GamesBeat

EA’s Secret World online game is nothing like World of Warcraft

Revenant Alley

Electronic Arts already has a game like Blizzard Entertainment’s supergiant online game, World of Warcraft, in the works — but it looks like the game publisher has one more trick up its sleeve. The company unveiled its next online role-playing game, Secret World, at its summer games showcase on Thursday.

Secret World is a stylized take on the modern era, where vampires, secret societies and all the horror stories you heard as a kid are real. Players take control of a character in one of three secret societies trying to keep the world from plunging into chaos while still vying for control of the planet.

Secret World is developed by Funcom, the studio behind online game Age of Conan. It’s the second online role-playing game Electronic Arts plans to publish alongside Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is developed by BioWare. While The Old Republic seems quite similar to World of Warcraft in terms of progression and gameplay style, Secret World goes in almost the complete opposite direction.

The progression system is one of the most unusual I’ve seen in online games in a while. It seems almost like a spiritual successor to Star Wars Galaxies, in that the player does not “level up” in the traditional sense but adds and upgrades new skills. In Secret World, “leveling up” just makes the character more versatile — not necessarily more powerful.

Most online role-playing games feature a linear progression for powering up. For instance, in World of Warcraft, when a player levels up, they do more damage, gain more health and sometimes get access to a new ability. But they are restricted to abilities that power up the class they chose — if they picked a warrior, they get an ability that lets them do more melee damage.

There are no such classes in Secret World. There are the traditional archetypes: damage dealing, healing and characters that control the enemies and make sure they are taking all the damage. But how you play those archetypes is up to you since you can pick and choose the skills you want. You can change those skills at certain points throughout the world. If you want, you can build a character that can heal and also shoot lightning bolts to kill enemies, then run up and finish them off with a giant hammer.

While the progression system and aesthetic design seem unique, the rest of the typical tropes for online role-playing games are in Secret World. Players explore an open world and enter five-player dungeon parties that consist of a healer, tank and three damage-dealing classes. The boss battles make pretty good use of the environment, like electrifying the water and forcing the player to constantly stay on the move.

The game runs on an upgraded version of the graphics engine running Age of Conan. It looks crisp, and the game cruised along at somewhere north of 40 frames per second, which was par for the course for Age of Conan as well, assuming the player had a half-decent computer. The game’s still in an alpha stage, but it looked quite a bit better than World of Warcraft.

The visuals are also dark and gloomy, and more realistic. That doesn’t mean the game is filled with brown and gray like other “ultra-realistic” titles out there, but the game uses a darker color palette than typical games. That’s compared to World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic, which use very bright and vibrant colors and throw realism out the window in favor of artistic style. They’re two very different approaches to art style, and they both work.

The company wouldn’t disclose when it would release the game, saying it was in a very early alpha build.

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