The freeform character building of The Secret World doesn’t just free players from the strictures of class, it makes them want to experiment.
“The first time we gave the systems to the developers to play with, the first time they were played internally, people went in with this class idea. They thought, ‘I’m Mr Hammer, that’s what I am, that’s what I want to be,'” lead content designer Joel Bylos told Rock Paper Shotgun.
But after seeing other players use abilities from different skill trees, the testers would invest in other combat schools to take advantage of unique moves – like the sword tree’s dash ability.
“So then they are hammer guy with the dash. And then they think, ‘when I do the dash I can also knock people over, so let’s take another skill from elsewhere that hits the prone monster hard’. By the end of the process they’re playing a character totally different from what they used to be at the start.”
Although Funcom will provide “templates” – suggested builds for players wanted something more structured – it counts on players being tempted by freeform character creation.
“It’s very natural to experiment, sometimes just for the sake of coolness. It works on an aesthetic level but also on a pure mechanics level. It’s a metagame. You start playing around in there, maybe to be the best of the best, maybe just for fun,” Bylos said.
Players might also adjust their talents in response to certain monster types, with Bylos once more using the dash move, which is particularly useful against a certain boss, as an example.
“Other people see that and think, why can’t I dash out of the way? And they want to copy it, even though they’ve never used a sword before. Maybe next time they fight that kind of monster, they’ll bring along a dash,” he said.
“For new players coming from World of Warcraft, I think there is a hump and the templates can help them over that. But I do think it’s very naturally evolving as you play.”
The ability to switch between one of a number of preset builds, and evolve your character in very different directions, means The Secret World’s equivalent to World of Warcraft’s Dungeon Finder is a little complicated.
“When it comes to roles in dungeons, when people sign up, they will choose a role,” lead designer Marten Bruusgaard explained.
“That role will play on fairly standard archetypes, such as tank-crowd controller, or support. Those kind of rules. The system will say, if you sign up for the Polaris say, these are the optimal things you will need – this, this and this. But we don’t look at individual players, we look at the group as one entity and what it can bring.
“So the Polaris, the first dungeon, is fairly standard. But later on we might say you need one and a half healers, half a DPS. Half a tank. Instead of the traditional class-based way, with the holy trinity, we go deeper and look what the group can bring in total. The amount of powers they have collectively.
“That allows us to create more interesting encounters, because we’re not locked down to the traditional recipes. So the matchmaking system will say ‘this, this and this’, so one and a half healers will be picked across the whole group.”
Happily, if you can’t find anyone willing to take on a particular role, you can attempt the dungeon anyway – and switch roles and builds part way through if things don’t work.
The Secret World is expected in April 2012, and is currently in closed beta. Hit the link above to read the full interview, which covers a lot of ground.