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For a variety of reasons, towards the end of last year I fell out of love with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Once things had quietened down again, I started casting around for another MMO to try out. In a Slashdot post on MMOs, someone mentioned The Secret World, which caught my eye because I’d never heard of it, and from the description it sounded like a breath of fresh air.

Since I’ve been noobing it up for a few weeks now, and have had a chance to try a few things, I thought I’d keep track of all the answers to the questions I had coming to it as a veteran of Warcraft and SW:TOR. Spoiler-free I hope!

If I find out any other beginner nuggets, I’ll update this, but in the meantime if you decide to give it a go, happy questing! Look me up if you like, I’m Pozolero on Huldra.

Should you play it?

No one in their right mind follows this blog, so if you’re reading this chances are you already know a bit about The Secret World and got here by googling. So I won’t describe the premise of the game, that’s what Wikipedia is for after all. Or, read the reviews on the Steam page.

What I will say is that I’d describe the combat system as seriously flawed, probably even broken in the long run (though there are those who disagree, which gives me hope). What really keeps me playing is the truly excellent missions, and the refreshingly dark vibe of the game — there’s plenty of swearing, sexual references, and some creepy horror.

It’s free to play and seems to be genuinely unrestricted for f2p players (paying for a monthly subscription buys you credits for the item shop and XP bonuses), so I certainly think it’s worth the 10 quid or so you pay for the game.

Factions

It doesn’t seem to matter which faction you choose, the starting areas and missions are the same. You can even group and communicate with members of other factions. Here’s what I’ve found that’s different:

  • Your faction city. However, they’re small, no one hangs out there, and it turns out you’re free to visit the other cities anyway. London particularly seems to have a bunch of stuff the others don’t: shops, the bank/auction house, etc.
  • Your “chapter” missions. At various points you end up back at your faction city doing transitional missions; they’re different for each faction.
  • Your handler’s personality. When you hand in a mission, you get a little response from your faction handler. The Dragon ones are pretty dull to be honest, but the Illuminati ones are full of attitude and humour.
  • Your faction “decks” (skill sets you can work toward) are rewarded with distinctive uniforms.
  • Cabals (guilds) are faction-specific.

They give you three character slots, so you can try all the factions.

Classes (ability points and decks)

The game does have the traditional roles (tank/healer/dps/hybrid) but there are no classes as such. You get to pick two weapons to wield, and each weapon type has its own characteristics. As you go along doing missions, you get ability points (AP) to spend on weapon skills from the ability wheel.

Now in theory you keep getting AP to spend, so eventually you’ll have all skills for all weapons. But there are no AP refunds in the game, and what weapons you pick at the beginning will colour your experience of combat early on, so I’d advise you choose fairly carefully. Here’s what I’ve concluded so far:

  • You may have thought to yourself, “MMOs always need tanks & healers, so I’ll head off down that route”. But there’s pretty much zero grouping during levelling (more on that later), so going for all out damage and solo survivability initially is probably the way to go. You can always specialise later.
  • While all weapons have a pure damage spoke on the wheel, you might want to pick a healing weapon too to improve your survivability, given some of the characteristics of combat (again, more on that later). Swords+Blood for example.
  • You can go for one of the “starter decks” (ability combinations suggested by the game) if you like, but I wouldn’t bother with the non-starter decks; I think they’re intended more for pvp/endgame. If you do go for a deck, when you complete it you need to “claim” your uniform via a button in the ability wheel UI.
  • Don’t spend your ability points just because you have them. If you’re happy with your abilities, save them up until you get bored or frustrated, and then you’ll have a good bank to branch out in some other direction.
  • The inner wheel abilities are cheap, so it doesn’t cost much to experiment.
  • Active abilities require that you wield the appropriate weapon, but passive abilities don’t. So if you see an ability low in some other weapon spoke that has synergy with your weapons, you can buy it and equip it.

Some weapons tend go well together because they apply or trigger off the same buffs/debuffs. Here’s a useful table of the weapon types and their synergies.

You can have 7 active abilities and 7 passive abilities, which together make up a “deck”.

  • Your action bar is effectively locked in the main UI; you can only change your abilities in the ability wheel UI.
  • You can save your deck via the gear management bit of your character view (press C).
  • You can switch decks out of combat. (For example, I have an aoe deck and a single target deck.) It’s a bit of a faff, in that it’s quite a few clicks to switch decks. There are add ons for the UI which purport to make this better but I’ve not tried any.

Gearing (quality level and skill points)

Items have a quality level (QL). You can only equip them if your “skill” in the item’s type is at or above the item’s stated QL. You increase your skill by spending Skill Points (SP), which you earn as you go but at a much slower rate than AP.

As with AP I’d advise you don’t spend your SP just because you have them; save them and spend them only when you get an item you want to equip but can’t because of its QL.

Your weapon skill level also seems to affect your ability to hit mobs — at one point I switched to Assault Rifles, spent 1 SP so I could equip a rifle, but then found that all my rifle abilities glanced off the mobs. So you probably want to keep your weapon skills up; I don’t know whether it’s worth focusing on maximising them — I did see some alts running around the starter area with QL10 weapons cutting through mobs with a few hits, so it might make the combat less painful.

I don’t really know much about item stats yet so I won’t go into that. It’s pretty obvious which are the tank/healer/dps stats, but beyond that, I guess you might want to prefer +crit (say) if you have abilities that trigger on critical hits.

Inventory

You have a set number of bag slots, which you can increase for money. Unlike Warcraft/SWTOR though, you can create sub-bags if you want to, so you can keep your crafting mats (say) separate from your random loot bag. It can get a bit confusing, because you can resize your bags to show more slots than you actually have, but you get used to it.

Combat

Combat is combo-point based, a bit like rogues in WoW. You use a “resource” builder ability to build up weapon resources, and then other abilities consume the resources.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty tedious. Mobs tend to have a lot of health and you do sod-all damage, so it generally takes forever. Plus, you’ve only got seven abilities, so all the cc, escape abilities and other situational stuff you’re used to from WoW/SWTOR is off the table. All of this means it’s pretty repetitive.

You can run away from mobs, but they follow you for a long way and tend to aggro other mobs. Also, there are lots of them, so typically you either win or die, initially at least. I’d avoid trying to take on more than one mob unless you outrank them completely, or they’re an aoe mob. (There’s a little dot next to the mob’s name whose colour indicates how hard they are; mobs with three little dots are low-health, aoe-able groups.) Also, you’ll probably want to be at full health before you engage anything.

Unlike WoW/SWTOR, you can cast while moving. In fact, moving is very much a part of combat and one of the things that makes it a little less tedious; melee mobs hit you less if you’re running around them, plus you’ll be wanting to avoid aoes (indicated on the ground before they’re cast). You can execute a quick roll/flip by double-tapping a movement key WASD, which is quite satisfying. I’m told this is similar to Guild Wars’ combat.

Crafting

You can disassemble loot and craft stuff from the outset. There’s a mission at the police station in Kingsmouth which introduces you to it. Unlike WoW/SWTOR, you don’t have to buy or learn patterns, you just need to know the shape of the item for the assembly window. There are plenty of guides out there, like this one.

Note that the crafting UI is also how you attach a glyph (item enhancement) to a weapon. Drag them both into the upper bit of the UI and click assemble.

Also, you’ll use the crafting UI for certain missions that require you to construct an item from parts you’ve assembled.

To be honest, I haven’t done all that much crafting: I vendored most of the loot to pay for movement speed boosts. However, low-level materials can be assembled into higher level materials, so if you think you’ll enjoy crafting later on you can disassemble everything from the outset and nothing will go to waste. You’ll still need money to pay for bag space!

Vendors

There are vendors, you can buy and sell stuff.

There’s a Sell tab which lists your saleable items. However you can also open your inventory window while you’re interacting with a vendor and click what you want to sell, like in Warcraft/SWTOR.

Buyback is a bit confusing — unlike other MMOs, it’s just a button, and it seems to buy back the last thing you sold, so keep clicking it till you get back what you want.

You can repair your gear at any vendor.

Travel and movement

Press X to sprint. They tell you this at some point, but not right away. You can however sprint from the outset.

I haven’t seen mounts anywhere, but you can buy movement speed improvements. Look for a mobility vendor in your faction city; the item is called something like Quickened Anima. (It doesn’t appear in your bag as a consumable, it’s just applied right away; I guess that means you can’t sell it back if you bought it by mistake.)

If you’re lazy, to travel a long distance across the map you can kill yourself (/reset) and then pick a different Anima Well to resurrect at via the drop-down in the “you’re dead” popup. This does damage your equipment though, so it’s not free. (Although now I think about it, you could probably have a “naked” setting in the gear manager…)

Missions

You don’t have a quest log. Instead, you can have 6 active missions, indicated on the right side of the screen. These are limited by type:

  • 1 story mission (this is the main story line) –
  • 1 dungeon mission
  • 1 main mission
  • up to 3 side missions

Main missions come in various flavours:

  • “brown” missions, which are like traditional WoW missions; go there, talk to him, collect that, etc. Side missions are like this too.
  • “yellow” missions, which are covert missions and involve you using the environment to avoid obstacles, solving simple puzzles etc.
  • “green” missions, which are investigation missions that will need you to engage your brain.

The investigation missions are really fantastic; it’s up to you to figure them out, rather than just following on-screen instructions. You’ll need to look for clues both in the game and outside to solve puzzles and figure out what to do next. For example, one mission involves you googling for a book to find out its ISBN. They’re frequently frustrating and arbitrarily cryptic, and you’ll probably end up online for the answers, but once you get the hang of it it’s a lot of fun to try and figure it out for yourself first.

If you click on an active mission, you can see details about it, which often includes the pictures and maps you were shown when you picked up the mission.

If you’re enjoying it and think you’re going to want to play alts, you might want to not do all the missions in an area. There are more than you strictly need to progress. Also, there are missions tucked away around the map, so exploring is rewarded.

Grouping & dungeons

There’s very little social stuff going on in the starting areas. I don’t know if it’s just the server I chose, but there’s literally nothing in general chat. I’ve sometimes said something and someone else has answered, so I know it works, but I’ve never seen anyone else post.

The chat channels seem to be area-specific, so for example Looking For Group when you’re in Kingsmouth is only seen by other people in Kingsmouth, which probably doesn’t help. It’s as dead as General.

There aren’t any group missions apart from the dungeon missions. No one seems to be interested in doing the dungeons though, which is a real shame. I did manage to get one response late at night once, and he pulled in a high-level mate, so I did get to see one of the dungeons at breakneck boosting speed. It seemed like it would be fun with an ordinary group, but good luck with that.

All the chat action seems to be in Agartha, so maybe you’re supposed to go there to find people. Certainly if you have questions, people there will answer.

There’s a group finder, but it seems to ignore roles, so you’ll frequently end up in an all-dps group, which makes it a bit useless.

In general though it feels like a Massively Single-player Online RPG. Which isn’t a problem really because the single player experience is great, but not having group missions seems a missed opportunity.

Bank, Auction House, Mailbox

There’s a bank in London where you can hoard your junk. The bank teller provides access to your vault and to the auction house, where you can buy/sell stuff in the usual way. The same teller is also the mail interface. You can send your alts your cruft, or money. Cross-faction mail works.

Miscellaneous

You can change your features, but it’ll mean a trip to a back alley cosmetic “surgeon” in New York.

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