The Secret World, Likes and Dislikes

Here are some of my impressions from playing The Secret World for a weekend of beta and a few days of the head start.

Likes:

  • The “investigation” quests are awesome! You can Google the answers, of course, but trying to solve them without is a trip. We’re talking old school adventure-style puzzles and riddles here. (Make sure to turn off General chat if you don’t want to see spoilers, ‘cause, you know, people are lazy.)
  • You can die. You don’t really know how powerful new mobs are until you attack them. (In fact, as it turns out, sometimes you have to die to complete quests, because the ghost world can be explored too.) It’s pretty painless—all you have to do is run back to your corpse, just like WoW.
  • Almost every quest is repeatable daily, so you never have to grind on mobs. (Though it is still fun to shoot zombies at random.)
  • Having an out-of-combat sprint toggle is great for getting around. It’s sort of like riding a mount, and you can do it from the beginning. I wonder if you can increase the speed later on?
  • The flexibility of creating your own “backpacks.” You can carry 50 things, but they can be organized into any number of bags of any size, which you can pin to the screen or not. For example, I made one to hold crafting supplies, another for things to sell, and another one pinned to the screen for healing drinks.
  • Humorous NPC quest givers and great voice acting (which you can easily skip if you’ve seen them before).

Dislikes:

  • Graphical stability issues. But I don’t hold that against PC games anymore—especially MMOs—because they are almost always buggy as crap for the first month after release. But this one really does not run well on my Radeon 5770.
  • Your character’s appearance never changes when you get new stuff. You can’t tell just by looking at people how long they’ve been playing or how powerful they are. Perhaps this should be filed under Misunderstandings below, but I still miss it.
  • You can’t assign hotkeys to inventory items. :/ You only get seven hotkeys for your abilities and that’s it, as far as I know.
  • It’s a pain to have to think of a first and last name in addition to a nickname, even though they don’t really matter.
  • Your account password can only contain letters, numbers, and a dash! Gah! (A pet peeve of mine.)

Misunderstandings:

  • Only three character slots. But then, the only reason to have more character slots in an MMO is to play different classes (or mule items), but theoretically, each character in TSW can eventually learn *every* skill, so there is no need to use more than one slot.
  • With new characters, you have to repeat the same quests/stories. In beta I mistakenly created a bunch of different characters to try different abilities, but see above where you don’t ever need to start a new character. (I am going to, though, because I thought of a better name. 🙂

Undecided:

  • You can only “equip” 7 active and 7 passive abilities. On the plus side, you won’t be filling action bars with a hundred different actions you’ll never use, and scramble to find keyboard shortcuts for them, but on the negative side, you have to start making choices about what to equip pretty early on. In a typical MMO, your abilities get more and more powerful as you progress, but here it’s more like you get more and more abilities to pick from as you progress. I think I like it, but it’s a radical shift in thinking.
  • “Assembly” looks like a complex crafting system for improving your equipment but I haven’t put much time into it yet.
  • There is a lot of running from place to place. It’s too soon to tell whether it will be an excessively annoying amount.

Note that I don’t usually take PvP seriously in MMOs (because, obviously, the guy with the best gear wins), so I can’t comment much on TSW’s PvP except to say that it’s there and people complain about it, so I assume it must be okay. 🙂

On a side note, I was a bit disappointed to see Tobold’s beta impressions of The Secret World, because his opinions are usually similar to my own. He has already written off TSW as too similar to other MMOs, but I don’t see it that way at all. I also get the impression he won’t ever like any MMO that contains combat unless it’s turn-based. (He blew off Rift, too, which is a clearly superior evolution to the MMO genre.)

I’m UltrViolet on Cerberus, Illuminati faction, if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

P.S. Someone should make a “hints” site for TSW. Not a site that outright tells you the answers, like all the ones that are currently out there, but one that just gives you a nudge in the right direction, like things used to be in the olden days of gaming.

The Secret World

I’ve had a burst of gaming enthusiasm in the last month or so, ending my streak of playing basically nothing since Christmas. As usual, I tend to gravitate toward RPGs and MMOs.

The last MMO I played before my break was Star Wars: The Old Republic, which I found enjoyable, but not enough to keep playing past the free month. Then recently, on an impulse, I bought TERA, which boasted a totally fresh new action-based combat system, but again, it didn’t keep my attention past the first month. After that I played LOTRO again, which is a bit dated now but still one of the best MMOs around.

Then, I got an email from Funcom, who makes Age of Conan, with a couple of game codes for the final beta weekend of The Secret World, an MMO I’ve heard mention of for quite a while but haven’t looked at in detail. So I tried it out and, on impulse again, decided to plunk down the $50 to pre-order it, because it’s different enough for me to vote positively with my dollars.

The Secret World has sort of an urban fantasy motif, where the key selling point is a class-less, level-less progression system. You can use guns, or swords, or magic. It’s odd, but I’m curious to see how it works out. It has a number of departures from normal MMOs, actually.

Anyway, according to another email I got, the head start begins today, so I’ll be head-starting this weekend.

It’s kind of a bummer actually. After the TSW beta ended I got back into Rift again, this time playing Defiant. I just joined a guild yesterday and even healed for a dungeon run.

UV’s Guide to MMORPGs

This is a brief summary of my opinion of the pros and cons of each fantasy MMORPG I’ve played or re-played in the last few months.  Keep in mind that I haven’t played every character class or experienced any end-game content in any of these games.  Also, I am somewhat biased toward melee classes, solo adventuring and PvE (player vs. environment) gameplay.

World of Warcraft (played: ~11 days, max level: 47)

Pros

  • Everybody in the world plays it
  • Staggering amount of content
  • Lots of different races and classes and starter areas
  • PvP battlegrounds are fun and risk-free
  • Good gathering and crafting system
  • Runs on low-end systems (eg. netbooks)

Cons

  • Plain, cartoonish graphics
  • A lot of content requires a group or guild
  • Difficult to solo more than 1 mob at a time
  • Inventory management is a pain
  • Death is a pain
  • Potentially lots of downtime between kills
  • NPC vendors aren’t identified
  • Traveling long distances takes forever
  • Everybody cheats with add-ons and macros and so forth 😮

Notes

I haven’t played BC or WotLK, just the original.  WoW sets the standard, for better or worse.

Warhammer Online (played: ~3 days, max level: 21)

Pros

  • Good, clean, scalable UI
  • Eclectic mix of classes
  • NPC vendors, quest-givers and quest regions are easy to find
  • Nice inventory organization options
  • Almost no death penalty
  • Public quests!
  • Easy to get into PvP and RvR
  • Quest goals are summarized so you don’t have to read all the text 🙂

Cons

  • Impossible to avoid RvR
  • Limited graphics engine settings
  • Slower level advancement
  • Can be downtime between kills
  • Uncertain future of the game

Notes

WAR definitely caters to group RvR gameplay.

Age of Conan (played: ~3 days, max level: 47)

Pros

  • Excellent melee combat gameplay
  • Realistic graphics, models and animations
  • Mounted combat
  • Super fast leveling
  • Solo instances
  • You can create a 1-person guild 🙂

Cons

  • Needs higher-end computer
  • Really slow patcher startup time
  • Same starting area for all classes and races
  • World traveling can be a pain
  • Nobody playing PvP scenarios or Massive PvP
  • Runs low on content after level 45
  • Uncertain future of the game

Notes

If you like playing a melee character (as I do), AoC is the game for you.  Otherwise, this probably isn’t the game for you.

Lord of the Rings Online (played: ~2 days, max level: 28)

Pros

  • Come on, it’s Middle Earth!
  • Gorgeous landscapes and scenery
  • Lots of quests to choose from
  • Good crafting system
  • Solo instances
  • Housing

Cons

  • Robotic, mechanical model animations
  • Not very many race/class choices
  • Melee combat feels weird
  • Tiny inventory tiles are hard to see

Notes

This is a surprisingly immersive game.  I found that playing a Rune-Keeper (aka. mage) was much more satisfying than playing a Champion (melee), which is unusual for me.

EverQuest II (played: ~3 hours, max level: 7)

Pros

  • Huge selection of customizable classes and races
  • Kind of cool to find mystery items lying on the ground

Cons

  • Completely unfamiliar (to me) lore and terminology
  • Drab, watercolor-esque (and occasionally glitchy) graphics
  • Default mouse button actions are backwards 🙂

Notes

I have a hard time getting into EQ2, but I don’t know why.

Dungeons and Dragons Online (played: ~20 hours, max level: 2 rank 11)

Pros

  • Free2Play
  • Runs on low-end systems (eg. netbooks)
  • Combat is easy
  • Solo instances

Cons

  • Really slow level advancement (but that’s how D&D is)
  • No corpse loot; it’s all in barrels and chests 
  • Tiny inventory tiles are hard to see (same as LotRO)
  • Have to pay for some classes (Monk, etc.)
  • Have to pay to create a guild
  • No /played command??

Notes

The game really “feels” like D&D, with a dungeon master voiceover, tricks, traps and even a 20-sided die roll on the screen.

Runes of Magic (played: ~4 hours, max level: 11)

Pros

  • Free2Play
  • Lots of things to do
  • Can choose a secondary class
  • Housing available right from the beginning

Cons

  • Primitive graphics, similar to WoW, but still doesn’t run on low-end systems
  • Grindy quests (probably on purpose, to force people to buy stuff)
  • Inventory space runs out quickly before needing to “rent” more
  • Mounts are only “rented”
  • Sometimes the quest text is in Spanish 🙂

Notes

If you’ve never played an MMORPG before, this might be one place to start, although DDO feels more polished.

Allods Online (played: 5 minutes, max level: 0)

I’ve heard good things about this Free2Play game, but I cannot evaluate it because THERE IS NO INVERT MOUSE Y-AXIS OPTION!  No, I’m not kidding.

Summary

My recent favorites were Age of Conan and Lord of the Rings Online, although I unsubscribed from both before the second month.  Currently I just pop into DDO now and then.

MMO Nostalgia Trip

I loaded up the World of Warcraft Burning Crusade 10-day trial the other night and found that, to my great surprise, my WoW characters were still available after over 3 years of inactivity.

I also discovered that I had no clue how to play my Hunter anymore.  I didn’t know what all the buttons did on all the hotbars, and it took me an embarrassingly long time just to call my pet owl back (I had to find and turn on an option to display some extra hotbars, and the Call Pet action button magically appeared – God knows where I would have found it without the hotbar).  Everything’s weird and unfamiliar.

Much has changed since I last played.  My talent points were reset so I had to spend them all again, and I think there are a bunch of new Beast Mastery talents that weren’t there before.  For example, there were references to something called “Aspect of the Dragonhawk” which I don’t remember seeing before.  There was also a mysterious “Glyphs” page that I didn’t understand.  And there are apparently new riding options that I can’t afford, and most puzzlingly I found some kind of penguin in my mailbox.

I was surprised at how (relatively) primitive the WoW graphics looked.  (Graphics are considered primitive when I can max out the settings on my old P4 and still have good frame rates.)  It’s more cartoony than I remember.  I guess that goes to show that photorealistic graphics aren’t enough to make a hit game – it needs to have, you know, good gameplay.

There is one major benefit of the primitive graphics, however:  WoW runs tolerably on a 1GB netbook, so I can run around killing mobs while watching 24.  (The only other MMO I’ve found that runs on my netbook is DDO.)

I’ve also loaded up the Warhammer Online 10-day “re-enlistment” trial to see what WAR looks like these days.  And I started downloading the Lord of the Rings Online free trial, too.  I figure WoW, LotRO, AoC and WAR are the Big Four* of fantasy MMORPGs – well, more like the Big One and some others.

I wonder if my Asheron’s Call characters are still around somewhere? 🙂

* I don’t count EverQuest II because I never liked the original, and I don’t count Asian games like Final Fantasy, Lineage II and Vanguard because, well, they’re foreign.  I also don’t count Aion because I hear it’s strongly PvP, but mainly because there’s no free trial.

Age of Conan Upgraded

I enjoyed the Age of Conan trial enough to plop down the measly $20 to upgrade to the full version (which gets you 32 days of playing time).

I can now report that each class still starts with a shipwreck on the same beach on the same Tortage Island.  So the first 5 levels are exactly the same for each class, which is tedious and painful when trying different classes (especially since the real class-specific stuff doesn’t start until you reach level 10).  So do some research and choose wisely to minimize your frustration.

Fortunately, it only takes 10-15 minutes to blow through that first part in the jungle.  Then once you enter Tortage City at level 5, the “destiny quest” (aka. single-player campaign) starts to diverge and the nighttime quests are different for each class (or at least, for each archetype).  It’s still the same story, just told from different perspectives.  Of course, if you prefer hanging out with other people, you’ll find that the daytime quests are all the same.

So after finishing with Tortage City at around level 20, you’re sent to your “homeland” (one of three, depending on your race), where the destiny quest disappears, not to return again until you reach level 30.  The result is that you have to stay in the level 20-30 area of your homeland questing and grinding like a normal MMO.  (At least, I haven’t figured out how to go anywhere else yet.)

My main character is Cimmerean, so I went to this place called Conall’s Valley.  It was very cool at first (the scenery in this game is really nice), but at level 27 I’m starting to get tired of it, especially since you have to keep running back and forth through hordes of mobs.  What I mean is, in order to get from the quest giver to the quest area, you have to run through a bunch of hostiles, and then after you’re done, you have to run back through the same hostile mobs (which have respawned by then) to complete the quest.  It’s kind of annoying.

On the plus side, melee combat continues to be very cool.  It’s definitely the best part of the game.  Did I mention it’s cool?  Watching the animations is half the fun.

Age of Conan Free Trial

I downloaded the Age of Conan free trial a while back and played a character through level 18 (which doesn’t take very long). This is a game I’ve always wanted to try, but never got around to it until now.

What’s good about it:

  • You start out in an instance, so there are no annoying noob vultures hovering around at the starting area.
  • Adventuring “at night.” These are essentially solo quest instances for solo adventuring. Awesome!
  • Melee combat is kind of fun – you can adapt your swings to your opponent’s defenses to do more damage. It’s a little more interactive than your typical auto-swing combat system.
  • The quests seem a little more “deep” than WoW or WAR, which could just be my imagination. Still, you don’t really need to read or listen to the quest text.
  • Nobody is playing it, so there is little competition for quest resources.

What’s bad about it:

  • The loading time when you start up the game is horrible. You have to wait for it to verify the game files EVERY TIME you launch it. Yuck.
  • All the different character classes have the exact same starting point, which makes it tortuously repetitive to try different alt characters. (This might be a limitation imposed by the free trial.)
  • It’s basically the same as any other MMO. Ie., Same gameplay, just different intellectual property.
  • It’s basically the same as any other MMO. Ie., It’s a huge time sink because it takes forever to run places and kill things, etc. Success in this game is still directly tied to the amount of time you can play.
  • Nobody is playing it. 🙂 FunCom could give up and shut down the servers at any moment.
  • UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that every second or third time I run it, it wants to verify the resource database which is a process that takes a good 5 minutes.  You really need to just leave this game running on a dedicated computer.

Beware that it takes forever to download the trial… somewhere around 8GB of data is required to play.  It took me about 3 days to get the thing up and running.

UPDATE:  The trial is designed to run out of content around level 20, just so you know.  At that point you’ll need to upgrade unless you want to wander around Tortage Island with nothing to do.

A Holiday Gaming Backlog

Normally I play one game at a time, finish it, and then move on to the next game.  When I got a PS3 Slim, though, I bought a stack of games to play, and in the last couple of months of 2009 I picked up some new releases and a lot of good deals from Steam.  So I have quite a backlog of games to play right now.

PS3 Games

Far Cry 2.  Started, but nowhere near finished.  I stopped to play MW2, but I’ll return to it eventually because it was pretty good.

FEAR 2.  Finished the single-player campaign but the multiplayer was not interesting enough to play.  Single-player was amusing enough that I would revisit it if I got bored.

MAG (Beta).  Got the enormous download but then I found out the beta didn’t start until January 4.  Doh.

Modern Warfare 2.  This is where I’ve spent most of my time for the last month.  At level 54 (of 70+), though, the multiplayer is getting repetitive and tiresome – the achievements and unlocks are coming far less often, making it a lot less fun to play pub games with mobs of 12-year-olds.

Need for Speed Shift.  I stopped somewhere near the beginning of Tier 4.  I enjoyed it, but it’s kind of repetitive by nature.

PC Games from Steam

I got all of these at crazy low prices during half-off weekends and the recent holiday discounts.

Grand Theft Auto IV.  Haven’t started yet.  If it’s anything like GTA 3, I expect I’ll be playing it for a long time, so I’m saving this one for later.

Majesty II.  I heard about Majesty on GWJ.  It sounded like a neat concept for a strategy game but the graphics are dated and I had a hard time getting into it.

Mass Effect.  I started this RPG before I got MW2 but I haven’t gotten very far.  It’s not bad, but it doesn’t run very well on an older PC (ie. it runs terrible, even with almost everything turned off).

Mirror’s Edge.  I thought the concept was intriguing when it came out (a first person shooter without much shooting).  It’s fun so far, but it doesn’t run very well on an older PC.  (Tip:  It runs better on a dual-core 2.6 GHz Athlon with an Nvidia 7800 GT than it does on a single-core 3.0 GHz P4 with an Nvidia 8600 GT.)  I’m starting to play this more now that I’m getting tired of MW2.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  I got this one because it’s an oft-cited seminal game but I’d never seen it.  Unfortunately the graphics and gameplay are a bit dated, but it’s good enough that I’ll probably play through it someday when I’m bored.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.  Picked this one just because I haven’t played a Splinter Cell game before.  I played a few hours of it, but I don’t really get why there’s so many of these games in the franchise.  It’s not bad though, and on the plus side, it runs great on an older PC.

Torchlight.  I heard great things about Torchlight on GWJ, and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s very much like Diablo, but better.  This one has also started grabbing my attention away from MW2.  Two thumbs up!

And this list doesn’t even count the four recent and semi-recent games I still have on my list to get:  Dragon’s Age, Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2 and Gears of War 2.  (Lots of sequels out this year.)

Modern Warfare 2 on the PS3

Modern Warfare 2 is one of those rare sequels that is actually an improvement over the original.  The single-player campaign took me about 7 hours to finish on regular, so don’t buy this game for single-player.  The lasting value is in the multi-player experience, which is similar to, but subtly improved from, Call of Duty 4.

The single-player campaign was fun, but it’s basically the same as every other CoD:  Follow the script, shoot what you’re told to shoot, and you’re done.  It doesn’t take very long and leaves you thinking, “I paid $70 for that?”

To be fair, there are some “special ops” missions which are essentially random, story-less missions you can play solo or coop, but the multiplayer is really the only reason to play this game.

Pros

Multi-player improvements come in the form of bazillions of new perks and weapon unlocks.  Ranks go up to 70 instead of 50.  Even if you really suck and get killed all the time (like me), it’s still fun to rank up and collect all the weapon unlocks.  It’s sort of like playing an MMO.  All the maps are new and interesting and bewildering in their complexity, and unlike CoD4, sized properly.

One massive improvement from CoD4 is that you only get one frag grenade instead of three, which cuts down considerably on the grenade spam.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky but there doesn’t seem to be very many snipers on the Playstation Network.  In CoD4 on the PC, you could usually count on roughly half the players to be snipers hiding in the bushes somewhere, but in MW2 I typically only see one or two on a team.

Cons

One thing that’s not an improvement in multi-player is the addition of the AC-130 killstreak reward.  There is nowhere to hide from it – it shoots through buildings and walls and kills you instantly.  I think it’s theoretically possible to shoot down the AC-130 with a rocket launcher, but staying alive long enough to do so is rather difficult.

I don’t know if this is specific to the PS3 and PSN or not, but the multiplayer “matchmaking” leaves a little bit to be desired.  Sometimes it bombs out because it can’t find players for a match and sometimes it bombs out with mysterious “server timed out” errors.  Every now and then (presumably when it detects that lag is really bad for everyone) the game stops to change hosts, which pauses the action while it “migrates” to a new host.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and everyone gets booted out.

Pet Peeves

One of my favorite features from CoD4 remains in MW2:  The feature where you empty a clip of bullets into your enemy and yet somehow he still survives and kills you.  Then when you review the KillCam to see how he did it, you see that from the server’s perspective you didn’t fire at all.  Getting shot to death even after running behind an impenetrable wall is fun, too.  Hurray for client-side prediction code.  So yeah, there are still quite a few jaw-dropping “WTF” moments.

And of course my other favorite feature from CoD4 is still there:  Insta-kills.  If someone gets the drop on you (or not, see first pet peeve), you can pretty much count on dying.  It’s very rare that you can survive getting hit and live to fight another day, especially since most everyone uses the Stopping Power perk.

Also, I have to mention that the emphasis on getting kills is very annoying.  My playing style has always been more about surviving for long periods of time than running around killing everyone in sight.  So the result is that I get a lot of “longest time alive” and “fewest deaths” accolades at the end of games, but of course that doesn’t help with standings one bit.

Despite the flaws I still enjoy playing MW2 multiplayer a lot, even in public games.  However I will probably discover, as I did with CoD4, that after I reach rank 70, there won’t be any more reason to play.

Playing FarCry 2 on PS3

Normally I only play one game at a time, but Need For Speed SHIFT is pretty one-dimensional so I’ve also started FarCry 2 for the PS3.  The story is nothing like the original FarCry, sharing only a name that honestly has nothing to do with anything.  This time around you’re running (and driving) around an enormous chunk of Africa.

It’s one of those open-world style games, so you can do the missions in any order you want.  I actually find this style of game a little annoying – I get a better sense of accomplishment from linear games.  With open games I usually feel like I’m wandering around aimlessly for no particular reason.  FarCry 2 is not so bad, though – it actually feels a little like an MMO.

I tried some multiplayer but I was not impressed.  The lag was pretty intense so it felt like playing on a dial-up connection (maybe nobody was running servers near me).  Plus most of the maps that came up were user-generated, which means they pretty much sucked.  So far, I’d say FEAR2 had a much better multiplayer experience.