I’ll tell you what, friends and neighbours: I’m stuck. I’ve reached a point in The Secret World where it’s impossible – whether by accident or by design – for me to progress. I don’t know whether my chosen build (swords and dual pistols, known as a Paladin, as I mentioned in my first write-up) is just unsuitable for solo questing, or whether the devs intended to up the difficult to encourage grouping, but I’ve hit a wall. Single enemies have become extremely difficult to deal with, and any more than two is just asking for trouble. I’ve never been one to let a simple thing like difficulty stop me, though, so I worked on finding a way past my barrier.

Funcom did the players of The Secret World a real favour. Most quests, you see, are repeatable, after a certain amount of time has passed. So, if you’re stuck on the story quests (like me), and you can’t seem to find anyone to group with to help you move along (like me), you can go back and redo some of the quests you’ve already finished, and grab the experience and rewards from them again. After you leave Kingsmouth town, AP – and to a lesser extent SP – are quite easy to come by, so it’s not too difficult to grab any abilities you might need to finish your ideal build.

Unfortunately, this same thing has led me to some unfortunate conclusions. Going back over these old quests bears unfortunate resemblance to the typical MMO grind that, up until this point, The Secret World seemed to have eschewed. It seems that, instead of getting rid of the typical grind, they just substituted it with grinding old quests to earn experience. I’m not complaining about the grind, as it’s an expected part of the genre. My problem is that in confining that traditional grind to repeating old quests, it becomes a lot more repetitive a lot quicker than it usually would. In a way, it’s more bearable than grinding once you reach the endgame of World of Warcraft, because repeating quests is a little more structured than constantly running dungeons or raids – and not just because you don’t have to worry about another player not properly filling their role – but at the same time, it’s not as fun as grinding for achievements with your friends can be.

Another problem with the grind comes in getting around. A point Funcom seemed to miss is that it isn’t only the speed that matters. The entirety of travelling is done on foot, and while you can increase the speed of your sprint function by increasing your faction rank – which is done, conveniently enough, by earning experience points – it’s not nearly as interesting as traversing the environments on a mount can be. Crossing the Jundland Wastes on a speeder bike in The Old Republic, or making your way through Durotar to reach Orgrimmar on the back of a warg in WoW is infinitely more interesting than crossing the Savage Coast to reach the Blue Mountains on foot in The Secret World because the method of travel is more interesting, regardless of the fact that the speed of both are comparable.

I’ll be completely honest and say that I never managed to make it past my sticking point. I made the mistake of counting up how many AP I needed to finish the recommended load-out for my build, and just balked. I haven’t given up entirely, but I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot of repetition over the next week to continue to progress. That in itself would necessarily be a deal breaker, except for the fact that the game just seems so dead.

I’d like your honest opinion on this, because it’s something I’m going to have to ponder when I finally have to decide on a score to hang on this game, but is it right to throw a game under the bus because of a lack of players? After all, the game itself is, basically, well-designed. There are a few stumbles here and there, but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed my time in The Secret World so far. But, when you get right down to it, playing an MMO and getting little more than a subscription-based single-player game isn’t what most people are playing them for. But this lack of players isn’t, after all, the developers fault. I just feel that most of the negative feelings I have toward the game right now are ill-placed, because if I could find other people online, I feel the experience would be infinitely better.

The worst part is, it’s left me with very little to say for this week. I’m sure you’re not counting the words, but this particular write-up is significantly shorter than the other two, because I haven’t been able to make any progress. And, even if I had made substantial progress in the story, I’m still not sure it would have left me with a whole lot more to talk about. After all, there just isn’t all that much depth to the game, when you get right down to it. It’s pretty much all laid out for you from the time you enter Kingsmouth Town, even if the game is tight-lipped about it.

Actually, I want to dig a little deeper into that. Levelling in The Secret World isn’t that vastly different from World of Warcraft and The Old Republic on the surface. You have quests you can do, instances you can run, and PVP to compete in (never mind that PVP in TSW is pretty dead). But in World of Warcraft, there are other things you can be doing at the same time. You can be levelling your professions, working on achievements, doing daily quests to build reputation or gain currency. You can farm materials to sell on the auction house, search for new mounts and pets to add to your collection or, if all else fails, hang out in your faction’s capital city and watch Trade Chat. That in itself can be a laugh at times. The Old Republic is significantly cut down from this, but there are still professions to level, companions to interact with, materials to collect, and space missions to grind, not to mention social and PVP ranks to increase. In comparison, TSW just falls kind of flat.

In reality, hardcore MMO players can talk about endgame content until they’re blue in the face, but all that is irrelevant if the act of reaching the endgame isn’t at least as enjoyable as the content you’re given when you get there. By the time I hit the Blue Mountains, I just wasn’t having fun progressing in TSW anymore. I’ll be the first to admit that, when playing an MMO, I do the majority of my levelling solo, but I still like to run group instances and (when my friends convince me to) have a go at PVP to mix things up. TSW has these options, but the lack of players kind of hurts their viability. When you couple that with the fact that there isn’t anything to do other than push through the story, it just takes away from the overall quality of the game. The Secret World is a good concept let down in the execution, and further hindered by a lack of players. I think, if I had to sum up the game in a single sentence, that would be it. But, it may be a little early for that: I’ll be back with my final word on the game next week.