The Secret World

It may be a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying game, but there’s plenty about The Secret World that makes it very appealing to an adventure gamer: its modern fantasy/horror setting, a major emphasis on story and puzzles, and of course a heavy dose of Ragnar Tørnquist. That’s right, this is the brainchild of The Longest Journey’s renowned creator, so if that doesn’t warrant our attention I don’t know what does. There have been attempts in the past to marry the social shenanigans of an MMO with the puzzle-solving of an adventure game, but the limited audience for games like Myst Online sealed their fates early on. Yet if there’s one company that can make this seemingly unholy marriage work it’s Funcom, a company that have found great success in both genres. Welcome then to The Secret World, a different take on the MMO that could well be an answer to our prayers.

Although this article is arriving nearly a year after the game originally launched, there is good reason for the delay. As a diehard adventure gamer, I can’t leave a story half-done. Thus, the ongoing story arc that runs through The Secret World had to be finished before I could even consider writing about it. That story took me ten months, I kid you not. This is primarily down to two reasons: the first is there’s a huge amount of content in this game for a story-hungry gamer to gorge on, and the second is that you can do a lot of it on your own. I’ve always had reservations about teaming up with other players, but I managed to play the majority of this game solo – right up to the end of the main campaign, in fact, with only the occasional meet-up with a friendly fellow player to advance my character past the difficult bosses. So if the notion of playing with others is daunting then worry not, as you can dip into the social side as much or as little (to a point) as you like.

You start the game by building your character; he or she can be designed however you wish but their final appearance has no bearing on the game itself. You can tweak all sorts of details like hair colour, face shape, clothing and accessories, which lets you create your own doppelganger or your ultimate adventurer. What does alter the game is your next set of options: picking your society. You have the choice between the London-based Templars (a set-up familiar to any Broken Sword fan), the New York Illuminati, and the South Korean Dragon. Whichever faction you choose dictates the city you start in, the action in the opening cinematic, and the contacts you’ll meet. These differences are still fairly cosmetic, as the overarching story plays out the same way for all three, so you can base your decision more on the city you prefer or the costumes you like. There are a few different side missions that are specific to each faction, however, so the completists out there may want to create several characters to try all sides.

Once you’re primped, plucked and ready for action, it’s time to enter The Secret World (you’ll need to create an account with Funcom, but there’s no monthly charge anymore so no need to worry about handing over credit card details). A pretty epic opening cinematic sets up a certain amount of the story, but mostly introduces a mysterious foundation for your character: as your avatar lies sleeping, a small glowing bee burrows its way into your mouth. Waking up with a start, you find strange powers are coursing through your veins. These powers are kept nondescript to begin with, but gradually they grow and finally manifest as glowing auras and bursts of electricity. Before long, after nearly exploding in your apartment, you attract the attention of your chosen faction and are visited by a mysterious representative. This is one of the times when the faction you’ve chosen directly affects the storyline. Haunted by visions and dreams of a world beyond ours, you follow your rep (either willingly or unwillingly) to your society’s headquarters to be fully briefed on the secret world.

As I’m a Brit, I chose the Templars so my experience details the game from their perspective. You soon find out you’re a chosen one who has been recruited to fight for the society. The factions compete with each other over the mysteries of the secret world. As the game is set firmly in the here-and-now, you’ll find references to Google, Wikipedia and various other modern and pop culture phenomena. The eponymous secret world refers to all the weird stuff that happens on our planet that we normal folk are not aware of: zombies, djinn, vampires, draug, trolls; you name it, they exist here. So whilst your starting city acts as your main hub and home, the real drama happens in particular action zones around the globe. So far there are three such zones that make up the bulk of the missions, with each split up into two or three smaller areas. There’s the Lovecraft-inspired Kingsmouth – a damp New England sea town complete with soggy disfigured sea denizens and zombie hordes; the Scorched Desert – an Egyptian nightmare full of cultists and false gods; and finally Transylvania, which speaks for itself really.

You move your third-person avatar using the WASD keys and pan the camera with the mouse or arrow keys. Important features like your quest journal, inventory, map and combat abilities have their own distinct keys. Yes, combat. As this is an MMORPG, you do indeed need to fight to advance your character and the story. If you try to skip ahead you’ll find enemies are too difficult and thus impossible to progress past. This is the main reason for such a long main story arc if you’re playing on your own, as you can’t just run your way through the main quest.

Encounters are frequent, but I found the fighting easy enough to get my rookie head around, so I’m sure most players will have no problem. If you’re spotted by a monster, you can stand your ground or run away with your tail between your legs. You attack by first locking onto your target with the Tab key then repeatedly tapping keys 1-8, which unleash the abilities you’ve previously mapped to them. Small melee attacks can be repeated ad nauseam (like slashes with a dagger or swipe of a sword), but bigger attacks require you to wait between uses (a hail of thunder and lightning, for example), and you're free to move around to dodge return attacks. The EXP (experience points) you gain from quests and kills are translated into SP and AP that can be used to improve your equipment and attacks. If the current encounters are too difficult, you can go back and try some of the easier missions (marked either ‘easy’ or ‘normal’ as opposed to ‘hard’ or ‘devastating’) to improve your ability. If you die, you’re resurrected in spiritual form at the nearest Anima well and must run back to your fallen body before you can continue with the game – this can be quite a trek sometimes, but at least you don’t have to fight past the sections you’ve already completed.

Continued on the next page...

About the Author
Rob Franklin
Staff Writer


May 6, 2013

Haven’t played secret world yet. Big fan of the longest journey and ragnar. Also love adventures and a few more story driven rpgs. Think dragon age is more story driven then combat. This sounds interesting though obviously not pure adventure which I love but rpgs that are more story driven and less stat driven are second to me after adventure games and this one looks worthy of a try

CoyoteAG CoyoteAG
May 6, 2013

I’ve never tried to play an MMORPG before but I think I’d be willing to give this a shot. Thanks for the review!

May 6, 2013

I cannot say enough good things about The Secret World.  The immense amount of content it contains is deep, broad, and carefully detailed.  It is impressive how it manages to juxtapose yet balance opposites:  tradition and modernity, horror and comedy, fantasy and reality, solo and teamplay, story and action.  You can zip through mostly action parts if you like it intense; or you can play slow to soak up all the lore and ambiance.

For me, I am captivated by how all the things that I had resigned to myth and legend or conspiracy, have become real.  And it has fallen on me, the player, to keep them secret.

btague:  I recommend giving The Secret World a try.  On the contrary, I think Dragon Age Origins (also one of my favorite games) is more combat heavy—especially in regards to battlefield strategy and character positioning (which is why you are allowed to pause time during combat).  It sounds like you will prefer TSW’s combat.

May 6, 2013

For The Longest Journey fans, there are many easter eggs in the opening sequence…

indigoo indigoo
May 6, 2013

Great write up. Been playing TSW since closed beta; definitely a game meant for Adventure gamers. Some really great investigation missions as well. Do yourself a favor folks, check it out.

Warrender Warrender
May 7, 2013

A great tip to avoid spoilers when Googling info is to append -TSW -secret world at the end of every search.  Example: “Kingsmouth -TSW -secret world” will filter out any spoilerific information.

Jannik Jannik
May 7, 2013

Nice article - well-written, and it’s nice to hear about the game from an adventure gamers perspective. Along with the comments it helped convince me I’m going to enjoy the game Smile

May 7, 2013

I think its tis a fantastic game as it feels like ive finally found another mmo that can capture my intrest, i was originally an old EQ1 player.Since eq ive been bouncing around from mmo to mmo, and game to game, in search of something that had an good stroy to follow, and as an rper, i think its a great setting to really get some good stories developed all on there own, tis a grand stage they’ve provided, so i say unto all those on the fence, come on. just come on man, the waters delightfully spooky.

Dag Dag
May 8, 2013

I’m kinda burnt out on MMO’s, after wasting a significant portion of my life on them, or maybe not entirely wasted, as I did have lots of great experiences and even made a few friends for life, but most of the time was spent doing endless repetition that stopped being fun long ago. Whenever the “grind” notion emerges, my eyes starts bleeding instantly.

After this read, however,  I may be slightly less reluctant to give TSW a try as I had no idea it offered adventure game elements (beyond that of exploration). Are there many quests containing puzzles, and how challenging are these (for a seasoned adventurer)?

May 8, 2013

One thing I think us adventurer games would find interersting are alternate reality games (ARGs).  For those who want to solve mysteries outside of the game, TSW had many fascinating ARGs.  These drew heavily on history, cryptography, puzzle solving, and community collaboration.  Not unlike the Da Vinci Code.  You can see a summary of the completed ones at

SamuelGordon SamuelGordon
May 9, 2013

Thanks for the link extracat, looks really interesting. I might give this one go since i hardly play mmorpgs.

May 11, 2013

I played it in the beginning, and now that the monthly fee is off,I might go back. Great game, the mood is spectacular.

Iznogood Iznogood
May 12, 2013

@Dag there are quite a lot of investigation missions as they are called, it is not the most common type of mission in the game, but there are still more “puzzles” then you will find in any adventure game. They are also similar but still different from the puzzles in AG, e.g. at some point you have to decode some morse code, but the game doesn’t provide you any tools to do that, you have to do this on your own (or find a morse translator on the internet)

I played it from the launch but stopped after a couple of months, but i have considered going back for a while now, ever since it became free to play.

syn syn
May 13, 2013

its free to play now?! im so there. at first i hated the idea of the secret world and wondered why ragnor wouldnt just make a longest journey type mmo, but after reading this review and really looking at the gameplay it looks like it might be really fun.

May 13, 2013

It is a cute, but miniscule sized mmo.  8 tiny instanced zones, with a mind numbing endgame, atrocious pvp, and a levelling system that will have you ‘maxed’ in what you are aiming for by the third zone… Cute, but enough with the “mmos” featuring 5 dungeons to repeat over and over after playing through a few instanced zones…

syn syn
May 18, 2013

I did hear that it’s really small yeah.  you make it sound insanely small though lol, o well, for 30 bucks and free forever after I’m sure it’ll be somewhat fun Smile


(this install is slowwwww!! can’t believe if it really is as small as you make it sound it could be 30gigs!? lol)

May 31, 2013

I usually stay far away from MMO’s because I can’t stand other players (They ruin the ending by spoilers, stand in your way, attack you, etc…)
How is this game in that regard? Do you see other players doing stuff that might affect you or can you just play the way you like ?

millenia millenia
Jun 17, 2013

I tried it very briefly in a weekend beta and it seemed pretty good. I just don’t have time for MMOs really, but I think I’ll be grabbing it from a sale eventually. Personally I wish they’d made this a regular RPG.

Update since I got lured into the game during 1 year anniversary free pass and bought it then. The world is indeed very appealing and the gameplay isn’t bad at all. The idea of skillwheels where you can learn everything with one character and mix and match pretty much all the skills is refreshing, as is the limit for active skills (I hate those trillion keybinds I have in WoW).

The investigative missions are pretty hard. Some of the tiers you can figure out pretty nicely but some are almost infernally hard, those wanting a challenge from their adventures should be pleased. I didn’t like the sneaking missions either, honestly I think Dreamfall had better sneaking sequences.

I’ve just moved on to the next questing area and should be trying out some group dungeons now.

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