In December my 10+ years old computer was put out to pasture after a very long and impressive run. Elio and I had been planning new computers for ourselves for a year or two, but just not found the right time (or the right build) before then. Now I am finally using a system that doesn’t require me to switch to my laptop on the side to be able to run Second Life or do any graphics work. In fact, it can do quite a bit more as well, since Elio did want a setup that could be used for gaming. For my own part, I wasn’t expecting any beyond Second Life, seeing as the last games I played were The Longest Journey and Dreamfall. Good-old adventure games have always been my only real interest and those are rather far and few between these days. MMOs have never really been on my radar at all. Except, of course, I had read a few things about The Secret World given the connection to TLJ and Dreamfall. And then it just happened to go buy-to-play very shortly after our new computers had arrived…
Cut to a few weeks later and both Elio and I are running around with Rank 10 Templars, slaughtering assorted creatures all over the world and making steady progress with the very exciting main storyline.
Now, it wasn’t entirely smooth sailing to start with. As I noted, I’ve never played an MMO. I’ve barely played any vaguely action-oriented games at all, actually. In fact, I can only think of one, good old Betrayal at Krondor. Given this, the combat element of The Secret World turned out to be a pretty considerable obstacle at first. In fact, it still isn’t easy for me, as I don’t do well under pressure and I’ve found myself pretty sucky at firing at things and moving at the same time. However, playing as a pair has definitely made all the difference, and for the solo instances, I can always call in actual physical help from Elio. I am actually finding most of the combat pretty fun now, whereas at first I saw it as something I had to get through to get to the story. And the story does remain the highlight for me, the thing that keeps my interest firmly hooked and makes me a lot less likely to hit the “what’s the point of all the levelling up?” stage that I hit after about a month of playing MUDs back in 1995. I can’t compare with other MMOs or RPGs since I haven’t played any, but looking at something like TLJ and Dreamfall I think the story is every bit as good. Its epic, its engaging and its smart. If you know myths and legends, you will uncover additional layers to the story, and that sort of intertextual puzzle is always extremely rewarding for me. I was so thrilled when I figured out who the main antagonist during the first story mission actually is that it made me giddy for several days just thinking about it. I was even more thrilled when, during the final confrontation with said antagonist, the game stayed smart and didn’t spell it out for you.
In terms of other aspects of the game, I have no basis for comparison at all, but I am finding the skill and ability system quite interesting. The flexibility can be daunting at first, but then it feels like a lot of fun and not as artificial as having pre-set classes. The combat, fortunately, isn’t too complex, but the variety of weapons and abilities still seems to offer room for quite a few different play styles. For my own part, I like the “hang at the back and lob magic at the enemy from a safe-ish distance” style; it gives more room to deal with my adrenaline. Graphically, I think the world looks pretty awesome, especially Egypt and Transylvania; you get to kill monsters in some stunning vistas there. Coming from Second Life, I do wish I could customize my avatar a lot more—I wouldn’t mind a bit more meat on my virtual bones and hair that brushes the shoulders is NOT long hair on a woman or a man—but obviously some aspects of SLs flexibility are completely impossible in an MMO in order to keep it loading fast enough. Still, I do miss being able to make my avatar look exactly like I want her to. As a result, I feel I relate less to my avatar than I do to my SL avatar or my purely text-based MUSH characters.
The naming system also stumped me a bit; I love being able to choose both a first name and a last name for your avatar, but then you also have to pick a unique nickname and that one doesn’t allow spaces. I would much rather have seen avatars identified by their first name and last name—you have so many more combinations available that don’t require weird spellings or numbers then—with the option of also adding a unique nickname. I knew right away what first name and last name to use, but I am not a nickname person, so that one had me scrambling. In the end, I just made my avatar “Saga Lind” with the nickname of “SagaLind” and I am not really happy about it. I may actually consider paying to change the nickname if I can come up with something better, though unfortunately you’re stuck with your first name and last name (even though they don’t seem to be used internally to reference your avatar), so I won’t be able to make a full switch if I find another combination of names that I like better with a certain nickname. That’s a bit of nit-picking, but I know I am not the only one who is picky about names.
On the whole, though, we’re having a lot of fun. A bit too much, in fact, but that comes with the territory. These things are made to be addictive.
(As a final aside, this post might have been better suited to Virtually. However, MU*sings was never intended for anything but MUSHing and Otherworldly is all about Second Life. I may have to consider expanding the scope of Otherworldly or, more likely, adding another blog if indeed this particular addiction turns out to be long-term.)