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.

Major improvements to gameplay, including combat

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!

Introduction of new retention systems, such as daily rewards

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!

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ragedyrage
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ragedyrage

I’m looking forward to playing again if there’s a combat overhaul, just to see how it is, but ultimately I won’t find myself coming back to the game without CONTENT.

Seriously, the game’s been out for 5 years, and it took them 4 years to reach the end of the first season of storyline. I started playing the game long after Tokyo came out, and I was definitely irritated with the shift in gameplay and enforced grind.

It wasn’t more than a week or two after the final fight atop the tower that I stopped playing. There was no point if there was no more story to pursue. I don’t have the time or patience for group content.

They did the exact same thing in Age of Conan, a game I bought and played from day one, only to drop after 6 months because of bugs and group content. I picked it up again this last year and had a blast, until it was time for Khitai, at which point the game took a huge dump in gameplay difficulty, faction grinding, group content, etc.

I’m not saying their games need to be dumbed down or made easier, but rather give players a reason to stay and spend money beyond grinding — regular and accessible content.

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Jeffery Witman

Why are you playing MMOs if you dislike “group content” so much?

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Rottenrotny

I’m going to be upset if they remove the skill wheel.
As far as combat goes, the animations are kinda pewp so I’d like to see that updated.
Hitting escalation and watching that crappy spinning animation 5 times and then 2 finishers isn’t very exciting.

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Kevin McCaughey

What would stop me coming back is if there are still bottlenecks in the story line where I need a group to complete it. I also really hope there is a total combat change – the combat is truly dreadful – though I like the ability wheel.

I suspect they have been working on combat changes for over a year and are ready to drop one game changing patch.

I am excited to give it another go at the relaunch – this is a game that I really wish I had played more and I always thought it was worth the money. I love the quests and mysteries – some of them are truly outstanding.

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Matt Redding

What ARE you talking about? There are no group content bottlenecks in the game. The entire game is single player, except there are are 10 dungeons and a couple raids.

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Jacobin GW

Combat has always been the main issue. Its painfully slow 1v1 where all you do is press 1-1-1-1-2-3 and fire 50 shot gun blasts into a single zombie before its dead.

Even though the game has tons of abilities and customization the actual gameplay remains that same old 1-1-1-1-2-3. It gets so insanely boring after the first 2 zones that most people just leave.

Contrast that to games like G2W or BDO where you fight tons of monsters at a rapid pace and its more about avoiding 1HKO moves than spending 30-60 or more seconds on every single trash mob 1 at a time.

Fix this and I would come back. The only way I can see them doing this in this short amount of time is to drastically decrease the TTK which people will see as dumbing down the game.

Turn it into an Asian game where you are constantly spammed with kills, exp, levels and loot but with a good story and setting and that game will do way better. Slow burners just don’t work anymore.

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Mari Vallik

Please, for the love of god, no. The last thing we need is another immature, overly competitive MMO where everything is reduced down into fast kills, fast levelling and one-upping other players instead of having to put actual thought and effort into it, taking the time to enjoy the game and the community. Different games cater to different tastes, the likes of SW are rare gems, let’s not loose them.

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Ekphrasis

How long have they been working on the new combat system?
A relaunch in a few weeks doesn’t seem like enough time for “Major improvements to gameplay including combat…”

I know many people enjoy TSW’s combat and for the most part, I found it serviceable but hardly enjoyable. Up until last year, I’d been a supporter from launch with the grandmaster and initiate packs as well as buying Funcom points for every content drop (not because I wanted to buy anything with them but to support TSW & Funcom). Unfortunately, after Tokyo and the Aegis system, I persevered through what I felt to be a terrible addition/change, finished the main story and stepped away from TSW.

Honestly, if they were to somehow blend Blade and Soul’s combat with everything else in TSW then it’d be enough to bring me back to MMO gaming.

I really do feel TSW is an underappreciated gem of a game – and I really do want to see it successful. Look forward to seeing what comes in March.

(An aside, I’ve clearly been away from Massively for a while too – new commenting system!)

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strangesands

Work has been going on since last year, hence the reason for so few content updates.

Ocho
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Ocho

Last major release was Issue #14 Call of the Nameless, in March of 2016. They had an Issue #15, which was just a repackage of the side mission packs and 1 new investigative mission. So I’d say it’s been in production easily for almost the past year. But major changes like that would include an engine overhaul, and the likelihood of that is slim. There will probably be more of an effort toward an “area” system instead of single target, is my guess, but we’ll have to see.

hurbster
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hurbster

Needs a total avatar update. Everyone has essentially the same face. It’s not quite down to DCUO levels but it’s not too far off.

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Matt Redding

Plus the chargen and ingame graphics are wildly different. I mean WILDLY. Even skin tone and hair style doesn’t always accurately translate from the editor to in game.

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Rottenrotny

The character models are god awful.

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NovaScotiaCitizen

Smooth combat animations, combat feeling more impactful, improved avatars, an updated engine and housing would be my top picks for a “relaunch”.

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James Crow

the real reason why there is less players there any other west mmo is not the game, is because most of the people like the medieval-fantasy feeling.

i like the game because of the modern-horror uniqe style and also because is the only game that feel like GW1 in the free build scene.

i also met alot of gw1 vet in the game.

now for the relaunch :
to get more players i only think they need to do soothing like this:
make some normal skills to be with 0 cooldown so the game feel more like action combat.

make the zone with more players (right now you dont see players because that what the developers want because of the horror feeling – they change the cap in event.

and now for the big change that can upset alot of tsw vets:
change to the big wheel.

-i don’t think they going to make the game more easy because the last new experience made the game so easy.

and for the augis – i like them but…hate the scenerio XD

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Castagere Shaikura

I like some of your idea’s. But i do know alot of people that really hate the use builder first thing to fire off you better skill. It just gets so boring after awhile.

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Castagere Shaikura

Sorry but this line in the article made me laugh.

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.
People have been spoon fed builds since the launch of the game. Just look at the build forum on the website. You need this build for this zone and a different one for this zone. And the mess that the pre builds were made it worse. Don’t use that weapon with this weapon because they don’t match up is always told to new players.

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Castagere Shaikura

I used to be one of those players that complained about games being dumb down. But you know what if the game was so perfect why isn’t hardly anyone playing it? If there were they wouldn’t feel the need to make it more appealing to the masses. They are a game company in the need of money. We all know Funcom isn’t doing so great either. You guys should be welcoming to any new players that come in and not be pissed off if they have it easier than you did. Clearly the game is struggling and they feel they have to do something or close it down. So would you rather it shutdown or be appealing to more players. Not everyone that plays mmo’s are hardcore players. And if you feel you have to leave the game because of this so what. The will probably get two or more players to replace you. Stop thinking that a game company owes you something for playing its game. They didn’t force you to play it.

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Roger Melly

If you pay to play a game over a long period or support it by buying DLC’s a gaming company does owe you to keep up the quality of that game just as any service provider does in any other type of business . Otherwise they will lose your custom .

Making gameplay unchallenging may work well for a game like Warcraft but it may not work so well for TSW .

The most logical thing to do if they want to keep the regular player base but also attract a new one is to have classic difficulty servers as well as easy mode ones .

Single player games have different difficulty levels so why shouldn’t mmos ?

In the last seven years since I gave up WoW I must have heard the same thing from hundreds of players in the games I played since then that they would have stayed with the game if it hadn’t been made so easy . I imagine other people have probably encountered similar comments .

Maybe if WoW had they given players server options with different difficulty modes they might have had 25 million subscriptions ?

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Frank White

Umm, she never said anything about being pissed off that new players might have it easier than old ones. Saying that she hopes the game keeps its build versatility and doesn’t pigeonhole users into using only a few specific builds is not the same as saying she’d be pissed that new players might have it “easier.” In other words, she likes the game’s current build variety/flexibility because its fun and it allows for a lot of choices – NOT because she thinks it makes it more difficult than it needs to be and by extension thinks it should be equally difficult for new players. You made that inference all on your own.