We’ve covered the setting and environments, your avatar, and the factions you’ll meet. Now on to the story. The basic idea of The Secret World is that a growing darkness, which manifests in many different ways, is gradually corrupting the world. All sources knowledgeable on the subject agree that it is growing exponentially.
In New England, the fog compelled many of the townsfolk to walk out into the sea and drown themselves, returning a few days later as the walking dead, known as draug. Cultists infest the shoreline and forested areas near town, and may even be responsible for resurrecting the decaying corpses that lie in the cemetery. A town under siege needs a hero.
The remaining residents task you with finding the source of the undead menace, culling the wendigo population that has recently exploded, combating the cultists who execute dark rituals over unnatural blue flames, and investigating terrible murders committed by a demon that a witness claims had a pumpkin for a head.
Every main mission has a cutscene in which you interact directly with the people requesting your help. They explain the situation as they see it, giving you a very rich gameplay experience. Backstory and a personal spin give you a sense that these are real people with a real history, dealing with the events around them.
Some handle it very well, almost matter-of-factly, and only ask for your help with tasks outside of their skill sets. Others seem helpless, and while the character may be annoying in that weakness, it’s certainly understandable given the extreme circumstances that have suddenly destroyed their normal suburban lives.
Missions involve multiple tiers, where one discovery leads you to another area, which may then lead to a new understanding, thus furthering the quest. Compared to other MMOs, missions in The Secret World are much more complex and realistic. My favorites are the missions that really set this game apart from all the rest: the research missions.
On research missions you track down shreds of clues to begin to understand the larger scheme. You’re aided by the greatest research tool in the world: Google. The Secret World contains an in-game browser. Just be careful, as a great many spoiler sites have popped up with solutions. Although you may get stumped or frustrated, I urge you to not give in to temptation. The satisfaction you get when the puzzle clicks for you without cheating is by far the best part of the mission aspect of The Secret World.
In addition to area-specific missions and side quests that give you a greater understanding of the world, you’ll always have a single Primary Mission, which advances the story and changes the world around you. Without spoilers, let me just say that it spans continents and has some rather shocking revelations and visual experiences. The Primary Mission is probably the best mission in the game due to how your own faction’s story weaves in and out of it.
You start as an ordinary person thrust into an incredible world, but your character will become more effective in combat and better able to execute complicated missions. You’ll become instrumental in turning back the corruption that eats at the world as well as advancing the interests of both your faction and yourself.
A final word on the game from a storytelling perspective. There are certain event-based, scripted encounters, specifically tailored for groups of five players. Together you’ll go through a small and quick mini-story. No other players can enter your instance of the area; it’s just you and your team. Your personal choices in Skill and Ability Points become very important here.
The group stories often complement the Primary Mission by giving backstory, but aren’t really necessary to understand everything that’s going on in the world. However, they are highly prized for the rewards gained from defeating enemies as a group. Some of the best gear in the game is picked up in this manner.
That concludes my review of The Secret World. Even if you’re not a gamer, I’d highly recommend all storytellers make themselves familiar with the medium as an advanced form of storytelling. I think you’ll find it compelling to directly participate and see where the story leads.
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Background on Dorian Granruth: I’m an avid gamer. I also love spending days lost within a science fiction or fantasy universe whole unto itself, whether game or fiction. World building, setting, plot, character development, and all the other facets that make fiction great are increasingly found in even the most humble of games.
I’ll stop in from time to time to talk about some of my personal favorites. This is the fourth in The Secret World series of posts. See the other three posts below.