While I’m not on board with the game’s character vignettes (which are much more “portrait of this person you don’t really interact with” than anything), there is an underlying story running through every part of the game. I clocked out midway through Egypt when I played the original The Secret World, and there were an assortment of reasons, but part of it was that connection I mentioned above. To wit: the game really likes having mysteries, but it doesn’t really like having answers for a lot of them.
When done well, this works out well. It gives the impression of a world that’s bigger than the one the protagonists get to see, after all. But it also has to be done with a delicate hand and with enough material plotted out so that you feel like even if the characters don’t know the answers, the writers do. Handled poorly, it becomes an exercise in frustration where nothing actually fits together, like getting pieces of several different jigsaw puzzles in the same box and being told to make a cohesive portrait.
SWL leans hard on the idea that everything is true at the same time. But it doesn’t do so in the fun City of Heroes-esque way where there are seventeen versions of time travel that are all equally valid; it feels more like lots of stuff thrown together to create an overarching narrative out of very separate portions, one that never winds up coming into a cohesive whole.
Some of this, I think, is just that the Illuminati approach seems to not actually jibe with the game as written. Ostensibly, the Illuminati want to learn things, but Solomon Island in particular is a place where the Illuminati already have most of the answers. It’s one of their stomping grounds from way back, and you’re supposedly there to protect their assets. Except that you still have to not be told anything, for more or less no reason when it would be more helpful to tell you things.
Why? Because the same basic plot beats have to also work for the observe-and-interact Dragons and the kill-all-monsters Templars. Except it comes across as the Illuminati holding back information that would have been actively helpful along the way.
There’s a lot to like here, don’t get me wrong. But I keep finding myself playing the game and getting thrown back and forth between bits of great atmosphere and portrayal while wondering if this is ever going to actually congeal into some sort of cohesive whole. At least through what I saw before, it never did, and if that changes partway through Transylvania this will not be the trip that allows me to see that.
Per the votes on the last column, I started sinking more points into developing a Blood/Pistols build instead of my starting build, which meant waving farewell (for the most part) to my Chaos focus. Which was a shame, I liked it. (I also can’t help but think it’s a smart move to keep such emphasis on rather stylish weapons; since you don’t really get visual gear like you do in other titles, this keeps a good obvious marker on your progress.) I do think it made combat flow slightly better, although it mostly made me more durable, and that wasn’t something I found terribly difficult before.
It’s not that combat is bad, exactly, it’s that it kind of… splits the unpleasant difference between simplicity and depth. My mind keeps going back to the combat in The Elder Scrolls Online, which gave you the same number of options at any given time; this feels like that game’s combat at launch, where it was mostly bland and spammy instead of the current version’s more responsive and enjoyable outlay.
At the risk of repeating myself, the ultimate issue is just a lack of synergy between your various effects. Maybe this changes at higher levels; at these levels, it’s not terribly compelling. This isn’t to say that TSW had better combat; it had atrocious combat. I just don’t feel like it’s been made better so much as different.
However, if what you want is to mostly relish the atmosphere and the characters on display, I can certainly see a case to be made for the combat being as it is. More on that next week, naturally.
One thing that I haven’t actually touched on before now is the gear upgrading system, which seems like a bit of an oversight. It reminds me of similar systems found in a lot of free-to-play titles, where you feed unwanted items to improve your existing weapons. While it certainly helped insofar as I felt like otherwise useless items still had a purpose, it also didn’t exactly light me on fire; I wasn’t seeking out a new and improved weapon most of the time. It combined the more bland side of leveling with a bit of a currency/item sink.
It is possible that this branches out a fair bit in the higher levels, but honestly, what I saw did not make me overly hopeful. It all worked, but it just replaces the possible cycle of “do quest, equip new item” with “do quest, see what you got, upgrade item.” I’m not sure if there’s ever a reason to upgrade to a “better” item as you progress through the story, so please, veterans of the game, let me know if you just get a good dungeon drop and keep upgrading it until eternity. (This is more for curiosity purposes than anything.)
When I finished up for the week, I honestly didn’t find myself feeling all that broken up about ending the sequence. There was certainly more stuff to explore, but I can’t help but feel like the game spent a lot of time spinning its wheels. Indeed, the level blocks in particular seem designed to “force” you off to sidequests, but I kept feeling like that was more a way of artificially roadblocking things than a chance to appreciate all the content available to me. Some people like the sense that you have to clear out an area becore you progress; I personally tend to like games that have enough stuff that I can’t see it all in one playthrough.
Personal preference, sure.
That’s it for this week, and next week I’m going to be writing up the full rundown and analyzing my thoughts about the relaunched SWL as a whole. You can feel free to send feedback along to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave it down in the comments; there’s lots of stuff I’m curious about. As something of a preview, it’s not so much that I dislike the game (I think it has a lot of positives), but I can’t help but walk away feeling like the rebranding was not actually such a great thing for the game beyond the marketing push.