Before diving into our final analysis of  The Secret World, be sure to read our in-progress review impressions here, here and here.

So, here we are: the final chapter. The conclusion; the summation; the denouement. Everything I’ve written so far has led up to this moment, a moment that is no greater or lesser than the sum of its parts. What is the final verdict on Funcom’s The Secret World?

If you’ve been sticking with me, then you saw my opinion of the game sink ever further downhill as I progressed, due in equal part to the flaws of the game’s design, and the lack of other people playing. But, I mean, it isn’t all bad. I stand by quite a lot of what I said during my first week of play: there are some extremely good ideas at work with this title. The ability and skill point system, and the low amount of combat skills you can learn make for a very refined combat system, in some ways making the game more accessible to those who wouldn’t usually play MMOs, by cutting down on the sheer number of abilities one normally accumulates by the time they cap a character, and premade builds allow for anyone to create a class that will function perfectly well throughout the game. There is, however, enough leeway with the system to allow veteran MMO gamers to experiment and come up with combinations of abilities that a newcomer wouldn’t think of, thus rewarding them for their knowledge of the game’s mechanics.

The presentation still pleases me, as well. The graphical style is a refreshing change, although the Lovecraftian inspiration means you’ll be seeing a lot of misty fog, and foggy mist, which gives a depressing feel to the game. It fits perfectly well with the tone the rest of the game establishes, so I can’t say that it’s a bad thing, but it definitely does start to wear as you progress.

Hurray! The sun came out! Now we don't look like such tools with these sunglasses on!

Voice acting remains just as inconsistent as I found it to be early on: some NPCs emote well, and are immediately likeable, while others sound like they belong in a B- or even C-movie. I’m also still just as fond as some of the lines within the game as I was when I first dove in, particularly Boone’s “wind blows west,” line that I mentioned in the first part of my month-long look.

Fittingly, the story is just as inconsistently appealing as the way in which it is presented. When I have a clear knowledge of my current goal, the tale Funcom is weaving is quite gripping. But when I have to stray from the story path to complete side missions and grind myself into a position where story missions won’t cause me much trouble, and that clear knowledge dissipates, I find the fact that there is a persistent almost annoying: I know there’s something larger going on, but I’ll be buggered if I can figure out just what it is. I’ll never in my life condemn a game for telling a story, though, so I’ll stick with the idea that the story, while good, is presented in such a way as to not meet its real potential.

The different mission styles also offer a nice change of pace, at least the first time you play them. The investigation missions in particular are a breath of fresh air: it’s nice, for once, to not have every quest in an MMO be about gathering this, killing that, or gathering this, which you get from killing that. But, as I mentioned, the solutions to these investigation missions oftentimes feel obtuse or ambiguous, and, to any MMO player who is interested in content over story, frequent forays into the in-game browser to look for hints/solutions will ensue. Which makes it good that Funcom included the feature: constantly alt+tabbing out to use an external browser would have been extremely annoying.

Unfortunately, the variation in the types of missions does not save the game from the trouble of grinding. Because the set number of missions in a given area are fairly low, if you need to get a few more AP or SP to help you progress easier in the next questing are, you’re going to be repeating the same quests over and over. I talked about this in my last write-up, about the trouble with grinding, and the truth is, once I hit that wall, it was something I never really managed to get past.  As always, the journey is just as important as the destination, so if gaining the extra few points you may need to progress always feels like a chore, there’s very little to keep a gamer motivated to push on.

Uh-oh... Maybe I should have run that side mission three or four more times...

This isn’t helped by the fact that the only method of transportation in the game is on foot, not counting the item that teleports you instantly back to Agartha. I know that, to some, complaining that there are no vehicles is going to seem like a petty gripe, but it really can make all the difference. I don’t want to say that vehicles are an integral part of a good MMO experience, but consider any MMO that does feature vehicles: when you enter an area where you cannot, for whatever reason, mount, there’s an instant twinge of annoyance. When an entire game exists without mounts, that twinge becomes a constant underlying issue. Yes, I understand that sprinting increases your movement speed percentage at a rate equivalent to a mount in other MMOs, but watching my Night Elf hunter running around on a Brewfest Ram is much more interesting than watching my Templar constantly sprint everywhere. It’s the little things.

And, of course, there is the grand problem; the glaring issue; the metaphorical elephant in the room. No one is playing this game. Is it fair to knock points off a game because the server populations are low? Maybe not in most cases, but when it has a direct, negative impact on key parts of a game – instances and PvP, in this case – then yes, it’s something I have to address. You really can’t do anything other than solo questing easily at this point, unless you’re persistent and lucky, and while I was often the former, I never managed to be the latter.

Why do I have to fight this giant monster all by myself? WHERE IS EVERYONE?!!?

So, what’s my final verdict? Well, if you absolutely need a new MMO to play, and World of Warcraft, The Old Republic and the newly(ish) released Guild Wars 2 are, for whatever reason, not viable options, then sure, give The Secret World a try. The story is definitely worth a look, and the skill system is something that other MMOs should play around with. Ultimately, though, it’s really not much better than average, and the fact that you’ll be playing largely on your own knocks it down another notch. Perhaps if it was a free-to-play game, I could give it a bit more of a recommendation, but the fact that it’s subscription-based basically means you’ll be paying a monthly fee to run around by yourself. At this point, it’s less of an MMORPG, and more just an ORPG.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Refreshing graphical style
+ Interesting combat system
+ A well-crafted narrtive…
- …that isn’t done justice in its presentation
- Grind is much worse here than in other MMOs\
- The population is extremely light, severely limiting your options for grouping
- There’s nothing here that justifies a subscription fee

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

The Secret World was developed by Funcom and published by EA. It was released on July 3rd, 2012, and is currently available on Steam for $49.99, with a monthly fee of $14.99. A copy was generously provided to RipTen by the publisher for the purpose of review.