TSW: Leaving Kingsmouth

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I’ve finally done it. For the first time in my 3 attempts to play The Secret World, I’ve actually finished Kingsmouth! I’ve never quite gelled with the game enough to get through this first zone before, but this time I’ve found myself quite immersed in the experience. I have been taking it very slowly, with only a few play sessions a week, which I guess is demonstrated by the face it’s taken me about six weeks to get this far.

The unusually dense manner in which content is dispersed has also contributed. There’s a surprising amount to do in the first area, and it really isn’t all that big in landmass terms either. You can traverse the whole zone in a few minutes, but you will be spending a lot of time running back and forth through the same areas, which I have to say makes it somewhat inexplicable that enemies continue to aggro even when you’re considerably more powerful than them. It leaves me with the impression that it’s a design decision to slow players down a bit and throttle their progression through the storyline. But some missions like the investigation ones, and even a few from the main storyline, have an indeterminate completion time, simply because they rely on smarts not numbers to progress. The time taken to decipher a biblical quotation may vary! Some investigation missions have taken me hours to finish, but I never find them a slog and I usually don’t look up any walkthroughs unless I’m totally stumped and even then I just try and find a clue. So, some people may blast through Kingsmouth, but for me and the way I approach the game, it’s taken a while!

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When I started playing The Secret World again my plan was to think of it as a single player game. This has helped my ability to not feel bad about only jumping in every now and again, and to feel like I can enjoy the game at a slow pace, hearing every line of dialogue, trying to complete every mission, and see every sight. I think this has been a big part of why I’ve had such a lot of fun with the game, but I can’t help but feel the draw of group content. I’m becoming more and more inclined towards finding a group of players I can join, but I don’t feel like I want to commit a lot of free time to scheduled grouping times. I’m keen to see the dungeon content though, just because I don’t want to miss out on any of the games storylines, so maybe I’ll just try some PUGs in the lower ‘level’ dungeons for now.

I’m really excited to really start digging into The Savage Coast, the games next zone. It looks very dark and moody, even more so than Kingsmouth, and the variety of enemies is a nice change after killing all the zombies all the time! The few characters I’ve met so far seem interesting, and it already looks as though the density of content in Kingsmouth is going to be mirrored in all of the other zones too. I’m also just starting to reach a point where I have more skills unlocked to start making better builds. I’m currently working on an affliction/penetration blood magic and blade build. It’s early days as I don’t have a lot of the skills I’ll need yet, but I’m pretty close to some build defining ones.

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Overall, I’m still really enjoying the game, and a casual approach has helped greatly I feel. I may get around to giving some of the group content a try soon, but it depends if I get the opportunity. I’m still glad I’ve subscribed as the knowledge that I’m building up store currency to buy more content whenever I’m ready for it is nice, and the benefits are ok as well. An hour long XP booster you can use every sixteen hours, a 10% store discount, and a some free items and bonus points to spend on limited store items.

Feel free to add me, my character name is “Lucks” and I play on Arcadia, Templar side. And I still have so many zones and all the DLC to go!

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The Secret World and Technical Problems

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I haven’t written much about The Secret World lately, for the very good reason that frankly I haven’t played it very much at all. However during the last few days I’ve been getting back to things there, and I’m having an absolutely great time with it at the moment, and I’ve played it quite a lot this week. I’m still subscribing to the game and I’m just letting my store credits build up, before I decide which DLC to buy first. Although I do understand there’s some sort of cap on those store credits so I have to be a bit mindful of that.

I think it really helped to draw me back into the game that the first mission I completed after my return was actually the first faction mission, in my case for The Templars, and it was very enjoyable with some neat lighting mechanics being used to add to the oppressively dark atmosphere. This immediately pulled me back into the game and got me excited about all the great missions to come. One thing I really do like about TSW is that you often find yourself doing things I’ve never done in an MMO before. Take for example the mission I just mentioned, where you have to equip a miners lamp headlight which deactivates periodically. It’s not just using the lamp that’s different, but also that they took the time to make doing so a worthwhile experience.

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That said, I’m still finding that general performance issues I have with the game are putting me off somewhat. It’s hard to appreciate an area such as London, and all the lengths Funcom have gone to to make it an interesting place packed with funny little details, when it takes 60 seconds for NPCs to load in a lot of the time. I also get the odd crash which I can live with, but this combined with longer than average loading times is quite irritating. Yesterday the launcher was installing a patch, but was downloading at a peek of around 28kb/s. Which meant it took about twenty minutes to download a 58mb patch. That actually ate into my window for playing the game significantly, so I was able to do much less than I’d have liked to.

My biggest problem so far though, has to be the inconsistency of animations in the game. I regularly get frozen animations, animations that don’t trigger, or that glitch out in some fashion. So I can hit active dodge, and it’s basically 50/50 whether my character will actually visibly do anything on the screen. Sometimes if I dodge whilst running, my character will be completely motionless as if standing still whilst still propelling forwards at sprint speed, which certainly looks a bit funny but can be a bit of an immersion breaker. I’ve even had both my character and enemies fail to use any attack animations for most of a fight, so the only feedback that anything at all is happening is numbers springing out of their heads. None of this is a deal breaker, but it’s proving to be a bit of an obstacle to fully enjoying the game.

I’m well aware that my PC is on its way out, so it’s possible that some of these problems are on my end. Yet, I’d be surprised if something like those animations glitches I described weren’t a client side problem. I searched around online about poor framerate even on low settings, and it was recommended in a few places to switch down to DX9 instead of 11, as what you lose by doing so is minimal anyway and apparently it fixes a lot of problems and is a known issue with Age of Conan too. Doing this did help with framerate issues, and allow me to run the game on much higher setting before taking a performance hit, which certainly makes the game look a lot better than it did before, but these other little niggles are all that’s holding me back from getting fully engaged in the game.

So am I alone in this, or have any of you guys experienced a lot of problems with The Secret World?

Gaming Update

I haven’t written much on what I’m currently playing, so I thought I’d give a weekly update on where I’m at with the various titles I’m plodding my way through.

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The Secret World

I haven’t had anywhere near as much time to devote to this game as I would like. One thing I always say about The Secret World is that it’s the sort of game that demands long play sessions to really get the most out of, at least for me anyway. I find that the story sinks in a lot better if I can drink in the details, rather than if I’m just popping online for half an hour here and there.

I’m currently still making my way through Kingsmouth. There’s an awful lot of content crammed into this tiny map, and I’m having a good time with it. I still find the investigation missions to be the best part of the game, aside from its overwhelming sense of atmosphere. Some of the other missions are pretty prosaic, but you often end up doing a lot of things you’ve never done in an MMO before.

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X-Com: Enemy Within

I absolutely love Maxim’s modern reimagining of this seminal 90s gaming classic. Who doesn’t enjoy equipping and controlling customised toy super soldiers right? The interplay between the turn based combat during missions, and base and troop tinkering in between operations has a wonderful synergy that drives the whole experience forward. It is the sort of game you can easily lose hours to without even checking the clock.

It’s one of those games that I’ve started many times but never finished. I’m now learning to just keep it on my hard drive for when the need for some turn based action takes me. At the moment I’m not very far into the game at all, and I’m pretty much just dipping in for a mission or two every now and again. Can’t wait until I get some mech troopers though.

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Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2

At the moment I’m continuing to treat the first Dark Souls much like X-Com. It stays on my hard drive for when I feel like jumping in for a few hours. I’ve got pretty familiar with the game now, but there are always more mysteries to uncover, and I can take the story with some NPCs as well as the main storyline in different directions from my first playthrough. It’s one of the things I love about this game.

I’m also playing through Dark Souls 2 at a friends house. We’re doing co-op the old fashioned way, by passing a controller back and forth. We completed the first Dark Souls like this too and I found it to be a really nice way to play the game. If you get frustrated you can hand it off to someone else to have a go, which sometimes is all you need to prevent the experience driving you up the wall.

So that’s what I’ve been playing this week.

An Evening of Investigation

Last night I took the opportunity to play one of The Secret World’s investigation missions. For anyone not familiar with these, think of them as puzzles, requiring a fair bit of detective work on the part of the players, aided by our Google overlords. I wanted to give a decent account of the flavour of these sort of missions, and demonstrate just what makes The Secret World so different from other MMOs when it is at its best.

I began my mission by visiting Kingsmouth’s local preacher, a man by the name of Henry Hawthorne, and an amateur Illuminati enthusiast. He had already informed me in a previous mission that he was practically an honorary member due to his persistent postings on certain forums where he is considered “a valued poster”. He spoke of potentially hidden Illuminati tunnels beneath the town itself. Armed with no more information than my quest journal which said “Henry Hawthorne says you can hear the hollowed out tunnels when walking down Main Street. Track down these echoes of the Illuminati.”

So the first thing I did was check my map of Kingsmouth for Main Street, and began running up and down it, and figuring that the use of the word echoes must be significant, I crank up the volume. Sure enough, sound waves appeared under my characters feet, right outside the entrance to town hall. I noticed I could now remove a loose paving slab in order to reveal a hidden trap door.

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Examining the trapdoor reveals a keyhole, and a message.

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As you can see, above the keyhole are inscribed the words “Clavus Aurea”. So, this being The Secret World, the first thing I do is crack open the in-game web browser and search for Clavus Aurea. This is a Latin phrase, and translates to “Golden Key”.

Here perhaps I got a little lucky. I remembered seeing a giant key to the city type deal in the mayors office, and went to investigate.

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Sure enough the big key opened up the trapdoor, and I went inside feeling intrepid.

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This is the sight that greeted me upon entering. A gloomy, musty set of tunnels. It certainly wasn’t as auspicious as I might’ve imagined secret Illuminati tunnels to be, that’s for sure. After a little precarious adventuring (ok, walking left and then right), I discovered a book laying face down on the floor. Aha! A clue! The book stated:

A Man who seeks Enlightenment shall set himself in Motion

He shall show Appreciation for the Exertions of his fellows, And make as a church going does before Holy Symbols

He shall show Great Disdain for the Trappings of Old Empire, And avert his Gaze from schemes Coiled and Chaotic”

Hmmm, that seems like it might be important. This was the first thing I wrote in my notebook, thinking that the capitalised letters may be meaningful. But for now I had a new problem. There were two sides to the tunnel system, and at each end were four plaques with symbols upon them.

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Above each was an engraving. On one side the words “Oculus, rara avis” were written, and on the other “of Khufu, of the Grand Lodge”. A quick Google found that rara avis translated from Latin to the words “eye (or a round hole), a rare bird”. Khufu it appears was a pharaoh , and “The Grand Lodge” refers to a Masonic gathering place. So, after a quick bit of thinking, it seemed clear that for the oculus clue I should select the birds talon like shape, and the eye shape within the small triangle. Suddenly, a door opened.

Inside was what appeared to be a crypt. Indeed, there was a sarcophagus, which open opening revealed a note, and a pyramid shaped item. I realised that this is what must I must need to open the other door with the “Khufu” clue.  The note revealed the possibility of a grisly truth, it was labelled as a confession, and spoke to having the remains of one Solomon Priest moved. Solomon Priest is some sort of legendary figure in the founding of Solomon Island, and Kingsmouth itself, but at this point in the game I know little about him. Unfortunately, it appeared that this was only part one of a confession, and the note promised that the other half could be found with the remains of Solomon Priest, for those able to brave the southern corridor.

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Now equipped with the pyramid symbol, I boldly headed for the southern tunnels, placed the symbol in the its place, and gained entrance. It was rather more appealing than the rest of this labyrinth, with ornate furnishings, paintings and books, and on the floor, a note.

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Now things are getting interesting. Psalm 41 part 8 starts with the word “Abyssus” which means “abyss” in English (I know, seemed unlikely right?), surely analogous to the dark. Then I notice that on the floor is a grid pattern of letters. Stepping on the wrong letter at the wrong time triggers a gas attack that kills you very quickly. Luckily, abyssus worked, and another set of doors opened. 

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What greeted me next was some sort of musical puzzle. It’s impossible to see from this picture, but each of those organ pipes has a note written on it, and each of the levers has a musical symbol on it. Again, a note is supplied.

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Dolandi, so Mr Internet tells me, was a 16th century composer, who wrote many songs for the lute. His most famous song appears to be called “Flow My Tears”. Another note was placed underneath the organ.

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So clearly, it falls to me to find the missing bar of music. Finding the sheet music for Flow My Tears is easy enough, but I have to be able to translate the sheet music into notes, and pull the corresponding lever to choose pitch. I found this chart very helpful, and then drew it out in my notebook.

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After very slowly and ineptly pulling levers and jamming away on the organ, finally another door opens before me. This time I’m greeted by four statues. One of a knight on his knees, an athlete with a discus, a snake, and some sort of angel and devil or demon. The sight of the athlete immediately brings to my mind a piece of the first clue found in the tunnel, the notebook “He shall show Appreciation for the Exertions of his fellows”. I begin to read and reread the entire passage from the notebook, and notice the opening line “A Man who seeks Enlightenment shall set himself in motion”. Suddenly it occurred to me, maybe I should try some emotes. So I stand in front of the statue of the athlete and /clap.

It works! Candles next to the statue alight. I try other emotes for the different statues. “Makes as a Church Going Man does before holy symbols” equals /pray before the angel and or demon thing, “Great disdain for the Trappings of old Empire” equals /spit before the knight, and “avert his Gaze from schemes Coiled and chaotic” equals /covereyes before the serpent. Success!

I have finally done it. After filling three pages of a notebook, and spending an hour doing research, I have located the hidden tomb of Solomon Priest. The second half of the confession is found.

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Those tricksy Illuminati. Murder most foul indeed. So Solomon Priest was murdered by his underling who assumed his position. However, doing so left him empty, as the legendary name of Solomon Priest lived on.

I realise that this is quite a long post, but I just wanted to provide a sample of what I love about The Secret World. In fact its the only thing I really love about The Secret World. Feeling cerebral doesn’t happen too often in MMOs, and I really appreciate the intermingling of real and fictional history together to form a compelling mystery. It scratches a particular itch. In the wrong wrapper, the investigation missions could be a bitter toffee, but such is the quality of the writing on offer, I can’t help but be swept up in the investigative spirit of things.

Subscribing to The Secret World: Am I Insane?

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I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the last week that I’ve just started playing The Secret World again, after a couple of short lived and unsuccessful attempts to get into it in the past. I’m still not very far at all in the game, and have only been messing about in Kingsmouth completing the opening missions. I’m very much taking my time and trying to drink in all the details which, to their credit, Funcom have made rewarding in itself.

Now, The Secret World currently operates under a buy to play model. In essence, you purchase the game outright and gain full access to all of the base game without any more purchases. However, Funcom release further updates for the game and its story called ‘issues’. These seem to be priced around the ten dollars mark, aside from one of the most recent issues which added in the Tokyo zone.

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So, as there is a whole lot of content for me to get through before I reach the point where I have to consider purchasing theses issues, why have I chosen to subscribe, even when that subscription doesn’t actually provide you with those issues as part of the subscription? Well Funcom provides subscribers with a monthly stipend of ten dollars worth of its store currency, and a 10% discount too. This is enough currency to purchase one issue every month of your subscription. But, once again, I’m nowhere near the point of buying those issues, so why bother?

The truth is, I’m subscribing because I feel what I’m getting out of the game is worth some money to me. I want to see developers making interesting content be rewarded for doing so. Lord knows there is little enough of it around at the moment. Of course, my contribution isn’t likely to help Funcom very much, who certainly don’t look in the best of shape at the moment, but I still feel that they’ve made a unique and interesting title here and I feel I want to support them in that endeavour, whether I stick with the game long term or not.

So what about you, have you ever paid a developer just because you wanted to support what they were doing?

Returning to The Secret World

The last couple of days have seen me try my hand a both Archeage and The Secret World. As I mentioned before, I have played The Secret World a little, perhaps the first 15-20 hours or so, but finally decided to bite the bullet and really give it a fair crack of the whip. So without further ado, please welcome my newest character ‘Lucy “Lucks” Linguine”’, of the order of the Templars.

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I really like TSWs representation of London, and it is obvious that they’ve made an effort to get the look and feel right. Little details like the uniforms of the police, the shape of the cars, and the markings on the roads, feel quite authentic, and you even hear some familiar British colloquialisms whilst chatting to NPCs here. I’ve yet to pick a faction other than Templars in this game, so maybe I should try another sometime just to see the other home cities.

The Secret World is one of those games I’d categorise as having slightly awkward ideal play sessions. You see, I have this notion that some games benefit from longer play sessions than others. Take Guild Wars 2 for example, in that game I feel I can legitimately play for half an hour and accomplish something, without feeling like I lose anything from the overall experience. In TSW however, I believe I enjoy it more if I can play for a couple of hours at a time. Such is my inclination with most heavily story driven games. Remembering characters and details is harder if your playtime is too short, or the length of time between sessions too long.

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I took some care when picking my characters weapons and when spending my first Anima Points, aided in part by some sound advice from Crow at Looking for Playtime. I opted for blades and blood magic as my two primary weapons, hoping to utilise synergies around the impaired state and penetration buffs.

My first couple of hours in game only saw me complete a few missions in Kingsmouth, but they were memorable and I had a lot of fun, overall I’m glad I made the decision to give the game another try.

Struggling With The Secret World

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Funcom’s The Secret World  is one of those games you can’t help but admire. It’s truly trying something different, and brings a fresh perspective to a genre which sorely needs it. However, despite numerous attempts, I’ve always struggled to get into the game for the long-term.

Unusually for me, most of the reasons for that are pretty superficial. It doesn’t run fantastically well on my computer for a start, and is prone to the odd crash every now again, which is compounded by the fact that it takes an age to load. I also find the animations to be a bit wonky, which I don’t find a problem on a aesthetic level so much, but it does bother me because it can contribute to a feeling of unresponsiveness at times.  Also, I don’t have a tremendously large hard drive, and for someone who seems to compulsively love buying games almost more than actually playing them, 40gb is a lot of hard disk space to sacrifice unless you’re really going to be playing the game a lot. I’m not in love with the combat either, which is pretty slow paced and drawn out, but that’s not a deal breaker for me at all if I enjoy the core experience enough.

But, having said all this, I really do understand the appeal of the game. The stories are great stories, and I don’t just mean in MMO terms where the bar is generally set pretty low. The world Funcom have created really appeals to me, and it feels very much like a smart, witty, and occasionally dark game, which always appeals to me.

The dilemma I have now is, do I stick with my first character who is part of the way through Solomon Island, or start fresh with a new character. I am generally the sort of gamer who prefers to start again rather than try and pick something up half way through, but I’m in that difficult position with TSW where I only have some recollection of the story, but perhaps remember too much to play the first 15-20 hours through again. I haven’t decided yet, but I suspect I’ll start again from scratch and keep my old character just in case I change my mind.

Anyway, I’m hoping this time the game finally sticks, and I get to fully appreciate all that’s good about it, because I really want to love this one.