GDC 2012 Day 1: The Secret World
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
It was a warm day in San Francisco just like any other California day. I had never been to the city before and felt lost, as if sitting in a city stuck between the past and the present. The taxi driver had unfortunately dropped me off in a weird alley that was no doubt the incorrect address, as much my fault as his I suppose. Strange spray paint marks were hidden on each wall surrounding me as if offering hints that the common man would never pay heed to in the day to day rush that is life in America. It was on this busy street in the St. Regis hotel that I stumbled in a daze through the bar and up the elevator to a poorly lit hallway with an open door waiting at the end. I walked into the room to find a massive meeting in progress filled with developers and press from around the world. I sat down, pulled out my notepad, and an hour later The Secret World no longer felt like a mystery.
Ragnar Tornquist Presentation
I knew Funcom meant business when Ragnar Tornquist, Creative Director of the game, came out from the back room to give the presentation. We were in for a treat to be among the first to see the opening sequence of The Dragon. Ironically it played out almost exactly the same way that I had arrived at the meeting. The girl they had created (and might I add, the character creator is amazingly detailed) was kidnapped in the wrong part of Seoul and throw into a strange and unfamiliar alleyway to fend for herself. It was a real trip when she turned around and saw nothing but an impossibly large brick wall standing where a busy street and her kidnappers’ car had just stood. Things took a dreaded turn towards Japanese horror films when a small gremlin like child started laughing and coaxing her to follow down the strange streets to an unknown destination.
I knew things were about to get serious when the girl began walking towards a dimly lit neon sign that read Kumiho Hotel. Those nasty foxes never mean well. Though the patrons of the hotel seemed normal enough, no one expressed concern towards the sudden entrance of the odd gremlin child who walked straight through the lobby and up the stairs. The child began to scurry faster and disappeared into an open door at the end of the 2nd floor. As the player attempted to catch up, they were interrupted by a massive Korean man who at first seemed to be wearing an elaborate tribal gown. After the immediate shock wore off I realized he was actually nearly naked, sporting only a traditional sumo thong; what I had perceived as a gown was actually a series of colorful tattoos covering nearly every inch of his body.
Just as things looked like they were going to get ugly a much softer featured woman appeared at the door to guide the bruiser away from the player and make her feel more comfortable. The player is invited in to sit down as the woman begins a long twisted spiel about the rule of chaos in the universe. As she becomes more serious in tone, she begins slipping in numerous innuendos that climax with her going down on the player. For those wondering, this is definitely a mature rated MMORPG!
The Mayan Experience
We’ve all seen enough of the trailers and cinematics to know that Funcom has a solid narrative going on. It’s the gameplay that feels like the real secret being kept from us so far. Well my fears were alleviated by a presentation in which the player is sent back in a hippy style time traveling mission to experience the invasion of the Mayans into North America. A bloody scene unfolded in which a native tribe was forced into an uneasy alliance with a Viking overlord to challenge the magic of the Mayans. The presentation skipped ahead to a final amazing boss battle in which the Mayans were summoning their nameless guardian to destroy their enemies.
The battle begins with a simple but effectively designed gauntlet in which continuously larger and larger groups of Mayans break away from their ritual to try to prevent your futuristic group from advancing any closer. As the final Mayans fall by your hand, you realize that their souls have been collecting just out of eyesight in an odd portal forming in a deep canyon. Before you have time to recover, the great nameless beast appears, a giant monstrosity that looks part lion, park wolf, and all mythology.
Action packed is the only way I could describe this battle. The boss kept even the experienced developers on their toes (at one point Tornquist showed legitimate concern that they might party wipe) as their hp bars continuously bounced back and forth in that way that makes experienced gamers cringe. It constantly spewed that nasty black ooze labeled as ‘the filth’ which immediately sprouted tentacles that seemed to grab out and CC the players. It also would pull all ranged fighters into melee distance and then charge for an ultimate aoe attack that would devastate any squishy players bogged down in the filth for too long. Overall it was apparent that this boss was out of their league and reminded me of fighting Vile for the first time in Mega Man X.
Just when a party wipe seemed certain, the Viking king arrived wielding none other than Excalibur! The holy glow of the blade forced the beast to retreat.. but the battle was far from over. The Mayans began to rise from the dead, more ferocious than before and magically charged to turn into suicide bombers should thinks go south for them. A blast of pure evil also shot forward from the depths of the portal straight into Excalibur as an epic battle of wills began between the Viking king and the darkness. The sword was giving the players a huge buff though and it became clear as the nameless beast returned that a quick decisive strike was the only path to victory in this situation. The dev team raced against time and managed to slay the beast before the Viking king fell, ending the amazing presentation.
The real treat of this event was that I got hands-on time with the game for the first time! I started off in a social area of the game that seemed to be London. It was a really strange experience being in a hub town that felt so reminiscent of the real world. The usual social hotspots were in place like banks, auction houses, dance clubs, and even a Fight Club that I believe was a type of PvP meet-up spot. I can only imagine how fun it will look with a large active player-base populating the world. It is fun exploring though as you will run into alien looking beings in back alleys and staff only sections that aren’t readily visible to the public.
Flipping through my menus and options it seemed that there were 9 types of weapons, setting up the archetypes of ranged guns, melee weapons, and magic. The ability wheel was complicated but seemed to run on a system of acquiring AP and SP to learn new skills and passives. The hotkey bar was fitted similar to an advanced version of the original Guild Wars with 7 active and 7 passive skills available at a time. When you break down each weapon type you will find a list of 7 abilities related to each, with the 7th ability labeled as elite. Players can only have one active and one passive elite skill active at a time so brace yourself for tons of varying build options.
Also for those who have trouble making final decisions, the ability to dual wield is very much a reality. This comes especially in handy when you start looking into the secondary roll each weapon fills. For instance the shotgun weapons offered a devastating AoE punch when in close range of your foe. The assault rifle on the other hand offered life leeching ability, which seems really twisted and right in line with the atmosphere of the game.
As you would expect there were plenty of achievements available in game to unlock as well. Some were focused around exploration while others PvP and quite a few were focused around things that I had no comprehension of. But unlike most games that offer achievements as a side bonus, The Secret World seems to give worthwhile rewards including experience, cash, special outfits, and more unlocks. As I mentioned earlier the customization in this game is pretty incredible. You can pretty much look however you want without impacting your stats so go wild with it! Though to get some of the really sweet gear you’ll have to work to unlock it.
Something that caught me off guard was the presence of a unique crafting system called Transcribing. It’s basically the game of Memory for adults. When disassembling useless gear you will learn various shapes related to the gear’s design. Collecting a variety of materials and memorizing a variety of shapes is key to mastering the crafting system. As an example say you wish to craft a superior hammer. The first step would be to disassemble a hammer and collect the metal as well as learn the shape. You would then collect the metal materials of your choice and place them in the transcribing menu in the shape of the hammer. After that you add a weapon assembly kit to improve the quality. This system is also used to create glyphs that empower your gear with special effects. It’s all pretty confusing and hard to explain after only getting a couple minutes interaction with the system but a future column from Ardua will help clear things up.
The combat itself is a strange beast. Thankfully I stopped to listen to a crazy hobo on the side of the road who’s vision of the end of days became my convoluted nightmare courtesy of passing out and hitting my head on the sidewalk. I was thrown into a world gone mad where Dragon, Illuminati, and Templar had united to prevent the darkness from overthrowing reality as we know it. The dungeons flow flawlessly with movie quality production values really drawing you in to the excitement (and fear!). Collapsing ceilings, zombie blitzes, and heated banter between NPCs kept my head swimming.
I can attest that the combat system takes some getting used to but really feels amazing once you get a feel for it (took me around 7 minutes to adjust). It feels like a first person shooter but with a bit more leeway on aiming. Skills activate when a target is in the right range and direction of your aim. However some have long cooldowns and your precise aim can make a huge difference in how effective your skill use is. For instance if you have 4 zombies racing at you and you panic fire an shotgun blast at the one on the far right, expect to lose some skin courtesy of the two zombies on the left. Get your aim right though and you can blast down all 4 with a single shot of your pump action skill.
The Secret World has some pretty unique mechanics as fans of the game are probably aware of. One in particular I came across was a hacking system that allows you to enter various PCs you come across to download html coded documents you can view to learn clues about what to do next. Another sweet system is the ability to switch out your skills/gear at specific parts of each mission to ensure maximum efficiency in your team. If the start of a mission seems simple then your entire party can enter heavy DPS builds to blow past it, and then readjust to a more balanced team for tougher boss battles or exploring unfamiliar territories.
I could go on for pages more about all I saw and heard about the game but I’ll cut myself short for now. After all what’s the fun ruining all that is secret in this fantastic world of lies. I will share this bit of insider knowledge though… If you’re ever invited to a Secret World party, the meatballs are delicious! OnRPG’s Ardua will be picking up a regular column on the game leading up to launch so keep an eye on our twitter and facebook page for regular updates as the game approaches its anticipated release in June.