PAX Day 2: The Secret World
By Darren Henderson, (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-In-Chief
After leaving Perfect World’s booth, Spunkify and I split up due to time constraints. He went to check out Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic (so be sure to PM him on the forums demanding his articles) while I ran across to cover The Secret World. Now to this point I hadn’t felt a ton of hype for The Secret World. They have shown us some amazing CG trailers and the marketing team’s viral puzzle based awareness building methods were intriguing, but I just didn’t hear much about features that made the game stand out.
Their PAX presentation changed everything for me. After taking a personality test confirming my allegiance (not that I can tell strangers) I entered a private screening with 3 other journalists. Martin Harsheim Bruusgaard, Lead Designer and awesomely named guy from Oslo, Norway gave us a presentation that burned into my retinas.
Before I get into the details of the demo I’ll introduce the unique skill system implemented in The Secret World so the uninformed can become educated. Each character is capable of learning all of the hundreds of unique skills implemented in the game. By unique I also want to point out that I’m not talking about fireball and multi-fireball. Each skill has a combination of utility side effects, range, element, damage, and stamina cost to make it stand out from all other skills and allow players to build a hybrid character that really stands out as unique.
Polaris Dungeon Demo
In it a team of players were exploring the wreckage of the Polaris, a mysterious ghost ship thought lost at sea that suddenly washed on shore amid the appearance of the Drown, an aquatic based type of undead. This involved a really well built dungeon that felt more like exploring a haunted warzone than your typical caves and enclosed dungeon areas. After climbing over some hills and battling with the unpredictable Drown and exploding octopods, the players reached a catastrophic scene. The landscape was covered in water with shipping containers strewn everything, creating a dark and winding maze for players to traverse through. Lining the horizon was the massive Polaris vessel itself, thrown onto its side and showing telling signs that the rising Darkness was converting the ship into a base of operation.
As the players explore they eventually come face to face with a giant crab man who specializes in close range combat and can charge electricity through the water, forcing players into tight corners of the battle zone, and resulting in much tougher situations to successful dodge his pincers.
As the fight progressed, the Drown began to rise up out of the shallow water, further restricting the movement options of the team while putting the backline players in just as much danger as the frontline team. Just when I thought the battle was coming to an end, the crab man sprinted away from the battle, leaving a legion of undead in his wake for players to battle through!
The chase was on as the players sliced and blasted their way through a much more complicated maze of shipping containers. The water levels continued to rise and the undead continued to increase in number the closer to the Polaris they went. Finally they cornered the giant crab man in deep waters where containers were actually floating, forming a rough circular shape around him. All of the water was electified, so the team took to the top of the containers to do battle once again. This became an exercise in fast reaction speed and platforming as the crab man would bounce from one container to the next running his electric currents through the metal and then tearing apart any players caught stunned in the process. Everyone was forced to adjust to ranged combat techniques and jump from one floating container to the next all the while aiming their skill shots and keeping the crab man at bay.
After defeating him, the battle went from a test of reaction times to a test of knowledge. Players were directed to a metal container that was vital to discovering what happened to the Polaris. They are told in a transmission that without this information they will be unable to proceed, and that is it. It’s then up to the team to pool their knowledge to overcome this obstacle. In the case of the container, players must look around the side and discover a shipping number. They can then go onto one of The Secret World’s many wikipedia pages and search for the Polaris and this particular shipping number to discover the key code required for the container. In a day and age where MMOs are being touted as too casual friendly, seeing such an intricate puzzle play out before me was inspiring. The game kept us guessing as to what would happen next all through the instance, especially with the big tease we were left with in the mission end trailer.
I could ramble on about the greatness of the dungeon demo but luckily we will soon have a video that does that for me. One of the exclusive reveals of the press preview that really warrants mention is the Ranking Missions and use of dynamic lighting and advanced AI. One example that explains both together is an Illuminati Ranking Mission in which you are assigned to meet a local mafia boss inside a parking structure. However upon arriving all the lights in the structure are out and your friendly mafia boss is not answering his phone.
As you move through the parking structure you begin to see shadows running in the dark corners, illuminated only briefly by various vehicle headlights. You can then make the conscious decision of continuing to sneak through the darkness without knowing what lurks there, or placing a mining light on your forehead to reveal the shadows… as well as your location to anything nearby!
It turns out the mafia has been mutated into maniacal monsters, distorted beyond recognition and hungry for blood. When the demo driver put the light on, the monsters were immediately attracted to it and things got real. However by keeping their back to a wall at all times, it reduced the number of directions the monsters could strike at her from and helped eliminate the element of surprise that the mafia mutants could have used to end the player’s life really quickly. Also the introduction of flairs to the game added another strategic tactic of using projectile light sources to lure the AI away from main hallways so you could avoid fights altogether. It should be noted that Ranking Missions are all single player occurrence so don’t expect your buddies to be giving you moral support in these terror filled environments.
Besides giving the developers a means of making players wet themselves, these Ranking Missions are also crucial storyline builders to help understand the relationship and conflict between the three warring factions, Illuminati, Templar, and Dragons. This same Ranking Mission plays completely differently depending on your allied faction. As a Dragon you will be first on the scene and responsible for turning the mafia group into the monsters waiting in ambush for the Illuminati. As a Templar player you take advantage of this chaotic act and attempt to mess with the technical side of the parking structure, blocking out communication and cutting the lights to create an ideal trap to destroy the hapless Illuminati sent to investigate the scene. This is sure to not only build a bit of hatred between factions but also offer great replay value should you decide to start over as a member of a different faction.
PvP Battlegrounds and Control Points
Finally this coverage wouldn’t be complete with the unveiling of The Secret World’s territorial PvP. A world map is provided for players showcasing legendary locations around the world that exist as great sources of anima magic for the three factions. Factions in control of these resources can reap benefits and gain power quicker than those factions lacking the same source of magic. As such massive PvP zones are built, sometimes modeled after real world locations, in which players of both factions can enter large scale warfare all throughout the day.
The demo presented was of a holy temple in southeast Asia under the control of the Illuminati. A crack team of Dragons attempt to take back this temple but face various obstacles on the way. Since the Illuminati are in control, they receive home field advantage including control of anima wells used to create magically infused bombs, large locked walls blocking enemies from the inner courtyard, and a gigantic mechanical golum infused with technology from the third age acting as a raid boss should any enemy factions make it that far.
After I recovered from the awe of how insanely large this battleground was (the size of a typical MMO’s main hub city), I watched intently at the methods involved with capturing this fortification. The Illuminati faction is immediately warned of the Dragon invasion and sets up various lines of defense at the rim of the warzone, outside the main walls, and within the temple courtyard should the Dragon infiltrate that far. After an initial skirmish, the Dragon team managed to sneak an elite team of 5 inside of the to capture one of the anima wells. They then provide their their tankiest player the anima bomb and began an escort mission to get him in range of the outer temple walls.
Unlike in PvE (where players can customize their character to wear anything, even running a tank build in a G-string and tank top), PvP forces each faction member to wear colors signifying their team alliance as well as telling clothes that represents the general build they are using. Tanky characters appear to be wearing bullet proof vests, helmets, and shoulderpads. Ranged and Magic weilders on the other hand will wear more typical street clothes or mystic outfits. Thus learning to spot uniform nuances from a distance will be vital in high end PvP matches.
It wasn’t long until the outer walls had been destroyed and the dragons had overwhelmed the inner temple. After a costly battle with the golum, they were able to infuse Dragon magic into it and claim the temple for themselves. This is when we learned that this temple was one of 4 regions related to controlling the powerful magic held in southeast Asia. For a faction to gain the benefits they must own 2 of the 4 regions and be the latest conquerer of one of the 4 zones. Now imagine each of these 4 zones containing completely different victory objectives, and contested points just like it spread all over the world map. Add in the craziness of 3 separate factions fighting non-stop for control of these points,with some instances of all 3 doing battle on the same map at the same time and you might just have a taste of what The Secret World PvP is truly about!
After the press preview I stayed spellbound listening to a super fan asking question after question about the game. In the end only the two of us remained in the backroom and were surprised to be invited to The Secret World’s after party. In true Secret World fashion it was held at the back of a bar at the bottom of 2 flights of stairs in a corner wine cellar, giving off the feel that this truly was a secret society meeting. When patrons exploring the bar walked past our sealed off room they would often ask what the meeting was about. After giving furtive glances, Funcom told them it was better that they didn’t get involved. You have to love this company’s marketing guys!
We were then given one of three colored mixed drinks representing our faction allegiance and the Q & A began! Though not too much extra was revealed, they did say that they are constantly scanning their forums for new folklore and legends to implement into the game. Not only that but they promised that if a player’s ideas are used to implement a new map into the game, there will definitely be cookies and shout outs implemented to recognize that player’s contributions. So hop on The Secret World forums and give them your best ideas and you too might get immortalized in The Secret World lore!
Also check out the full Polaris Dungeon Run Demo HERE.