Choose My Adventure: Secret World Legends and the mystery of the level-based curse

You could have tried harder. Or... at all.
Would you believe that I sort of forgot about levels altogether in Secret World Legends? It’s true! I remembered that they were a thing now (it’s hard to miss the explosions when you level up), but it wasn’t until I ran smack into a bit of the main storyline telling me “go level up” that I really was cognizant of them. “Oh, right, there are levels now! I need to work on those.”

My feelings on how this actually plays out are slightly mixed, and they wind up coming back a bunch to a combination of the issues with the original The Secret World and to the stuff the current rebranding does or doesn’t change. At face value, the inclusion of levels is probably not a terrible thing, because it provides a useful at-a-glance power metric and doesn’t really obviate the game’s main system of advancement. Any faults it has are more a result of underling issues the game already had just being thrown into sharper relief.

What exactly is going on there with her right hand?So let’s take stock. Back in the original TSW, I had my build completely finalized relatively early on in the game’s overall arc. I was done with Kingsmouth and moving on to the Savage Coast, and my build was basically where it was going to stay; all that I needed to do was unlock skills for cosmetics or if I ever wanted to try new builds. The other big element was just getting better gear, not actually altering the fundamentals.

This is, of course, always the risk with games that give you a lot of build flexibility early on. You could wind up quickly hammering down what you need to do and then just doing that ad infinitum until everything in the game is cleared. (Something similar happened in The Elder Scrolls Online, you may recall.) SWL has a structure that does not really permit that; while you can definitely start massaging the shape of your build reasonably early, you are still getting reasonable and realistic goals to reach for over time, especially due to the sheer number of stat boosts available in the various passive trees.

And yet I’m not sure that the combat change has actually made combat all that much more pleasant. This is a thin slice based on the trees I have access to, but something I’m noticing consistently is that the majority of passive skills are based on “here’s an effect to trigger when you use this one ability.” A few are broadly based on things that trigger with your overall use of skills in that tree (like one that makes your Chaos abilities more likely to cause Paradoxes to generate). Few to none of them that I’ve seen really interact with one another.

So on the one hand, making builds is more straightforward. “I use Breakdown all the time, and here’s a passive skill that improves Breakdown. Match made in heaven!” But that one extra effect is the only additional effect you can add, and if you don’t like that, well, too bad. There’s little way, at a glance, to make builds that use skills in unusual or weird ways.

For that matter, there’s little overlap between weapons or skills thereof. I may just have missed the more synergistic options, but it seems more that combat is a matter of “spam this skill on your primary until out of primary energy, hit your secondary briefly, now back to your primary.” There’s not even space for much more. Figure you have a main skill for your primary, a main skill for your secondary, an AoE ability, and something to spam if you’re out of resources… well, that’s most of your ability spots right there.

This could work fine, if combat were more active. But it’s not, or at least no so far; maybe at higher levels AoE markers are everywhere, but thus far I’m not seeing it. It’s just a matter of hitting one button until you can’t, then maybe hitting a second button. Rinse and repeat.

Fortunately, this only becomes a real issue when you’re dealing with bigger and meaner targets; most random things you fight along the way to your destinations go down in a couple of hits anyhow, so it doesn’t get tedious at a glance. (That’s another issue, but let’s not quibble right now.)

Of course, whatever the combat looks like, right now I need to go deal with the Kingsmouth residents, a collection of characters who will be at least passingly familiar to any long-time New England resident who all have various problems they vaguely allude to that send you off to go do various things. And as someone who played all of this back when this was still TSW, we’re hitting a repetition problem.

Hey, we spoke before, could you ask me to do the same thing over again?

One of the nice things about SWL is that so much stuff is repeatable. You aren’t just limited to repeating daily challenges; you can actually repeat pretty much every single mission in the game, so you get plenty of chances to see the same things and even get good at specific challenges. That means you’re never “out” of missions or whatever; you can always repeat stuff.

The trouble is that you don’t have a whole lot of reason to do so aside from the reward. I remember a bit of a to-do back around the time of the relaunch about repeatable content, but the thing is that this “repeatable content” doesn’t provide a super-compelling reason for a second clearing. It’s not that it’s awful; it’s just that nothing has changed from the first time. The same character spouts the same dialogue and you go out to perform the same sequence of actions. Nothing new whatsoever; there’s still no actual interaction between you and the characters, they’re still just spouting off self-examination (sometimes without asking you to do anything) and then you head off to get your little goodie bag at the end.

It’s here that levels sort of work against the game. The map’s actual structure is set up so that you can, in fact, jump around a fair bit and not feel as if you’re “supposed” to follow the main throughfare of the quest sequence; levels constrain you a bit more. As the rewards are never particularly different from “grab bag you may or may not want, some experience, some currency,” and none of them wind up following much of a character arc of any sort, I find myself hard-pressed to muster loads of enthusiasm.

That’s not to say that all of this is bad. It’s just all stuff I’ve done before (literally) that isn’t making a solid case for doing it again.

Having said all of that, let’s put something to a vote. Per reader choice, I unlocked Blood as another weapon option, but I haven’t really done a whole lot of playing with builds yet. So it’s possible that the real problem here is that a whole lot of synergies or fun gameplay opens up when things are different. So you decide something, dear readers. Based on my available weaponry, what build should I be working on for next week?

CMA: What build should I work on?

  • Chaos/Pistols (12%, 10 Votes)
  • Chaos/Blood (20%, 17 Votes)
  • Pistols/Chaos (12%, 10 Votes)
  • Pistols/Blood (27%, 23 Votes)
  • Blood/Chaos (14%, 12 Votes)
  • Blood/Pistols (15%, 13 Votes)

Total Voters: 74

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I’m turning on two allowable answers for this poll, chiefly due to the fact that order matters and that provides a lot of leeway for preference. We’ll see how this plays out. Meanwhile, feedback is welcome in the comments or by mail to I’ll be back next week, which is thankfully not all disrupted by holiday scheduling.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. Yes, he didn’t get to anything about files prefixed with an X this week. Perhaps next week.
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