Choose My Adventure: Secret World Legends in review

Earlier this year, when we had yet to actually get much information about Secret World Legends, I posted a piece in which I discussed at length how Funcom didn’t seem to quite know what it was doing with the whole reboot thing. On the one hand, the development team didn’t seem to know if SWL was actually a reboot of The Secret World or just a new structure for it; on the other hand, it was certainly positioned as a hard reboot, considering how it jettisoned more or less everything players had previously accomplished.

So the question, for me, was always whether or not the game could justify its reboot and still be fun in and of itself.

The answer to the former question, I’m sorry to say, is an unambiguous “no.” There’s a lot of reasons thrown around for why the game absolutely needed a reboot, but none of them actually succeeds at justifying a whole drop-and-rebuild. Partly because, well, the game didn’t rebuild anything. It patched in a few new systems and called it a day, and it did absolutely nothing to address the core problems that kept people from being turned off from the game in the first place.

Don't you worldshame me.I mention in the piece from before that there’s an actual history of a successful reboot on the books, and one of the first things that said reboot did was make sure that no one was going to lose progress. In order to justify actually losing progress, the game would need to not just wildly overhaul combat and progression, it would need to overhaul such systems to the degree that you could not, realistically, port progress over. There would be no way to make the new system work based on the old one.

Right off of the bat, that doesn’t happen. It would be easy to set level based on main story progress (not difficult) and AP/SP based on total earned there (also not difficult). So right out of the gate, that doesn’t justify the loss of player progress.

“Oh, but the business model also changed!” Yes, as it had with so many games that I can’t even count, and several of them have undergone more fundamental gameplay shifts as a result of the new model (WildStar and Star Trek Online both spring to mind). And none of them have responded to that with a sage nod and a muttered “so sorry, you’ll have to start over completely.”

You might wonder why this matters in the first place if I was always going to be restarting from level one regardless. But it matters because this is part of the game’s overall justification for its reboot, a reboot that has left the game as being more or less the same entity. It’s starting off from a shady point, forcing people to replay things that they have doubtlessly seen many times now.

The bright side is theoretically the new combat system. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite work out. It’s better than the game’s combat used to be, yes, and it guts things like the AEGIS system which approximately no one actually liked. But it still has a serious issue wherein it never actually quite becomes fun, just more ornate.

Some of it is the limitation of options. It’s hard to pin down an exact number of buttons to hit for a game to be fun, as a lot of games manage to be extremely fun with a real dearth of things to do. But the shot list of abilities that SWL outfits you with is small enough that it feels more like, in spirit, it’s closer to a game like Mass Effect: Andromeda. You have a small lineup of special abilities, and most of the gameplay is based around using those abilities to supplement your core attacks.

Except… that’s not how it’s designed. There’s no set of core attacks. You wind up spamming a few abilities and just calling it a day.

From foul trees, it grows.

I was excited about the prospect of each weapon having a unique minigame associated with it, but the lack of cross-weapon synergy for abilities means that the gauges wind up not meaning a whole heck of a lot. Chaos and Pistols, which I started with, are particularly lackluster in that regard. Chaos is literally just “spam and hope that you get Paradox, at which point stuff happens you get no control over;” Pistols are slightly more engaging, but it comes down to a functional “get a buff at random times” that doesn’t really alter how you play.

But how could it? You have a handful of abilities and couldn’t really swap to doing something different if, say, you land on two red chambers. There just aren’t enough options, and there’s not enough synergy to make the randomness feel like a fun thing to account for.

Plus, once you’re done with the content in the game, you run into the exact same problems that already existed. There’s still little to no reason to re-run missions unless you direly need to fill out your daily challenge. There’s nothing to do beyond running missions or dungeons. The lack of repeatable content hasn’t actually changed much at all.

In other words, Secret World Legends is the exact same game as The Secret World in enough ways that it can’t justify its “reboot” status, and the changes it has made are pretty universally erring on the side of less engaging rather than better. Making maps smaller and more private doesn’t improve the game in any meaningful way, it just seems to be afraid of the prospect that this could still be an MMO.

Goodbye forever. Again.It’s rare that I’m willing to give into spite and say “well, the company declared this to not be an MMO, so it shouldn’t count as one.” Most of the time, that doesn’t hold up. But SWL tries to gut TSW’s features without justifying its removals. It makes for a game that’s at least more accessible, but not any more capable of capitalizing on what made the original game good, and not changing the fundamental mission landscape in any way.

That was what provoked a certain amount of consternation from me all the way through. It’s not that the game is bad, necessarily, as it’s a game that took progress away from players for basically no reason. And all of the weaknesses it had before aren’t actually fixed, with many of them not even being addressed at all. That’s not a mark in its favor.

I can understand it getting interest right out of the gate. TSW fans have the promise of getting new content in the future, which was something the game’s players long waited for, and they also have a less annoying combat system to grind through than the old one.

If you were already a big fan of TSW, it definitely has enough there that you liked before to keep you engaged. But it still feels like dirty pool to yank away solid progress that was made just to accept a few debatable upgrades.

So no, I’m not a fan.

Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, instead of jumping straight away into the next round of voting, I’m going to spend a little time looking back at the year in CMA entries, starting from the first one and moving on down the line. It’s not quite a “greatest hits” second round of voting, but it’s in the same general food group.

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. You do not get to decide his fate on Thursdays. That’s his time, and frankly none of us want to know what he does with it.
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Aaron Biegalski

Yeah agreed. My big complaint here is that I really don’t feel that combat was ‘improved’ per se.

The old system was over-complicated, but it felt like I could really make a cool build that suited my playstyle and desires. Now it’s just… well, every set has mostly the same exact stuff. It’s mostly down the the ‘flavor’ of combat you want. And I wouldn’t say that the combat (mechanically) even “feels better”. It honestly feels exactly the same to me as it did back when I played the original iteration.

I appreciate the new gear scaling system, I guess? Maybe?

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Briar Grey

Pretty much agreed on this. Since they didn’t put this on new rails (i.e. a new engine), and they didn’t really do what they said they did (per your breakdown above), why bother to make a “reboot” — why not just put the time in to effing improve what they already had?! I’ll still log in and play through TSW – I never got past Transylvania, so when I came back awhile ago, I rolled a new Illuminati and just started a play through from the beginning, slowly just enjoying everything. The game has SUCH a great feel to it – kinda creepy kinda cool (to quote one of my favourite podcasts, “Spirits”). I haven’t yet hit the hated Aegis phase – got sidetracked by joining the other half in playing LOTRO, but nothing about TSW screamed “needs a reboot” to me. Yes, it has some issues, but those were made worse by SWL in my opinion. I can’t play SWL with its reticule-style at all, so to not have an option to do a different view, I can’t play (just like I can’t play ESO and a few others I’d like to try). I really like having a massive wheel of abilities and skills and filling them all out then finding combos that work for me — I don’t like how they did combat in SWL. So yeah, I consider it a fail.

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sevrl bats

I’ve played on and off since launch and the reboot got me to play through all the content again! losing my progress didn’t bother me at all, I like the luxurious long-termness of earning another ability or QL upgrade or two whenever I go back to the game for a couple hours. ‘s not like the game demands anything like the gear heights it lets you ascend to.

yeah, it’s not really a game that supports indefinite daily play, but all of the atmosphere and writing and performances are still as pitch-perfect as they always were, and I’m sure I’ll keep going back to it now and then to roll through my favorites for so long as it stays open. plus, theoretically, new content early next year? we’ll see if they hit that target!

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Jeffery Witman

I can’t decide whether Funcom is incompetent or malicious in this case. They’ve certainly given plenty of evidence for both.

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Zen Dadaist

Yes. This. All of this. You’ve hit the nail on the head, from my perspective at least. As someone who was with TSW from Beta, who’d seen and done it all, it’s makeover gutted me and felt like The End.

What’s worse, though, is that I’m hearing that beyond the initial hype and boosted player count its activity is falling right away again and it’s not much more than TSW was.
If this is actually true, then they ransacked TSW for next to naught.

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BalsBigBrother

While it saddens me to say it I can’t really disagree with your assessment though I really wish I could /sigh

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syberghost

This rebuild was about one thing:

Devaluing lifetime subs. We had so much coming in from stipends there was no reason to spend any money ever again, but now we get a lot less for our money.

If they’d just changed some systems (and I think some of these system changes were excellent), they’d have had to keep giving us what we paid for.

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Telcontar Dunedain

Secret World was one of the few mmo with writing strong enough to make up for the huge amount of solo questing required to level (The Division, surprisingly, is actually the only other game with good enough writing for me to enjoy the questing). I always recommended it because of that.

I’d just finished Transylvania, but hadn’t started Tokyo, in the original game when I put it down.

My progress is reset to zero, there is no new content, the new combat system feels like a downgrade as the things I appreciated, if not liked, are gone but nothing good has replaced it.

I’m … confused as to why I would relevel?

I’d like to go to Tokyo but yet… tens of hours just to even get there.

Until Funcom gives me a releveling token of some kind, I’m probably not coming back.

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Jeffrey Meade

I’m with you on TSW. I played the old game into Transylvania. Tried really hard to get into the reboot and made it back to Egypt, but I couldn’t make myself level through all the same stuff again for no good reason.

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styopa

I played TSW to endgame and really quite enjoyed it. Some of it could be frustrating, some of it could be infuriating (mostly that one has to do with the Funcom penchant for ‘click this PRECISE PIXEL or no good’ code), but I loved much about the game.
Trying SWL…I dunno, maybe it’s just that I’m burned out on it, but it feels rather …pedestrian. It doesn’t feel special any more, and is IMO a great deal easier (note: I’ve only leveled to the end of Blue Mountain in SWL).
I guess if the new game brings in a ton of new players, and this influx spurs them to make actually new content, I may be motivated to slog through Transylvania again (I like CotSG too much to call it a slog), and … well, doing Tokyo again HAS to be less annoying this time around, yes?

But yeah, as a “reboot” it was very much oversold. 80% unchanged isn’t a ‘reboot’. Frankly speaking, if they’d LEFT the mechanics the way they were and re-engined it into Lumberyard or CryEngine and made it beautiful, it would have merited the ‘reboot’ much more.
I personally thought the pinwheel of skills was FAR more interesting, working up unexpected synergies, than the current one, although they’d left themselves really little room to expand that feature – maybe another ring of abilities or a new sector (weapon) or three?

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Malcolm Swoboda

1)I agree with your unambiguous ‘no’, though I think it approaches coming close to it. 2)I still like it. I’m playing SWL and enjoying it more than TSW, even as I can sympathize or agree with criticisms. Its just a game that fits me better so I won’t hesitate to say I like SWL more. The ‘depth’ of TSW often felt misplaced.

Its not a game that appeals to those who are used to and prefer the ways of the old. But it got me playing, got friends of me playing/trying more seriously than with TSW, and it seems to have a little higher population (? I see over 1k on Steamcharts at the moment when I recall it constantly mid to lower hundreds on the tail end of TSW) and probably more spending (even if more targeted to whales). Its not the reboot the game deserves for greatness, but its the relaunch that may or may not end up bring the boost the game needs.