It seems like every one of my gaming posts lately has begun with a disclaimer about screenshots. I was a lot more diligent this weekend, when I tried The Secret World, hitting printscreen quite a few times during character creation, cutscenes and out in the world over the course of Friday and Saturday. Anyone who has already been playing the game at this point is already facepalming on my behalf. Sunday morning (or late afternoon, as the case may be) I got on my computer, fairly well done with the experimenting I wanted to do, ready to sift through my screenshots and upload the gems I would use for this post. I couldn’t find my screenshot folder. I hunted and hunted through every sub-folder related to the game and just couldn’t find it. I asked Psynister to help me look and he couldn’t find it either. I scoured the internet looking for the location and stumbled upon a key piece of information that would have been handy to know before we started the weekend. In TSW, you don’t take pictures with printscreen. It’s F11. Seriously. In every game I had played up to this point, printscreen had been the key to hit if you wanted a screenshot. There had been no exception for me until this weekend. I didn’t even think to check because it had never been an issue before. I had played all I cared to of TSW and really didn’t feel like deleting and rerolling each of the three characters I had made. Defeated, I abandoned the office and sat in the den watching Downton Abbey and playing Chronicles of Albian on my laptop. So, no screenshots for you. Again. Sorry. Never fear, though. Hubby is a glutton for punishment and went back in to grab some screenshots, which you can check out in his post.
A Little History
Gaming, for me, has always been about escaping into another world for a time and I admittedly favor pretty games. When it was time for me to buy my first console and stop borrowing my brother’s, I chose a Sega Dreamcast, mainly because it had the best graphics capabilities at the time. Skies of Arcadia was, and still is, my favorite Dreamcast game. It was later ported over to the Playstation 2, but there was a certain magic about that game in it’s original Dreamcast format. Besides having interesting story, fun combat and innovative three dimensional movement controls, the world was vibrant and enveloping. The artistic styling of the game lent itself to imaginative play because it wasn’t trying for hyper realism. It allowed for an easier suspension of disbelief.
Top of the line graphics compared to today’s games? No, not really. It was incredible for the time, though, and is a great example of the games I choose to play. It was colorful, engaging and as far removed from my day to day life as I could get. It had steampunk elements before steampunk was cool. It made me want to explore everything and I could get lost in the game for hours.
I was not initially interested in The Secret World for several reasons. First off, being set in the modern world, it wasn’t appealing as an escape for me. I definitely prefer games that are set in a different world entirely than the one I’m living in, or at least so far in the past or future that it doesn’t remind me of real world politics and problems. Secondly, the visual style of the game tends toward the hyper realism that turns me off. I prefer to have graphics that are artistic and removed from real life, but no less alive. When graphics tends towards realism, but fall short, I only end up disappointed (more on that later). Finally, I’ve got so many games coming up, that adding another subscription for a game that didn’t reach out and grab me, just wasn’t an option (more on that later as well).
To celebrate six months since the game went live, FunCom announced a free to play weekend with some bonuses for current subscribers. Since I have a lot of friends who absolutely love the game and are entirely drawn in by the story, I decided to take advantage of the free weekend to give it a try. After all, I hadn’t expected to enjoy Guild Wars 2 as much as I did, and if the story was as good as everyone said it would be, it might be enough for me to look past the parts I found unappealing. Be warned, this game is not my style, so this review may be more critical than you’d like, but it’s an honest critique of my experience. Also, since it’s based on my experience, I will be referencing other games for comparison.
Let’s start off with my deal breaker: Three character slots. Period. There may be an option in game (I didn’t look for it) to buy additional character slots, but it looked to me like you only get three by default across all servers. I am a huge altoholic. I easily have 20+ characters in SWTOR and don’t even get me started on the huge number of characters I played in WoW. I have hit the 50 max characters per account more than once in that game. It strangely makes me appreciate the five character slots you can start with in Guild Wars 2. Still not nearly enough, but it suddenly doesn’t look nearly as stingy. Especially considering a subscription isn’t required for GW2, but it is required for TSW. If I was paying a monthly subscription, I would definitely expect to have more access.
Since I had three slots to play with and there happened to be three societies, I created one of each. All of the swearing in the Illuminati society was a turn-off. Besides not using that much foul language myself, it also reminded me of a kid trying too hard to be “cool”. If it hadn’t been so excessive, I might have been interested in the society itself from a roleplay perspective. I could see myself getting behind the Templar’s cause. It reminded me more of ancient societies and it could be very interesting if they brought in more history. My last character that I created was a Dragon. It’s the one I ended up playing more by default than anything else. It’s not really one to get passionate about. If anything, I was a pawn for them, but content to be so.
Character customization was fairly limited. There is only one race, since it all takes place in the “real” world. Even then, I felt like I was having to work with the same unattractive woman’s face each time. To say I was unimpressed by the options to make my character really look the way I wanted would be an understatement. As far as customization goes, it had by far more options than WoW, a little fewer than SWTOR (if you dont’ count the outfits, which aren’t very exciting either) and far less than GW2. Now, I do understand that there’s a lot more you can do in-game with the outfits, but they’re purely cosmetic and I don’t really play the dressing room game. I think maybe I didn’t care for the character creation because it just isn’t my style. It reminded me of the fairly limited, unexpressive models you find in-game like SIMS. Trying too hard to look “real” they just miss the mark. Again, style issues, but to me they’re important.
Once I got going and started to learn the controls in the game, I found myself enjoying the game more than I thought would. Still not entirely my thing, but I could begin to see how my friends could be such diehard fans. There were a few things that drove me nuts, though. I’m sure I would get used to some of them over time, but I’m not sure the time investment would be worth it to me.
Maybe I’m too much of a traditional RPG player, but I love leveling up. There are no character levels in this game and it drives me a little batty. You still gain experience, but instead of leveling up, once you reach an experience threshold you’re granted skill points or ability points, which you then need to apply to the appropriate interface. While this grants a certain level of flexibility, I feel like there are more drawbacks than advantages to the system. My first response was that I didn’t like not knowing how high leveled (or “skilled” rather) a character was. There is no outward display of the amount of skill or ability points a character had earned. Since the visible gear also doesn’t progress in complexity as you progress through experience thresholds, there really wasn’t a way to tell. While this may not be as important as it would be in a game that has a lot more world PvP, I still felt like it was hindering the sharing of basic information about one’s character. Additionally, as I started to get upgraded gear from missions, I found out that I had to choose to spend skill points in upgrading a gear slot instead of ability. By not having “levels” the game makes gear dependent on “skill” in a specific slot. I hated having to choose between upgrading my skill with my weapon or being able to equip my mission granted gear.
Having limited active missions was also highly frustrating. I would go to pick up a mission and get a message saying that a current mission would be paused while I completed the new one. Given the vast number of missions spread all over the area between various NPC’s my choices were either to accept the quest while pausing something I was already work on or just skip it, because I sure wasn’t going to remember to go back and get it again. Missions also had a tendency to send you all over the map. While I love exploring different areas, I don’t like running through the same graveyard six times to kill zombies, chase ravens, deliver a body part… you get the idea.
After hearing all of my friends rave about the story in TSW, it’s no surprise that it’s the part I liked best. I can definitely see that getting deeper into the story, might draw someone in. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough for me. There were a ton of cutscenes, but even though I enjoy them in other games, I felt disconnected to them in TSW. First off, there was no interaction. One of the things that makes picking up missions in SWTOR so great is the opportunity to interact and engage with the NPC. In TSW, you see your character there, but you say and do almost nothing. Instead of WoW’s wall of text quests, you end up with cutscenes of information deluge. The first few are interesting, but more often than not, I found my eyes glazing and I got sleepy. The story might be fantastic, but the way it was presented did not pull me in. Also, personal gripe: Cutscenes where your character or NPC only have two mouth positions, open and closed, so they look like muppets. If you’re going to put in a ton of cutscenes, please try to make the mouths form the same shape as the words they’re using. It’s not perfect, but at least SWTOR tries.
I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but this is probably my biggest negative view of the game. I’m not saying that the graphics are bad, really, because there are some really beautiful things they work in and the amount of detail can be impressive. It just really isn’t my style. Trying to be on the realistic side, but not quite getting there makes it difficult for me to stay engaged. Everytime I see an NPC’s mouth move wrong in a cutscene, it detracts from the experience. As I’ve said before, I play games as an escape from the real world, and the more artistic (sometimes even cartoonish) the visuals are the more interested I am. I love vibrancy and depth of colors. Those are the places I like to be. There may be more engaging areas later in The Secret World, but I don’t know that I would ever reach them.
I guess that’s what it boils down to for me. I like pretty games and this one isn’t my kind of pretty. It might be your kind of pretty (or appealing, enjoyable, etc), but it isn’t mine. While I appreciate the opportunity I had to play the game for free, I can say that the visuals alone would be reason for me not to buy the game, let alone pay a subscription fee. It doesn’t look or feel like I escape that I play to experience.
TL&DR: Tried The Secret World, many gripes, a few positives, but it’s just not pretty enough to pay for.
And since I love pretty games, I’m going to leave you with this, my unofficial personal vista I found in Guild Wars 2 during the recent stress test: