at a time, screenshot like crazy as I always do in this game, and hopefully glean a few new facts and story beats along the way. I’ll also try to do every quest in each zone before moving on, although I’m not entirely sure how this’ll work with the modified quest flow.

5. I’m going to try one old and one new weapon

I have to go shotgun with Yeti — that’s practically her signature weapon. But chaos magic, which I haven’t even touched in TSW, looks pretty appealing. I like the randomness and the clones, so I’m going to mix that with shotgun and see how that works.

6. I’ll be reading up on Secret World Legends like crazy

I wasn’t a part of the beta, but I am curious to read about those who were and to see their thoughts and reactions as they went into the deeper game. There are also new builds to be researched and other changes to discover. And if Funcom ever gets off its duff to deliver a road map, I’ll read that too.

7. I’ll try to stay on top of the content flow

Initially I think we’ll have the game through Transylvania, with Tokyo to follow at a later date, and then the launch of the second season (fingers crossed). So I don’t want to be TOO behind on all of that, because it would just rankle to have new missions come out that I couldn’t play yet. So if the game launches as a stable and playable product, I won’t be dawdling. I will do my best to not violate #4 there, but at the same time, I’m not going to do a single mission every night and call it a day, either.

Goodbye The Secret World, hello Secret World Legends

I had been putting it off.

I knew that I needed to log back into The Secret World at least one more time before Secret Worlds Legends launched, if only to spend the rest of my Funcom points and snag outfits before those points got wasted. Seeing as how these (but not all) cosmetics are going to be just about the only thing other than reserved names to make the transfer to the new game, I might as well, right?

Yet I was pretty reluctant to do so. I didn’t want to say goodbye to this game that I love and appreciate on a different level than most other MMORPGs. Logging in would make me confront the fact that, yes, this was pretty much it for TSW, and yes, all of the progress, achievements, and material accumulations are about to be erased in a gigantic do-over.

When I did the interview with Funcom’s devs a month or so ago, I remember them asking if I still played TSW following the announcement — and my incredulous reply of, “Of course not. What’s the point?” My persistent world is no longer persistent when it gets maintenance moded in favor of some sort of quickly revised reboot. TSW will linger on, but everyone’s seen the writing on the wall. It’s time to leave.

Thus, I logged in. Bought two outfits to flesh out my collection, plus a couple of retro bags. I think I got some acid-washed jeans I never had before. And I positioned both of my characters to say goodbye.

For Yeti, it was definitely a bitter and sad moment. I’d had this Templar ever since I started the game, five years ago now, and she’d been through pretty much every adventure there was. She’d been the one who I had kept at the edge of content, all of the way through Tokyo. She was the toon I took into dungeons with our guild. She was my J-pop, blue-haired, 80s-loving girl, and I loved her. I put her in an oddly lit doorway in London and logged out, determined to recreate her if at all possible in SWL. At least I still have her name.

And then there was Syppi, my Illuminati alt I created back in 2014 with the intent of replaying and documenting every non-dungeon quest in the game. She was representative of a huge project that got the axe for me, and now that there’s no point of continuing, I sat her down at the campfire in the Shadowy Forest, staring into the flames and thinking of all of the accomplishments and obstacles that lay behind her.

Oh, and I used a snowblower to have some fun with the locals, because you can’t be a TSW player and not be prone to goofy black humor now and then.

With that session out of the way, my attention turns forward to Secret World Legends. Folks, I’m not going to lie — I am worried. Deeply worried. At this point we’re only a few weeks away from the non-Steam PC launch, and Funcom is giving every appearance of being way in over its head on this. The NDA is still up, because if that’s not a sign of no-confidence I don’t know what is. From several sources I keep hearing that the game just isn’t ready yet, and my gut agrees. My gut also thinks that the studio is really eyeing the July Steam launch for its real audience and might be willing to consider the June crowd collateral damage and free beta testing.

Funcom’s messaging has been scattered-to-nonexistent. This is a major project for them, but the SWL website has been abnormally quiet since its debut in March, with three articles that month, NONE in April, two in May, and one in June so far. The new weapon specialties and mechanics don’t even warrant a developer diary but are instead treated to 15-second Twitter videos.

And then let’s talk about yesterday, because I was banging my forehead on my desk SO HARD over all of us. First, Funcom abruptly tweets that there will be a headstart for launch on June 23rd for those who have supported the game. Is this for everyone, AKA an open beta? Just TSW owners? What’s all this about? Instead of posting a real article about this, which you would think would be done, players were left scratching their heads and waiting for the devs to answer these questions on the Twitter thread. Following that, Funcom tweets that TSW owners are all going to get into the beta today, but hey, NDA is still up (unless the studio changes that by the time of this posting). Again, very few initial details and a lack of information ANYWHERE ELSE than Twitter. Seeing as how Funcom controls the SWL Reddit and they have this shiny new website, you’d think the team would be putting this there too. But no. Let’s be vague, abrupt, and confusing, because that’s the way to settle down our anxious playerbase.

So yeah, I’m worried. I’ll still roll up a character, I’ll still play, and I’ll still cross my fingers and hope for the best. But I am seriously worried that this is a project that’s being cobbled together with an unreasonably small budget, a tiny team, and under pressure to release at a certain date instead of when it’s ready. Prove me wrong, Funcom, but so far you’re giving me no cause to get excited.

The Secret World: Do I have the energy to do this all again?

One of the best perks of my job at Massively OP is that every so often I get to interview MMO developers directly and ask them any old thing that pops into my mind (I do prep beforehand, of course). For an MMO player, it’s a treat to have this direct line to a developer, even if for a short period of time.

You might have seen that last week I had the opportunity to sit down with two of the guys in charge of The Secret World and ask them some point-blank questions about the game’s transition to Secret World Legends. Ever since the announcement was first made, I found myself waving my arms and sputtering in frustration and anxiety over all of this. I didn’t find Funcom’s initial round of interviews satisfying, so it was great to have this chance to dig into this decision. When you genuinely care about a game, you are concerned about its future and want honest answers instead of fluff. That’s what I was after.

You can tell me how well it all came off. I didn’t get to every question I had and there were a few topics that the team danced around (such as how they’re going to make money with F2P, which wasn’t answered to my satisfaction in retrospect). But at least it was good to hear about the process behind this decision, the rationale for the move, and the thought that was going into some of these decisions. I may not agree with all of them — I think the reticle combat is a dumb idea that nobody was asking for — but I appreciated the responses. TSW just wasn’t making money and the studio feels that this is the only way to avoid shuttering it and to keep the stories coming. It’s a weird pill to swallow.

And the question for me is, will I swallow it? As I told them, I’m a weird mixture of anxiety and excitement over this relaunch, but the anxiety is definitely winning. I’m seriously worried about all of this, about how this decision affects their core playerbase and how the new game will handle. If it doesn’t work, then this will be the end of Secret World in any incarnation; Funcom isn’t going to pay for Season 2.

But excitement? Sure, there’s a bit. It’ll be nice to see a spotlight back on this game (although the timing is terrible, as June is already packed with big MMO expansion releases). If the game looks, performs, and plays better, then wonderful. And I was pretty geeked to hear that we will be seeing a development roadmap soon for post-launch plans, including an AEGIS rework (yay) and the next chapter of the game’s saga.

I’ll play it, I know I will, but there’s part of me that is intimately familiar with the mountain of content that I’ve gone through — twice — and quails at thinking of having to do it all over again, build up a whole new character, just to get back to where I was. It’s the price that all TSW vets are going to have to pay to see what comes next, and I’m sure for some, it’s a dealbreaker.

Then again, I’m Mr. Altoholic, so maybe I can get into a mental space to think of this as just another one of my alts. I miss my shotgun build, so I’ll definitely be going back to that and the Templars, and maybe I’ll start shopping for a cabal come June. There’s some time left, after all.

Oh, and I also want to hear some details about what subscribers/grandmasters are going to be getting, since I have a $150 package invested into this game. Hard to walk away from that, too.