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The Secret World: Combat, Quests & The Classless System Explained


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Adam Barnes

NowGamer gets hands-on with The Secret World to get a closer look at how Funcom’s innovative MMO is turning out.


Published on Apr 23, 2012

For such an inventive MMO, it’s surprising that it has taken so long to get some hands-on time with The Secret World.

As The Secret World approaches its release date of June, Funcom is detailing more about the game. NowGamer jumps into The Secret World to discover just how fresh this MMO is and whether it’s a risk worth taking.

The Classless System Explained

If you’re reading this, you may already be aware of The Secret World’s lack of a traditional class system. In an innovative move, Funcom has decided to cast off the shackles of class archetypes and levels in favour of something a little more… irregular.

Rather than pick a class at the start of character creation, as is common with all MMOs, The Secret World instead has you pick abilities and proficiencies as you’re playing.

Each time you earn a new unlock point you can open up the ability wheel and purchase a new item. While most MMOs stick to tech trees – in other words unlocking abilities in chronological order – The Secret World is more freeform.

You might want to focus solely on shotgun combat, or mix it up a bit with chaos magic as well. There’s still an element of progression since you’ll still need earlier abilities before you can reach the later ones, but it’s considerably more flexible than any other MMO.

You could even unlock every ability available, if that’s what you so choose. It’s possible to save and load different loadouts too, meaning there’s no costly maintenance when you decide you’d rather play a different role for a while.

Lastly, there’s an option to use ‘decks’, which is basically a helping hand for anyone not particularly experienced with MMOs. Choosing and equipping a deck will unlock abilities suited to a certain role, as well as planning your future unlocks for you.

With cut-scenes and voiced NPCs, The Secret World could have one of the better storys in MMOs.

A Greater Focus On Storyline

MMOs are in desperate need of an overhaul, we’ve all had our fill of the eternal quest grind – now MMOs need a little more meat on their bones and extra reasons to stick around. Luckily The Secret World seems to be doing just that.

Our mission started outside a mysterious theme park, next to an equally mysterious man. Rather than a text prompt of the quest details, however, a cut-scene was used to introduce the section and the quests that would follow.

The theme park is haunted, it turns out, and this mysterious man is in fact the owner. The quest, then, is to solve this mystery, defeat the nasties and go home feeling like a hero.

The voice acting isn’t exactly the highest quality, but it’s certainly better than most MMOs and adds a lot more intrigue to the quest branch. Even throughout the quest there were additional cut-scenes, detailing the back-story of what is happening and pointing the way.

And since The Secret World is dealing with myths, urban legends and the supernatural there’s a lot of potential for the storyline to draw you into its world. More so than the typical swords and sorcery of MMOs, anyway.

Customising your class in The Secret World could give players unfounded freedom.

How Does Combat Work In The Secret World?

So, if you don’t have a class, how does this affect combat? Are there tanks and healers and DPS roles still, or is it a chaotic free-for-all as everyone clamours to deal the most damage?

Don’t panic: it’s still possible to fulfil the traditional roles of an MMO, but because of the class-less system there’s still a lot a freedom in how you play that role.

You have access to seven hotkeys for abilities, most of which will revolve around the ‘resources’ system. This results in two types of abilities: builders and consumers.

Resources can come in an array of types, one general and others specific to the types of weapons available in the game. Picking compatible abilities is necessary – so an assault rifle user will need to build rifle resources to activate the more powerful rifle-based abilities.

Everything still has cooldowns just like any other MMO, so careful management of your skills is important, especially now you’re limited to only seven available abilities at a time.

What is interesting how you can build your character, however. While the usual improvements to healing, defence and attack are used to build your own ‘class’, it’s also possible to alter how you deal damage.

In other words you can create separate builds for dealing direct damage to one target, or sharing the spread across a group. These different damage types aren’t uncommon in MMOs, but the ability to directly choose how you deal damage – and switch out on the fly – is a really refreshing approach to MMO combat.

The whirling Octopus-like ride was one of the more interesting attractions.

A New Approach To Questing

The idea of questing in MMO is a slog – in most cases you’re trawling through whichever exclamation marked NPCs to discover just how many boars heads you need to collect and from where. Not in The Secret World.

Our quest took us through the haunted theme park, and at no point did we need to collect specific items or kill a certain number of enemies. 

Though The Secret World will have a more investigative approach to each quest – some asking that you search an area for clues – the closest we got was when checking out the attraction map at the entrance of the theme park for directions.

Exploring each attraction brought with it a new fight, however: the Octopus-style ride spun wildly, requiring us to stay away from the carts while using the environment to defeat larger enemies.

At Sideshow Alley it was necessary to evade the explosions hurled onto the ground while carefully destroying canisters. Or the bumper cars, which knocked characters and enemies alike to the ground – making for some important, strategic positioning.

There were other rides too, such as the rollercoaster and the ferris wheel, that initiated cut-scenes or quest-specific story elements – in this case the introduction of the quest chain’s boss, the Bogeyman.

Most refreshing of all, though? Once the quest was complete it wasn’t necessary to travel all the way back to that mysterious man – instead, click a button, bring up the ‘smartphone’ themed quest log and email the report. Job done.

Though it was only a brief look at the questing system it made a change to play an MMO where the quests felt new. Providing Funcom can keep this level of novelty throughout its numerous hours of play, you can be certain there’s something worth getting into with The Secret World.



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Electronic Arts
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Summary: There's a lot of inventive ideas in The Secret World. The fear comes in whether Funcom can sustain those ideas throughout a full MMO game.
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