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The Secret World after a Month

August 6, 2012

Dear Readers,

I thought a bit more of a review would do well to help celebrate the one-month anniversary of The Secret World.  I’ve gone back to my “TSW After One Weekend” post to review what I wrote there.  Here, I plan to continue, revise, and add a few topics.

Things I Like

Anima Wheel

I love the anima wheel.  I love the freedom and synergistic qualities of it.  I love being able to drop what I’m doing like a rabid wombat and explore another path.  I have 4 inner wheels completely full with a few outer ring talents and one outer ring segment full.  I’ve already got my eye on another outer ring talent, but have to go all the way through the inner ring of Shotgun first.  I love that there’s a search option, too (there is, on the right side of the screen; I point out its location because I’m apparently the only person in my group that noticed and used it until I pointed it out to them).  I love being able to search terms and find more synergies.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Combat Mechanics

I still like the mobility of combat.  I have no stationary attacks (like a turret or manifestation) that I use, so I just run and kite.  I think it makes a big difference, too, as in “emergency” situations, I can often run and survive where if I stand I die.  I still like the chalk drawings, though I’ve heard rumors they vanish.  Fine.  Even better, in fact, because I like being trained and then pushed to achieve more.  I still love active dodging.  I love the action of it; as the boss’s big ability is about to go off, I leap out of the way to avoid it.  Brilliant.

Separate Offensive and Defensive Targets

I always wanted this in WoW.  Now I’ve got it in TSW, and I can’t imagine going back.  Yes, you can just focus in WoW, but this is even simpler.  I love keeping an eye on my wife’s health during a big pull or a boss fight so I can respond instantly if I see it drop.  We already have great communication, and now it can be reserved for really dire circumstances or strategy shifts.

Leveling Training Dungeons

I like that many of the boss-style mobs you fight at the end of long chains mimic what you’d expect in a dungeon.  The lack of such scaffolding is a major drawback in WoW; in TSW, I feel trained for instances by the leveling process.  Different types of mobs require different setups, just like in the dungeon.  Different mobs use different abilities, which you can learn to avoid, just like in a dungeon.  The boogeyman, for example, at the end of the theme park missions behaved like a raid boss, for god’s sake, and it’s within the second zone of the game.  How far did you have to go in WoW to see raid boss mechanics?  Into a raid, at least.

Narrative Flow of Quests

In WoW, it’d be “Go investigate the Scary Farm.”  Return.  “Go kill ten undead farmers.”  Return.  “Go kill the undead farm boss.”  Return.  “Go get the evil artifact from the guardian of the farm.”  Return.  Admittedly, that’s gotten a lot better in WoW, but I like the flow of the quests in TSW.  You don’t have to return to some pencil-neck paper pusher who can’t take care of their own problems for guidance in TSW; you just figure it out and take care of it yourself.  Massive improvement.

Lack of Hubs

I never liked hubs.  They’ve always felt disingenuous.  I like how spread out quests are in TSW, and while most of the major players have two or three quests, and while there are a very few places where you get more than one quest giver, they all flow naturally.  They make sense.  Take, for instance, Hellfire Penninsula.  Why are those hordies out there between Zeth’gor and the haunted alliance area?  Why don’t they just go to Thrallmar?  It made no sense.  Mrs. Franklin is in the Franklin mansion, keeping her cats company (loved the cat quest, btw).  Sarge is in the middle of the shit, trying to figure out how to put down the baddies.  They’re not hanging out together at the Wabanaki camp, where they’re not even really welcome.  Sensibility at last!

Investigations

I love investigation missions.  I don’t know how else to put it.  I think I’d had them if I was playing alone; I’d probably loathe them.  However, I’m playing with a total of four educated people with 7 college degrees between us, and it’s a ton of fun to work out what to do next.  Everyone contributes.  Everyone tries things on their own.  It’s this mass of collective and individual accomplishment that somehow comes together.  We haven’t had to look one up yet.  The longest shots seem to end up working out each time.  We only have 1 more – Mrs. Franklin’s – to do before we’re totally done with Solomon Island.  Incidentally, if you need a hint that won’t be a spoiler but might help nudge you in the right direction, let me know!

Lack of Reliable Information

It’s great.  I’m not even sure if I could look up the investigation quests (I probably could).  There’s a lack of centrality about the information.  That’s changing, to be sure, and will continue to do so until we have TSWhead or its like.  For now, I’m happy that the one thing I’ve bothered to look up, healing and dps specs for AR/blood to help my wife out (more on that later), I really had to dig for.  It got to the point where there was so much conflicting information that my wife and I just sat down and looked at the wheel ourselves to work it out.

Lack of Add-ons

Like the above, this will, sadly, change.  I don’t want TSW to become WoW2, and when and if it does, it’ll probably ruin it for me.  I like not knowing.  I don’t want to be sad that my dps is low or that my spec is “wrong.”  I want to just play and succeed or not, and when we don’t, we regroup to figure out what went wrong and how we might improve.  That’s fun.  Parsing numbers is not.

Level of Difficulty

Dear god.  I’m having trouble with some single pulls when I’m alone.  I ran into a beast called “Billy’s Muse” in Blue Mountain and it MURDERED me.  I had to carefully clear the whole area around it, drink a barrier potion, then carefully pull and really let loose with dps while madly scrambling from its ton of AoE effects to survive.  One mob.  A normal mob.  I loved it.  Even running around with the 4 of us is no police action.  We’ve routinely become overwhelmed in areas with a lot of runners (like range casting spirits) or charging mobs, who either charge into a buddy who pulls or who we dodge from and pull.  This is with a tank, 2 dps, and a healer, and while I fully admit we’re not carefully single pulling every mob – which probably would be a police action – we’re not playing recklessly, either.  That’s a tough game.  That’s a fun game.

Custserv

WoW!  A responsive customer service!  We had a bug, we reported it, and the next day when we logged on it was fixed, with an apology and explanation of what had happened in our ticket box.  No dismissive form letters, no responses that clearly indicated the custserv rep hadn’t bothered to read the ticket, no suggestions of taking my problems to a different forum, just an apology for the inconvenience, an explanation of what had happened, and a fixed quest.  What more could you want?

Things I Don’t Like

Solo Dungeons

I mentioned it before, and it’s only gotten worse.  My wife is not the consummate video gamer (i.e. nerd) I am.  She’s been in training for many years, but some of her skills just aren’t ever going to get to where mine are.  She’s, you know, brilliant and successful, so that’s not really a problem, but it is a problem when she’s forced to play in solo instances.  I’ve done exhaustive research to work on how she should do solo instances, specs, rotations, etc.  I’ve done a few for her, which I don’t like to do (learned helplessness and all that), and I’ve had her watch what I did so she could replicate it.  She’s not used to strafe tanking, which is good for dps, too, in this game, since you’ll often be away from AoEs before they go off w/o having to break your rotation.  She’s not used to looking for environmental exploits, like charge mobs who you stick behind a stalagmite and go to town on.  I am.  She’s getting better; she finished Mrs. Franklin’s red mission completely on her own – including the boss at the end – but that’s the first one like that.  The bosses often were overwhelming for her.  The Wabanaki dream quest mission was a nightmare for her; she’s not used to having to avoid pulls, but having learned that skill, that mission has instant double pulls that are unavoidable.  She died repeatedly and got frustrated (understandably so), so I had to take over.  

It’s just foolishness.  It’s an MMO!  It’s not a single player game!  Why force it?  Here, Star Wars actually outperforms TSW; they allowed you to bring your friends in to solo instances.  The rest of the design was crap (ramping up difficulty exponentially), but at least you didn’t have to play an MMO alone.  Come on, Funcom.  Get it fixed!

Along those lines, I saw people complaining in general that there weren’t enough mid-game healers.  I pointed out the solo issue, and they dismissed it, but then they’re clearly not healers themselves.  When you have to choose your early deep specializations, are you going to pick something that will keep you alive during the required solo instances so you can continue to progress through the game, or something more party oriented?  It’s an obvious choice.

Healing Mechanics

Why don’t heals proc resources for both weapons?  I get it; it would make healing “too easy,” I suppose (though I don’t know if that’s honestly true or not).  They should.  At least AR should, since it’s actually an attack, after all, as well as a heal.  It really makes no sense that you have this one mechanic that works one way for dps and another for healers.  Why shouldn’t they be able to build 5 resources and then get 2 big finishers?  It’s not that heals are powerfully overwhelming; a tank routinely has 6k hp at this stage of the game, and my wife’s single target “big” heal is maybe 1/6th of that.  Consider WoW, where leveling heals can fill a tank up to full and end-game raiding heals can easily do 1/3rd of a tank’s hp.  Why slap healers down twice, with both solo instances and this mechanic?

Lack of Reliable Information

As much as I like there not being reliable information, the problem-solver part of me really would have liked to find the magic bullet to solve my wife’s continuing solo problems.  The “Should be” part of me – the judgmental mathematician – wants those parsers.  I think he’s dying off, though, and thankfully so, but it was worth mentioning and being honest.

At any rate, if you haven’t tried it and aren’t planning on GW2, then I’d strongly recommend TSW.  It’s been an absolute blast!  If you get in, I’m there by name, so look me up!

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and Stubborn in-game, too)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. RimeCat permalink
    August 6, 2012 1:35 pm

    I like TSW, probably the most fun in an MMO other than pre-Moria LotRO but I’ve decided not to sub. Both of the characters I was running hit consistent quest blocks where a mob or object would not spawn. A few days later, maybe, but I just decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

    The healing question is interesting. I was running one character as Blades/Blood and the other as AR/Fist. For me the AR character, who had a definite healing focus, was much easier to run. It definitely requires that you strafe and know when to rotate between the healing and non-healing builders and finishers. That is probably the most ‘gamey’ part of the combat system and I can see where that could be frustrating for someone who didn’t come from an FPS background or learn to kite with a Hunter in WoW or the like. This is one of the reason’s I’ve been a bit reluctant about GW2. I like the idea but many of the people I normally group with like to be turrets.

    • August 6, 2012 3:32 pm

      Yeah, my buddy is building a manifestation deck, and my constant kiting drives him nuts. We’ll be alone w/o my wife and other buddy and overpull, and I’ll be kiting like crazy to stay alive, and he’ll be saying “Get them in the red circle! Let the manifestation kill them!” Well, no, I’m not going to do that, sorry, cause I don’t want to be murdered!

      We make it work, though, so it’s all in good fun.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. kaleedity permalink*
    August 7, 2012 10:12 am

    Surprise! I tried TSW for a month. My sub ran out. I missed contacting you in game, but I pretty much was only going to tell you I wasn’t going to keep subbing at that point anyway. Normally, I go through a few phases of playing a new game like this; the first one typically is kind of a research and learning phase. The skill wheel basically annihilates my approach, and I’ll explain why below.

    I liked the general challenge of TSW, and I enjoyed how many of the quests refuse to hand-hold. That kind of approach is great for keeping my attention; it’s infinitely better than searching some database site and autorunning to the next objective. I never got to the point that monsters got too difficult for my gear/skill setup, but I also kind of cheated it by getting higher QL weapons ahead of time (the vendor in… I think Blue Mountain sells higher QL weapons than the first zones for the same token price). I liked that the quests had distinct categories so you could ignore monster-killing-grinding quests or entirely focus on them if you chose to do so. I agree with your solo instance comments; those things either need to accept multiple players or have a very conspicuous solo-instance note at the beginning of quest chains that lead to them. Considering how many I ran into, they probably focused on that concept a little too much. I like them quite a bit, but they’re really not appropriate for any kind of social game.

    The no-hand-holding was mostly appreciated; periodically you’d run into a virtually impossible quest that wouldn’t be solvable unless google led you to another player solving it. I’d like to be fluent in Morse Code, and I know the basics, but there’s no way I’d be able to transcribe the message in game without either days/weeks of practice, googling another player transcribing it, or using a video editor to slow down the transmission. Hitting a youtube video of someone else solving a puzzle kind of cheapens everything. Most of the other puzzles were great; every once in a while you’d dead end and realize that you had actually picked up the clue you had missed and had it stuck somewhere in your inventory. The game was inconsistent between providing stationary environmental clues and sticking them temporarily (and unnecessarily) in your backpack. There was also at least one case where I picked up a clue and could not re-access it as I had re-accessed other clues in the quest log interface. Picking it up caused it to despawn, as well.

    Unfortunately, complex quests cannot be implemented as haphazardly as many of them have been in TSW. Most of my sessions ended when I gave up trying to complete a quest. Upon relogging the next day the event that was supposed to have triggered would go off immediately, completing the quest. Those kinds of bugs — bugs that were consistently missed concerning multiple players completing the same quest — can be really unforgivable after reoccurring so frequently. That’s a terrible experience to reoccur, especially when you don’t see it coming. That leads to the most common criticisms leveled at TSW being “buggy” even if most of the game works great.

    The wheel is actually what really killed the game for me. I usually take the time in these kinds of games to try out what’s available by testing many available builds. The descriptions of tooltips can only do so much in these games, anyway. I had looked at a build calculator, and I had devised a build I had wanted to test, and then I realized how long it would take to try it out. I spent all of the points I had built up trying to get to the point that I could test my one build, and I didn’t get enough before I had quit. I probably would have done better if I hadn’t known anything about the skill system, but I can’t play a game like this without knowing things. Yes, I had read every tooltip description of every skill before I bought the game. I’ve already done pretty much the same for GW2 without having played it. It’s what I do; I enjoy the interlocking design of these kinds of games. When you tell me I can’t test a build without dozens of hours of play investment unrelated to that build, and needing another set of time to test another build, well, that’s going to drive me insane. That’s the main reason I can’t play a game set up like TSW. I’m not even sure the build I set up would even be good. How do I know without trying it? What if the Assault rifle passive that causes an explosion to a target some time after you’ve snared them doesn’t work at all if you’ve snared them once every second using the shotgun passive that causes everything you do in close range to snare? It would probably be too powerful if it went off on every attack, but it would be counterproductive if it didn’t. Either way, I’m not going to find out.

    • August 7, 2012 11:05 am

      Yeah, having 4 people in a group playing together certainly makes the investigation quests better. The Morse code situation you mention was solved simply by Joel realizing he could get an app for his iphone that would translate for us. There were situations like that throughout the game, where Lonnie, Joel, Bobbi, or I would have stark realizations or make gigantic leaps of faith to try things that turned out to be correct. I can’t imagine doing an investigation quest solo w/o looking up hints; there’s limits to what an individual can know. Still, you should have contacted us :P

      I’ve heard a lot of bug comments about TSW, but have only run into one serious quest bug, which I described in my post. It was resolved over night, and it was a side-quest anyway, so it was no great shakes. That’s not to take away from the value of complaints about bugs; I don’t doubt they’re there, but I just haven’t run in to them. My biggest issue is Lonnie’s constant crashes, but I strongly suspect it’s on Lonnie’s end, not Funcom’s.

      The wheel thing though – I can only respond by saying that you’re mad. I think your play has become too efficiency oriented due to hardcore raiding in WoW, and this game seems to be specifically designed to break that – for now. Eventually the math will come out, I’m sure. The add-ons are already circulating, and there will be parsers, and there will be theorycrafting, and that will ruin the game, like it did for WoW. It’s a game, not a math problem, and I want to play it, not calculate it. That’s not to say I don’t look up specs and use the search function on the wheel to look for synergies, but what you describe seems like madness. Not knowing is half the fun. Doing the research yourself is half the fun!

      Incidentally, some tooltips indicate that they have internal cooldowns. If yours didn’t, I’d have to assume it wouldn’t. Still, the shotgun talent you mention that hinders may not reapply the same hinder but might actually just maintain it. Lonnie’s moving that way for the same talent; he’s looking to create an auto-purge character that uses that talent to purge and do some other things that I forget. I’m just tanking; the only shotgun thing I want is the +protection when hitting weakened targets one. I like the diddling around and finding stuff; that feels more organic and meaningful to me than just looking things up and doing math, but to each their own.

      You must be a nightmare playing D&D now. Try making an inefficient character some time and just playing! Qib was one of my favorite characters, and he was a business man turned sorcerer who didn’t have sorc stats and had a 6 str. He was USELESS in most combats, but the character itself was fun to play. That might take a major paradigm shift on Mark’s part, too, as I realize you’re a product of his stupidly-complicated combat environments, but not having to make a chess-like decision every round might turn out to be fun, too!

      At any rate, good to hear from you!

    • kaleedity permalink*
      August 7, 2012 1:47 pm

      I actually care much less for min maxing in d&d; it’s probably because rules basically mean nothing if you want them to on paper, whereas rules cannot be surmounted in an electronic game. It’s generally less of a max limit question and more of a “I’m comfortable with this thing I’ve built” deal. Eventually I’m sure I would get to the point that I did on my WoW warrior where I was considering whether 2/2 impale was worse or better than 3/5->5/5 2h weapon specialization, but that’s after I was happy with everything else I had tried.

      I’ve been spoiled to respec in games like these any time I’ve ever been slightly annoyed by a decision I’ve made until I can play without interruption, and I felt like I wasn’t permitted to make the choices I wanted in TSW, is all. I actually don’t recall a game where you could make such a time investment into something you might not like or use concerning a skill system. It doesn’t help that many of my choices were either at the very bottom of a wheel buried underneath skills I didn’t want, or skills at the top of other trees that I tried and immediately discarded for another skill I had been initially given. Would I dig through a wheel only to not use any of the skills I earned? If the skills at the bottom of each wheel are just better than their pre-reqs, would players that have grinded incessantly in wheels for weapons they don’t use just be arbitrarily better than others? None of that stuff sits well with me.

      Basically, what I’m saying is that if they got rid of the pre-req chains for each skill it would basically fix all of my complaints. I could just burn a bunch of AP on a skill and move on to the next one I’d like to try if I didn’t like it — and if I didn’t like it, the decision had been mine to make. Keep the inner ring requirements if you want, that part isn’t too bad.

    • August 7, 2012 2:20 pm

      Well, I’ll tell you that from my experience, it’s not that much of a big deal. I was straight elementalism with a dash of fist for a while, then got the talent I wanted from elementalism and went further into fist, then found we needed a tank and moved to chaos and fist, then to hammer and chaos. This is all without really any grinding at all. I have a 50 point talent that I virtually never use now, but it really doesn’t bother me that much; I’m still having a lot of fun using the talents I want to use while that sits on the shelf.

      I read another post somewhere about the player getting irritated that you can’t respec because they felt that early “bad” choices they made (for what they ended up enjoying) were “staring them in the face” or something like that.

      It’s just not that kind of game any more. You can’t respec because you truly don’t need to. I’m competent with 4 weapons now, and the biggest difference in my tanking vs. dpsing is the gear, not the talents I choose to use.

      Additionally, there are very few talents I’ve come across that I felt were just plain bad. I think you and Lonnie had a similar mindset about how you “want to play,” but the entire point of this game is malleability. Having the 1 perfect spec is pointless, it seems, as it’s only perfect in some situations. Sometimes he needs aoe, sometimes he needs purges, sometimes he needs single target stuff. Then there’s balanced builds among all those things. Choosing 1 perfect spec and sticking with it doesn’t fit in this world – until the math eaters devour all the fun out of the game, of course.

      I’m not trying to convince you to play again or trying to rewrite your definition of the game world, just explaining how I’m seeing it differently, and enjoying what I see. I’ll also point out you’re the third person I’ve heard tangential to my gaming group who played alone and found they didn’t like it; I wonder if that’s part of the problem, too. Perhaps we can overlook the inconsistencies and find our definitions of gaming more malleable when we play with others who already behave in inconsistent ways and challenge our ideas about gaming. Who knows?

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