Chaos Theory: Interview and impressions of Secret World Legends
I may or may not be in that secretive NDA-locked closed beta of Secret World Legends — I’m not telling. But there is something I can tell you. A number of somethings in fact. Thanks to an open tour with Creative Director Romain Amiel, I was able to ask questions while gallivanting around, checking out the revamp of my favorite game ever. We talked about combat and dungeons, monetization and the patron system, and customization and the dressing room as well as open beta and launch. I didn’t get all the info I set out to, but there’s a good bit to chew on — enough that I have to split this report in two!
Even though the game isn’t finished, my first impressions are definitely favorable. As a five-year veteran and ardent supporter of the original Secret World, I do think this version is more accessible, both in gameplay and in entry (well, once it leaves closed beta at least). Here is the first half of the highlights of my tour and talk with Amiel.
Show me (how you make) the money
The monetization is always a big question for folks, so we’ll lead off with that. Understandably, one fear that many folks have about free-to-play titles is the whole nickle-and-diming philosophy where every smidgen of content and features will be locked behind pay walls. We all knew a few of the monetization aspects that were a part of SWL, such as all story for free and buying the weapon unlocks. We even got more details on how players could ultimately obtain anything in game without spending cash. But why this?
Amiel told me he was happy with the way the monitization is going to work in SWL precisely because players really can get everything with or without purchasing anything for cash. And by everything, he means everything. All items in the game will be bought with a currency, be it with Aurum that you buy with cash or with Marks of Favour that you earn through game play. And since nothing will be bound-on-acquire, anything purchased can be traded to others or sold on the auction house. (Fun fact: Even the mission rewards are tradeable now!) On top of that, the currencies themselves can be traded. If the clothing item you really want costs a different currency than what you have, you can trade the surplus of yours for the one you need. There is even a special tab on the auction house labeled Exchange where you can put currency up for trade for a different currency.
You may wonder why Funcom decided against selling the content issues. It does seem a bit of a head-scratcher: Why would a game built on story, truly its greatest strength, give said story away for free? Amiel told me point blank that the story wasn’t making any money. He said the monetization of TSW relied on selling issues, and surprisingly, across the entire player base, many didn’t buy the issues. Yes, he admitted, from what people called for with forum feedback, it felt like story was really what everyone wanted. “But when you look at the actual numbers of the people who buy issues compared to the number of people who log in every day [and play],” he said, “you’re like ‘wow, that’s a surprisingly lower percent than I’d expect’.”
Why didn’t they buy? Some folks likely didn’t need certain issues because they played at their own pace and therefore had no use yet for them (this was a big problem with Tokyo), while others just didn’t like particular issues. Add to that the fact that grandmasters had free bonus points to use to get them (and many die-hard TSW fans are grandmasters), selling issues just couldn’t recoup the really high cost of making them. Something else has to happen. Amiel said the team had to come up with “an avenue for players to support the game and spend money that doesn’t rely solely on buying content.” Amiel really feels that this model gives players many more options for spending money — if they chose to, of course. And with that, the anticipation is that the game will pull in enough to continue adding content, story, and new features.
I know many people have a very visceral reaction to the term lockbox. And it is not a good reaction! Hearing that Secret World Legends would have lockboxes didn’t bring about a whole lot of smiles. But as some have pointed out, there is already of form of them in the holiday bags, and plenty of folks buy and enjoy those. But during the tour, I learned first-hand about the new lockboxes in the dungeons. And I am actually (surprisingly) pretty in favor of this aspect of the monetization. I really like this implementation.
The bosses in dungeons no longer drop loot; instead, there is a chest to open once you defeat it. All players can preview what they could win from said chest (loot is now per individual but is still RNG as to which of the available items you’d actually acquire) and decide if the offerings are worth using a key for the roll. Now before you fret about the keys, know that they are not something you buy in the item shop with cash. In fact, all players will get to the maximum of 12 free keys every single day. That’s enough to loot every boss in two dungeons every day. These 12 are an allotment that don’t stack over multiple days; the stock is replenished to equal 12 if not all were spent the previous day. However, more keys are available. Those who want more keys can buy them with the Marks of Favour, the currency that is earned through gameplay, and only Marks of Favour.
Amiel said he really preferred this option to an alternative like having the number of dungeons runs per day locked. This way, folks can always help friends or cabal-mates out no matter how many dungeons they have already run. They may run out of the ability to get loot, but they can still run them. (And remember, said loot is tradeable!)
While combat is important to many folks, customization is a big deal to me. Anyone who saw the dev stream on Friday got a quick peek at the additions to character customization since the first time devs showed that feature off. After players pick a base face, players will be able to select between many different variations of that face with different eyes, cheeks, eyebrows, and the like. No, there aren’t sliders, but there is a much greater variety than previously seen.
When talking about customization you can’t not discuss the clothing. The new dressing room isn’t totally fleshed out, but it is there in beta. You can not only look at and equip what clothing you already own but you can also preview other clothing and buy it directly from there. A noted difference is that instead of listing 10 variations of colors for one article of clothing as separate entries like the old NPC merchants did, the dressing room has one entry for an item that when opened also shows all the color variations that are available. Players can then pick and purchase the item in whatever color.
There are also new reward clothing options for when you complete all the missions and kill all of the bosses in a zone. These outfits are inspired by the zone. I got to see Kingsmouth’s Revenant piece, and Savage Coast’s Ak’ab outfit.
A quick note on clothing items: Amiel aid that over 4,000 of the more than 6,500 dressingroom items will be transferring over from TSW to SWL. Which are the unlucky ones we don’t know yet, but we do know that clothing items that are in game rewards that can be earned again are likely in the left-out group. The exception to this is for the hard-earned, time consuming achievement rewards such as for The Unseen and the Lore Master; these will carry over, and those who earn it in the new game will earn a new reward.
Anyone who knows me knows that combat was never a concern for me in TSW. It was and is about the story. That said, it was not my favorite news to hear that the game was moving to action combat. I am not a fan of action combat. I’ll review combat more in depth later (when I can!), but I will say that now that the reticle can be made smaller — even disappear completely — and the first-person view is back, two of my biggest gripes are gone.
I can’t say much about weapons. It’s not that I am forbidden (except on one front and I can’t wait to share that because is good news you will enjoy!), but more that I don’t feel that I can give balanced impressions on the weapons as I haven’t used them all yet. Then again, there are still weapons I’ve rarely, if ever, used in TSW. I know I am not especially fond of some animations, but I can’t compare those to TSW until I go play that weapon in TSW! I can also tell you that if you own a weapon, you can switch it between being your primary or your secondary weapon; you do not have to buy it for each slot. The trick is to remember to switch out the ability you have on your Q key to make sure it is for your primary weapon! So if you would rather use the secondary more often from your starter class/deck selection, feel free to change it up.
A word about combat states and deck/build complexity. Amiel stated that the states, such as hinder and afflicted, were actually way too diluted and weak in the old system. So even those who dove into that layer of complexity of deck building found that the payoff was actually slight. However, in the new streamlined abilities and passives, effects are much more effective and will be more noticeable according to Ameil. The complexity is still there for adding effects through gear, enhancements, and abilities (active, passives and ultimates).
Related to combat is gear. I really do like the idea of upgrading and enhancing the gear as it is presented in SWL. Feeding trash gear to make what I like more powerful feels better than just trashing it at a vendor. I also appreciate how all gear is now tradeable, so if you get something really great that you can’t currently use you can either save it, sell it, or stuff it into your items. I also like how the strength of the gear is actually designated visually by little pips; it helps you see its improvements at a glance.
Until next time…
That all only gets us part way through the tour! We still have to talk about accessibility (and yes, SWL has improved accessibility), scenarios, lairs, patron status, and Agartha’s revamp. So be sure to tune in next time for more impressions and interview highlights!