I’m enjoying The Secret World, a new MMO from Funcom. But, paradoxically, the more I play it, the more I also feel the need to get this rant off my chest.
I love the idea of The Secret world, I really do. A world were every conspiracy theory has a grain of truth behind it, and they’re all tied together. An alternate version of our world, one facing a growing darkness, a looming supernatural apocalypse. Where you play a character awakened to supernatural power, the narrative suggesting that you’re part of Gaia’s efforts to fight back against the spreading taint of corruption. Against this backdrop, you find yourself having to choose a side, a faction. The Illuminati, Templars and the Dragon, shadowey secret societies waging an ancient war, divided not by simplistic notions of good and evil, but by more nuanced idealogical differences.
As a setting, it’s wonderfully different from the boring, bog-standard tropes we’re used to, and playing it you can see that the writers have put a lot of effort into it. The lore is interesting, the character writing on par with VtM:Bloodlines…in fact, I believe that, except for one thing, this game would be an RPG on par with, or surpassing, Bloodlines. And that one thing is : it’s an MMO.
And the nature of MMO gameplay shreds that lovely atmosphere to pieces. I’m not talking about combat, I mean the way the game is structured as a sort of amusement park with points of interest and gameplay designed to stretch out your playtime. Not to mention the leagion of jacknuts running around, bunny-hopping through town, shouting on public channels that they’re looking for a group, arguing about whether WoW is a better game or not.
A simple example is the starting area, Kingsmouth, a Lovecraft-inspired town. It’s all there, in potential. Kingsmouth is an island town, a ship carrying a cursed artifact returned to port and shortly afterward a mysterious fog rolled in, cut off all contact with the outside world. Soon, the dead began to rise from their graves and monstrous creatures were seen emerging from the sea. Digging under the surface, the town has a history of dark cults and mass murder, horrible deeds buried in the past. Like I said, the potential is all there, the environment art looks lovely, the writing and NPCs feeling genuinely enjoyable to engage with…and then you find yourself running along the beach with monstrous fish-men placed every 10 feet, guarding a small patch of land, where you can pick individuals off so long as you don’t enter another individual’s “aggro” radius, etc.
A Lovecraftian atmosphere can’t survive a situation where the fishmen sit around on the beach waiting patiently for intruders to come pick them off. >:(
It pisses me off because I can see the potential for a high quality single player RPG that would grab my attention and not let go. This team, these writers, they could have pulled off something amazing. Instead of amazing, we’ve got just “fun”. Fun, but not anything I’d build a shrine in my memories too, as I have with games like Baldur’s Gate 2.
I’m upset because I feel the loss of what could have been. And because the lure of vast profits in the MMO space continues to absorb so much of the RPG talent in the AAA industry.
It kinda makes me want to go and make a similarly-themed single-player RPG, just to do it right. *grump*