Hands-on with Secret World Legends: A second chance for a first impression
I would like to start this article by saying that there are a lot of things to like about Secret World Legends, but for me, those good things — despite their being some of my favorite things about RPGs and MMOs — make it hard to overlook what I consider the flaws of the game.
Although there were always weird bits to The Secret World’s storytelling, like the silent protagonist, I’ve long considered it to be some of the best storytelling in MMORPGs. With the launch of Secret World Legends, that has not changed. In fact, I would say that as an introduction to the game, it’s improved. The weak point to the game has always been the combat. There were some very confusing things about it, which have been fixed, and there were some aesthetic issues, which have not been fixed.
I am very torn about how to approach my impressions of the game. I want to come at it as someone who hasn’t played it before because it’s being sold as something new. But at the same time, I have played the game, and I know exactly why I never played it for more than a week at a time. I approached the game from two different perspectives: Would this impress someone who has never played it, and will returning players who didn’t stick with it over the last couple of years be interested enough in the changes to come back?
A brief overview
Secret World Legends asks this core question: What if all conspiracy theories and supernatural phenomena were real? It sets what could be deemed a fantasy RPG in the modern era with guns, swords, and magic all interacting in the same universe. By far, it is the most interesting MMORPG concept to date, and although it was dreamed up over half a decade ago, there really hasn’t been another MMORPG that has embraced that kind of world — if you are looking for an MMORPG set in the modern world at all, you are going to be hard-pressed to find one, and you certainly will not find one better.
Secret World Legends takes some of the great things about older RPGs that had limited combat and melds it with a more modern combat system and enemy AI. During character creation, you are given the choice between different sets of primary and secondary weapons. You are given examples of abilities, the premise for the weapons, the role that those combined weapons are intended to play, and the general difficulty of that class. There are nine different weapon combinations, which is more than enough variety for players to find one that they like.
As story content, the introduction to the game is all over the place. You appear to be jumping back and forth between a dream and the real world. In the real world, you swallow a bee and gain special powers. In your dreams, you are traveling through time and space, fighting everything from zombies in a graveyard to Cthulu in Tokyo. Despite the off-the-wall storytelling, you do learn a lot about the game. By the time you step into the primary zone for your faction, you should have a good grasp of how combat works and how puzzles and mysteries drive the game forward.
If you’ve never played The Secret World before, then it will take awhile for this game to impress you. In fact, I would venture to say that it will be difficult to really understand how this game is different and fun until you leave Kingsmouth. That’s not to say that you won’t have an understanding of what the game is about, just that there is a lot of hand-holding up to that point. However, if you play the game as I did, it will be quite a few hours of gameplay before SWL lets go of your hand enough to make the adventure your own.
New players, if you haven’t played a video game since 2008, then you will probably not be fazed by the blocky polygons, featureless textures, and stiff animation. However, if you are like the rest of us who have played games after Fallout 3, then you will notice a distinct difference between the player character and practically every other NPC in the game. Your character has pores in his skin and tighter adhesion between his skin and the mesh. In fact, in the Dragon introduction right before the woman in red awkwardly goes down on you, you can clearly see the triangles that make up her wireframe.
I would also like to point out to new players that despite the mouse turning, which I think is a marked improvement over the standard tab targeting of an MMORPG, this is not an action RPG. I have tried to avoid the marketing of this revamp so that when I did jump in for my re-impressions I would not be tainted by the hype. Don’t be fooled. It’s just a different way to tab target. I like to call it active tab-targeting, where you have to hover you mouse over the target instead of actually to make sure the target is in your damage zone. That means that if you’re an active place like me and constantly moving around, your bullets will curve most of the time.
Despite having watched The Secret Word superfans like The Hive Leader and our very own TSW columnist and streamer MJ Guthrie play through the game in later levels, I had personally not stepped into the game for about five years. I’ve loosely kept track of the game because it was an MMO and those are my bread and butter, and I’m always looking for innovation in the genre. The Secret World always had a way to turn my head, but it never impressed me enough to make me want to jump back in.
As I hinted about previously, the combat always seemed off to me. It was never the complexity of the combat that was the issue. I actually thought that was interesting, but I understand the complaints about certain weapons being useless and many of the abilities serving no real purpose other than being a stepping stone to better abilities. My issue was that I found combat to be poorly animated. The projectile weapons had zero impact on the target or the player, and melee weapons were cutting through warm butter. Unfortunately, I cannot say that the weapons have changed aesthetically. Chaos felt the most visceral to me. I used that weapon in the Trickster class, and I like it well enough, but the pistols as a secondary just didn’t work. I guess I could have just never used pistols, but why even have a secondary weapon if I am never going to use it?
I think the biggest thing that returning players will notice is that very little has changed. Sure, there have been quality-of-life changes, and a lot of small things have been moved around. Agartha is finally the hub that it should have been in the first place. I enjoy it when small things change in the games that I love. They help me feel that the developers understand the current playerbase, but if you haven’t played for years, these minor changes will only make you question why they weren’t there in the first place.
If you’ve never played The Secret World and if you can look past the aesthetic issues of the game, then you will find the game deep, interesting, and most of all, fun. The puzzles and the story of Secret World Legends are far deeper than any other MMORPG out there. As a multiplayer RPG, it will be interesting for you to explore and solve the mysteries of the secret world, though returning players will surely be unenthusiastic about losing their progress from the last five years when forced to reroll.
If combat, animation, or general aesthetics are important to you as a gamer, then you will wonder why this game is even being re-released without a much more expansive graphics overhaul. You will wonder why you ever took this trip to the uncanny valley and want to get out as soon as you can.
If you are me, then you will quickly find that there is not enough changed or added to the game to play through it again. I admire Funcom for its desire to make things better for the game, but it’s my impression that it fixed things that didn’t need fixing while avoiding some of the real problems with the game.