There’s a lot of info breaking today about The Secret World, thanks to some journalists (not me, boo hoo) getting hand-on time with the game. I’ve read the reports on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Massively, and they’ve solidly moved me from “Eh, it looks kinda cool” to “OK, I’m really intrigued by this.” Character development reminds me of classless/levelless RPGs like GURPS, one of my all-time favorites, and some of the combat innovations have me licking my chops. Moving during a fight? Body-blocking? Yes, please!
Even a glance at the Funcom financial report released two weeks ago gives me reason for hope. (And if you haven’t looked over this yet, take the time to do so, it’s chocked full of all sorts of number-y goodness.) While I initially had trepidations over how the cash shop would be implemented, the report insists that purchasable items will be limited to “vanity items and services” (page 16). Yes, all cash shops start out that way, with the proper promises doled out to placate the masses (*cough*Turbine*cough*), but we can always dream, can’t we? At least it’s not being done by Bigpoint. (I’m not even going to give the A Game of Thrones MMO a second look.)
And then there’s the out-of-world research, which Funcom is touting as a huge factor in The Secret World. Here’s the spot where I’m a little less optimistic, and I think my reservations can be summed up in this bit from the RPS article (emphasis mine):
I can’t speak for the larger narrative except to say that I’m excited about discovering it for myself. I never doubted the passion behind the project, or the talent, but in the past I’ve questioned whether an MMO is really the type of lens I want to experience this world through.
I’m enjoying Skyrim thoroughly, but despite all the livestreams and YouTube videos out there, I’ve barely watched anything that didn’t originate on my computer (though this hauntingly beautiful time lapse video is an exception) because I don’t want to see any spoilers. I can do that with a single-player game because I can shutter myself away and play it by myself without worrying about other in-game dolts spoiling things for me.
That’s not so much of an option in an MMORPG. When I was going through the new content in LOTRO, someone spoke up in the chat about a major plot spoiler on the epic quest chain. It wasn’t part of any ongoing discussion or anything, he just mentioned a major twist for no obvious reason and was rightly flamed for it. (He’s now on my ignore list.) While playing City of Heroes many moons ago, I can also remember someone mentioning in global chat where the Rikti came from. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor points, but if you’re dead-set on making story a major part of your MMORPG, plot spoilers like this can be killers.
The point of the matter is, the RPS reviewer won’t get to “discover it for himself,” not really. If he can avoid people spoiling things in global chat, that’s one thing. But what if he’s on a quest line that requires some kind of puzzle to be solved or information to be researched and he joins a group that’s farther along in the quest line? Do you think his groupmates will patiently wait for him to figure things out for himself while they wait around? “Dude, the lock combination is 3897, let’s go!”
I think I brought this up when talking with a friend a while ago, but single-player RPGs are played at your own page; MMORPGs are played at the group’s pace. Like many ventures, the group only moves as fast as its slowest member, and anyone who’s waited for someone to get to the quest location — “Hang on, I just need to find this one NPC and then I have to sell and then I have to check my auctions, I’ll be right there, I swear!” — knows what it’s like. You can’t add “and I have to check Google” to the mix. Despite what the RPS columnist thinks, MMORPGs might not be the “correct lens” for this form of gameplay.
If I were Funcom, as tempting as it would be to incorporate these kind of challenges into the heart of the game content, I’d limit it to solo ventures or non-game-impacting activities. Let research lead to a cosmetic item or title or even crafting advancement, things that your group or guild won’t be forced to wait on while you catch up. Whatever the case, if you really get stuck and want to ask for help or look it up in a wiki, that’s fine. But if someone asks you, send them a private message with the solution instead of blabbing it to the global chat channels. Or I might put you on /ignore, too.