The Secret World: a conversation with Funcom

By Brenna Hillier
11 September 2012 09:10 GMT

Is it just me or does The Secret World stop being fun about two hours in? I took my critique to Funcom and received a gentle reply.

Having called on developers to talk to critics, I put my money where my mouth is and wrote a whinging letter to Funcom about how much I really want to like The Secret World and kind of don’t. Lead content designer Joel Bylos was kind enough to reply. This is our correspondence.

The Secret World

A contemporary MMORPG with the premise “everything is true”. Myths, fables, conspiracy theories and fiction are wound together in a globe-trotting tale of secret societies at war with each other – and something beyond.

An MMO for MMO fans rather than newbies; game systems aren’t explained in great detail, and character progression doesn’t follow traditional patterns.

Sold just 200,000 copies; Funcom has had to issue mass lay-offs. Nevertheless, the company remains committed to it, with monthly content updates and ongoing improvements to game systems.

Single-server technology makes it easy to group across realms.

Pat and Brenna both spent time in The Secret World and grew frustrated by a difficulty spike.

Dear Funcom,

I really, really want to keep playing The Secret World. The first few hours of the game were immediately compelling to me. I love what I’ve seen of the story so far, the blend of myth, legend and fiction from around the world. I want to find out what happens next, and I want to check out all the cool monsters I know are around the next corner.

But I can’t. I’m hopelessly stuck and have no idea how to proceed. Every quest I encounter now is labelled “very hard”, despite doing everything else I could find and even a bit of grinding to level up. I’ve been building to a deck and working hard to keep my equipment updated (by the way, crafting needs more explanation; I have spent more time in the in-game browser researching that than anything else) but I just seem too weak for the mobs both in the outer areas of Kingsmouth and throughout The Savage Coast.

I have never played an MMORPG seriously before, so maybe I’m just doing it wrong. But I’ve heard similar complaints from other players who have several end-game experiences under their belts. I know The Secret World was built by and for people who love this genre, and as such, I could understand if it was designed to be significantly harder than other games.

The thing is, though, that I’ve tried grouping up, and it was so much better than soloing. Suddenly my character’s abilities were useful and synergistic and I could contribute to the group. Obviously, right? It’s a massively multiplayer game. But seriously guys, there is a solo instance every few quests, and as soon as I try one I just get owned, over and over again. It’s not fun at all. I’m now stuck in every quest line currently open to me and I know I’m not anywhere near reaching the Polaris yet, which I believe is the first real multiplayer dungeon.

I can’t imagine you want me to grind for hours and hours, so tell me – what am I missing? Why did the difficulty spike so dramatically outside Kingsmouth when quests ran out so fast? How long should players spend in each section? What do I need to do in order to keep enjoying the game?


Hi Brenna,

First of all, thanks for playing!

One of the biggest challenges we faced when we were designing the game, was how to introduce players to a system without levels, while still making them feel as though they progress in power. This means that we focused on both vertical progression and horizontal progression.

Vertical progression is pure numerical progression, better skill in weapons, which in turn dictates better stats from equipment.

Horizontal progression is versatility – many of the monsters in The Secret World have nasty tricks up their sleeve, and with a wide range of different abilities that you can mix and match to counter the way that they attack you.

The early parts of TSW lean more towards vertical progression than horizontal progression. You should never have to grind to be able to progress ; this was one of our goals during development! Here are some ways to make sure you progress as intended:

  • Don’t spread yourself too thin, too early. Invest in two weapons and stick with them for a while. Mission difficulty is determined by your highest weapon skills – so if you have 1 skill point invested in 5 different weapons, the game will consider you to be much weaker than someone who has 5 skill points in one weapon.
  • Pay attention to your gear. All items which you get in the early game are focused around 3 stats: Health, Heal rating and Attack rating. You can focus on attack rating, for example, but this will give you much lower health than if you focus on Health gear. For soloing, I recommend a good mix of gear, but you should *only* equip heal gear if you have healing abilities equipped.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat missions. The game is designed such that you should be able to progress to the next area after completing about 70% of the missions in an area – so even if you miss quite a few, there should be no problem. However, because all missions are repeatable and missions rewards tend to be gear based, don’t be afraid to repeat an earlier mission and grab extra gear.
  • Our community has also created some excellent guides for getting into the unique flow of TSW. Check out Yokai’s FAQ or this excellent wiki for guides written by players for players.

In addition to the above, we are also going to be adding what we call “intermediary” decks over the coming months. These are smaller, easy to obtain decks which will provide more coherent direction to early game players.

Finally, as you pointed out, this is an MMORPG and the game really is a lot more fun when played with others. Unfortunately, due to scripting on some of the puzzles, we were forced to create solo instances for some of the more complex mission events. However, once you pass Kingsmouth, the solo instances become rarer and once you hit Egypt, you will only ever encounter them for story and sabotage missions (which don’t rely on power anyway).

We are endeavouring to keep the all of the instances going forward available to small groups, so that you can bring a friend to help out with that tough boss battle!

I hope that answered your questions! See you in the game.

Joel Bylos

Thanks to Joel for taking the time to write back, even if he didn’t sign off with kisses. The Secret World is available now, exclusively for PC.

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