The Average Gamer

The Secret World Hands-On Preview

Ragnar Tørnquist’s upcoming MMO The Secret World will be in closed beta this weekend, from 5pm on Friday 11th May to 8am Monday 14th May (BST). I was guided through a series of missions by the Funcom developers and it shows some promising features.

The Secret World is one where all your fantasy hopes and fears are real. You do wake up one morning with magical powers, Bigfoot does exist and yes, there are a number of global conspiracy agencies vying to control the world. Myths and legends are drawn from all over the world, including classics like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Beware the Jabberwock, my son.

In a similar vein to BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Funcom team want to bring story to MMORPGs. Also like SWTOR, they’ve chosen to do this by assigning tasks through cut-scenes with voice-over, as well as integrating the environment into the combat.

This worries me, and not only because SWTOR was a whopping 25GB download and is apparently losing a big chunk of subscribers. It also worries me because, in my experience, the hardcore MMO players who pay to play month after month after month don’t care one whit about story. Cut scenes are just things that hold up the group.

Here’s a trailer that shows a little of what you’ll find in The Secret World.

Regardless of my feelings about MMO players and story, Funcom are doing some interesting things with avatars. They’ve completely done away with classes and levels, instead offering a huge skill wheel and the option to create your own custom loadouts depending on the situation you’ll be facing. There are over 500 different skills spread across the following categories:


  • Elementalism
  • Chaos
  • Blood magic


  • Blades
  • hammers
  • fists


  • Shotgun
  • pistol
  • assault rifles

You can switch between load-outs on the fly, so there’s none of that annoying facepalming when you set up a nice melee spec only to be assaulted by a humongous flying monster that can only be damaged by magic.

We opened our adventure in a car park, meeting a shady character called Nicholas Winter. In keeping with Tørnquist’s history of narrative-driven games, such as Dreamfall and The Longest Journey, Winter told us a story.

The son of property mogul Nathaniel Winter, he inherited the fun park glimpsed at 0:21 in the video above. It destroyed his father’s career. Atlantic Park was plagued with freak accidents; an employee went berserk and attacked a load of visitors, a child was trapped on the Ferris wheel and met with a gruesome end, and blah blah blah. You all know the horror stories of fun parks.

As “enlightened” people who know about the secret world, only we could see the gigantic swirling cloud of doom that hovered over the park. Our job was to go inside, investigate the cause of the problems and attempt to find a solution. Or, as us seasoned gamers would put it, kill everything that moves. We ventured inside our own instance of the park and wouldn’t you know it? It’s filled with beasties and mutants and all sorts of other nasties that attack on sight.

The focus for Funcom is creating a believable world. In this mission, that means that you can use the environment to damage your enemies. Our first major encounter was with a large mutant that preyed upon people at the Octowhirl, a fairground ride rather like this only not made of KNEX.

While using our powers would eventually wear the monster down, it was much more effective to run under the Octowhirl’s arms and let the carriages pummel the mutant and other mobs as they tried to reach us. Similar tactics were available at each of the rides we encountered – a fountain nearby was beset with zombies and a few well-placed blows to its gas canisters finished them off quickly. Why does a fountain need exposed gas canisters? Who knows?

The game also has larger narrative covering the battle between the three main conspirators for world domination: the Dragons, the Templar and the Illuminati. While the Atlantic Park mission was focused on exploring the fairground, others will involve battling opposing factions and the massive PvP will obviously need you to fight the others for control of power sources.

I experienced nothing truly compelling in this demo but the sheer range of skills and the freedom of loadouts has me intrigued. I really want to get a closer look at them in this upcoming beta.

Head on over to Gamespot and sign in to get a closed beta key for The Secret World.You could also sign up to companion browser game The Secret War to get on the beta registration list but be prepared to spam your friends’ Facebook walls. As far as I can tell, the whole point of that game is to blab the secret to as many people as possible.