Early Impressions of TSW Post-Buy-To-Play
Posted by Player Versus Developer [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 January 2013, 9:50 pm
With its business model out of the way, I've given the Secret World another look.  The game still has some rough edges - in particular a relatively steep learning curve.  Given a bit more time (and a lot more out-of-game research), I'm starting to see the game's strengths - a story experience and the skill-collection minigame that serves as the class system.  I'm also wondering that these strengths may not be well suited for longevity. 

Learning Curve
My initial impressions of TSW pre-launch were not overly positive.  Part of the issue is documentation.  The game offers embedded YouTube video tutorials, but these often feel more promotional than instructional.  Some of the challenges are due to ways in which TSW does things differently from other MMO's.  A few examples:
Nicholas "Brevane" Brevane - named for a continent in the Rift expansion I have yet to play, and Templar resident of the Arcadia (RP) server
  • The text at character creation informs you that your first and last names are cosmetic and that your nickname is your unique character identifier.  I spent a while beating my head against the system trying to generate nicknames that sounded like actual names and were not taken, only to find that most players in-game seem to be using nicknames that sound more like social media handles. 
  • Pressing the X button toggles a "sprint" ability that doubles as your mount-equivalent.  There was a brief tooltip on this, but it did little to explain how it worked.  It does not seem to be necessary to hold the button down to continue running - not sure how I got the idea that this was the case, but this happened - but the function does break when you enter combat.
  • It's possible that I did not click on the correct Youtube link, but currently 100% of my understanding of the game's stat and gear systems comes from having read out of game guides.  Gear is statted for tanking, damage, or healing, but some characters (especially solo) will want to take a more hybrid approach to their gear.  On a related note, there was a tutorial on how to attach glyphs to gear, but I did not remember how to do this by the time I found non-tutorial gear I wanted to glyph.  
  • There is a buyback function for accidentally vendoring items, but I had to google to find out where it is hidden.  (Answer: a nondescript button on the bottom of the "sell" panel of the vendor UI.)  
I'm starting to learn the ropes - again, overwhelmingly through out-of-game reading - but the game certainly does not do new players many favors.  

The Story and World
Through a combination of art, sound, and writing, TSW presents a very distinctive world experience.  You may or may not like their specific vision - in particular, I did not find the NPC's for two of the game's three factions in any way people that I wanted to be working for over any extended periods of time - but I definitely tip my hat to them for making the environment and feel of the game stand out. 

That said, one quirk to the game is that most (all?) missions are repeatable.  The quests are also non-linear, in that there are not enforced levels, or a specific order in which they must be completed.  There are definite advantages to this approach, as it leaves the door open for players to replay content (either alone or to help friends), especially if they find they need more character advancement before they can forge onwards.  The catch is that when you do quests in the "wrong" order and/or repeat too many quests just because they are conveniently located, you might try to pick up a piece of the story only to find that it is no longer challenging or rewarding due to your character's progression.

Collecting Skills
The skill system is another area with a major learning curve.  The tutorial gives you a weapon with some basic skills and enough skill points to purchase a few more skills.  This is a trap.  Instead of advancing down the offered vertical path, you are supposed to immediately pick up a second weapon.  Almost all DPS weapons generate free resources for both of your two skillsets, so you are really at a disadvantage in terms of character power and versatility if you fail to branch out. 

This hurdle aside, the system is a fun skill collection minigame.  I started with a sword - a somewhat tank-oriented weapon - and a pair of pistols.  An early passive ability on one of the pistol trees turns unused pistol resources on mobs you kill into free passive healing.  I'm experimenting with several other combinations, but at least I appear to have a better understanding of what you're aspiring towards in character builds.

As with other parts of the game, though,. one a caveat for the future: the problem with progression systems which allow you to pick which skill to get next is that you will (hopefully) get the skills you want first.  Once you have something that works, it's always fun to tinker, but there is a risk that future upgrades will be less rewarding if you don't really need them.

Outlook
Overall, I certainly don't regret my purchase - all $15 of it.  Thus far the game has been a fun and unique experience.  That said, I can also see how longevity might be limited as players complete their main storylines and skill decks.  This is by no means a unique challenge for TSW, but it might help explain part of the game's limited success under the old subscription model. 


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