Chaos Theory: Week one impressions of Secret World Legends

It’s been a week since Funcom threw open the doors of Secret World Legends’ headstart to everyone and removed the NDA. That’s seven days of choosing factions, meeting handlers, blasting zombies, dodging traps, upgrading weapons, and learning about the Filth — and getting to share those experiences! And share I shall.

So what do I think of the “new” game after a week of non-testing play added atop my beta adventures? Knowing that I am quite the fan of the original, some folks might expect me to sing unending praises of everything. For that same reason, others might expect me to decry that this version has obliterated what I held dear. In truth, this Chaos Theory will be neither extreme (sorry if that disappoints!). In Secret World Legends, there are some things I really like, some things I will tolerate for the good of the game, and then there are those things I do not like.

How would I answer the burning questions on many folks’ minds: How much has the game changed, are those changes actually worth it, and is SWL worth playing (again)? My short answer is that’s a very personal decision depending on your personal  tastes. But since the game is free-to-play, why not give it a go? I think it is definitely worth it.

Now to be clear, I am not reviewing the entire game. One, we don’t do reviews here on Massively OP. Two, seven days of live operation is not enough time for me to experience the whole game. There are many zones, and I am not racing through them just to get done. Even adding in my time from beta, I’ve mainly focused on one area. So these impressions and thoughts are based on life up through Kingsmouth. And I did something a little different than I had initially expected: Instead of linking my Grandmaster Secret World account to give me lifetime patron, I went in as a free-to-play player for the entire week to get a feel for the game from that position. Yeah, there’s a difference (spoiler: Patron is the way to go if you play more than casually!).

On the bright side

The idea behind the reboot is to make a better experience for people, which in turn leads to more happy players, which generates more revenue so the story can continue. So is it a better experience? As I said, I can’t comment on the entire game (yet), but I can say that there are some worthwhile changes.

One of the first things I noticed — and loved — in SWL was the fact that you could have both a main mission and an investigation mission active at the same time. This is big, because some investigation missions can take a long while to solve, and the only choice before was between stopping playing the rest of the game until done or risk losing progress (back to the beginning of the tier) when pausing to do other missions. Even as an investigation mission junkie, I have times where I need to walk away for a while and do something else before I explode from frustration.

Another helpful touch is having the ability to see which missions are available and which are on cooldown at a glance on the map. This really makes a difference with the long cooldowns (we’ll talk about those more later); you can see which adventures are open to you and don’t have to waste game time running to things you can’t yet do. Personally, I don’t like having a cluttered map, so I appreciate that the option to turn off mission markers is still there.

Speaking of missions, I understand that the ability to restart a paused mission is available remotely now, but I haven’t had the chance to experience that myself yet. I’ve been finishing all I do. But this would be very welcome!

Just like the challenges of TSW were based on completing gameplay tasks you were already doing, Legends’ new daily challenges are ticked off just by playing the game. The first round involves killing so many creatures, completing so many main and side missions, and upgrading so many pieces of gear. The reward is the tradeable currency Marks of Favour. Once you complete a tier of challenges, another opens up. I really didn’t have to do anything special to be earning my reward, which made this system of earning cash feel organic instead of a grind. And I have to admit, without the challenge I likely would have been forgetting to upgrade my gear, much to my detriment! Players need to be upgrading the weapons and talismans regularly to be able to face content as they progress.

Although many missions are basically the same, I was pleasantly surprised to see some variation. For instance, in one case the task — finding research notes — didn’t change, but where those notes were found was completely different. That may seem like a weird thing to be happy about, but the fact that I had to actively search instead of mindlessly going off memory was refreshing.

Another really positive aspect is that a casual player will not run into much trouble with free-to-play. Those who don’t have the time or cash to spend on the game can still have a very rich experience with the storytelling and atmosphere. They can basically run through everything once and experience the game like a single-player adventure.

Where folks will run into trouble is if they want to redo missions to grind out the challenges to earn more Marks of Favour (the free-to-play cooldown timers are extremely punishing), and finding the weapons they like best. Maybe they will get lucky with the starter class choice, otherwise it will be waiting until they have the in-game funds to purchase other weapon unlocks. I call this a big hurdle because finding the weapon you like is, in my opinion, paramount to enjoying combat.

Speaking of combat, although I am not a fan of the combat changes (at least, not yet — that could change). There is one aspect to it that I do appreciate: having to relearn mechanics. One problem with starting over from scratch is going through the same thing over again just to get back to where you used to be. That could be annoyingly repetitive, especially if you’ve already done just that with various alts back in TSW! Getting a handle on the new combat is one thing that brings a little freshness to going through all the content again; having to actually relearn weapons makes me more present in the journey. As for the new weapon progression, the streamlined weapon pages seem to do just what they were meant to — streamline weapon progression.

I’ve already praised the Agartha revamp, better accessibility, and the new tutorial so we don’t need to spend time on that here. Let’s just reiterate that they were good, positive changes. People who like seeing more people ambling about will also be pleased that with everyone starting over, folks are sharing the same zones again so you bump into others while going about your business.

Neutral ground

There are those changes that I am not especially fond of in Secret World Legends, but I will tolerate them because I can understand the reasoning. Remember, I really want the game to succeed! So changes that are for the benefit of the health of the game overall are worth it, even if not my cup of tea.

The first of these changes is the mission flow in Kingsmouth. I’m really not a fan of how on-rails this zone became, with your path predetermined and missions locked behind your progress. I hate having to do things in a specific order; I like wandering about and doing whatever catches my fancy. If I must run for my life from something way out of my league, so be it. That’s exciting! That all said, I understand the need for the rails at the start. This game is trying to bring in folks who may have zero MMO experience, and they need direction. Personally, as a 13-year MMORPG veteran and five-year TSW vet, I know what to expect and want to plow ahead quicker. But others don’t, and I don’t want them shuffling off elsewhere because they got too frustrated before the ambiance and story could hook them here. And things opened up better once you reached a certain stage of the story mission (although some things remain locked until you continue that story-mission progression).

As much as I appreciated some changes with side missions for the variety, I wasn’t so thrilled with other missions. The first sabotage mission in the museum basement was simplified quite a bit. And by that, I mean a whole lot. It was a shock seeing how much easier it was, but again, I understand that this is the introduction to the game and its complex features. I already knew what to expect. I can’t see how the experience would be for a new player because I am not one.

So I just swept through and chalked it up to Kingsmouth being an elongated tutorial. Will the simplification last throughout the game? I can’t say since I haven’t been there yet, but I seriously hope not. One reason I love TSW so much is the fact that it is a thinking game. I realize that not everyone is into that, but I find that thinking MMOs are rare, and I don’t want to lose that here. Making things so much easier everywhere would be a travesty, but I can get behind that need in the earlier zones. And I’m assured that difficulty level was not messed with farther along, so I will trust that and forge ahead.

I have played in beta and now in release, and I still prefer the old combat. I’m hoping the change is successful in having more people enjoy it long enough to stick with the game for the best parts. I think a key point to enjoying combat is finding the weapons that suit you.

For instance, I learned that I really, really dislike pistols; I can’t stand the animations of the beginning skills so much I couldn’t even play long enough to see if it got better. The answer: I picked a different weapon! I’m not proficient in the new assault rifle or fist mechanics, but I am learning. With that in mind, it may not be the combat you are hating as much as the weapon, so give others a try. Luckily, I will have all weapons unlocked once I link my accounts so I can freely move between them to find what feels best for me. This will be harder for free-to-play folks to do, and could get frustrating.

Mistakes were made

While I am willing to be accommodating on many fronts with the changes, I do draw the line. A few changes are just horrible to me. I’m not happy with the changes that messed with one of the basic tenants of the game: the atmosphere. Man, you just don’t mess with the ambiance of Secret World or you lose what makes the game so unique and awesome! In my opinion, these changes were mistakes — but fortunately they aren’t ones that can’t be rectified.

The first change I really dislike is the disembodied voice that now speaks to you randomly when you run into areas with pop-up missions. At first, it felt like someone implanted a chip in my head Orochi-style (and we know what happens to Orochi!). I already have a bee inside messing with me, I don’t need a control chip too! It makes a little more sense when you realize that it is all coming from your contact phone (remember it syncing to your DNA?), but I prefer my phones to be silent.

Luckily, this feature can be turned off! Just go to audio settings and uncheck Enable Combat voice help and Enable noncombat voice help.

Another change that I admit I loathe is the new automatic tracking that the disembodied voice engages on your phone. When you need to follow a blood trail, instead of searching for the smears as the spookiness permeates you, bright blue hexagons bubble up from the ground lighting the way.

I just can’t even express how much this ruined the atmosphere for me. It felt like I was in a Council of Venice simulation, not a horror-filled danger zone. I get that this is really helpful for colorblind folks who struggled to see said blood; I’m pretty close to one who really appreciates the added help. But even he admits that it could be toned down. Even better would be the option to turn this feature off like the voice. I’d so totally go for that, so folks who need it have it and those who don’t can get rid of it.

Along those same lines is the addition of the hexagon barrier on certain area-related missions. Vets will know the barrier I am referring too — it was used to outline the fight zone of the golem world bosses. I didn’t mind it in those instances because golems were an occasional special event. Grinding golems wasn’t about atmosphere, but AP, loot, loot, and more loot. Having it on regular missions completely ruins the visuals for me. When I am out shooting zombies I don’t expect a magical inert forcefield to pop up, blocking my view of the creepy world around me. Bye bye creepiness! Like the tracking prints, I’d love for this to be a toggle so I could remove it from my experience.

Is it all worth it?

As I said earlier, I am not one who can say whether or not the changes are worth it for others to play long-term. Everyone has their own lists of must-haves and must-nots for games. But I think the game is worth giving a try. There are definitely some improvements!

For me, the changes are worth it because I am so invested in experiencing the next season of story. And frankly, it has been so long since I had done the story that I was planning on running an alt all the way through again anyways so it would be fresh in my mind. With the reboot, I am actually getting a slightly different experience than I would have otherwise, and that’s refreshing. I’m also digging getting back together with old friends like Boone, Norma, and Edgar; these are folks you’ve got to meet! I’m also rediscovering some of the amazing quips (Like Tuvok talking about red shirts) that are peppered all about the conversations and other little Easter eggs that I’d forgotten.

Is Secret World Legends the game for you? Give it a try and then decide. You don’t have to take anyone’s word for it, from disgruntled naysayers to squealing fanbois to hopeful and/or hesitant fans. Go ahead and dive in, you may be very glad you did. If not, well at least you might have some Lovecraftian nightmares to remember the experience by!

Is it real? In Secret World Legends, rarely is it not. Conspiracies, ancient legends, paranoia, secret societies, chaos — they all swirl together in a cacophony of reality. In Chaos Theory, MJ Guthrie infiltrates this secret world, exposing the truths that lurk beneath the surface. The big question is, can you handle the truth?
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