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The Secret World: a newb's guide to the apocalypse

MMO newb turned Secret World fanatic Brenna Hillier offers a set of hand-tips for fellow beginners and MMO veterans alike looking to get the most out of Funcom's subversive new game.

Press J to open the Journal

If you're not the type to listen attentively to cutscenes and dialogue, read textual prompts, and note down clues, The Secret World is going to seem a bit baffling. There's not a heck of a lot of handholding going on, but even so you can get around most problems by just paying attention as you go. Be patient. Listen. Read any prompts and pop ups. Look around. Hover your mouse for tool tips. Read the instructions before smashing buttons blindly.

Although there are leaps of logic you'll have to make on your own, if you're stuck the Journal will often solve all your problems. Check the quest tier you've reached - if you closed straight out of a clue, there'll be an image of whatever it was you found, which you can check over at your leisure rather than running all the way back.

Press B to open the browser.

Why would you alt-tab out of game when your character is equipped with a smartphone? Any time you're not in a menu, tap B to open a stripped down and pleasingly snappy browser. You can Google the solution to any quest that's stumped you right from the game itself, with The Secret World forums in particular offering all manner of user-created hints and walkthroughs for common stumbling blocks.

Too easy for you? Well, indeed. You'll have the most fun with the browser when you use it as your character would - piecing together simple in-game clues and real-world resources to find the password to a secure terminal, for example. There's also a whole world of Funcom-created resources out there which will help you in main quests and fill in fine narrative and story details, which you'll have to discover for yourself - check out for starters.

Press M to open the Map.

Kingsmouth, the first area you'll visit in The Secret World, can be sprinted across in a couple of minutes, but it's still pretty easy to get lost thanks to some wonderful hilly design. There's also plenty to see off the beaten track, as sidequests and NPC dialogue in particular should have alerted you, so there's plenty of reason to go find out just what's around the next bend - wendigos! - and become horribly lost.

Radar blips are all very well but The Secret World keeps its HUD fairly minimal for a reason - you're supposed to be pretending this is weally twoo. So pull out your in-game map, figure out what roads to take, and navigate old school style. The map is admirably clear and well designed and can be held open as you travel - should you not mind the risk of smashing face first into mobs. Ask your friends to meet you on the corner of Main and Elm (or whatever) and then enjoy their confusion.

Press Shift+F to open the Friends menu.

One of the coolest aspects of The Secret World is how easy it is to hook up with your friends, and for some reason, this isn't terribly well documented. Once you have the Friends menu open, just add your mates by their nicknames - it doesn't matter what server you and they are on, although it may take you a few tries to get the add to work.

Once you've got a few friends on board, click the menu icon to the left of their nicknames to expose a list of hidden options including, most importantly, "meet up" with online buddies. This quick little tool prompts your friend to accept a meeting and then warps you to their location and server, and adds player icons to your map. Since there's no decent grouping tool yet, this is a great way to gather enough combatants to venture into tougher areas.

Press Y to open the Crafting menu.

Actually, scratch that. Go to Kingsmouth. Near the stairs leading to the roof of the sheriff's office, you'll find a quest giver standing at a workbench. On the table by his hand you'll see a side quest, which is the only crafting tutorial you'll see for quite a while.

Crafting in The Secret World isn't terribly intuitive and the tutorial quest, like all the others, is a little obtuse. Read the instructions carefully and when you're prompted to examine the book, note down the pattern of whatever item you're going to make - like Minecraft, you've got to lay the materials out in the right way. You'll also need a one-use kit each time you craft. You can make weapons with special properties by crafting, whereas the nearby Council of Venice vendor has only basic equipment, so this is the easiest way to acquire a decent secondary - or even primary - weapon.

Press N to open the Abilities menu

OK, look - the skill tree is circular and that is frightening to you. But it's really not hard. It's divided into nine sections, each representing one weapon type. Each weapon section is further divided into two initial branches, both of which must be completed to unlock higher tiers. Click on one of those initial wedges and you'll notice a menu open on the left side of the screen - here's where you purchase and equip new abilities using AP. You'll need at least one ability in an equipped weapon type to use it at all.

You can purchase every ability from every tree if you like, but you can only equip two weapons at a time, plus eight active and eight passive abilities. But see that deck menu on the far left? There are suggested builds here - you'll discover your own eventually, too - and you can use these to rapidly switch in and out of builds with the equip key.

At the top of the screen you'll see a link to the Skills menu. It's a good idea to keep a couple of SP on hand at all times, as you need ranks in various skills to equip more powerful items. Some early quests give talismans (armour) which require a skill rank to equip, and when you find a sweet rare weapon of your favourite type, you'll be glad to be able to pile SP on to play with it straight away.

Press nothing to have a good look around.

Here's something you might have missed while dashing from quest marker to quest marker: head down to the beach and watch the draugr reproduce. There's a whole little ecosystem there which is hinted at in a main quest but many players are completely unaware of it. The many enemy types scattered around Kingsmouth are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cool little mysteries. I nearly crapped my dacks running into what I strongly suspect was a Slender Man yesterday.

It's a complex and somewhat unusual MMO that throws you in the deep end and largely leaves you to cope for yourself, but The Secret World's setting and story more than make up for the initial bafflement. Take the time to learn and explore - the all-Templar VG247 crew needs you.

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