Chaos Theory: Speculating on The Secret World's relaunch
Well, it wasn't the news I was hoping for, but I'll still take it! This week we learned about Funcom's plan to relaunch the conspiracy-laden Secret World in late March. This March. That means this month. I'd have really liked to hear more about season two, which we know has already been written; the story is really the core of TSW, and I admit to a certain level of impatience to finally experience more of it. Knowing that seasons two and three are both written makes it that much harder to wait. But upon consideration, perhaps the idea of revitalizing the core game just before adding additional story is a wise move. Nab new players and bring back those who left before and you've got a bigger player base to enjoy new content -- not to mention more reason to make more! Hopefully the news about the new content and next season will follow quickly on the heels of the relaunch.
So what exactly is happening with this relaunch? That's the big question! The answers aren't forthcoming yet; there is no official word, and we learned there won't be until at least after PAX. (You better believe I tried!) That leaves only the bullet points offered in the quarterly financial report to go on. However, that doesn't mean there's any shortage of ideas floating around about what specifically each could mean. So let's do a bit of speculating.
Redesigned new player experience
I've got to say that of all the known information, this one worries me the most. There has already been one redesign, and that drove away some of the player base with complaints that things were dumbed down too much and made too easy. I felt a bit differently: Many aspects of this 2015 Enhanced Player Experience helped mitigate points that would drive new players away before they had the chance to get engrossed in the story. That was then. It was already a slightly risky venture trading old blood for new blood, and now they want to do it again?
My biggest fear here is that the game will move to make itself more familiar -- and generic -- to players by copying what is out there and losing TSW's identity. Could how to use the ability wheel be clearer to new folks when they are in their faction home testing out new weapons? Oh sure. But I really hope immersion-ruining pop up meta tutorials don't replace the story. Seriously, whatever you improve or redesign here, do not wreck the story! Some of those story bits exist right in that weapon testing room and throughout the beginning, so a complete overhaul could mess with that.
One change I hope to see is one I spoke with Game Director Romain Amiel about back in early 2015. That's the ability to have friends join in on story missions. He said that it wasn't something players would see back then, but that "it has been on [his] watch list, and [he] can definitely bump it up and have a look to see whether it is worth doing." Getting stuck in the story mission and being unable to continue is a big turn off in a story-driven game, so perhaps this actually jumped up the priority list?
What I really do not want to see is for people to be spoon-fed a specific build. The variety and choice in abilities are one of TSW's strong points, and I would seriously hate to see that go away. Perhaps instead of auto assigning points to make a build (one possibility), the game can simply highlight the skills that match the starter deck for the two weapons that were selected in the training room. A pop up could appear to say go spend your ability points, and the actual abilities you need will be highlighted. A tool tip explaining that you need to buy previous ones if your needed one is farther down the chain could appear as well. Do people have to do the recommended spend? No, but at least they had some guidance if they wanted to go that route.
Although not all of us agree (I actually like The Secret World's combat), I understand that combat is a major contributor to many people disliking and/or leaving the game. If the number of people who said that they would return if the combat got better kept their word, the game could be looking at a significant swell in population. I think this one promised aspect has more people hopeful than all of the others in the report combined. But the question is, is this change something along the lines of redesigning the ability wheel itself or will it be a redesign of the actual mechanics? Or could it be something totally different?
Personally, I really, really, really hope that the ability wheel is not taken out. I love the choice it affords me to pick things I want to use. I absolutely do not want another "here's what you have to do when you pick this weapon/class " like I am forced to endure in so many games. And for the love of all that is good, do not make this a class-based game.
I mentioned that I like the combat just fine, but part of that may simply be because the problems many people face are not really present in the weapon builds I prefer. That, or the problems just don't phase me. I may like the combat, but I am fully in favor of the mechanics being improved -- especially if it makes those who care more about combat than I do happier. There's the old complaint of hits not carrying weight. Hopefully that gets fixed. I know there are those who'd be ecstatic with better combat animations. I also know of an issue where a friend continually loses target and can't heal himself because his target literally keeps swapping. Is this an intended feature, like a skill a mob has used? I can see that being an OK thing, but only if it doesn't happen over and over and over again in a short period of time. Even mob abilities should have a cooldown! My personal request is that combat does not become like WildStar's with its giant telegraphs on the ground and such.
I know most people really latched on the "including combat" part of this statement, but I am curious about what other systems and such might be getting improvements. A major improvement to gameplay could equal new zones, more puzzles to solve (along with different kinds of puzzles!). More unique types of gameplay should definitely be introduced. Remember punching your way through one mission, or chasing clothes through town to get dressed? One of the greatest things about TSW is the anticipation of what surprise is waiting around the corner.
You know what else I think will really enhance gameplay? Having a separate crafting inventory and a glyph inventory, and making those items go directly there. Those would allow me more time to play the game instead of play inventory management!
This bullet point surprised me a bit, since I looked at the challenges as a type of daily reward for logging in and playing. I surmise that the studio is instead looking more at something to just gift players for simply logging in. Folks definitely like free goodies; I myself have on more than one occasion just logged into a game to get the free goodies even when I don't stay and play. The idea with these daily login rewards is that folks who do take the time to log in might actually stick around, and if they stick around they are more likely to ultimately spend.
If daily rewards become a thing, I am undecided whether I want something akin to ArheAge's daily loyalty points that build up to buy goodies in the shop or the kind where you click the calendar and are immediately rewarded with some item. Members already get a monthly allowance of bonus points to spend in the item store, but a smaller daily one could be for anyone who logs in. I definitely do not want to see my monthly allotment switched to being predicated on how many days I log in!
Of course, the report actually says systems plural, so maybe we'll be seeing a mixture of a few different systems implemented. I strongly feel that those who do not pay for monthly membership and aren't grandmasters should also be rewarded for daily play. This type of daily log in should be separate from what the members get and be available to everyone. And I do hope that the current membership rewards system stays with added benefits for folks who've been been subbed for a long time.
Adjustments to the business model, including allowing access to the story content for free
I am also very curious to see how this change in business model pans out. Will "access to story content for free" follow the example of Lord of the Rings Online, where you can only do the story mission chain and then have to pay for all the rest? This sounds reasonable and seems to make the most sense when considering how this bullet point was worded. I'd just hope folks wouldn't think they are done with the game when they finish the main story since so much of the story in TSW is actually tucked away in the other main and side missions.
Honestly, I find it a bit strange to think of giving away the best stuff (the story) for free. Then again, maybe it doesn't really end up being free: As it is, you cannot possibly do the story mission all in one go because you will lack the strength to get far without building yourself up through other missions. Perhaps folks will have to pay to unlock access to all other missions outside of the story in each region either as individual regions (can you just see some people skipping Egypt) or unlocking everything with the grandmaster pack. I definitely see Funcom retaining the grandmaster; getting rid of it would be disastrous.
However it works, I'd hope that the DLCs continue to be paid content as well so that Funcom has that revenue stream. Story missions will just be added into the game like quality-of-life improvements and other systems. Events should also be free content, though I admit I would pay handsomely for more amazing Halloween story missions!