Trying Secret World Legends

I mentioned previously that I was trying out another new MMO this month... and this MMO has been Secret World Legends. Yes! For once I, too, am on the bandwagon of bloggers all trying out the new shiny on the block (sort of).

Unlike LOTRO, the original Secret World was an MMO that I never had any desire to play, for one simple reason: the setting. I don't have much interest in horror and mystery at the best of times, but completely immersing myself in a world filled with these things? No, thanks.

I still enjoyed reading about the game sometimes though, mostly because it's a great example of how a loyal and vocal community can greatly influence public perception of a game. From what little numbers we have (such as steam charts), the original Secret World seemed to have a player base of a size roughly in the same ballpark as Wildstar. Yet while the latter is constantly lamented as dying and seemingly no news article can avoid mentioning threats of closure, Secret World was consistently praised as a successful niche game and for supposedly having a payment model that "does it right". I remember I once mentioned in a comment that I didn't think Secret World's payment model was working out well for Funcom and was immediately told off for daring to suggest such a thing. I have to admit I felt quite vindicated when a Funcom dev said pretty much just that in an interview leading up to Secret World Legends' launch: that part of the reason for the reboot was that they needed to find a different way to monetise the game.

But I digress... as I was saying, I was never planning to play it myself, but a couple of months ago my pet tank suddenly got it into his head that he wanted us to try it together, and with the F2P relaunch coming up it was really hard for me to say no. So it happened, and here we are.

For someone who went into the game fully expecting not to like it very much, I found myself strangely attached to my green-haired, bespectacled Templar surprisingly quickly. (Once I had made it through the slightly strange character creation screen, which had everything in hexes... which is probably in line with the magical bee theme from the intro but made it kind of hard to see all the options.)

Reactions to the new tutorial from veterans seem to be mixed, but to me it seemed serviceable. In fact, I could have done with some more information still. Even if you pride yourself in your game being challenging, figuring out how the UI works should not be the main event! I think the main reason I didn't have more trouble than I did was that a lot of keys were mapped similar to how things work in Neverwinter. But as an example of what was lacking: As a "Ravager", I was given a healing skill to start with but there wasn't even a mention of the fact that there is a separate friendly target and that you switch it by using the mouse wheel. That I learned only through reading other people's comments about the game on blogs. (Pretty cool feature though.)

The quality of the cut scenes was also good in my opinion, except for some of the NPCs having awkward, nutcracker-like mouth movements which stood in stark contrast to everything else - but then I also read somewhere that this is a bug and not how they usually look. I immediately disliked my character's silence though, something that I knew to expect from videos and which I'd already found off-putting the first time I saw it. I don't need my quest delivery to be super-fancy, but if you do put work into such detailed cut scenes and voice acting, it has to go both ways. As it is, all the NPCs monologuing on and on while my character just stands there looking like a lump falls into a sort of uncanny valley for me... close enough to believable human interaction to draw attention but then missing the mark, with the final result veering mostly into awkward and unintentionally comical. Maybe it works for people who imagine their character as someone super shy who always clams up in the presence of anything that isn't a zombie.

Don't mind me, I'll just stand here and stare at you blankly... it's my thing.

Since I never played the original version of the game, I can't comment on just how the new streamlining and combat changes compare to the original, but to me they seemed... okay. I never felt lost for things to do, though the sheer rigidity of the level requirements for some quests seems a bit patronising. While questing in a group, I also found the quest tracker a bit annoying as it allows you to pick up several missions at once but will only ever display one, and the game can be very fiddly with individual mission steps - sometimes they update for everyone in the group, sometimes they don't. It's become a running gag how often I had to backtrack because I had missed a "click on this" step somewhere and suddenly couldn't progress.

The combat seems okay so far, though it's a bit hard to judge when things fall over as quickly as they do in the first zone. In fact, while questing with my pet tank we repeatedly ran into the problem that he started attacking a rare mob from range and it would die before I could run into melee, resulting in no loot baggie for me.

My starter class combines fist weapons and blood magic - god knows how I heal people with spiked fists, but considering that I spend my days dishing out healy goodness in SWTOR with a giant assault cannon, who am I to judge? Things may have been simplified compared to what they were like, but I still had to rearrange my bars multiple times already to find a combo of skills that worked for me. In fact, I think I'm still not quite there yet, despite actually willfully ignoring a lot of the built-in complexity for now and trying to keep things simple.

As an example, fist weapons have this mechanic called fury, which you can spend on going into a frenzy, which in turn gives you more powerful skills to use. In theory. In practice, every time I tried this the frenzy state was so short (3-5 seconds it seemed), that I had trouble figuring out what was even going on. Later I deduced that apparently all those exciting, more powerful skills are pretty much the same as my regular ones, only with slightly bigger numbers. I decided to just forget about the whole thing for now as too much of a hassle. If it matters later on, I will revisit it.

Being in a group at all times hasn't really helped in that regard, because as mentioned above things die way too quickly. It has also affected my experience of other parts of the game. Like those much-acclaimed investigation missions that people like to talk about? Well, my pet tank has already done them all on his second, higher-level character, so each one so far has basically consisted of me plodding after him while he mumbled something about "music puzzle here, need to enter the correct notes" while I'd just smile and nod until he was done. (Credit for those things was thankfully shared, so I basically got all those missions done without actually investigating anything myself so far.)

One thing that was a really positive surprise to me was the first dungeon. This already opens up at level 10 and I thought it was super fun. Not very difficult perhaps, but once again I found this hard to judge since my pet tank was constantly instructing me to avoid this or run over there. There did seem to be some mechanics that would most likely have killed a group of completely ignorant new players. Either way I found it extremely fun and atmospheric, and immediately wanted to run it again once we were done. I was surprised in so far as I remember seeing very little talk of TSW's dungeons on blogs and such... I guess that like with SWTOR, everyone is so focused on the unique features of the solo content that the lovingly crafted group content gets treated as a side feature? In my opinion it shouldn't be (in either game). We also wanted to try some PvP but there currently seems to be some sort of bug when you try to queue as a group that will only queue one of you.

Fighting winged Cthulhu as early as level 10? Sure, why not!

Overall, my impression of the game so far has been a lot more positive than I expected. They've clearly made an effort to make it more appealing to people who had no interest in or disliked the previous version, and it shows - even if previously loyal veteran players are understandably annoyed by the result. Whether it will work to give the game a second lease at life... who knows. Even though there's been noticeably less buzz about it on my blogroll than there usually is for a completely new MMO, the "new game smell" is still strong: The official subreddit is full of fun threads such as customer service admitting they are too busy to deal with anything but payment issues or people being totally unable to play the game, or a player complaining that they spent over 400 dollars on lockboxes without getting the items they wanted (whales ahoy). Sustainability is something else though.

The new monetisation model reminds me a lot of Neverwinter's, which is widely criticised but clearly works to support a steady stream of content updates. Specifically the triple currency system is very reminiscent of Neverwinter's (I keep referring to the middle currency as astral diamonds whenever I forget its proper name), and they even had their own version of the Caturday exploit just before launch! Likewise the weapon upgrade system has a lot of similarities to Neverwinter's artifact refinement so far. The question is whether SWL will also copy the overall trajectory of that game's monetisation: which is to be extremely generous at low levels and to casual players, while squeezing those who are highly invested in gear upgrades for all they are worth.


  1. I agree with you about having a silent character. I know I'm spoiled by swtor, but when story is a big part of an MMO it pulls you out of the moment to have your character be mute. At least one quest points this out directly, which really takes you out of the moment and screams, "we both know we're in a game". :sigh: (Silence works for Gordon Freeman in the Half-Life series, but that's a shooter, not an strong-story RPG.)

    On the the other hand, I do understand the folks that prefer a silent main character as, for them, the voice actor never matches what they imagine in their head as the character's voice. An option to turn off or on the character's voice would probably satisfy both sides.

    On the gripping hand, mute main characters does make creating the game quicker and cheaper as you don't have to record and QA all of those (potentially) branching dialogue paths.

    1. It's not so much that the protagonist is silent but that they are included in the cut scenes all the time, where they are shown to be almost totally unresponsive to anything. NPC cracked a joke? No reaction. NPC said something horrible? No reaction. NPC gets totally in your face? Barely a flinch.

      If they only wanted the NPCs to talk, they (IMO) should have directed the cut scenes in a way that focuses more heavily on them, so the player at least gets to fill in the blanks about how their character reacts to everything. Or dare to let the player character have at least some facial expressions in response. I sometimes laugh at some of the exaggerated :-O faces my character makes in SWTOR, but I'll take that over looking like an android who hasn't quite figured out how to act more human yet.

    2. I don't know how I missed this post, but I did. Will you be playing more? I downloaded the game after your last post! Haven't tried it yet though.

    3. That's certainly the plan. Unfortunately I'm generally short on gaming time at the moment.

  2. Horror definitely has its niche, but it's not my thing for MMOs. Occasional forays into horror in a larger MMO are okay--see the Old Ones in WoW and AoC for the obligatory Lovecraftian references-- but the entire MMO being wrapped around horror is akin to having an entire MMO based in Moria.

    1. Oh, and for what it's worth, the Steam sale means that Black Desert Online is only $8 (for the base game), and I'm pretty tempted just to try it out.

    2. I still draw a line at these Asian-style games because of the aesthetics. Things like boob physics and all the female characters running around in high-heels are a no-go for me.

    3. I normally agree with you --Aion was too much for me-- but given that Syl had been playing BDO, I'm willing to give that game the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, my attempts at examining potentially troublesome parts of BDO seem to have been hampered by the so-called "nude mod", just like the one that was created for Skyrim. Which, from my perspective, is just silly: if people want to play nude, go play Age of Conan.

    4. /sigh

      I haven't even gotten to BDO yet, and I've discovered other silliness in other MMOs that would fill Njessi's Fashion Police blotter. And yes, I've a good reason for this exploration, since I've been asked to provide some "input" on a few MMOs by one of the mini-Reds.


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