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“There’s a pressure building,” says elderly shotgun toting Kingsmouth resident Norma Creed as she stands by a large bonfire in her front yard. “The kind that comes before a storm when it builds and builds but just won’t break.”
She looks up. Ravens fill the trees in her yard. Lots of ravens. “They feel it too,” Norma says. “Last time I saw ‘em like this, when the trees were more birds than branches…there were murders.”
When Norwegian developer Funcom’s latest massively multiplayer online role-playing game, The Secret World, launches in July, two things will no doubt set it apart from its competitors: its real-world Lovecraft meets Stephen King meets the X-Files setting and its challenging, brain-teasing missions.
Massively multiplayer online MMO veterans know how questing traditionally works. You stumble upon a hub of non-playable characters with golden exclamation points over their heads. You scoop up every task they offer, then you spend the next few hours grinding them out as efficiently as possible, sometimes while simultaneously watching TV. The Secret World changes all of that by restricting the number of active missions you can have at one time. While some players will find this too limiting, I think it’s a good thing. The Secret World is a story-driven game, complete with cutscenes and voiced dialogue. Many of its missions require attention, thought, and the occasional Google search. Flitting from one mission to another like a hummingbird with ADHD would ruin the experience.
“Find more information about the murders.” After speaking with Norma, this is the only clue I have on what to do next. It’s here I realize The Secret World’s investigative missions are refreshingly free of hand-holding. There is no arrow on the mini-map telling me where to go. Sure, I could probably hop on the Internet using the game’s integrated web browser and find the solution on the official forums, but where would be the fun in that?
After a bit of exploration, I find the information I’m looking for and feel a small rush of accomplishment as my journal updates with yet another cryptic clue. Missions are divided into sub-tiers that need to be tackled in the order they’re given. Once I’ve completed all the tiers and tracked down Norma’s mystery killer, I send a report back to my faction handlers with the simple click of a button and claim my reward. There is no tedious backtracking, which is a nice touch. I find another investigation mission, and it’s not long before I’m searching Kingsmouth for Illuminati symbols for a slightly nutty priest who claims to be the secret society’s biggest fan.
I suspect that The Secret World is not a game for everyone. Quest grinders will no doubt find the game’s slower pace annoying, and action junkies might be disappointed by its floaty, vanilla combat. But if you’re the type of gamer who loves exploration and puzzle-solving, if you love classic adventure games, or if you’re just looking for something a little different, The Secret World might be right up your alley.