Secret World Legends Hands-on with Game Director Romain Amiel

Note: the following article originally appeared on MMOGames.com.

As a long time fan of the original The Secret World, I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on the beta for the game’s upcoming relaunch as Secret World Legends, even though it’s now distressingly liberated from its former article “the”. And when I got the chance to have someone from Funcom come along to show me the ropes, well, that was even better! The tour ended up being lead by Game Director Romain Amiel while Community Manager Andy Benditt provided assistance, with myself and Shannon Doyle from MMOGames and Peredur from the French language MMO website Jeuxonline making up the tour group.

I was lucky enough to have Funcom allow me to share the unedited recording of our tour on my YouTube channel. There’s a lot of good information here and this article is mostly going to focus on impressions, so if you want to learn every detail about what’s changing with the relaunch, I recommend giving it a watch.

What Came Before

The original Secret World is a true ‘cult classic’ of an MMORPG, with a small but dedicated following that’s long waited for the game to find a second lease on life. It routinely tops the majority of lists itemizing the most underrated games in our genre, and yet, it never really caught on.

There were a couple of obstacles in the way of that happening, and they were hardly a secret. A great many people found the combat clunky and off-putting, the open-ended skill system and balancing around rigorous optimization lead to many players hitting a brick wall as a result of creating subpar builds, and perhaps more fundamentally, The Secret World’s greatest strengths weren’t particularly well aligned with the genre it found itself in. Secret World Legends aims to rectify them all.

Secret World Legends is a Shared World RPG

To the MMOer, the biggest sounding change is likely the least impactful: Secret World Legends is officially leaving the MMO genre – at least in name. Now labelled a “shared world RPG”, SWL is edging in the direction of games like Destiny, shrinking its zone instance caps down to around 10 players in size with the exception of Agartha and the major cities.

For a typical MMO, this is where I would begin my heckles and jeering. But as a game whose main appeal was always the strength of its quests and setting, The Secret World was never a typical MMO. Whether you’re in a fog heavy coastal town in the American Northeast fighting off Lovecraftian horrors, or wandering the Egyptian desert in search of a long forgotten city, The Secret World’s settings all induce a feeling of solitude and abandoned desolation, where it’s just the player and the ones who joined them facing off against the horrors of the universe. MMORPG Players often complain about the jarring nature of seeing other players completing the same quests as them in MMOs, and in no game is this more true than The Secret World.

The Secret World is more Accessible than Ever

For the many systems updates in Secret World Legends, accessibility is the name of the game, and a lot of the confusions players may have experienced in its predecessor have now been smoothed out. While players still have much of the freedom to combine weapons and choose abilities and passives to build their own class, the starter experience now sets players on the path to a viable build by making them choose a starter class.

Combat has seen a major overhaul, making the big switch from The Secret World’s tab targeted system to a reticle based action combat system. Each weapon also now has its own unique mechanic, giving each combination of weapons a unique feel and playstyle with more depth than was seen in the original game. Some of these are more fun than others, but they all provide an important feature of differentiation between the game’s many weapons.

Even without really fully getting the hang of the weapon mechanics in my time on our tour, the improvements to the combat ‘feel’ were much more impactful than I had expected it to be. The switch to reticle combat made the game far more engaging, and although it could just be me going crazy, everything felt a lot more fluid and responsive than I had remembered it being.

The layout for skill progression has also been redesigned, with Secret World Legends eschewing the old sprawling skill wheel in favor of more focused skill lines assigned to each weapon. The result is a functionally similar, but far less daunting system. It’s not an entirely cosmetic change though. Passives have been redesigned, and unlike The Secret World’s open system, passives can only be slotted from your currently active weapon. This seems like an almost necessary by-product of the unique weapon mechanics; Funcom clearly wanted passives to interact with the new weapon systems, and the result was a slew of passives that would be useless with any other weapon.

This does raise a concern that some of the changes coming with Secret World Legends may tread the line between accessibility and simplification a bit too closely, but as I considered it, the original title did suffer from many of the optimal builds relying on the same set of strongest synergizing passives. While Secret World Legends may result in fewer possible builds, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it will usher in a greater number of viable builds, which would ultimately be the better outcome.

Additionally, Secret World Legends has added always-on passives and capstones to each weapon tree that will add up to a significant stat buff as more and more are unlocked. These are active irrespective of weapon, as well – so you’ll still have that incentive to always be progressing. Combined with the switch to a level based system, this provides more of a statistical baseline to keep players gaining in power as they progress through the world, even if they do something colossally stupid with their build.

I did actually ask Romain if it was still possible to gimp yourself by making ‘too bad’ of a build. He said yes, but indicated that it would be harder, easier to fix, and a little bit less of a disadvantage than the worst possible build in The Secret World.

The Best of The Secret World is Still Intact

Perhaps one of the promising things we learned was that all of The Secret World’s best content will still be present in Secret World Legends. The quests are just as fantastic as they’ve always been, and the only change to the game’s unique investigation missions I heard about was the extremely welcome decision to give them their own category in the quest journal, allowing you to move on to another quest type if you get stumped without abandoning your progress.

Dungeons will be present as well, with the same blisteringly difficult modes we all know and love (seriously, The Secret World’s dungeons were no joke) as well as a new, more accessible 3 man non-trinity story mode. Scenarios will be in at launch as well, and we heard hints of a new form of repeatable content – but sadly Romain wasn’t ready to talk about it just yet.

Monetization

Secret World Legends is making the switch from its predecessor’s buy-to-play model to a free-to-play one. With the change, Funcom is making all of the game’s ‘issues’ – their term for its story DLC – completely free, as well as all future story additions to the game. Given that story is, in my opinion, the main reason to play the game, this is a pretty sweet deal.

The game will now feature a premium currency called Aurum that functions similarly to EVE’s current iteration on PLEX that’s been detailed in a blog on the game’s official site. Players will be able to trade Aurum with others or use it to purchase boosts, account unlocks, and cosmetic unlocks.

If you’re wanting to really get into the shared world RPGs more MMOish features, you may find some of the new systems a little bit annoying. Opening boss chests in dungeons will now cost a special key, of which you will receive a certain number daily. Other forms of repeatable content seem to have similar currencies assigned. Fortunately, there are ways to earn more keys if you dedicate yourself to unlocking them. Romain assured me that you could farm these up quickly if you worked at it, but still – it has the potential to be a bit of an annoyance for anyone trying to play the game like a hardcore MMO.

Still, the real reason to play Secret World Legends is hands down the story, and that deal is better than ever. Everything else is icing on the cake, so even if the time gating becomes annoying, it’s definitely not going to be game breaking.

The Wrap Up

The Secret World has long held a special place in my heart – and trust me, that was no easy feat. It’s nothing short of astounding that a themepark focused on questing managed to break into my hardened, sandbox loving heart on the basis of its narrative presentation and ambience – yet here we are.

There isn’t going to be a better time to check out this game, and at the price point of absolutely nothing, there’s no reason to not hop in and give this game a shot when it launches on June 26th. Within 2-3 weeks after launch, Funcom will be running the Tokyo prologue event once more to allow new players to experience opening the game’s final zone the way it was meant to be played. After that, chapter two is said to be soon to come.

It may not be an MMO anymore, but Secret World Legends has refocused to give players the best possible experience in areas where the original game already shined, and it’s only gotten better as a result. If fantastic story quests that actually make you think set in a brooding, Lovecraftian horror / urban fantasy setting is anywhere even remotely near your ballpark, seriously – give this game a shot.

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