28 June 2013

The "Secret" to The Secret World

So I was putzing around in The Secret World again this week.  I've made no "secret" of the fact that this is a game I desperately want to like but I desperately don't like.  Unfortunately since I forked out for a lifetime subscription prior to launch, I still feel obligated to log in from time to time and at least try to get my money's worth out of it.  And every time my reaction is pretty much the same.  I log in, do a mission or two, sigh out of disgust and boredom, and log out.  I've always fundamentally understood the reasons for that, but this post on Massively really summed up my problems with the game, which are two fold.

When an MMO Isn't an MMO

Which one is the friendly tentacle?

The first is that TSW truly is an adventure game at heart, not an MMO.  And there's nothing really wrong with being an adventure game... except that it is trying to be an MMO.  If Funcom had released TSW as a single-player game along the lines of say The Longest Journey, it would have been perfectly fine.  I might not have bought it myself because straight adventure games really aren't my cup of tea, but I think it may have turned out as a better game.  The adventure aspects of TSW are spectacular.  The investigation missions, the cutscenes, and the storytelling are all top notch.  In some ways I even find them superior to Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I'm actually a fan of the whole "silent protagonist" thing.  I like it better than the "canned" responses in Bioware's titles.  At least Funcom isn't presuming to tell me how my character has to respond.  I can at least imagine my own responses.  But these aspects of TSW all work very well.

Where the game falls down so badly is in the implementation of all its MMO components.  Crafting and in-game economy is a complete joke.  Finding groups if you don't have a guild is a nightmare (no pun intended.)  Guild "functionality" makes you want to kick puppies and club seals and make dead baby jokes all at the same time.  Basically all the characteristics that make an MMO an MMO are either missing or terribly implemented in TSW.  It's almost like Funcom designed a single-player adventure game and then with 90% of the development done, decided to convert it into an MMO.  All those systems feel "tacked on," poorly designed, and badly implemented.  Yeah some of them have improved since launch (some guild and grouping functions) but others remain completely broken and useless (crafting and economy.)

So why is that a deal-breaker?  Many people, myself included, play MMO's basically solo anyway.  Who cares if guilds are broken and the crafting system is useless?  Just enjoy the ride and ignore those things.  Maybe I could, but TSW has another problem that is impossible to ignore.

Killing me with Boredom

I've talked about this before on my blog and the author of the Massively piece touches on it briefly.  TSW's combat is atrocious.  It's utterly and completely boring.  Yes the skill wheel allows for an infinite combination of abilities.  Yes you can essentially be any "class" you want.  But at the end of the day... the mechanics behind this system are just a complete bore.  Solo combat amounts to little more than building five resources, consuming said resources, and then building five resources again, then consuming said resources again.  Toss in an occasional dodge and an extended cooldown that you can use maybe once per fight, and you've just summed up 90% of TSW's combat.  Group play is slightly more interesting, especially for the various healing builds, but there you run into the standard MMO problem of ideal skill sets and all the vaunted "diversity" built into the system is lost.

This is why I log off in disgust after a couple of missions.  Those missions may be wonderfully written, the NPC's hilarious to interact with, and the story enjoyable to follow.  But as the Massively article puts it, the combat "gets in the way."  It is tedious and annoying.  For better or for worse, combat is much of what accounts for content in an MMO.  Now we can debate whether other activities should occupy the same prominence, but that is the subject of an entirely different article.  Combat is the primary activity in this MMO and that is why it falls flat.  It makes it impossible to enjoy the better crafted elements of the game.  And that is why I will probably never "live up" to my investment in TSW.  No matter how hard I try, I just can't make myself like it any more than I do.

Next week, why the Hex alpha/beta test can't come soon enough and why it is probably a good thing (for my pocketbook) that I "missed out" on the Kickstarter campaign.

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