In the genre of Massive multiplayer Online RPGs, there are four games that stand out in how they changed gaming and their own genre. Ultima Online, the first MMO and the basis which all games would follow, World of Warcraft, for being the game to make the genre popular, City of Heroes for showing that story heavy with a focus on customization to a level we haven’t seen to this day is a good thing, and The Secret World/Secret World Legends for changing how the genre’s play and operate making a story intense with unique to itself ARG, and creative risks not many studios would take. These four games changed the field so many times that they deserve to be remembered forever. However the last two City of Hero’s/City of Villains (or COH/COX) and The Secret World/Secret World Legends (TSW/SWL) both seem to suffer from studios who don’t care about them.
COH suffered from a disinterested publisher NCSOFT who didn’t care about the North American market and shuttered a game they refuse to relaunch or sell out of shame. Secret World has what can best be described as a neglectful relationship with its publisher Funcom.
Funcom is known for some really amazing single player games, such as Longest Journey and The Park. They run four active MMO’s that all get ignored; while players of Anarchy Online, and Conan Online lost any faith in Funcom and accept their games are forgotten. Secret World is the one title of theirs that just mentioning it to fans will react with both some of the most sincere love, anger, and heartbreak. Unlike NCsoft, who just shut down City of Hero’s, Funcom refuses to do the same for Secret World. Instead, they relaunched it from a stable, slightly annoying but fun MMO to a free to play variant that relied on loot box gambling mechanics and a borderline unplayable amount of grinding to motivate micro transaction purchases. Yet, the promises that relaunch would add the story many fans waited 6 years for fell flat after the first chapter of Season 2. Fans repeatedly are told that the story has been planned out, repeatedly told that they just need a writer, but 2 years into relaunch other than one chapter we’ve seen nothing new other than lots of customization options and gameplay options cut from the original Secret World.
When Secret World Legends went live fans came flocking back to the relaunch hoping it would fulfil the promises we’ve been told for years. The DJ stations of Grid-stream and Radio Free Gaia started hosting their streams again. The Secret Buzz, a physical magazine made by players started up back up – yet once again broken promises and a jaded community.
Repeated promises of content, small gifts like player designed shirts in game, but never fulfilling a promise of more story at a regular interval. Fans – myself included – feel heartbreak and sadness about this game. How its unique mission structures and styles determined how you played. You had the traditional dungeons that had to do with multiple players teaming up on a mission.
Raids where a large group of agents from The Templar, Illuminati, and Dragon where sent in to prevent an occult threat from being ended via nuclear strike, or magical equivalent.
Action missions that had a red icon and usually involved wiping out X number of enemies, in a combat oriented mission. Sabotage which involved stealthy game play and avoiding traps to infiltrate an area and try to complete the objective without getting caught. The final one being the one they got massive acclaim from fans investigative missions. More often than not, there was little to no combat in these missions. Instead, they relied on knowledge of both the real world and game world, as well as using the in game browser to access ARG websites. An example of this is running through an old Illuminati hideout and using Latin to figure out the password via pressing tiles in a certain order. Another involved knowing what real world medicines available in game would treat which patient properly. The investigative missions tended to be long but fun optional missions that really challenged players to pool knowledge with one another.
The five styles of side missions aside, the games main appeal was the main story indicated by blue icons, as opposed to investigative green, action red, dungeon purple, raid orange, or sabotage yellow. The story was about a bomb going off in Tokyo and new ‘Bees’ being formed humans who while sleeping swallow a super natural bee that makes them immortal super humans who the secret societies aggressively recruit. After a week of blowing your apartment up you are called upon or in the dragon’s case kidnapped, and sent to the factions main hub to be inducted. It has you travel around the world from Innsmouth Maine dealing with a region trapped in what could best be described as permanent Halloween, with everything ranging from zombies to draugr and demons. To Egypt, where you have to deal with the Cult of Aten and their doomsday scenarios, surrounding the return of the Black Pharaoh Akhenaten, as well as the lost legacy of Solomon. You get to hang out with Mummies and Military personnel who are way too in love with American and Bollywood action films. Before you are sent off to Transylvania to deal with a vampire epidemic made worse by former Soviet super soldier programs by the fictional organization the Red Hand and their Slaughterhouse, as well as the Soviet space programs version of Bee’s.
This game was creative, and very ambitious. Frankly, the player base constantly comments and questions why this was made into an MMO to begin with when it would be just as good as a single player game, plus easier to make since it wouldn’t require server maintenance. The changes SWL added actually annoyed the roleplayers since it made you unable to choose your instance so if you weren’t a member of the vibrant and huge RP community you had to hope you luck held out that your instance you were locked to had role-players.
The comparisons to City of Heroes continue in that most of the roleplay community, from CoH came to The Secret World and later moved to Secret World Legends. The game has what a lot of people have asked for: inclusive casts, well done trans characters, even strong women.
The biggest shame is how the fans want more. They want to see where the story goes, we want the game to succeed but it feels like without the original writer, who seems to be in a major dispute with Funcom, they have no interest in hiring someone else to finish the series. This leads to just pain and sorry for people who don’t want to get angry at the community manager. But like NCsoft, Funcom only has so much good will left with its fans and right now it feels like Conan Exiles is getting more love than this beautiful and unique game.
Here is hoping the people in charge of Funcom figure out a solution soon before this game becomes forgotten like Conan online, and Anarchy online.