Secret World Legends
Has going free-to-play given Secret World Legends a new lease of life?
All conspiracies are true. Dark days are coming. Also, you just swallowed a magic bee. In an instant, your world is changed forever. Your life now belongs to the cheerfully evil Illuminati, proud and proper Templars, or chaotic Dragon faction. Before you’ve even had a chance to process that, you find yourself standing between the world and Lovecraftian nightmare. And you’re not even getting overtime.
TheSecretWorld has always been my favourite MMO that I wish hadn’t been an MMO. It a wonderful setting: a convincing world with urban fantasy twists. Everything, from starting out as an Illuminati in a New York district to glancing at the first maps of the major hub of Solomon Island, offers a crazy universe worth exploring.
Along with the fantastic map design, TheSecretWorld’s writing is a joy. True, the decision to have a silent protagonist is regrettable, but that doesn’t matter when facing the likes of party girl Illuminati handler Kirsten Geary, magic school headmaster Montag or Stephen King expy Sam Krieg. And that’s to say nothing of some of the amazing missions. While they do include plenty of kill or fetch quests, just as often you’re being murdered by spirits, raising an army of the dead and returning to kick seven different supernatural varieties of arse.
Unfortunately, the game’s qualities were undermined by its MMO side,
which meant the distraction of other people, padding and combat that can be charitably described as, ‘Look, it tried.’ A subscription fee and box purchase at the dawn of free-to-play certainly didn’t help.
With Secret World Legends, Funcom has rebooted the whole thing. It’s the same maps and stories, at least for now – more is planned, as per the official roadmap. However, as well as being free-to-play, many of the systems have been overhauled. The original game was built on a myth about horizontal levelling. Now, you have levels, enemies have levels, quests have levels, and even equipment has levels with simplified skill trees for each one.
The result, though, is distinctly mixed. You can play through the campaign for free and not be bothered by any purchases, as long as you don’t mind sticking to your starting weapons. If you’re an existing The Secret World player, they’re all unlocked for you. If starting fresh, you’ve got to unlock one weapon at a time, which costs real-world money or in-game currency.
BEHIND THE LEGEND
The bad news is that while many of the MMO bits have changed, the changes don’t deal with the problem. Skill descriptions have changed, yes, but remain vague and do a terrible job of pointing out what synergises with what and how best to build out a character. The worst of these changes is that instead of enemies dropping upgrades, they now drop basic gear. This gets as tedious as it sounds, especially with the need to later fuse high-level gear together and upgrade two weapons and seven talismans. Sometimes you just want to get a shiny new gun.
The story is mostly as was in The Secret World, though with a few changes. You now have to hit specific levels before continuing. Combat is now reticule-based, it’s not great, but this is a five-year-old MMO. Key phrase: MMO. Padding and pacing remain an issue. Too many quests having too many stages, and there being some weird new decisions. The end of the first Egypt zone, for instance, takes you right to the entrance to the second map, in what has to be one of the genre’s best visual reveals. To go in, though, takes another few hours through what was formerly DLC, killing the pace.
The more that you want to play Secret World Legends as an MMO, the more you’re likely to chafe at this reboot’s restrictions, especially in terms of loot. For more solo or narrative-focused players, however, it’s a great second chance to see what it has to offer, as well as The Secret World’s best chance in years to expand its reach and continue telling its story.
The game’s qualities were undermined by its MMO side