TSW: Don’t fear the dead, fear nothing

or1After the Christmas Conspiracy mission last month, I took some time off of The Secret World, although I anticipated coming back to really tear into Issue 10.  I had a bit of a setback one day when a few side missions kept kicking my butt — mostly due to impossible-to-kill mobs and repeated deaths.

But here we are, deep in the Orochi projects (one of the new Kaidan areas) going through the main story mission.

or2I came across a playground for the Happy Smiles day care (one of Orochi’s things) and my character found something… quite puzzling.  A kid with gigantism (an oversized head) on the seasaw by himself.  While my character never speaks, I have to say that Funcom does an excellent job letting my body language talk for me.  There are a few excellent bits in this cutscene that show hesitation, morbid curiosity, fear, and… well, one last one that I’ll talk about in a bit.

or3This is Jung, and even though he’s only four years old, he talks like a professor and has mental powers.  He’s also got poor emotional control, because he’s only four years old.  You feel bad for him and a little wary at the same time.

or4Dang.  This line gave me chills.

or5I like Jung, if for the fact that he actually does a good job spilling some key exposition and tying together plot points that may or may not have gone past the player.  The whole Morninglight/Fear Nothing/Atun/Orochi connection has been pretty apparent in the game, and all of it is absolutely nasty.

You know how I make fun of how much Orochi gets killed?  This is Syp-in-game talking here, but good.  I’m glad they do.  Because this is an organization that, among its many other sins, has conducted extensive experiments, torture, and kidnapping on kids.  And they so need to pay for that.

or6or7or8I want to add that this bit here bowled me over.  This is why TSW excels at storytelling in ways that other games… man, they can’t even imagine it, otherwise they’d try to do it.  But at the end of Jung’s speech, he crows about how he’s finally top dog in the playground… now that everyone else is dead and he has powers to keep the filth dudes away.  You hear his power, but then you see his extreme loneliness and sadness.

Who will play with Jung?  Who will love him?

My character raises her hand to push the seesaw down, but Jung uses his mental abilities to do it instead.  And my character walks away, leaving this little boy going up… and down in a tomb-quiet playground in the middle of a city of corpses.  Argh, I wanted the option to take him along with me.

or9And that’s just the opening cutscene for this main story mission.  The actual mission skews to an investigation format, where you have to solve clues to find the next clue, and so on.  It’s cleverly done — not too easy, not too hard — and encourages exploration of the projects.  My only complaint is that the mob density here is way, way too high.  In fact, I would be totally find with no mobs whatsoever here.

or10The scavenger hunt led to this, a secret door that goes into another Orochi place, The Clubhouse.  Flashbacks to The Nursery and Virgula Divina made me pause and then log out for the night.  I don’t know if I’m ready to go into another lab of horrors.

My gaming plans for 2015

nesMake plans, the saying goes, and God laughs.  It’s with that sort of understanding — plans can and will change all the time — that I write the following list of my gaming goals and possible MMO ventures in 2015.

My Big Gaming Resolution For 2015 Is…

I will try (and be open to) more MMOs.  I know that’s kind of a laughable statement with my reputation, but the truth is that there are a lot of games that I’ve never touched that I should at least sample to get a feel for them and see if they might be an unexpected delight.  Titles like ArcheAge, The Repopulation, Albion Online, Elder Scrolls Online, Shards Online, Asheron’s Call, and even the odd MUD might make it onto my computer at some point.  Maybe I should make a resolution to try a new game at least once a month for the year, totalling 12 titles.  I did like doing my one-month experiment returning back to DDO last year and always meant to do more of that.

The Secret World

My “secret adventures” series is on haitus for now as I want to concentrate on keeping my main character on top of the content.  Perhaps when I finish all of Tokyo and feel a little bored will I return to Savage Coast to finish it up, but for now I’m enjoying seeing brand-new missions and feeling more confident in Kaidan.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I’d love to have my Smuggler to the level cap and through all of the expansions before any new story expansions hit so that I can do them with the crowd.  That’s a tall order, however, as my character has yet to hit level 30 and is strictly free-to-play.  Even if I can’t, I do want to keep trekking with this character and enjoying the stories and choices at my own pace with a murderous Ewok at my side.

Lord of the Rings Online

To tell you the truth, I might not even play this this year.  I kind of fizzled to a dead stop around October 2014 and haven’t felt a huge urge to log back in and play.  But who knows what a few months more of absence might rekindle, and if I do work up the urge to come back I could consider starting with a fresh new character or continuing my Captain’s journey through Gondor.

Marvel Heroes

With it’s ultra-casual, jump-in-anytime nature, I can see Marvel Heroes as being a side pleasure for the year.  It’s insanely replayable considering how often they keep adding new characters, although I’d love to stick with Squirrel Girl until I get her to the top.  Then I want to play Rogue for a while and perhaps sample the rest of my unlocked roster.

WildStar

I am subbed up through February, and after that it depends on how involved I am with the game and whether or not Carbine makes that expected F2P/B2P switch.  I really like WildStar for a lot of reasons, but it’s not my main and I’m not playing it enough to justify a subscription.  I would love to stick with one character and get her to the cap for the new content, but my character ping-ponging has kept me from doing this.

RIFT

I have a while yet to get through Nightmare Tide at my pokey puppy casual rate, although the question is what I will be doing after that.  I could just “maintain” by continuing minion missions, running dungeons and rifts, and consuming new content as it comes, I suppose.  I don’t think I want to go through the leveling process again with a new character.

Landmark

When this game hits a non-wipable open beta state, I’ll patch it up and give it a real try.  Until then, I don’t want to be disappointed with partial features and huge bugs.  Like many, I’m really holding out for EverQuest Next and don’t see much of a personal future in this title.  But assumptions can be proven wrong with actual encounters.

Guild Wars 2

Man, I do not know what is up with me and Guild Wars 2.  I both want to play it and I don’t.  I both really dig it and feel completely aimless in it.  There’s a lot left to be done but I still am not feeling a strong urge to get back into it.  So for now I’m letting this title rest, but I do hope that I find a purpose in 2015 for it because I would like to get jiggy in Tyria once again.  News of an expansion would be a huge incentive, methinks.

The Secret World’s Christmas Conspiracy

cc1What better a way to mark Christmas than a sojurn into The Secret World and its nutty conspiracies?  A few days ago I went through the brand-new seasonal investigation mission, The Christmas Conspiracy, and walked away very impressed with both its mechanics and storytelling.

The tale begins with an invitation to see a play at the Albion Theatre in London.  I dressed up in as fancy of clothes that I had — top hat and all — and got really excited to see an in-game play.  But before the play could begin, I got a phone call from one of the performers, who was asking for my help on behalf of his sister.

The curtain rose and then…

cc2…Phoenecian soldiers barged into the theatre, firing rifles off in every direction.

cc3They mowed down the actors and audience without discrimination.  The look of fear on the actress in that picture was really spot-on for the moment.

And let me tell you, this whole cutscene was perhaps one of the most disturbing of the game so far, probably because it hit a little too close to home with terrorist attacks and mass killings by gun-wielding psychos.  I’m actually more than a little surprised that Funcom had the guts (or confidence?) to do this.  In any case, I wasn’t expecting this and was genuinely shocked.

Of course, after the initial attack, I got a chance to retaliate against the purple troops… and none of them got out alive.

cc4Does this play backdrop look a little familiar?  It should to any Savage Coast tourists.

cc5So the soldiers were apparently in pursuit of chunks of good old St. Nicolas (aka Santa Claus), whose carved-up corpse still has miraculous properties and is much-desired by all of the secret world players.

It becomes a race to secure one of these chunks (aka manna) that’s locked away somewhere underneath the Venician library.  It’s here that the investigation mission kicks in with its unique mechanic.  In this case, it’s using a “magic flute” to play short melodies that have various effects and allow me to overcome obstacles, like locked doors and flaming spirits.  It very, very much reminded me of Orcana of Time, which I bet was a major influence for this mission.

This musical dungeon was on the long side, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  In the field of investigation missions, this one had a really good balance between using your noodle and not getting too frustrating.

cc6This one moment in the mission actually had me a little nervous to proceed.  It just looks so dang creepy.

cc7Anyway, the mission leads to a vault with St. Nick’s remains and another fight with the Phoenicians (and an old foe).  No problem here; I wiped them up handidly.  And then — a Christmas miracle!  The ghost of St. Nicholas appeared to attend to the body of the sister of the slain actor.  They both disappeared in a blazing white light, and all is good again in the world?  Well, the bad guys didn’t get the corpse chunk, so I guess that’s as merry and jolly as The Secret World gets this time of year.

TSW: Fear of heights

kawaii1Today’s The Secret World adventure will be going through my final Pagan Sidestories mission, The All-Seeing Kawaii.  Now I can go through Issue 10 without feeling as though I had left something undone, like the stove on or something.

This action mission begins with the always-hyperactive Harumi, who perhaps is drinking too many of those Bingo! soft drinks (but can you blame her?  Orochi, man, they put addictive substances in there, I swear.).  The opening cutscene was appropriately cute and silly, although there’s something slightly disturbing with how traumatized Rum is and how Harumi might be clinging to her technological superiority to stave off the darkness.  Anyway, she sends me off to kill a lot of things while putting security cameras back in place so that she can keep an eye on Kaidan.  No sweat.  Beats a sabotage mission.

kawaii2It went… okay for a while, although the above technological terror beat me down pretty hard when a couple of other mobs decided to tag-team in.  I took a break after that defeat, and when I came back to the game I had a hunger to create a new build.

I won’t bore you — too much — with the specifics, but instead of the crit-chaining build I had, this one is more focused on lots of synergy between penetration and hinders.  Many skills ping-pong off of each other, some penetration proccing hinders, some hinders proccing penetration, and all activating various heals and AOE-style attacks.  It’s a little lighter on the defense than I’d like, but it is incredibly effective against solo and pack mobs without having to change a thing while I’m fighting.

kawaii3Another first for TSW and my video game experience: by throwing a can of Bingo! cola against a tree, filth tentacles came down to drink it and created a ramp for me to run up to an overpass.

kawaii4Let me say, this mission is not that fun if you have a fear of heights, even a fear of virtual heights.  I got dizzy a few times looking down at the streets below and hoping that a mob wasn’t going to knock me off.

Also, apparently Orochi has or sponsors a Japanese baseball team made out of cyborgs or robots.  Why can’t we see that in-game?

While the mission was long, it wasn’t that hard overall.  The helicopter attack in the middle of it reminded me of the same event during Solomon Island’s Tyler Freeborn mission chain.  But it was the ending that was really the clincher.

kawaii5So many times, TSW missions simply… end, with no resolution aside from a text message.  This time, we got an out-of-the-blue Flappy attack, as the giant filth bird carried me to its nest.  And let me tell you, superpowered warrior or no, I felt so dang small and helpless in the middle of all of this.

Apparently there’s some lore and an achievement to get by being sneaky here, but I elected to step on a horn and get killed by an angry bird (did… they not see me there?) to complete the mission.

The good news is that I got the big rewards for doing all of the Pagan sidestories — an item that will port me to Tokyo (handy!) and a mystery box that had a signet inside.

My 10 favorite geeky things of 2014 #2: TSW’s Tokyo

tokyoThe Secret World had been building up to the Tokyo expansion since the very first steps in the tutorial, when we explored the immediate aftermath of the filth bomb going off in the subway.  Since then, Tokyo had been teased and pointed to as a huge destination, and we suffered through such a long period of waiting — including endless scenarios and Flappy fights — and thought that this place would never come.

But in 2014, we finally got the first new zone in the game since its launch, and it was definitely worth the wait.  Tokyo has a distinct personality that’s different than Transylvania, Egypt, and New England, and it’s intriguing to be so much closer to the epicenter of the bad stuff going down in the world.

Yes, Tokyo is a lot harder and I’m still not keen on the AEGIS system as a form of alternate advancement (although I’m making a grudging peace with it).  But the quests and stories are so dang good that it’s worth the hassle — they’re hilarious, moving, and disturbing in equal measures.

We got the first part of Tokyo in June, two sidestories packs in July and September, and the second part of Tokyo in December — that’s actually a pretty good update pace for the previously pokey TSW.  Altogether, that’s 55 new missions (story, side, investigation, sabotage, and action), which is hefty enough to feel like an actual expansion.

So hooray for Tokyo in 2014 — and here’s hoping that we see another zone before too long!

TSW: The ravages of Tokyo

tokyo1Out of all of the mobs that I’ve fought in The Secret World, killing these rampaging death robots in the Tokyo trainyard made me feel the most guilty.  It’s probably because their emoticon faces are SO DANG CUTE, especially when you get the little X__X dying eyes.

Anyway, even though I’m not fully done with the recent sidestories pack (I think I have one mission to go), I jumped ahead into Issue 10 to run a mission with Massively’s MJ (of which you can watch all of it — with our commentary — since she livestreamed it).  I dressed up in my secondhand bloomers, bloody tank top, and party hat for the occasion.  I hear such fashion gets you more views on Twitch.

It’s really neat to see Tokyo growing as a zone.  Even with the addition, it’s only about the size of one of the other game zones (and will never match the overall scope of Solomon Island or Transylvania), but it’s good it’s getting bigger even so.  As I’ve been running around exploring and doing quests this past week, it’s struck me (as it has in the past) how much hand-crafted detail goes into each of these zones.  It’s always cool when a mission makes you stop and really look at an area that you normally would just zing past, because it feels like you’re seeing it in a whole new light.

tokyo2The Orochi tower is looking mighty impressive, but we still can’t get there until Issue 11.  I tried swimming there, but no dice.

Anyway, we did one of the first action missions in Issue 10 that awarded us our new AEGIS shields (may they ever die in a fire).  The mission was a lot of straight-forward killing as the tiers introduced us to different locations across the zone expansion, and we had fun poking around train cars, ducking between industrial storage tanks, and learning all of the new types of body horror that Funcom could dream up.  Oh Filth, you do love to mess with us humans.

It was kind of good timing that we ran this mission, since a hotfix yesterday tweaked down Tokyo mobs’ health/difficulty while giving out more rewards.  I didn’t really notice that the mobs were easier to take down, per se, but we were mostly in Issue 10 areas, and those are supposed to be a bit more difficult.  I am extremely pleased that the cost of AEGIS upgrades has been reduced, since that allowed me to pick up a pair of memory expansion modules and upgrade to 1.1.

The final fight of this mission against some mutated simian on top of a storage tank was surprisingly difficult, even for the two of us (no, we weren’t reading any walkthroughs).  He summoned a lot of spider adds and had a nasty AOE attack, so we died a few times before being joined by a third player and taking him down.

That gave us our brand-new AEGIS shields.  More protection is always good, I guess, although from what I could grok, these shields only work against mobs that are of the specific AEGIS type (demonic, cybernetic, psychic).  So it’s not like I can go back to Transylvania and flaunt my new god-like status or anything.  One weird annoying thing is that even though we got three AEGIS shields, we could only equip one at a time with the other two hanging out in our inventories — which means that we have to manually swap them out depending on the mob type.  That’s far less convenient than the AEGIS attack modules, since you can equip six of those and rotate via clicking on the UI.

More stuff to grind up.  I miss the good old days of quests awarding regular gear you could use.  In my opinion, TSW should have never invested any time in dungeons and raids, but kept all of the gear and goods in the missions and world zones.

Can TSW survive the shifting web?

aloneLast night’s The Secret World mission was All Alone Together, which is a wonderfully ironic title in an MMO.  TSW has the capability to directly address our gaming habits and geeky lifestyle without breaking immersion, since it’s supposedly in our current world.

Poor Harumi and her wacked-out brother are worried about several of their friends who have gone offline following the filth explosion in Tokyo, and so I agree to track down them using a few clues that Harumi sends to me via email.  Even though my character still won’t talk, I like how she gives this soft smile at the end of Harumi’s plea — you just know that this excitable Japanese girl has gotten through my stoic exterior.

cameraAnyway, this is a pretty solid investigation quest — a manhunt in a city overrun by monsters.  Some of the friends are much easier to find than others (the video game designer hiding in a garbage bin cracked me up), and most have sad or ambiguous endings when I track them down.

Every investigation quest has a twist to it, and this one is the extensive use of the web in finding out details that will help with locating the friends.  I had to translate a Japanese day care website (Happy Smiles!, in which two people had been “stung by a bee”), comb through a Flickr account, check out a weird blog, and return once again to the Orochi website.

happysmilesNow, TSW is no stranger to making us jump out of the game to engage with and solve quests.  It’s this reality-blurring factor that adds another special layer on top of this MMO that you don’t really get anywhere other than perhaps ARGs.  But after completing this mission (which wasn’t too hard in the end), I was left with two questions I’d dearly like to ask Funcom.

First, does the studio contact these providers like Flickr and YouTube and make special arrangements to protect and preserve what are key clues to a quest, or do the devs make these accounts and hope for the best?

Second, what would happen to the game as the web shifts and moves on?  What if a critical blog got erased, or a specific wikipedia entry got changed?  At this point, it has to be a lot to keep track of on Funcom’s end, even if they have a guy who is charged to going around to all of these websites and accounts to make sure that the web portion of the game is still up and accurate.  It sometimes makes me nervous for the future of the game (although I should probably be more worried about Funcom’s financials), since there’s so much that’s dependant on out-of-game sources.  Maybe the devs could create fake in-game websites to keep all of the info in-house in case of such radical shifts on the web, but that would diminish the fun of finding parts of our quests in our digital backyard.

Maybe TSW’s lifespan will not be as long as most other MMOs (although I certainly hope it goes of for a long while yet) and such concerns won’t ever be an issue.