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I wanted to like The Secret World. I really did. I love the premise of the setting. I’m a great fan of urban fantasy, and I’d be delighted to see a new MMO that isn’t yet another sword and sorcery world. While The Secret World wasn’t at the top of my agenda, I thought I’d keep an eye on it and maybe pick up a copy a few months down the line, because I’ve got a busy summer ahead of me and to be honest Funcom are nought for two on successful launch days, so I figured it was wiser to stay clear of the teething problems and then take my dive into the world of the Illuminati and the Templars at my own pace.

Then I found a beta key waiting in my inbox yesterday.

So I downloaded about 14 Gb overnight, and tried to play the game this morning. We’ll come back to that word “tried”.

Once the install was complete, I logged in – which took a moment longer than it should have done because the fields to enter my user ID and password weren’t immediately obvious. They aren’t hidden or anything like that, but they are right at the bottom of the screen and sort of blend into the ‘shades of grey’ theme of the screen, so the eye is not immediately drawn to them. A minor niggle – I’m sure my Human Computer Interaction professor back at university would have had something to say about a screen design like that, but it’s not unplayable, just a minor road bump on your way in to the game.

Next, I created a character. I had a choice of three factions to join: the Illuminati, the Templars or the Dragons. Each of which has an intro video. So I fired up all three videos to make my choice. Here’s where my problems started – and I’ll be the first to admit it’s a subjective problem, but fundamentally I just didn’t really want to join any of those factions after hearing their recruiting spiel. The Illuminati are power-brokers, manipulators, shadowy masterminds – they sounded like a really good NPC villain faction, but not something I’d want to pledge allegiance to. The Templars came across as humourless authoritarians with a massive stick up their collective butt, and frankly all I could derive from the Dragons video was “we’re Asian and we like to mess stuff up”. Nothing really drew me to any of these, but in the end I shrugged and went with the Templars and finished creating my character.

After a long cut-scene with some decidedly mediocre voice acting (I think SWTOR has spoiled me for other games) I finally got to take control of my character. Briefly. Then the game crashed, and popped up a window that claimed it was sending a crash report back to Funcom but as far as I can tell did sweet FA apart from locking my PC up until I finally managed to get Task Manager to kill it. So I went off and updated my video drivers, as the error report said something about that, and logged back in. Took a few dozen paces down TSW’s version of a London street, only to crash again. After another unresponsive bug report window, I logged in a third time, dialled the graphics settings down to low, took a couple of steps into a very old-fashioned looking Underground station, clicked on a ‘lore object’… and crashed again. At which point I ran out of patience.

Yes, I know it’s beta. I also know that this game is supposed to be going live in just a few weeks. I can’t help but compare this experience to the much smoother one I had last weekend playing Guild Wars 2, a game that hasn’t even set a release date yet. I haven’t felt this disappointed on first contact with a game since The Matrix Online – and that is not happy company to be in. As things stand, I’m now considerably LESS likely to pick up the game even a few months down the line than I would have been if I hadn’t been invited to this weekend’s beta event. It’s a crying shame, because I really wanted this one to work – but it looks as if once again, Funcom have taken a great-looking IP and thoroughly bolloxed the implementation.

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2 Comments

  1. I actually have had a great time in The Secret World betas – I’ve played in all of them so far, and I guess I have been fortunate enough that I have not ran into any crashing problems. I did encounter a graphic issue during the first beta weekend, but it did not cause a crash – I just couldn’t select a particular skill (until the 2nd weekend). So far, the modern location and urban legend inclusion have me pretty excited for this to release. Perhaps you’ll get another chance with this game on the last beta weekend and have more success, but I can totally understand the “game overload” this summer…

    • Glad to hear that you’re having fun with TSW – I do want the game to succeed. I’m just getting a bad gut feeling between the crashes to desktop (which obviously aren’t universal – but on the other hand there’s nothing especially odd about my PC and I don’t have these problems with other games) and the lack of “grab” that the factions exerted on me (which is purely subjective). Here’s hoping that TSW does have a smooth launch and retain lots of players, but I’m glad it’s not the only basket I’m putting eggs in this year 🙂


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