More Secret World Legends

I wrote about trying Secret World Legends last year in July, and thanks to my pet tank getting really enamoured with the game, we actually ended up sticking with it for quite a while, slowly duoing our way through most of the story one weekend at a time, including all the story mode dungeons. I wanted to hold off with making this post until we were fully done, but in Tokyo we lost steam before completing everything, stopping just before being sent to the Orochi Tower, and since then we've been unable to muster up the enthusiasm to continue for several months now. So I thought I might as well finish up this draft and post it anyway.

My pet tank hit the level cap of 50 in the Scorched Desert zone (he was a patron/subscriber and I wasn't, providing him with a slight XP bonus), while I reached it in City of the Sun God. The interesting thing is that we were only slightly overlevelled for the content at that point, and it's quite clear that characters hitting the level cap before they actually reach the end of the "levelling content" is intended. I guess this way the game is trying to provide a smoother transition to "endgame" than most MMOs, where standard questing tends to become obsolete the moment you hit max level. Thanks to the way gear upgrades work, you'll also keep working on those at the level cap more or less the same way you've done throughout most of your levelling.

The ease of combat I observed in the early zones didn't quite last until the high levels. By max level, fights didn't so much get harder but more tedious, as mobs start to take longer and longer to die if your gear isn't that great (such as was the case for me, and which is yet another way in which the game reminds me of Neverwinter). Only in Tokyo did we really start to feel the challenge ramp up somewhat, with bigger, oddly-shaped and faster-hitting telegraph attacks that hurt more. This means that I probably wouldn't enjoy the combat very much alone, but at the same time it adds value to playing as a duo because you notice a significant difference in terms of speed and ease of progress when you have company.

The silent protagonist continued to annoy me a bit, but I got more used to it. I also learned that I liked cut scenes with more than one NPC a lot more, as the situation immediately becomes more natural if you are silently listening to two people talking instead of standing there like a muppet while being addressed directly. I also came to realise though that for all of the interesting writing in the cut scenes, they are often incredibly disconnected from the actual missions. My favourite example of this was a quest in Savage Coast where the intro cut scene literally just consists of you watching two people play chess, yet this somehow translates into a lengthy chain of killing X monsters and impaling them on spikes. Naturally. (Yes, I know there is a tenuous connection in terms of "taking out the queen", but it's really not much.) There is also rarely any kind of wrap-up. I found this most striking in a mission in Tokyo where a chipper little girl asks you to look for her missing friends, keeps texting you throughout, yet doesn't appear to even bat an eyelash at the fact that most of said friends actually turn out to be dead.

In my first post about the game I mentioned how the infamous investigation missions were a breeze initially, as my pet tank already knew the early ones from a previous character and I basically just followed him around. Once we hit content that was new to him too however, I have to admit I quickly grew to dislike both investigation and sabotage missions. I feel a bit bad saying this, because they aren't badly done, and I'm certainly not someone to dislike puzzles in principle... but all too often I felt that they were disruptive to the overall flow of the game. One moment you're breezing through the main storyline, mowing down zombies or whatever in one action mission after another... and then you spend the next two hours on a single investigation mission, completely failing to progress any of your daily challenges. Often it isn't even the puzzles themselves (for which you can usually look up a solution) but simply that many of these missions love sending you all over the place. Maybe this didn't feel as jarring back when the game as a whole was less fast-paced... but right now it's pretty rough. I will say that it varies a lot though - there were some investigation/sabotage missions that weren't nearly as much of a drag and that I actually quite enjoyed, like the one where you time-travel back to ancient Roman times. I guess it depends on whether you're into whatever's the focus of any given mission (e.g. maths, music puzzles, deciphering different languages etc.) but it's not like they tell you that in advance.

I also mentioned in my previous post how we never tried PvP because the group queue was buggy - this still wasn't fixed last time we tried, but we eventually gave it a go just queuing solo and I have to say, Secret World Legends' PvP is the weirdest MMO PvP I've ever seen. There is currently only one map/mode, which is understandable since they had to prioritise which content to port over first, but it's a 10v10 deathmatch where you are randomly split into "sun team" and "moon team" regardless of faction and it's always over in the blink of an eye. Seriously, I've had matches that lasted less than a minute and I think the longest one I saw was about two minutes? The wait time in the spawn zone is usually longer than the match itself. The funny thing is that it's still quite popular and pops very quickly, simply because for a single minute of effort it's very rewarding. However, running in and hitting a few abilities before falling over dead just doesn't really feel like proper PvP to me.

In the first half of August, the game held its first big event, which was a bit of a mess to be honest, as it consisted of nothing but a 40-man raid boss fight that you could repeat once an hour, which wasn't even very well done. For a game that hinges so much on story, it was very surprising that there was absolutely none connected to the event, not even a text message from your faction leader to tell you to check out what's happening. I heard veteran players say that there was more to it in the original Secret World, but that Funcom clearly couldn't be bothered to rewrite that stuff accordingly and port it over, which is a shame.

The boss fight itself was also decidedly meh. Clocking in at about 20 minutes per kill initially, it mostly felt tedious more than anything else, but it was also full of terribly unintuitive mechanics. Like an NPC yelling "We must reach the next platform", which you are supposed to interpret as "jump off the edge into the abyss to get teleported above your current location". Also, some people need to do this before the actual audio cue in order to kill an add. But not too many or they won't receive a shield and die. Got it? The cherry on top was that the mechanics were buggy on the first day and didn't actually hurt. So when Funcom hotfixed this on the second day, I went in and died eight times during the fight, confused about what was going on since I wasn't doing anything differently compared to the previous day. Good times. Since we persisted, we found that it did get better over time though, whether it's because Funcom tweaked the numbers or everyone just got better at handling the mechanics. By the end most attempts were down to taking "only" 10 minutes and I even managed to not die at all during some of them (heh). To give credit where credit is due, some of the rewards were quite nice. For example I got my first custom sprint animation this way.

The Halloween event that followed featured a similar boss fight, which wasn't nearly as deadly fortunately, and there was a thematically fitting investigation mission too. Apparently former Secret World players were still disappointed however, as the previous version of the game used to contain a lot more Halloween content. I do like the way they handle the daily login rewards for these events, giving players some leeway so they won't miss out on anything good if they miss a day or two, and allowing the boss-related goodie bags to stack up so you can save them for the weekend or whenever you actually have time to work on unlocking them all.

By Christmas we were already only logging in for the seasonal event, and the associated boss fight had descended into complete tank and spank for some reason, which didn't really make sense to me as I thought that they had found a pretty good balance in terms of difficulty and mechanics with the Halloween boss. This newest fight never took very long but was incredibly boring. Still, at least I got a jumper and a woolly hat out of it.

I really wanted to give Funcom some money eventually, since I was clearly enjoying myself enough to make it worth it, but like with Neverwinter at the start, I struggled to find anything that I wanted to buy. Like Neverwinter's VIP, SWL's patron status is definitely a nice perk to have if you are focusing on the game above any others, but for the casual player, it just doesn't offer very much. Faster quest cooldowns are irrelevant if you only play once or twice a week anyway, and the extra skill points assume that you actually have an interest in filling out all the different weapons - if you are happy with the ones you picked at the start, the points you gain as a free player while levelling up get pretty close to maxing those out anyway and nothing else is really needed.

Also - and I never thought I'd say this about any MMO - Funcom really need to get their act together and create a proper store interface. Microtransactions are part of the game and here to stay - not having an actual store where you can see everything that's for sale doesn't change that, it just makes it super awkward for people to just casually browse. Basically, you only run into prompts to pay when you click on certain interface options (such as to expand your inventory), which makes it hard to compare which of these purchases might be more worthwhile than others. Pets and mounts are only available as a long list with tiny icons and basically have to be purchased sight unseen - no, thanks! In the end I just splurged on some inventory upgrades and faster sprinting, which is the kind of purchase with which you can't go wrong.

While we strictly speaking didn't fully finish the existing story, we did complete the vast majority of it, and by the end we were starting to get a feeling of being ready to move on. I'm hoping that an actual new story drop might remotivate us to log back in. (This just in - the story will be going to South Africa in April, ooh!) It reminds me a lot of the way I often see people talk about SWTOR: "Great to play through the story solo/as a duo, but I have no interest in the endgame." All the PvE group content I tried seemed good fun, but like in Neverwinter, I just find the grindiness of the gear progression too off-putting to want to bother with it. Also - unlike with Neverwinter - we didn't succeed in getting any of our guildies to develop any kind of enthusiasm for the game in order to allow us to run group content with a full pre-made group. While fans of the game frequently cite the horror setting as a selling point, my own experience is that it's just off-putting to a lot of people.

I also think that Secret World Legends is somewhat lacking in other endgame areas right now, such as only having one raid. And how can you have a dedicated PvP community when you only have one map and it goes like I described above? It's telling that this still hasn't been changed after nearly six months of this post sitting in my drafts folder, even though other modes existed in the original Secret World. Still, the bottom line for me is that we got many long play sessions out of the story, and if they actually go ahead with releasing more of it now, we'll be back to check that out eventually. Can't complain about that.


  1. My character just hit Transylvania, so I have a fair amount of content ahead of me. Now that I'm winding down my 'end of expansion' surge of activity in Wow, it is time to go back to SWL and get current with the storyline.

    One thing that was annoying with the Christmas event was that some of the 'Grinch' spawn areas are locked away if you haven't progressed through the whole story. Having access to areas story-gated was a bit unexpected. Ah, well.

    Oh, by the way, the emote "We must reach the next platform" is reused from the starter scenario. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it until I was messing around with a new character and realized it was used in the Tokyo subway part.

    1. Yeah, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the emote was re-used. Doesn't make it any more sensible though! :)


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