The MMORPG-genre as a whole has expanded rapidly the last couple of years, which has now resulted in the problem that it can be quite hard to sort out which ones are worth investing time in, and which are doomed from the start.
One of the developers who has managed to produce a good track record when it comes to the genre is Funcom, the company behind titles such as Age of Conan and Anarchy Online. Their next game, The Secret World should be ready to go online before long, and for now it seems like the Norwegian developer has another winner on it's hands.
The game is set in a contemporary world, where all the myths, conspiracies and tales of the extraordinary that we have all heard, are very real. Three different factions, The Illuminati, The Templars and The Dragons are trying to combat the forces of evil and each other, with each having their own ideas and philosophies as to how to world should work.
The Illuminati finds strength in the spoils of the glamorous life that they have been able to build themselves because of their vast fortunes. They are based in New York, and are convinced that reality is in need of a rewrite. They name this vision Reality 2.0.
The Templars are based in London, and are more strategic and militaristic in the approach. They have traditions that are more than a thousand years old, and are extremely competent warriors, making them a valued partner in the fight with the dark forces.
The Dragons are the most spiritual of the three factions, and are based out of a long forgotten corner of Seoul. They strongly believe that every action carries a consequence, which is also a principle they are using to slowly gain power.
The reasoning for having three different factions competing against each other in The Secret World, is that the developer feels that having only two quickly ruins the balance in the genre. With the addition of a third faction, any two who are falling behind in power will always have the opportunity to gang up on the leading faction.
One of the most unique aspects is that Secret World will feature neither levels or classes but instead a ranking system, with progression earning you better equipment and new missions.
Besides getting a general look of the game, we were also presented with gameplay from the PvE-part of the game. Here we saw an Illuminati agent on a mission to find out what happened to a group of mobsters who had mysteriously disappeared from a parking garage. With the help of modern-day tech like a cellphone and the ability to hack, the player got access to a surveillance-recording, where a Templar is seen leaving the vicinity. We're was told that if we'd played as a Templar, the character shown on the footage might have been ourselves, seeing that all the missions can be completed by all the factions, each with their own perspective on the situation, and individual goals.
To find our way in the darkness of the parking garage we turn on a handy flashlight, which allowed the game to show of its impressive dynamic lightning. It turned out that the flashlight had more uses than just helping me find my way, as certain enemies were attracted to its light. This allowed more heavily armored players to attract the attention of the enemies (effectively pulling aggro) whilst others kept themselves in the background.
As we went deeper into the parking garage, more and more shadows began to emerge and the scene finally escalated with us getting attacked by a suit-wearing demon. It seems the mobsters had been turned into demons, and one of the new objectives was to find out how. Unfortunately we didn't get to see much from the fighting system, since the developers decided to overpower their characters for the sake of the demo, meaning every enemy fell with just one shot. One little detail we did pick up on was the use of flares to confuse the enemies, which seemed like a nice idea.
After the short fight had been completed, heavy footsteps are heard from the darkness. Suddenly all the car alarms and lights go off, and a monster the size of a bus appeared, signalling a boss fight. Thanks to the aforementioned developer-cheat the monster didn't provide much of a challenge though, and with the monster defeated, two bodies were found at the bottom of the parking garage, while mysterious writings were plastered on the surrounding walls.
Suddenly hundreds of demons emerged from the darkness, signalling the end of our demonstration of the story-part of the game.
To further tease us about what we had just seen, the developers mentioned that we might have witnessed what had actually happened to the mobsters, if we had chosen to play as The Dragons who might even have been the reason for this sudden appearance.
The demonstration showed us how it was possible to combine all the different factions and still fight as part of one team if the mission allowed it. When fighting for world domination the situation is different however, which is where the PvP part of the game starts. Powerful artefacts has been spread around the world, and whoever holds them gets bonuses for their faction in both PvE and PvP. For now the game has three locations where the fights for these artefacts can take place: Stonehenge, El Dorado and Shambala.
The game will also offer persistent Warzones, where, for an example, a temple in China will offer the owning faction more power. To conquer these zones will require proper teamplay and understanding of tactics.
So far the difference between the three different factions, and the original mixture of both magics and modern technology has us intrigued. A promised focus on hours of content even after you have reached the endgame also makes it seem like Funcom is putting the finishing touches on what might end up being one of the most original and entertaining MMORPGs to date.