When it comes to my feelings on video games, there are days when I wonder if I’m falling out of love with them. I feel that—whether it’s true or not—there is this sense that I’m running against a wall. Maybe they’re too hard for me or maybe I’m just not looking for anything new right now. Usually, when this happens, I’ll go back through my catalog of games. Maybe I’ll play an old favorite or pick up an MMO that I haven’t touched in forever, and it was this kind of general discontent that led me back to The Secret World.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the title, The Secret World is an MMO that I was originally drawn to for two reasons. One, it’s not set in a fantasy or space-age world. Two, there’s no subscription fee to play.
From El Dorado to London, The Secret World travels to a variety of locations and explores the world that most people are not aware of. The cover-ups and conspiracies are all happening just like people said they would, but it’s getting harder to keep things under control. Something’s wrong, and it’s only getting worse as time goes on. The more you know, the more your eyes are opened, and the more hopeless the world seems to appear.
Your faction is all you’ve got. With three unique views on the world, all of them are trying to change the world in their image, and you’re a soldier who will help them realize that goal. The game immediately draws you in and helps you figure out what faction suits you the best. Would you want to be the efficient and corporate Illuminati? Or perhaps the steadfast and noble Templar? If neither of those suits you, there is always the chaotic and mysterious Dragon faction that claims to be the true force between keeping the world in balance.
What makes The Secret World so interesting to me is that it drips with atmosphere in the same way that Dark Souls does, but also tantalizes the players with hints of a mysterious story. It has puzzles that don’t hold your hand, some of which had me taking notes like I would when I used to play Myst. Setting it within this supernatural fantasy epic in the modern day felt like a bold move for me, and for every problem I found while playing The Secret World, there was something to counter it.
The initial tutorial is the same across all factions, but it can be skipped. The game doesn’t use levels for you or for monsters, which can be confusing, but is also strangely freeing. My biggest nitpick with the game would honestly be that when you’re playing with a friend, it really sucks to have to go into instances solo, but other than that, there’s something about The Secret World that is compelling.
You’re part of a world where something is going horribly wrong, and you feel like you’ve walked into an alternate dimension as you move through locations where everything is slightly off. You might see a hotel with a parking lot that has fissures to hell in it, or a treehouse in the woods where you scamper up in a desperate attempt to hide from the monsters. There are deserted theme parks where some of the rides look like they could still run, and you might pick your way through the broken remnants of a town toward a church—maybe a church that looks a lot like the one down the street from you.
What The Secret World does so well with its Lovecraftian horror is that it sets it within mundane settings. Think about it. There’s nothing special about a motel or a school or a police station, but the monsters that are lurking in the shadows are what make these areas memorable. This could be your town or one that’s only an hour’s drive away from you.
Beyond that, it has puzzles that are beyond the regular ‘fetch this’ and ‘kill that’ quests, which are so common in MMOs. You need to be observant of your surroundings, and be able to pick up on minute clues and piece them together on your own. Beyond that, a lack of levels and strict builds leaves the game feeling like you have more control than ever over your character.
Add all of those things together and you have a deeply immersive game. A game that is rich with conspiracy theories and monsters, just waiting for you to discover them.
Did you choose the right faction? You’d better hope so. As bad as the world is now, it can always get worse.