Chaos Theory: Interview and impressions of Secret World Legends

    
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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.

A look at a ‘lockbox’

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!)

Customization

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.

When it comes to combat

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!

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Morgan

Thanks for the coverage! I really super dooper like Funcom but I just feel like their heads are not in the right place. I mean they’ve had so many POTENTIALLY absolutely fantastic games but faltered, one way or another. I hope they can come through <3. (Lets be real AoC should have been a staple mmo.)

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Mewmew

You know it’s funny. Sometime last year or so we were talking about how if The Secret World went offline, it would be a shame that so many people would miss it’s amazing lore and stories and were talking about how they should convert it into a single player type experience if they were ever going to shut it down. While they’re saying they’re not shutting it down yet, it’s pretty obvious that this is the first step towards closing the main game eventually. We’re getting our wish of still being able to experience the lore and stories that were so cool. And while I’m upset that the main game never really got the sustained player numbers it deserved, I’m happy in a way that the stories and lore are going to be preserved for future players.

I mean really this is *obviously* about eventually shutting down The Secret World right? Even though it’s secret, it’s sort of obvious. Sort of like Marvel Heroes obviously changing the game because they were developing a console version despite never confirming it until it was ready to launch.

We may not want to face the truth that this is what Secret World Legends means, but we all really sort of know that it’s one of the last nails in the coffin despite the main Secret World living an undead life for a while still inside it.

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Chuck Finley

I mean, it’s essentially the same game. Legends just has a revamped combat system and everything is free.

If you mean old characters and stuff, yeah, I guess you can’t use those in Legends but meh. Overall, it’s pretty much the same game with a few system tweaks.

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Megalus Doomslayer

The problem is the amount of time we’ve spent on our characters just to get a decent amount of progress. TSW was a forced grind just to give us something to do. The grind always felt empty because it was. It was needless tedium designed to give us something to do. Now that that has fallen through, their answer is to make that grind completely irrelevant and make us do it again. I can’t tell if it’s a slap in the face or a sledgehammer to the gut.

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Somewhat Eclectic

So the thing that always confuses me about this stance is that for me if I’m enjoying the grind then I’ve never minded doing it again, and when I see people talk about things like ‘needless tedium’ I can’t help but wonder, “Then why did you do it in the first place?”

Obviously that’s just me and nobody who thinks that way is wrong. It’s just an approach to games that I’ve never understood.

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Megalus Doomslayer

I was grinding so I could do the harder content, and I wanted to unlock skills. It was a necessary grind for anyone who wanted to complete the best content. I did it on and off because of what I wanted from it.

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Somewhat Eclectic

I get the challenge and achievement aspect of things sure. I just tend to approach things from an, “If I”m not having fun what’s the point,” angle. Wading through a bunch of stuff I don’t like to finally get to something I want is a bit too close to real life for my escapism.

It’s why I stopped playing DAoC back in the day. After a certain point when I’m in any sort of high-end guild the constant grind tends to start feeling more like work than fun.

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Zen Dadaist

I enjoyed doing it the first time on my first character. It wasn’t a ‘grind’ as such. Byt he time I’d gone through it with my other 2 alts, I was sick of the ‘grind’. Now I’m going to have to do it again? Bleh.

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Fair Mores

You’re looking at the release of SWL as taking a step towards shut down. It’s actually the contrary. This rerelease is a step away from shut down, it’s an attempt to avoid shut down by reigniting interest in the game from old and new players.

It’s really what the MMO community needs to thrive again. Fans of MMOs who have turned into burned out nomads don’t need a new mmo, they just need to give old ones a chance again. It’s ok to be interested in Ashes of Creation but it won’t be a game changer. If you want to keep playing MMOs then start looking behind you to what is there and not to some horizon off in the distance, some wonderfully nonexistent tomorrow.

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Brown Jenkin

I actually didn’t know the bit about gearing, got to admit I’m curious. I was always going to play SWL, but I remain really wary about combat, TSWs combat was always my biggest gripe about the game.

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Sajiri

I am still looking forward to this. Not counting-down-the-days excited, but still. I didn’t get around to playing much of TSW even though I enjoyed the story, so I am happy to have access to it all for free. I also am a fan of action combat, as I find tradition tab targetting an immensely tedious experience, so I hope I will enjoy that aspect of the game as well.

I doubt I’ll ever play the game seriously as I don’t really have any friends who play it, but it will be nice to play it casually from time to time, especially if it’s having the mmo focus taken away.

Line
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Line

Not so convinced about their key system… it doesn’t seem to be the worst, but it sure seems to be annoying not to be able to stash them over a week or so.
I really hope that it will be fun to play, I’ve always wanted to like the game.

And the reveal about the economic system is absolutely fascinating. I do fall into that majority of players that never spent a buck on issues because I never even reached that point.
And with time, I think I’d be even less likely to buy content that is considered just “no as good” and giving access to sub-par weapons.
Probably the good choice to make story content free – even if you just like the game for a bit, free of charge sure is a big motivation to come back.

I really wonder how it’s going for ESO following a similar model? The huge price increase for Morrowind and the ever so agressive cash shop might indicate the same thing? Maybe charging for story just isn’t the best way to make money.

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Tobasco da Gama

I have to say that I don’t really consider the “lockboxes” described here to be lockboxes in the sense the term is commonly used. Basically, they just monetised instance locks, only the lock is on the loot chests rather than the content itself. And you get 12 unlocks per day, which is pretty generous even if each instance has multiple loot chests. (I haven’t done any TSW dungeons, but I’m guessing they average 3-4 bosses for each one? So you get 3 or 4 free dungeon runs per day?)

It’s sad that selling story issues outright wasn’t profitable for Funcom, but I guess it’s not surprising. Some players just work through content slower than others. And, TBH, I don’t think I’d blame anyone for hearing about Tokyo and AEGIS and stuff and just going “nah, no thanks”.

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Megalus Doomslayer

Read the article carefully. MJ said extra keys cost marks of favor, not cash. She also said 12 keys gets two dungeons full of loot. There are 6 bosses per dungeon. There are 8 dungeons with the base game. Back in the day, we used to have what were called 18s and 24s. We would run the first 3 dungeons to do the 18 bosses there, and better geared players could run the 7th dungeon for another 6 bosses. This was back during lockout timers. As for Tokyo, people didn’t buy it because they nickel and dimed us on it.

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ogged451

I really like this implementation.

Yes, yes, you do. Until you get one luminous talisman and one Mk I weapon from 120 chests.

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Greaterdivinity

Have they said anything about sub/GM benefits yet? Been trying to keep an eye out for that, but don’t remember turning anything up.

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odin valhalla

Im glad its going f2p Im looking forward to finally be able to give TSW a try without having to sub. Monetization is curious though I mean im not seeing how they are going to make money on it but thats on them. Lock boxes always give me a chuckle, on many fan sites players rail on and on and on about the ethics of it, but if someone breaks an NDA they gobble up the data and woe unto you if you call them on it, LOL.

I hope this iteration of the game is successful, we need good options in the MMO space its been pretty lean for a while now.

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Megalus Doomslayer

TSW doesn’t require a subscription. It’s been buy-to-play for years.

Ocho
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Ocho

Amiel stated that the states, such as hinder and afflicted, were actually way too diluted and weak in the old system.

Awwww. I had what I thought was an excellent afflict and purge build. May not have been a flavor of the week top raiding build, but it was still damn fun to play.