The Secret World
|The Secret World|
Regular version cover art
Anne Lise Waal
The Secret World is a massively multiplayer online role-playing video game set in a modern-day real world under attack from occult forces. Ragnar Tørnquist led development of the initial game for Funcom. The Secret World uses a subscription-optional, "buy-to-play" business model, requiring players only to buy the game with no additional subscription fees, with additional benefits to those members still paying a subscription.
In the game, the player's character joins one of three world-controlling secret societies attempting to repel, mitigate or exploit the attack of Lovecraftian entities and other immortal beings in coastal Maine, rural Egypt, Transylvania and a quarantined section of Tokyo; and advance their society's agenda over that of the others.
The game uses a contemporary setting, borrowing heavily from the horror fiction genre and folklore, with a fog-ringed, zombie-infested New England fishing village for the novice player, mummies and cultists in Egypt for the mid-level player, followed by vampires and werewolves in Transylvania and ghosts, robots, Oni demons and an interdimensional occult cancer in Tokyo. Mission content bleeds into player faction headquarters in London, Seoul, and the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, and into the game's transport network, along the subterranean branches of Yggdrasil in Agartha.
Unlike many other MMORPGs, there is no need to stop to use most of a character's attacks and abilities; as a result, combat is faster than many other MMORPGs, and movement-based. The character is free (and at higher levels, occasionally obliged) to redevelop their abilities on the go, to better prepare themselves for specific threats or better integrate themselves into a group. Unlike traditional MMORPGs, advancement is primarily through equipment, using experience points to buy additional abilities and more powerful weapons.
Starting a character
The Secret World allows the player to control a character or avatar within a game world in third- or first-person view. This character can be used for exploration, fighting monster, completing missions, and interacting with players and non-player characters (NPCs).
The game starts by with the player choosing a "dimension" to play on. This dimension decides which battlegroup the player is placed in within Player versus Player battlegrounds, and chooses the player's default dimension while playing solo. The game makes use of a single server technology that allows players to meet up with people from any of the different servers, both in regular gameplay as well as instances and dungeons.
The Secret World character starts the game by joining one of three "factions": the Illuminati, the Templars, or the Dragon. The faction determines the character's home city as well as a set of faction specific missions and their allies in PvP. After choosing their faction, the player is taken to the character creator where they can choose their character's gender, height, face, hair, make-up and clothing.
Combat and Abilities
The Secret World offers players a choice between tab targeted combat or a more action based combat where the target is selected with a crosshair in the middle of the screen. Abilities can be activated by pressing a certain hotkey and most abilities can also be activated while the character is moving. The player can choose from 9 different weapon types, which are divided in three categories: melee, magic and ranged. Melee weapons include: blades, hammers and fist weapons. Magic weapons include: blood magic, chaos magic and elementalism. Ranged weapons include: shotguns, pistols and assault rifles.
The player can wield two of these weapons at the same time and the player is also limited to 7 active and 7 passive abilities at any time. Active abilities are further divided between builders and consumers. Builders build resources either on the target or the player, which are then consumed by a consumer ability. The amount of resource consumed then decides the amount of damage that the consumer ability does.
The game has a total of 525 abilities which are stored in an "ability wheel". The ability wheel allows the character to change their class and weapon types at any point in time. This differs from the traditional massively multiplayer online (MMO) games that lock the player to a class at the initial character creation phase. The wheel also allows the player to customize the character's roles. There is also an auxiliary wheel which includes a different type of weapons, referred to as auxiliary weapons. These auxiliary weapons can be unlocked by playing specific missions and they allow the player to add an additional active and passive ability for this auxiliary weapon. A total of 5 auxiliary weapons have been released: flamethrower, rocket launcher, quantum brace, chainsaw and whip.
Abilities can be further improved by augments which can be gained by doing a specific set of missions referred to as scenarios. Augments are divided in four categories: damage, support, healing and survivability. Augments add direct increases to abilities such as increasing a certain stat or effect for this specific ability. Completing issue 11 also unlocks a special "ultimate ability" that does a high amount of damage to up to 30 enemies in a 9-metre radius. This ability has to be recharged by killing mobs and can only be used on a mob once every ten minutes. Ultimate abilities have been disabled in PvP.
The missions come in several varieties. The main plot follows a faction-driven quest storyline. Characters can also take on a main mission, a dungeon mission, faction-limited side quests, and three open side quests. Some missions involve fetching items or fighting monsters. Some missions include a variety of puzzles that are quasi-alternate reality games that require "searching the Internet" for clues with an in-game browser. Investigation missions have players find facts and solve problems, and differ from the hack-and-slash missions.
The Secret World also supports groupings of characters called "cabals". Each cabal is made up of members from a single faction, although many players have opted to develop their own off-game groupings to unite characters from different factions.
The game features an original setting created by Funcom, with contemporary elements as well as "magic, myths, conspiracies and dark horrors." Tørnquist debunked several rumors surrounding The Secret World, stating that "there are no aliens or science fiction elements" in it. He also denied any connection of The Secret World to The Longest Journey.
The game is set in the "modern day real world" but also incorporates pieces of ancient mythologies, real and false history, urban legends, and pop culture, and ties them into an original back-story. The latter is said to go back in time for 100 million years and encompass long extinct ancient civilizations.
The players will assume the roles of supernatural heroes who participate in a "future war between good and evil", fighting dark monsters that threaten the modern world. Tørnquist identified the genre of the story as dark fantasy, features vampires, demons, and zombies. The players will be free to travel across different locations of the world (both real, like London, New York and Seoul, and mythical, such as Agartha, the legendary city located within Hollow Earth and the Hell dimension) and even in time, to pursue the overall plot and investigate new mysteries in connection to the dark invasion. The overall plot has a conclusion but the designers also leave room for future issues and expansions.
The player character is granted magical powers after an “unusual” glowing bee flies into their mouth, one month after a terrorist attack on a subway in Tokyo, Japan. After a strange nightmare, the character’s powers manifest, and they are recruited by an agent from a secret society. The character subsequently travels to their faction headquarters where they receive training. Then they are sent to several hidden locations around the world and tasked with investigating several supernatural occurrences.
The first location the character visits is the fictional location of Solomon Island, located in Maine and heavily based on H.P. Lovecraft's and Stephen King's work. Players familiar with the works of Poe and King will recognize themes and even characters based on fictional people in the authors' works. For instance, in Kingsmouth, players will recognize "Easter eggs" from King's work, including "Flagg's Pharmacy", the "Overlook Motel", and "Jack & Wendy's Bed & Breakfast." Ravens are spotted frequently, a nod to Poe. The island has been surrounded by a thick, impermeable fog, which killed most of the island’s residents. The fog was caused by a cursed sword, which is currently in the hands of a man called Beaumont. Beaumont is working together with the Morninglight, a cult that actively seeks to destroy the world. The sword was originally brought to the island by a fishing boat, and it was closely followed by the arrival of undead creatures known as the Draug. The island is also being infected by the "Filth", a strange substance that usually takes the form of a black tar, which has the ability to mutate and corrupt humans and animals alike. Again, in a nod to Stephen King's work, players come across NPCs with names King used in his novels: Creed, Beaumont, and Bannerman, for example.
After facing Beaumont, the character visits the Valley of the Sun God, which is located in Egypt. The seven plagues of Egypt have returned and a massive earthquake opened the ground, releasing black Filth that has corrupted the land. The cult of Aten is also trying to free the Black Pharaoh Akhenaten from the pyramid in which he has been imprisoned. They are being opposed by the Marya, the warriors of the deserts, and the Sentinel. The Sentinel are the seven children of Ptahmose who sacrificed their lives in order to become statues infused with the power of the Gods.
The next location the character visits is the Bacaş County, which is located in Transylvania. A horde of vampires, led by a vampire queen called Mara, have taken control of the area. The vampires are protecting a massive dig site, where a company called the Orochi Group has created what seems to be a tear in reality, using a test subject called Emma. The vampires are being opposed by the Drăculești, a group founded by Vlad Dracula to hunt and fight supernatural creatures. The Filth is also present in the Bacaş County and it is corrupting the land and its inhabitants.
The character later revisits the three main locations, and they slowly learn that all three major catastrophes are heavily linked to the Orochi Group and its mysterious leaders; Samuel Chandra and Lily Engel. The player faces Lily in Transylvania and her true identity-Lilith-is revealed. Lily manages to escape to Kaidan and the character is sent to Venice by their handler. In Venice they discover that the group known as the Council of Venice, responsible for keeping the peace in the secret world, has been corrupted.
Finally the character goes to Kaidan, which is located in Tokyo, Japan. A bomb was released in the Kaidan subway, which started the spread of the Filth and the destruction of the world. The headquarters of the Orochi Group is also located in Kaidan, as is the Black Signal, the digital mind of a Filth cultist who now directs the Filth creatures in Kaidan. Several groups are fighting for control of Kaidan and it is up the player character to discover the mysteries of Tokyo, find out who released the bomb, and face Lily and the Orochi Group. The Tokyo areas utilize many Japanese legends, such as the Namahage.
After announcing the development of The Secret World, Funcom project director Jørgen Tharaldsen informed the press that the game uses the same engine as Age of Conan. According to Funcom, the game would blend elements of MMO gameplay with alternate reality gaming (ARG) and social networking.
At GDC 2009, Tørnquist gave an interview to GameSpot regarding The Secret World, revealing more about its gameplay. There would be neither levels, nor classes in the game; instead, the character building would be skill-based. This way, the developers planned to avoid level grinding, allowing new players to join the game more easily. The player characters would be customizable to a large degree, particularly in their choice of clothing (except in PvP, where players must wear faction-specific uniforms), weapons (which range from shotguns to swords and can be customized and upgraded), and the supernatural powers they acquire. Combat against computer-controlled monsters would be one of the game's central points and will require more of player's attention than contemporary MMORPGs. Death in game results in the character returning as an "anima" and they have the option of returning to their body or respawning at a variety of resurrection locations. The players will be able to form teams to fight together but in an earlier blog posting, Tørnquist assured that the game can also be played in single-player mode, should a player choose not to play with a group. According to him, the game is story-driven and there is an overarching linear plot, as well as numerous side-quests, ranging from investigation to sabotage and hunting, since diversity of the gameplay will be another central point.
In an interview with GameSpot at the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo, Tørnquist and the lead designer Martin Bruusgaard revealed which playable factions ("secret societies") will be available in the game. The factions are: the London-based Templars, pious zealots "who would burn an entire village down to get their hands on one demon"; the New York City-based Illuminati, Machiavellian pragmatists who "believe that it's a tough world where only the strongest will survive"; and the Seoul-based "Dragon", who take a neutral stance between the other two and are "all about deceiving, orchestrating chaos, and waiting patiently for its time". A personality test to determine the players' inclination towards one of the factions was made available on the official The Secret World website soon after the reveal. It would be impossible to change factions without creating a new character. Additionally, players are able to create their own guilds, known as "cabals" in-game, affiliated with one of the main factions. All players' actions in the game are contribute to their ranking in their respective guilds and factions. The same interview revealed that PvP areas of the game are located in the region called Agartha inside the hollow Earth, where the players will fight for the invaluable resource known as "anima". This idea was dropped during closed beta due to unspecified reasons. Large scale PvP has later been revealed to take place in big persistent warzones. Control of these warzones has an effect on the rest of the players of a controlling faction, and provides bonus experience and other perks. There are also small mini-games in iconic locations such as Shambhala, El Dorado, and Stonehenge.
The pre-production of the game originally known as Cabal (and The Entire World Online in the earliest concepts) started in 2002, but in mid-2003, most of the working team was transferred to the development of Dreamfall. Cabal was to be set in the same universe as the later The Secret World but in the 1920s instead of the contemporary period, with H. P. Lovecraft's works and the Indiana Jones franchise being major inspirations. The idea of setting the game in the 1920s was scrapped after lengthy discussions, in order to make the game more accessible for modern players.
The work on The Secret World was resumed in 2006, after Dreamfall shipped, with many of the latter's designers (including Ragnar Tørnquist) playing key roles in the former's development. The Secret World was produced at the Funcom studios in Oslo, Montreal and Beijing. In August 2008, it was stated that the development team consisted of people previously involved in the development of Dreamfall, Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, EverQuest II, and The Longest Journey. In November Funcom stated that 70 people were working on the project. The Secret World uses the proprietary DreamWorld Engine.
On September 29, 2009, Funcom announced a reduction of 20% of its staff, resulting in "significant delay" for the release of The Secret World. On January 10, 2011, Electronic Arts announced that it will co-publish The Secret World with Funcom. Funcom told VG247 that they were "leaving [their] options open" in regards to the 360 version.
On August 30, 2011, beta testing sign-up became available. On February 21, 2012, Funcom announced that the The Secret World would be released on June 19. The first public beta test "Kingsmouth Calling" went live on May 11, 2012 available to all pre-purchasers of the game. The second public beta test "Hell Raised" went live on June 15, 2012 available to pre-purchasers and invited players. The company also revealed that over 750,000 gamers had applied to beta-test the game, significantly higher than for their previous MMO, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
On January 29, 2014, Norwegian economic crime unit Økokrim launched an investigation into suspected infringement of the provisions of the Securities Trading Act concerning the 2012 launch of The Secret World.
Alternate Reality Games
The first promotional material appeared on May 8, 2007, when a picture was leaked into the internet, containing a poem, a Knights Templar seal, and several sentences in Spanish, Norwegian, French, German and Hebrew. When solved, the poem led to a series of internet pages, one of them with a riddle, and, eventually, to the newly created official forum. This was also the start of an alternate reality game.
The websites led to a Flash page with a countdown timer that uses Eastern Arabic numerals instead of Arabic numbers. The timer would presumably have reached zero at 12:00 AM on December 21, 2012, adjusted for the location of Funcom headquarters. The date is the end of the Mayan calendar cycle, which is notable in Maya mythology. A puzzle was also included on the same page, hinting at the destruction of three major cities. Solving the puzzle gave the players 5 sets of coordinates, revealed several early screenshots from the game and marked the end of the first ARG.
Between 2007 and 2014 Funcom has created several alternate reality games such as: Dark Days Are Coming, Two Lines Twine, The End of Days and Division 66. The alternate reality games were created using: Twitter, Flickr, 8-tracks, and several websites created by Funcom such as the Kingsmouth website and the official game forums. One of these ARGs, called the End of Days, engaged more than 600,000 players from 22 countries around the world and also had real-life quests in seven cities around the world. The ARGs gave the players more insight in the lore and story behind the Secret World and also provided players with in-game rewards.
A first teaser trailer featuring the Dragon faction was released on April 7, 2009, during the GDC 2009. A second teaser featuring the Templar faction was released on September 4, 2009. A teaser presenting the fictitious town of Kingsmouth was released on February 2, 2010. On March 23, 2010 (i.e. 10 days after the GDC 2010 of San Francisco, California), a short teaser was released, showing some extremely brief in-game sequences and announcing the release of a bigger teaser on March 25, 2010. This last one showed some fights in Kingsmouth. Most available teasers can be viewed on the game's homepage, however, GameSpot's interviews with Ragnar Tørnquist, on the various factions within the game, included scenes from teaser trailers.
In 2011, Funcom started working on a Facebook app called The Secret War. The first stage, asking players to choose their faction, aired on August 30, 2011 along with the long-awaited beta sign-up for the actual game. As of April 2012, The Secret War was active. The game was available for seven weeks and saw the player fight over control of the world as members of one of three factions.
There were also seven special weekly missions such as The Battle for Africa that provided rewards for all players of specific faction. Players were able to earn the chance for a guaranteed slot in the beta, as well as a trip to Montreal, Canada to play the game. Actions in The Secret War gained special items to be used with characters at game launch. Over 250,000 players participed in the game.
Funcom also had a panel advertising The Secret World at PAX East 2012 where people could play the game for the first time in preparation of the first beta test. Funcom hosted a total of three beta weekends: Kingsmouth Calling Part 1, Kingsmouth Calling Part 2 and Hell Raised. These beta weekends allowed players to explore the two area of the game, play the first two dungeons and experience the different introduction sequences for each of the three factions.
Funcom offered a number of in-game content packs available as a pre-order bonus by registering at the official website. These ranged from additional in-game pets and weapons to a life-time subscription and discount at the in-game store. The exact contents of the bonus packs depend on the location of purchase. Players who pre-ordered the game gained early access to the game servers, before the official release date.
Originally the game was supposed to receive regular monthly updates called "issues", that would add new missions, weapons, abilities, features and storylines. However, when the game went from Pay-to-Play to a Buy-to-Play policy, this changed. Issues #1 through #4 continued to be offered free, while Issue #5, "The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn", was provided free of charge only to players who had purchased the game prior to January 2013. Subsequent updates have been offered at a slower pace, usually taking several months for new issues to be released. They are available as paid-for DLC for players. Funcom does not provide these issues free to its subscribers and lifetime users, instead including 1200 bonus points as part of its subscription and thus offering the option of only buying the DLCs users are interested in. After some concern by the subscribers and lifetime members, Funcom stated that the subscribers/lifetime members would never have to pay more than 1200 bonus points for new issues.
Funcom is also releasing mission packs called "sidestories". These packs offer only new missions and no other additional content. The missions are also not structured like regular issues, but are spread over different locations in the game. The packs can be bought in the item store. The packs are generally cheaper than the issues, but their price depends on the amount of content included.
IGN praised the presentation and also said that while The Secret World starts off strong, it loses steam afterwards. Gaming Nexus gave the game a score of 9/10, praising the game for its originality and open-ended skill system. GameSpot praised The Secret World's puzzles, storytelling, and atmosphere, but criticized its lack of PvP content at launch.
MMORPG.com gave the game a final score of 8.5, praising the skill system, story dungeons and tiered questing; and criticizing the lack of initial character customization and the PvP. Jonathan Deesing of G4 TV gave The Secret World a score of 2.5/5 during closed beta testing of the game. Reviewer Heather Mitchell praised the game's unusual setting and puzzle quests. PC Gamer praised the high ambitions and colourful appearance of the game, but criticised the uninspired combat and the lack of agency of the silent protagonist, giving the game 69%.
On August 28, 2012, Funcom announced that The Secret World had sold 200,000 copies, below company's expectations. Funcom claimed that mixed and poor reviews, coupled with the proximity of Diablo III, Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria launches, cut the sales of the game. After switching to a buy-to-play model in December 2012, Funcom reported that the player activity had increased by 400 percent as a result of the model change, and that an additional 70,000 units had been sold over the course of two months.
The Black Watchmen
In 2014, Human Equation acquired license rights for Funcom's Black Watchmen intellectual property (IP), which is a part of The Secret World universe. The company intended to create a permanent alternate reality game with the Black Watchmen license as well as an accompanying comic book. The license was eventually transferred to a new start-up company called Alice & Smith and crowdfunding for the game started in 2014. On September 13, 2014, the game was successfully funded on Kickstarter. The game was released on June 25, 2015 on Steam and currently has two seasons, and one piece of DLC, all of which can be bought separately. Additionally Alice & Smith have also expanded the Black Watchmen universe with two spin-offs games: Ahnayro and NITE Team 4. No prior knowledge of the Secret World universe is required to play the Black Watchmen games.
In August 2015, Funcom announced a new spin-off of The Secret World, in the form of The Park, a short experimental horror game created by Funcom. The Park has been confirmed to be set in The Secret World universe and will use both locations and characters seen in the main game. The game was released on October 27, 2015. A Secret World tie-in mission called The Seven Silences continues the story of the Park and is available every year during Halloween.
Hide and Shriek
Hide and Shriek is a one vs. one competitive multiplayer game set in The Secret World universe, which was announced in May 2016. The game was built with the Unreal 4 engine and was released on October 25 2016.
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