A Secret beta

So, the semi-open weekend beta of The Secret World has started. And oh boy, have I been busy!
Facial animations are actually quite good

The beta-ness shows in some parts, but the new approach to advancement and crafting, plus the very nicely done missions (cutscenes! cutscenes everywhere!) is - in my opinion - worth it.

Note: some of the screenshots were taken with the "low" graphical setting (heh, semi-passive office PC..) so please don't judge the graphics based on them.

There are no "levels" in the original sense. The character does get experience and there is an xp bar. At predetermined points, the character will get skill (SP) and anima (AP) points, but the "length" of the xp bar does not change. You could say that you are advancing through the same level again and again.

The character does not have attributes like strength or even defense by himself or herself. Instead, these attributes are given by the talismans and weapons the character has equipped. There is one head, three major three minor talisman and two weapon slots. Note that each talisman slot will only accept a particular sub-type of talisman. Apart from these, you have the usual potions.

Clothes & Looks
None of the talismans show on the character, only the weapons. Note however, that the characters can, in fact equip clothes as well. These give absolutely nothing, apart from looks. Devs said that about 40-60% will be reward based, so where in other games you could show off your prowess by wearing that particular armor from that particular instance, here you can do the same with clothes. Or just wear something that you think looks way better on your character without the loss of abilities, attributes or the need to transmogrify them. Also, clothes are not stored in the inventory, but in a separate dressing list. Oh, and males anf females have separate clothes.

A dragon working girl amongst the templars...

Abilities & Skills
Instead of attributes, the characters have skills and abilities that unlocked with SP and AP respectively. Skills are needed for wielding increasingly powerful weapons an talismans, while abilities are the active and passive "spells" of the game. These can range from a passive giving a buff (extra dmg, statechange, cooldown reduction) for a particular active ability, for an entire family of abilities (frenzy attacks, DoTs, blade abilities, HoTs).

The abilities are classified into weapon categories and types, plus there are three small miscelaneous sets that are not unlocked for the beta. The categories are: melee, ranged, magic. The types are: blades, fists, hammers, assault rufles, shotguns, pistos, chaos magic, blood magic, elemental magic. There is a small limitation concerning the order the abilities can be bought. To acces the outer tiers for the each weapon, you have to first complete the two inner tiers. Each little segment consists of seven abilities that can only be purchased in order.

Every weapon skill can be advanced in two sets: support and damage

As you can see, you can, at any point decide to go for another weapon. As the beginning skills are relatively cheap (1-7 AP), getting it up to an acceptable level is not hard at all. Especially since more difficult quests seem to be rewarding more and more xp, so you get more and more AP & SP. The AP that is short change for a final ability of the final tier can  unlock a whole first tier segment. And since there is no retraining, no loss of abilities, you can change between specs (dps, tank, healer) any time, anywhere.

Decks (ability sets)
Out of the about 500 abilities, you can only have 7+7 at any given moment. 7 active and 7 passive skills. These are what the game calls "decks". For those who are unsure as to what abilities they should spend AP towards, or are just lazy to read through them, there are readymade decks for every faction and most weapon combinations.

Achievements are a must. A number of them appear to be fun to get, as opposed to the usual suspects.

If you had to pick one mindboggingly boring part of the crafting systems prevalent in MMOs, it would be the level grind: crafting bad items just to get the skill up to the max level. Waste of money, waste of time, waste of clicks and energy. Here it is quite different. Think minecraft-different: you don't have a crafting skill, you just have to know the "patterns" for each item.

Selling greens to vendors appears to be a big no-no in TSW

This pattern is then laid out on a 5x4 crafting grid, accessible anywhere. You can also break stuff down here: potions, weapons, talismans, but only green and supposedly better stuff. You can also convert materials to a higher or lower quality levels (5->1 for higher, and 1->4 for lower).

There are four basic elements: metal is for weapons, fire is for dps talismans, water is for tanking talismans and dust is for healing talismans. There are also many-many runes, mainly for glyphs (prefixes and suffixes). All of these materials can also be used for potions. E.g.: critical chance rune for a crit buff potion and the like.

Remember the time you had to trash things simply because there wasn't enough space in you rinventory? Well, this is not that game. You start out with 50 inventory slots and can purchase extra slots for so-low-as-I-don't-care ingame currency. Another very nice thing is that you can create any number of any shape of bags, regardless of their combined apparent space (so their apparent total size may exceed your max inventory slots) and name them as you like. You can also create button bars for potions just by clicking a little lock icon on any number of bags, which will thus stay open if you close your inventory. Also, there seems to be no stacking limit. As the devs said: they wanted to remove the agony from using the inventory.

The expanding white line means he is about to use an AoE skill

In your regular MMO, or even many of the offline type, missions are dime a dozen, and you might be working on five or ten at the same time, and they usually don't take more than a couple of minutes to finish. Here, you will most likely concentrate on one and it will take more time. This is because the missions have  multiple tiers, and each tier has their own goals, rainging from going somewhere to a regular kill quest or searching for something.

You'll see quite a way away if an NPC has missions to offer

Yes, there are a number of your regular kill quests, but at least the fetch quests I've seen so far don't employ the horrible drop rate encumberance that Blizzards seems to be so happy to use. (So 100% droprate for all so far.)

Playing detective
First AAA-game that does not think you a retard, really. I just love these investigation missions. E.g.: you have to use the local phone book to get the address, you have to use Google (press B: you get an ingame chromium browser) to wade through possible leads, open the Bible, make an educated guess. The mission journal even has a new feature to view previous picture clues.

Your best friend!

Yes, it is easy to get stuck, particularly if you are sleepy or just are missing some basic knowledge. The developers said that they worked day and night to get the puzzles working in all languages supported (German, Spanish). So if  you don't speak any of these (in which case how you are reading this?) and/or don't like puzzles, this game is definitely not for you.

Cinematics and Voice Over
To sum up: very, very good. Every mission you get from an NPC is given through a cinematic, and the developers took care in making them. Although these use the game engine, they are far better than most might think. Voice actors seldom fail, judging from the dozens of hours I spend ingame, they are all convincingly real.

You can tell at a glance what rarity a loot bag has.

Mission system
The fall of it. You can only get a couple of missions at once, and some of these block the acceptance of others. Problem is, you won't know this until you go to the quest giver and try to accept the other one. Luckily you can pause missions - which thus regain their progress - to finish them later on. A surprisingly good idea of the system is that you can redo almost all quests, after a given cooldown has passed.

So far so good. Of course, this is only a beta, and as betas go, yes, it does have some bugs, crashes, and in some parts it is quite rough. So far the open beta is only about one beginner area, the town Kingsmouth that has been overrun by horrors of the sea. My personal opinion is that this game has a great potential. Great enough that it made me forget about my active WoW account and the close launch of Diablo 3.

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