When the latest Humble Bundle released and its contents included The Secret World plus a month of premium time for a song, as reported by PC Gamer, it seemed that it was finally time to get into Funcom’s 4-year-old MMO. Based on conspiracy theories, urban legends, and a strong nod to classic horror fiction (particularly H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos,) The Secret World seems to offer something almost unique among the past decade of MMORPGs; while the gameplay won’t be unfamiliar to anyone who has played an MMO in the past few years, The Secret World focuses on story and puzzles.
Getting started in The Secret World can be a little obtuse and frustrating, right from the character creation screen; finding a unique, unused, non-ridiculous “nickname” (your character has a first and a last name as well, but for all intents and purposes, the nickname is your character name) took over an hour. It’s not the most robust character creator ever, and the starting outfit choices can be a little lacking – but once you’ve got your character set, you’re thrown right into the middle of a complex, confusing story, gaining magical powers and subsequently being recruited by one of three factions that “you might have heard of” – the Illuminati, the Templars (but not those old, hidebound Knights, they hasten to point out,) or the Dragon (an Asian addition to the secret society roster.)
Shortly after basic training, which is about as basic as it comes, you’re thrown out into the world, ending up in the zombie-stricken town of Kingsmouth on Solomon Island off the coast of Maine – a short walk from the Innsmouth Academy. Stop us if any of this is sounding familiar, and be sure to check out H. P. Arts and Crafts while you’re there. And this is where the new player could probably use some guidance because the game is in no hurry to educate.
First and foremost, the game has no character levels. Stop looking. What it does have is two different sorts of points: Skill Points, used to raise the maximum level of gear you can use, and Ability Points, used to purchase new abilities. At this point, we want to focus on Ability Points, which can be distributed in the Ability Wheel (default key N.)
Along the left side of the ability wheel, you’ll notice two tabs; the one labeled Cell Panel gives details on your skills and allows you to buy new ones. The second is labeled Decks. A Deck is a set of pre-suggested skills for different weapon combinations. Picking one which matches your weapon choice (or close to, starting a new weapon is easy,) will give you an early path to follow, and an idea of how the skills work together. Completing one will also get you a title, a fancy outfit, and a coat you can mix-and-match with other clothing.
Once you’ve got your skill deck selected, it’s time to get out and start completing missions. Many characters will give you missions – those are Main Missions, and you can only have one at a time. They also come in several different types; if you take an Investigation-type mission (the green background,) be prepared for a lot of searching and puzzle-solving: the in-game web browser (default key B) will be your best friend. That said, Investigation missions generally net the greatest rewards, and you should do them as often as you can.
You can also have three Side Missions at a time. You pick up Side Missions from objects in the environment. They’re not worth a whole lot, but pick them up. Go out of your way to pick them up. Do them. Then do them again when their cooldowns reset 24 hours later. Because….
The Secret World is, as previously noted, a little over 4-years-old, and it’s seen a lot of changes along the way. One of these is that you’ll be receiving a token known as Black Bullion in addition to the normal mission rewards – and getting extra due to your premium time. That Black Bullion was once a raid reward token. And here’s where you can get a real leg up on your character progression – because around the time you complete Kingsmouth, especially if your faction is in the habit of controlling PvP objectives, you can end up with a high enough weapon skill level and enough Black Bullion to purchase a “custom” raid-level weapon from the Nightwatch vendors in your home base.
That will be sufficient to see you through to the end of the story, and make your play run a little smoother – don’t worry, they’re not so strong that you’ll trivialize the game. You’ll just be spending a little bit less time beating on zombies.
So, to recap. Pick a skill Deck you like, level a weapon skill up to 10, pound those missions and reap the benefits. Is it a bit of a cheap trick? Perhaps. But it definitely makes The Secret World’s grind a lot more palatable and lets you spend more of your time delving into its incredibly rich story.
Oh, and if the Humble Bundle isn’t enough Secret World for you, the Complete Edition, with all released DLC, is on sale at 70 percent off until November 28.
In the meantime, may the Elder Gods consume your soul last!
[Featured Image by Funcom]