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6:43pm on Saturday, 9th May, 2015:

Bye Bye, Secret World


I've decided to stop playing The Secret World. I'll do one more raid tonight to say bye bye to everyone, then I'll delete my account.

The reason: the designers are either out of ideas or out of the wherewithal to implement them. Issue 11, the two-years-too-late finale to the main storyline, was finally released earlier this week and it felt tired. The accompanying content is 21 story-free areas that all have the same room layout (they're floors in a tower) and nothing to say. There are some nice one-offs, but they're one-offs. The only reason to do them more than once is to get achievements and find the lore you missed the first time. Oh, and the rooms you get to after the first one are chosen at random. It's trying to put players into a holding pattern for a while to keep them occupied if not entertained.

The conclusion to the storyline itself was so-so. It had too much exposition at the end, interspersed with unimaginative and unnecessary combat. There were some nice reveals, and an amusing set-up for the start of the new storyline if they ever get around to releasing an issue 12, but if they were hoping it would feel epic, well, it didn't.

The reward for finishing the storyline was an "ultimate ability". This is like an emergency button you can press to kill everything ordinary and make a dent in bosses while making you unattackable and healing you to full health. You recharge it by killing stuff. This ought to be something special, especially in scenarios (where you kill things the whole time, so it recharges quickly), however there are two reasons it isn't, both of which are pure Funcom.

Firstly, if your character dies before it's recharged, it stops recharging. You have to leave the zone and come back before it will start charging again. You can't do that in scenarios after about the first 10 minutes (well, you can but you have to wait an hour before doing so then restart from scratch) so if your character gets killed then your ultimate ability may as well not exist. This must surely be a bug. Funcom is good at bugs.

The other reason that the ultimate ability is imperfect is that there are three of them. The one you get depends on decisions you made earlier in the game. During the main storyline, there are two or three key points where you have to choose one side over the other. The first of these, you're offered a gift by one of the sides (the one that will turn out to be evil). What is the gift? Well, it's a chest on the floor. So, you click on the chest to see what's inside and — oh! The chest was itself the gift, and you've just accepted it. You didn't even know how not to accept it, because the way to do that wasn't at all obvious (you have to jump off a cliff). This is what happened to me: I clicked on a box expecting to see some explanation of what the gift was and a "Take this gift? Yes/No" box and instead I accidentally took the gift. This was THREE YEARS AGO. As a result of that, I now have a set of blue wings that show when I use my ultimate ability, whereas my alt has a set of golden ones (because that time I knew not to click on the box). I made the "good" decision for the other decision points, and I wanted to make the "good" decision for the first one, but am now living with the consequences. Many other high-end players have the same problem: they didn't know what was good and what was evil, or they clicked on the box expecting a yes/no option and they didn't get one. Funcom really should have understood that if you give people these decisions, they do actually have to be decisions rather than accidents — and informed decisions at that. Ironically, those of us who did make the bad-then-good decision, as opposed to the people who made always-good or always-bad decisions, actually got the best of the ultimate abilities (which look the same on paper but aren't quite in practice).

I did leave The Secret World before for about 8 months, so I could come back again later if the design picks up. The /played for my three characters totals 3,528 hours, but if you added in characters I played then deleted it probably comes close to 150 days (123 of which are on my main, Mareigh, and 24 on my alt, Summerskill).

The Secret World is a beautiful nugget of an MMO, but having seen what this much-heralded issue 11 release contains I'm done with it.

No, you can't have my stuff.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).