Norwegian developers/publishers Funcom began their journey with The Secret World sometime back in 2002. The concept had been brewing in the back of Ragnar Tornquist's mind, but it wasn't officially announced as The Secret World until 2007, it wasn't until this March that we got to see a bit of gameplay. It's been a long journey, but with the goal in sight it is time to take a closer look at how Funcom wants to change up the MMO scene.
The stage for The Secret World is our world. Real world cities New York, London and Seoul will work as hub cities in the game, one for each of the three factions, but the real struggle takes place in the shadows and corners of the world where we seldom look. Funcom have taken inspirations from myths, lore, pop culture, and the occult to give players a world within our world worthy of escaping to.
A nice change of pace, but far from the only thing that sets The Secret World apart from other MMORPG titles. Perhaps the most important element is the lack of levels and classes. Instead of committing to one style of gameplay you can re-spec your character with abilities as you see fit before each sessions (in fact, you can re-equip skills at certain points while playing as well). Instead of advancing through levels you earn credit that can be used to buy new abilities that you can use with your character. In theory this will mean that rookies and veterans can play together in a meaningful way, while there are still incentives to keep playing and unlocking more gameplay alternatives. However, when it comes down to it, it is likely that a lot of groups will task players with your typical MMO roles such as healer or tank. You are certainly free to equip abilities that fit a certain style, but given how abilities complement and are enhanced by each other you are well advised to combine your group with this in mind as well. Each player can equip 7 passive powers and 7 active powers, so in a group there are tons of combinations to be explored.
Some of the powers may be weak on their own, but when combined with others they can be very effective. Funcom mentioned that they were inspired by how some card games work when it came to this. The gameplay is very intense and as with Funcom's Age of Conan, it seems more adapted to the tastes of console gamers than most MMORPG:s are. With a group of players and attacking zombies it quickly gets chaotic and putting zombies on fire sure doesn't help.
Kingsmouth is the first place you will go to after starting the game in one of the hub cities. It's "Smalltown USA down to the smallest detail", according to the developers and something you might find in a Stephen King novel or John Carpenter film. It's a place where time seems to pass slowly, as the wind comes rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean rattling the leaves and rustling the chains of the swing that hangs from a tree in the garden. However, when you arrive things aren't quite as cosy. A thick fog came rolling in one day and took most of the inhabitants with it. Cut off from the outside world the survivors of Kingsmouth are now doing battle with their former friends and neighbours each night as the dead come alive.
As you might expect it's not a coincident that Kingsmouth is the subject of an infection of the undead kind. There are dark secrets in this quiet little town, and your job is to find out just what has happened and put an end to it. This is also where the story comes into play. Instead of your typical quest descriptions (does anyone ever read those), most of the story will be told through cutscenes with non-playable characters and even though Kingsmouth has been decimated there are still quite a few colourful characters you are going to run into.
Zombies aren't the only thing you will run into in Kingsmouth as there is some kind of garbage golem in the scrap yard and an Cthulhu-esque hovering octopus at the beach. So I guess The Secret World will have something for each and everyone of us... and lots for Petter Mårtensson, of course.
Apart from Kingsmouth, Funcom have mentioned an area in Egypt (Ra!) and Agartha (the city at the Earth's core) as other locations in the game. In fact Agartha has been pinpointed as a player vs player area.
Funcom have learnt many expensive lessons with Age of Conan, and hopefully this will help them as The Secret World starts to come together. But then again they are treading a lot of new ground with The Secret World, and that is exactly why this title holds so much promise.