The Secret World
|The Secret World|
Regular version cover art
Anne Lise Waal
The Secret World is a massively multiplayer online role-playing video game set in a modern-day real world under attack from occult forces. Ragnar Tørnquist led development of the initial game for Funcom.
The Secret World uses a subscription-optional, "buy-to-play" business model, requiring players only to buy the game with no additional subscription fees, with additional benefits to those members still paying a subscription.
In the game, the player's character joins one of three world-controlling secret societies attempting to repel, mitigate or exploit the attack of Lovecraftian entities and other immortal beings in coastal Maine, rural Egypt, Transylvania and a quarantined section of Tokyo; and advance their society's agenda over that of the others. Playfields in the Congo, in Antarctica and on the Moon are planned.
The game uses a contemporary setting, borrowing heavily from the horror fiction genre and folklore, with a fog-ringed, zombie-infested New England fishing village for the novice player, mummies and cultists in Egypt for the mid-level player, followed by vampires and werewolves in Transylvania and ghosts, robots, Oni demons and an interdimensional occult cancer in Tokyo. Mission content bleeds into player faction headquarters in London, Seoul, and the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn, and into the game's transport network, along the subterranean branches of Yggdrasil in Agartha.
Unlike many other MMORPGs, there is no need to stop to use most of a character's attacks and abilities; as a result, combat is faster than many other MMORPGs, and movement-based. The character is free (and at higher levels, occasionally obliged) to redevelop their abilities on the go, to better prepare themselves for specific threats or better integrate themselves into a group. Unlike traditional MMORPGs, advancement is primarily through equipment, using experience points to buy additional abilities and more powerful weapons.
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Starting a character
The Secret World allows the player to control a character or avatar within a game world in third- or first-person view. This character can be used for exploration, fighting monster, completing missions, and interacting with players and non-player characters (NPCs).
The game starts by with the player choosing a "dimension" to play on. This dimension decides which battlegroup the player is placed in within Player versus Player battlegrounds, and chooses the player's default dimension while playing solo. The game makes use of a single server technology that allows players to meet up with people from any of the different servers, both in regular gameplay as well as instances and dungeons.
The Secret World character starts the game by joining one of three "factions": the Illuminati, the Templars, or the Dragon. The faction determines the character's home city as well as a set of faction specific missions and their allies in PvP. After choosing their faction, the player is taken to the character creator where they can choose their character's gender, height, face, hair, make-up and clothing.
Combat and Abilities
The Secret World offers players a choice between tab targeted combat or a more action based combat where the target is selected with a crosshair in the middle of the screen. Abilities can be activated by pressing a certain hotkey and most abilities can also be activated while the character is moving. The player can choose from 9 different weapon types, which are divided in three categories: melee, magic and ranged. Melee weapons include: blades, hammers and fist weapons. Magic weapons include: blood magic, chaos magic and elementalism. Ranged weapons include: shotguns, pistols and assault rifles.
The player can wield two of these weapons at the same time and the player is also limited to 7 active and 7 passive abilities at any time. Active abilities are further divided between builders and consumers. Builders build resources either on the target or the player, which are then consumed by a consumer ability. The amount of resourced consumed then decides the amount of damage that the consumer ability does.
The game has a total of 525 abilities which are stored in an "ability wheel". The ability wheel allows the character to change their class and weapon types at any point in time.[note 1] This differs from the traditional massively multiplayer online (MMO) games that lock the player to a class at the initial character creation phase. The wheel also allows the player to customize the character's roles. There is also an auxiliary wheel which includes a different type of weapons, referred to as auxiliary weapons. These auxiliary weapons can be unlocked by playing specific missions and they allow the player to add an additional active and passive ability for this auxiliary weapon. A total of 5 auxiliary weapons have been released: flamethrower, rocket launcher, quantum brace, chainsaw and whip.
Abilities can be further improved by augments which can be gained by doing a specific set of missions referred to as scenarios. Augments are divided in four categories: damage, support, healing and survivability. Augments add direct increases to abilities such as increasing a certain stat or effect for this specific ability. Completing issue 11 also unlocks a special "ultimate ability" that does a high amount of damage to up to 30 enemies in a 9-metre radius. This ability has to be recharged by killing mobs and can only be used on a mob once every ten minutes. Ultimate abilities have been disabled in PvP.
The missions come in several varieties. The main plot follows a faction-driven quest storyline. Characters can also take on a main mission, a dungeon mission, faction-limited side quests, and three open side quests. Some missions involve fetching items or fighting monsters. Some missions include a variety of puzzles that are quasi-alternate reality games that require "searching the Internet" for clues with an in-game browser. Investigation missions have players find facts and solve problems, and differ from the hack-and-slash missions.
The Secret World also supports groupings of characters called "cabals". Each cabal is made up of members from a single faction, although many players have opted to develop their own off-game groupings to unite characters from different factions.
The game features an original setting created by Funcom, with contemporary elements as well as "magic, myths, conspiracies and dark horrors." Tørnquist debunked several rumors surrounding The Secret World, stating that "there are no aliens or science fiction elements" in it. He also denied any connection of The Secret World to The Longest Journey.
The game is set in the "modern day real world" but also incorporates pieces of ancient mythologies, real and false history, urban legends, and pop culture, and ties them into an original back-story. The latter is said to go back in time for 100 million years and encompass long extinct ancient civilizations.
The players will assume the roles of supernatural heroes who participate in a "future war between good and evil", fighting dark monsters that threaten the modern world. Tørnquist identified the genre of the story as dark fantasy, features vampires, demons, and zombies. The players will be free to travel across different locations of the world (both real, like London, New York and Seoul, and mythical, such as Agartha, the legendary city located within Hollow Earth and the Hell dimension) and even in time, to pursue the overall plot and investigate new mysteries in connection to the dark invasion. The overall plot has a conclusion but the designers also leave room for future issues and expansions.
The character, lying in bed while hearing about a terrorist attack on a subway in Tokyo, Japan, has an "unusual" glowing bee fly into their mouth. The player has a strange nightmare in which they are addressed by a dark voice who talks to them about the end of this age and the beginning of a new age. Then a woman in white clothes and a man in black clothes appear, who speak to the player about free will and tell them to choose a side. After jolting awake, the character discovers over the next several days that they have developed magical powers. A week later, a recruiter from a secret society visits them and offers them a job.
After traveling to the hub city of their respective factions, the player is sent out on their first mission to the fictional location of Solomon Island. The island, heavily based on H.P. Lovecraft's work, has been surrounded by a thick, impermeable fog. The character helps the remaining survivors on the island by providing them with resources and assisting them in their tasks. Once the character starts to investigate deeper into the mysteries of the island, they find out that the fog was caused by a cursed sword that was brought to the island on a boat called The Lady Margaret. It becomes the character's goal to retrieve this sword, which has fallen into the hands of Loki, who is implied to be the last surviving Norse god. They succeed, but upon defeating Loki the character is banished to an otherworldly realm while the sword is claimed by one of the members of the Morninglight, a cult that actively seeks to destroy the world. During their time in this realm, the character is introduced to the concept of the "Filth", a strange substance that usually takes the form of a black tar, which has the ability to mutate and corrupt humans and animals alike.
In the otherworldly realm, the character also encounters the remains of an expedition by Roald Amundsen. An unknown entity talks to the character and offers them power, if they accept a gift that this entity has created for them (represented as a small present). The entity then shows the character the benefits that those who have accepted their gifts have gained, as well as the horrible things which have befallen those who shunned their power. Then the player has the option to accept the gift, or refuse it by casting themselves off the cliff. Afterwards the character wakes up on Solomon Island and is called back to HQ for their next mission.
The next play area is heavily based upon Egypt, where the character is tasked to track down the cult of Aten, the Black Pharaoh, who is attempting to reanimate and escape his pyramid. After confronting a cult leader, the character ventures to the underground City of the Black Sun, and confronts the Black Pharaoh itself. The character then finds themselves in the otherworldly realm again, and the entity again entreats the player to kneel before a demonic figure in submission. Kneeling or attacking the figure evokes a response, and the player awakens in Egypt.
The next area is Transylvania, where a horde of Vampires, led by a vampire queen called Mara, have taken power. The vampires are protecting a massive dig site, where a company called the Orochi Group has created what seems to be a tear in reality. The character then receives a vision of Emma, a young girl who was a test subject of the Orochi Group and has special insight into the workings of the area. The player is tasked with resurrecting Vlad Dracula, who was betrayed by Mara, so that he can defeat her once and for all. After the player resurrects Vlad Dracula, Dracula slays the Mara and the player is once again taken to a different place.
The character awakens in the location shown to them in the nightmare they had on the day they received their powers. The location is revealed to be filled with Gaia Engines, ancient contraptions that keep the world turning. The player also stumbles upon a prison in which the entity from their dreams, called the Dreamers, has been imprisoned. The character can attack the prison to release the unknown entity or repair the prison to bind it tighter. After the character has made this final choice, they are greeted once again by either the woman in white or the man in black, based on their previous choices. Both the man and the woman are revealed to be angels, members of the two different factions within a group referred to as the Host. The angel thanks the character for their service and asks them to prepare as massive events are still underway.
The character then returns to Solomon Island, Egypt and Transylvania, and they slowly learn that all three major catastrophes are heavily linked to the Orochi Group and its mysterious leader; Samuel Chandra, seemingly the perpetrator of the recent events. Later it is discovered that he is actually largely innocent of his corporation's actions. The real mastermind behind all of this is revealed to be the Orochi board member Lily Engel, in reality the human identity of Lilith. She attempts to abduct Emma, the girl who the players met in Transylvania, to use in her schemes, but is thwarted by the player. Emma is attacked by creatures summoned by the entity from the prison and Lilith is thrown into a portal that leads to Tokyo.
The factions then send the character to Venice, where they discover that a major corruption within a group called the Council of Venice. After dealing with the situation in Venice, the player is sent to Tokyo, the place where the story began. The character slowly uncovers the secrets of both the Morninglight cult and the Orochi Corporation and learns the identity of the person who set off the bomb. The character eventually makes their way to the Orochi Tower, where they plan to face Lilith once again. Lilith reveals the true nature of her plans, but is taken away by a group of angels, before the player has a chance to act. The character is then given wings by one of the angels and is subsequently called back to their faction HQ.
The story ends on a cliffhanger after the character learns that the Orochi Corporation has released pictures of them on TV, accusing them of being responsible for the catastrophe in Tokyo.
After announcing the development of The Secret World, Funcom project director Jørgen Tharaldsen informed the press that the game uses the same engine as Age of Conan. According to Funcom, the game would blend elements of MMO gameplay with alternate reality gaming (ARG) and social networking.
At GDC 2009, Tørnquist gave an interview to GameSpot regarding The Secret World, revealing more about its gameplay. There would be neither levels, nor classes in the game; instead, the character building would be skill-based. This way, the developers planned to avoid level grinding, allowing new players to join the game more easily. The player characters would be customizable to a large degree, particularly in their choice of clothing (except in PvP, where players must wear faction-specific uniforms), weapons (which range from shotguns to swords and can be customized and upgraded), and the supernatural powers they acquire. Combat against computer-controlled monsters would be one of the game's central points and will require more of player's attention than contemporary MMORPGs. Death in game results in the character returning as an "anima" and they have the option of returning to their body or respawning at a variety of resurrection locations. The players will be able to form teams to fight together but in an earlier blog posting, Tørnquist assured that the game can also be played in single-player mode, should a player choose not to play with a group. According to him, the game is story-driven and there is an overarching linear plot, as well as numerous side-quests, ranging from investigation to sabotage and hunting, since diversity of the gameplay will be another central point.
In an interview with GameSpot at the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo, Tørnquist and the lead designer Martin Bruusgaard revealed which playable factions ("secret societies") will be available in the game. The factions are: the London-based Templars, pious zealots "who would burn an entire village down to get their hands on one demon"; the New York City-based Illuminati, Machiavellian pragmatists who "believe that it's a tough world where only the strongest will survive"; and the Seoul-based "Dragon", who take a neutral stance between the other two and are "all about deceiving, orchestrating chaos, and waiting patiently for its time". A personality test to determine the players' inclination towards one of the factions was made available on the official The Secret World website soon after the reveal. It would be impossible to change factions without creating a new character. Additionally, players are able to create their own guilds, known as "cabals" in-game, affiliated with one of the main factions. All players' actions in the game are contribute to their ranking in their respective guilds and factions. The same interview revealed that PvP areas of the game are located in the region called Agartha inside the hollow Earth, where the players will fight for the invaluable resource known as "anima". This idea was dropped during closed beta as they decided it wasn't entertaining enough. Large scale PvP has later been revealed to take place in big persistent warzones. Control of these warzones has an effect on the rest of the players of a controlling faction, and provides bonus experience and other perks. There are also small mini-games in iconic locations such as Shambhala, El Dorado, and Stonehenge.
The pre-production of the game originally known as Cabal (and The Entire World Online in the earliest concepts) started in 2002, but in mid-2003, most of the working team was transferred to the development of Dreamfall. Cabal was to be set in the same universe as the later The Secret World but in the 1920s instead of the contemporary period, with H. P. Lovecraft's works and the Indiana Jones franchise being major inspirations. The idea of setting the game in the 1920s was scrapped after lengthy discussions, in order to make the game more accessible for modern players.
The work on The Secret World was resumed in 2006, after Dreamfall shipped, with many of the latter's designers (including Ragnar Tørnquist) playing key roles in the former's development. The Secret World was produced at the Funcom studios in Oslo, Montreal and Beijing. In August 2008, it was stated that the development team consisted of people previously involved in the development of Dreamfall, Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, EverQuest II, and The Longest Journey. In November Funcom stated that 70 people were working on the project. The Secret World uses the proprietary DreamWorld Engine.
On September 29, 2009, Funcom announced a reduction of 20% of its staff, resulting in "significant delay" for the release of The Secret World. On January 10, 2011, Electronic Arts announced that it will co-publish The Secret World with Funcom. Funcom told VG247 that they were "leaving [their] options open" in regards to the 360 version.
On August 30, 2011, beta testing sign-up became available. On February 21, 2012, Funcom announced that the The Secret World would be released on June 19. The first public beta test "Kingsmouth Calling" went live on May 11, 2012 available to all pre-purchasers of the game. The second public beta test "Hell Raised" went live on June 15, 2012 available to pre-purchasers and invited players. The company also revealed that over 750,000 gamers had applied to beta-test the game, significantly higher than for their previous MMO, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
On January 29, 2014, Norwegian economic crime unit Økokrim launched an investigation into suspected infringement of the provisions of the Securities Trading Act concerning the 2012 launch of The Secret World.
The first promotional material appeared on May 8, 2007, when a picture was leaked into the internet, containing a poem, a Knights Templar seal, and several sentences in Spanish, Norwegian, French, German and Hebrew. When solved, the poem led to a series of internet pages, one of them with a riddle, and, eventually, to the newly created official forum.
The websites led to a Flash page with a countdown timer that uses Eastern Arabic numerals instead of Arabic numbers. The timer would presumably have reached zero at 12:00 AM on December 21, 2012, adjusted for the location of Funcom headquarters. The date is the end of the Mayan calendar cycle, which is notable in Maya mythology. A massive alternate reality game was also established in the forums.
Over the years, Funcom has hosted several alternate reality games such as: Two Lines Twine, The Dark Places and Council of Venice System Malfunction. The alternate reality games were created using: Twitter, Flickr, 8-tracks, Wikidot and several websites created by Funcom such as the Kingsmouth website and the official game forums.
A first teaser trailer featuring the Dragon faction was released on April 7, 2009, during the GDC 2009. A second teaser featuring the Templar faction was released on September 4, 2009. A teaser presenting the fictitious town of Kingsmouth was released on February 2, 2010. On March 23, 2010 (i.e. 10 days after the GDC 2010 of San Francisco, California), a short teaser was released, showing some extremely brief in-game sequences and announcing the release of a bigger teaser on March 25, 2010. This last one showed some fights in Kingsmouth. Most available teasers can be viewed on the game's homepage, however, GameSpot's interviews with Ragnar Tørnquist, on the various factions within the game, included scenes from teaser trailers.
In 2011, Funcom announced that a Facebook app called The Secret War was being created. The first stage, asking players to choose their faction, aired on August 30, 2011 along with the long awaited beta sign-up for the actual game. As of April 2012, The Secret War was active. Players were able to earn the chance for a guaranteed slot in the beta, as well as a trip to Montreal, Canada to play the game. Actions in The Secret War gained special items to be used with characters at game launch. Funcom also had a panel advertising The Secret World at PAX East 2012. People could play a beta test of The Secret World. On May 25, 2012, Funcom released an announcement moving the release date to July 3, 2012.
Funcom offered a number of in-game content packs available as a pre-order bonus by registering at the official website. These ranged from additional in-game pets and weapons to a life-time subscription and discount at the in-game store. The exact contents of the bonus packs depend on the location of purchase. Players who pre-ordered the game gained early access to the game servers, before the official release date.
Originally the game was supposed to receive regular monthly updates called "issues", that would add new missions, weapons, abilities, features and storylines. However, when the game went from Pay-to-Play to a Buy-to-Play policy, this changed. Issues #1 through #4 continued to be offered free, while Issue #5, "The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn", was provided free of charge only to players who had purchased the game prior to January 2013. Subsequent updates have been offered at a slower pace, usually taking several months for new issues to be released. They are available as paid-for DLC for players. Funcom does not provide these issues free to its subscribers and lifetime users, instead including 1200 bonus points as part of its subscription and thus offering the option of only buying the DLCs users are interested in. After some concern by the subscribers and lifetime members, Funcom stated that the subscribers/lifetime members would never have to pay more than 1200 bonus points for new issues.
Funcom is also releasing mission packs called "sidestories". These packs offer only new missions and no other additional content. The missions are also not structured like regular issues, but are spread over different locations in the game. The packs can be bought in the item store. The packs are generally cheaper than the issues, but their price depends on the amount of content included.
IGN praised the presentation and also said that while The Secret World starts off strong, it loses steam afterwards. Gaming Nexus gave the game a score of 9/10, praising the game for its originality and open-ended skill system. GameSpot praised The Secret World's puzzles, storytelling, and atmosphere, but criticized its lack of PvP content at launch.
MMORPG.com gave the game a final score of 8.5, praising the skill system, story dungeons and tiered questing; and criticizing the lack of initial character customization and the PvP. Jonathan Deesing of G4 TV gave The Secret World a score of 2.5/5 during closed beta testing of the game. Reviewer Heather Mitchell praised the game's unusual setting and puzzle quests.
On August 28, 2012, Funcom announced that The Secret World had sold 200,000 copies, below company's expectations. Funcom claimed that mixed and poor reviews, coupled with the proximity of Diablo III, Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria launches, cut the sales of the game. After switching to a buy-to-play model in December 2012, Funcom reported that the player activity had increased by 400 percent as a result of the model change, and that an additional 70,000 units had been sold over the course of two months.
The Black Watchmen
In 2014, Human Equation acquired license rights for Funcom's Black Watchmen intellectual property (IP), which is a part of The Secret World universe. The company intended to create a permanent alternate reality game with the Black Watchmen license as well as an accompanying comic book. The license was eventually transferred to a new start-up company called Alice & Smith and crowdfunding for the game started in 2014. On September 13, 2014, the game was successfully funded on Kickstarter. The game is currently in its first season and has been renewed for a second season.
In August 2015, Funcom announced a new spin-off of The Secret World, in the form of The Park, a short experimental horror game created by Funcom. The Park has been confirmed to be set in The Secret World universe and will use both locations and characters seen in the main game. The game was released on October 27, 2015.
- There are a few situations such as combat where players cannot change class.
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Funcom today opened the official beta registration
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- The Secret World Q&A - The Dragon Faction Details
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Funcom is excited to announce the launch of ‘The Secret War’
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- "WE DID IT! $46,701!!!". The Black Watchmen. 2014-09-30. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
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- Official "The Secret World" website
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" core game including issue 1-5
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" Issue 6 - The Last Train to Cairo
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" Issue 7 - A Dream to Kill
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" Issue 8 - The Venetian Agenda
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" Issue 9 - The Black Signal
- IMDB page for "The Secret World" Issue 10 - Nightmares in the Dream Palace