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The Secret World

The Secret World is an MMORPG set in the modern world, where supernatural forces threaten humanity. Join one of three world-controlling secret factions and fight back against Lovecraftian entities. With no classes, you're free to fight across the globe however you choose.

Publisher: Funcom
Playerbase: Medium
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Pros: +No class restrictions. +Modern day horror setting. +Mature storyline
Cons: -Difficult learning curve. -Freeform progression can be daunting. -Some performance



The Secret World Overview

The Secret World is an MMORPG set in the modern era, and developed by Funcom. In The Secret World society is run by shadowy organizations hiding in plain sight, protecting the world from supernatural forces. Join one of the three factions—Illuminati, Templar, or Dragon—and fight back against occult forces threatening to destroy humanity. There are no classes or traditional character paths to abide by. Pick up your favorite weapon and fight back Lovecraftian monsters. An ability wheel lets you put points towads your favorite style of play, increasing your proficiency with a particular weapon and unlocking new skills. Use your abilities to complete missions in a heavily narrative driven universe, whether it be following the main plot, traversing dungeons, or picking up side-quests as you cleanse the world of dark forces. The horror fantasy world of The Secret World features a fully voice acted cast, with deep characterization. Travel across the globe, from New England to Tokyo, as a member of humanity’s last hope, and defeat mythological evils.

The Secret World Key Features:

  • No classes - choose your preferred playstyle by equipping your favorite weapon, without being locked to a specific role.
  • Modern day setting - one of the few MMORPG’s to take place in the contemporary world, filled with pop culture references in familiar settings.
  • Fully voice-acted cast - each NPC is characterized, and revealed through cinematic cutscenes.
  • Heavily narrative driven - Award winning writer Ragnar Tørnquist delivers an engaging story drawing on influences from Indiana Jones, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King.
  • Massive PvP - participate with up to 200 players in warzone conflict, fighting for the right to rule the planet and allotting bonuses to your fellow faction members.

The Secret World Screenshots

The Secret World Featured Video

The Secret World - Launch Trailer

Full Review

The Secret World Review

By, Sean Sullivan

I remember being intrigued when The Secret World was first announced. An MMORPG set against a modern day landscape, incorporating conspiracy theories and pop culture seemed like a risk. My curiosity was killing me. How would a game deviating away from the tropes of medieval fantasy and science fiction fair in the saturated MMORPG market? I’m sure Director Ragnar Tørnquist’s pitch was extensive. It’s not often that the formula changes; China makes the same kung-fu movie every year and it’s a hit. But The Secret World took a leap of faith, delivering a game that focuses on world building and narrative, over grinding and raiding. It draws inspiration from novels like Illuminatus and the comic book The Invisibles, imagining a world where every conspiracy theory is true. And for this reviewer, it delivers a superior experience.

Character Creation

Before creating your character you're given the choice of joining one of the three factions: Illuminati, Templars, or Dragon. You can play a video for each one, explaining their ideology and briefly showing off their environments. It’s all well done, with excellent voice acting. The writing is a bit belabored, but it makes me think of an Alan Moore comic book, and that fits the tone of a video game set in an occult world perfectly.

Of course, I joined the Illuminati. I’ve always wanted to control the world through secret negotiations and by “blackmailing angels.” I think the entire MMOs team would prefer the Illuminati over the rigid Templars or ranting Dragons. I proceeded to create my character, and customization is extensive enough. Although there are no sliders to make your character look like a lying Pinocchio, you can select from a wide range of pre-designated options, such as hair style, makeup, and choice of noise and mouth. In the Secret World everyone has to adhere to some rules; this isn’t Perfect World. With sliders I always choose to play a man because I can create a beautiful masterpiece fit for Athens. But without sliders I tested my luck as a woman. I did struggle to make her feminine, as the majority of jaw lines scream Jay Leno, but thanks to the help of a female colleague, I rectified the issue. I learned about new haircuts while creating my character too; it was quite enlightening. Who would have known that you could have an hasidic mohawk, complete with flowing sideburns to accentuate your ears?

Modern Warfare

My first experience with combat was through a lucid dream, sending me to Tokyo after a disaster beneath the streets. Equipped with a shotgun, I met horrors born from clouds of inky mist. Combat is straightforward: skills are hotkeyed 1-7 while a secondary bar can be equipped with passive skills. Starting off, you’ll only have access to two abilities, a primary attack and secondary power attack. As you attack with your primary skill—in my case firing off shotgun pellets like I was Rutger Hauer’s late career—you accumulate resources and those resources can be spent on activating your secondary abilities. The more resources you have, up to a maximum of 5, the stronger your second attack will be. So as I blasted away with my shotgun I was also pressing “2” to fire off a buck shot for more damage.

You won't be standing still as you attack either. Run around enemies and chip at their health, while pressing “Shift” to do a gymnastic leap out of the way of special attacks. It’s a system you can’t play lackadaisically as enemies take more than a few hits too, and can dish out significant damage. Even though your health regenerates, basic Fireman Zombies are able to axe you down to half health if you're not careful to dodge. In combat you’re involved, completely.

One of the complaints for combat is that there is no auto-attack. And this can result in finger fatigue should you choose to close the blinds on the sun and bask in the warm rays of your monitor—as I do. But if I wanted to play with auto-attack I would go install League of Angels and have a drink. An active combat system means that each attack counts, that you’re directly responsible for the accumulating corpses piling up in the quiet Maine community.

In the early stages of the game combat animations can become a bit reptitive. You’ll fire off the same abilities to mow down legions of the undead, without feeling like you’re ever going to escape your basic attacks. And some of the starter weapon animations seem a bit dull. But, as you level you do begin to unlock more skills, spicing up your combat rotation and equipping you for new combat situations. It becomes viscerally enjoyable as you specialize your skillset.

“But I Wanted To Play Wizard.”

There are no classes, per say, to choose from in The Secret World. What is this Ultima Online? Instead a suave, and dangerous, instructor tells you to choose from nine weapon cases. And then you’ll pick from a second set. So you can combine roles like you’re playing the first Guild Wars. Combat is divided into three spheres: ranged (guns), magic, and melee, with three weapons in each category. I chose duel pistols as my first weapon and a gladius sword for my secondary weapon. I wanted a ranged weapon to start the fight, and a sword to cut their heads off when my enemy drew too close. And for being a contemporary game I wanted to try and avoid magic, though the game’s lore implies that every attack is fundamentally magic. You can pick up the other weapons as you play and switch out your play style at any time. If you purchase the Collector’s Edition you’ll have access to all nine beginner’s weapons from the start.

As you level you’ll gain Ability Points and Skill Points. Ability points can be spent on new abilities, like Dancing blade if you're wielding a sword. And they’re located on the ability wheel, showing you every single ability sphere at once, emphasizing your freedom to choose how you want to play. Accumulated skill points are distributed to the areas of combat you choose to focus in, increasing your proficiency and enabling your character to equip higher grade weapons. And gaining new skill points and abilities is fairly easy considering how many quests are available.

No Golden Exclamation Points

Quests are everywhere, from story-driven missions to dead policemen sprawled out after being mauled by zombies. Side-quests abound, and they all relate back to the game’s main story. They aren’t always straightforward either, and require exploration and critical thinking at times. One quest early on, called Dirty Laundry, asks you to investigate the local church in pursuit of a secret code. Spoiler: it’s written on the inside of the church, and must then be entered on a hidden keypayd located under a rock. There’s no quest marker holding your hand, and it’s refreshing to have to use part of your brain in an MMORPG. It’s another sign of The Secret World paradigm: narrative driven development to immerse you in the story, not loot collection and a level grind. You’re forced to examine every nook and cranny of The Secret World, paying attention to subtle details to advance. Plenty of players turn to Google to search for answers to quests, but allowing yourself to struggle makes the reward more fulfilling.

And it is through The Secret World’s questing that you get your money’s worth. Unlike other games in the same genre ,where quest’s serve as filler to teach you mechanics before reaching end game raiding, The Secret World’s questing is its end game. It is through questing that the layers of the game world's reality are peeled back, and the secrets driving the world forward are revealed. If you only play to raid and PvP, then The Secret World probably isn't for you. To enjoy the game you have to lose yourself in the game’s excellent quest-driven story.

An Environment’s Story

The Secret World was made in 2012, but it manages to holds its own in the arena of MMORPG graphics. The cinematic cutscenes do show the game’s age, and some rendering issues occurred as I played, nothing game breaking. But, while the game’s graphics are beginning to feel hot flashes, the atmosphere is a mimesis of classic horror and comic books. The first area I encountered was nestled in the heart of Maine, and surrounded by a thick cloud, emanating evil. It was the perfect presentation, paying homage to the horror tropes inspired by the creator of Cthulhu. And the world is littered with pop culture references and subtle details that add to its immersive quality.

Scattered throughout the world you’ll discover pieces of lore, signified by golden honeycomb icons spinning in obscure locations. They’re bits of information that are added to your log and add some perplexing backstory to the game. Reading them is like deciphering a T.S. Eliot poem, cryptic and obscure, requiring knowledge beyond the scope of the game. Sentences like, “You’ve seen fragments of our grammar in the chaos patterns of bird flocks in flight… in the bioluminescent eyes under your bed.” Writer Dag Scheve impresses me. He clearly understands the ridiculous nature of the conspiracy-driven story. It can come across as overelaborate, but it fits the world all too well. When conspiracies control every aspect of a universe then its lore ought to be shrouded in mystery.

Every Actor Wants To Direct

The voice-acting is fantastic. Out of the $50 million spent on developing the game, I’m sure a sizable chunk went to paying actors’ salaries. Some of the choices were a bit strange, considering the characters context. Helen Bannerman, a small town Maine sheriff, sounds like an inner city New Jerseyite. Maybe that was the point, a hidden backstory only discovered through the character's accent? While that sounds nice, I’m more inclined to believe that was simply the actor in the studio that day. Even the cinematography during cutscenes is well executed. As the doctor swivels his chair the camera follows, while as your character is dragged across the pavement the camera looks up at two gasmask wearing Illuminati. Clearly, the director was trying to deliver a cinematic experience and he largely succeeds.


I have not had the chance to test PvP yet as I am far too absorbed into the storyline and completing main quests, but there are three types of PvP gameplay. There are battlefields that are basically small arenas. The first is El Dorado, the city of gold, where 10 players from each faction compete in a 30 man capture the flag type game. Whereas Stonehenge is a five man king-of-the-hill. Then there is a huge persistent warzone called The Fusang Projects, where players must gain control of relics to, essentially, destroy the other factions’ bases. Whichever faction controls the warzone provides bonuses to everyone in their faction, such as bonus experience.

Cash Shop

The Secret World does have a cash shop, buts it’s primarily cosmetic with a few booster items thrown in to help impatient players accumulate experience faster. 600 Funcom points—the game's currency—costs $5. And that will afford you most cosmetic items, such as shirts, pants, and hats. The same applies to boosters, but for the most part 600 points is only going to buy one item, as most items cost more than 300 Funcom points. The cash shop's UI is fairly awful. While it's divided into categories, you check-mark which items you want to see in your panel. It's confusing, and at times frustrating considering the small size of the screen.

Final Verdict - Great

The Secret World is one of a kind. It offers, perhaps, the most atmospheric narrative in any MMORPG, with a fantastically built world brimming with cultural references and internal lore. It’s not a game that will appeal to the typical audience, as grinding and leveling are a secondary consequence of interacting with The Secret World. While combat and a classless system may turn off some players, I found it refreshing as an open ended system keeps your options limitless. If you’re interested in an MMORPG that defies typical genre tropes, and creates an engaging universe then pick up The Secret World.


The Secret World Screenshots


The Secret World Videos

Playlist: The Secret World

System Requirements

The Secret World System Requirements

Minimum Requirements:

Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
CPU: Core 2 Duo E4700 2.6GHz or Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 5600+
Video Card: GeForce 8800 GS or Radeon HD 3850 X2
Hard Disk Space: 30 GB

Recommended Requirements:

Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
CPU: Core i5-2320 3.0GHz or FX-6350
Video Card: GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 7850
Hard Disk Space: 30 GB


The Secret World Music & Soundtrack

Additional Info

The Secret World Additional Information

Developer(s): Funcom
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts

Programmer(s): Øystein Eftevaag
Director(s): Ragnar Tørnquist
Producer(s): Ragnar Tørnquist, Anne Lise Waal
Designer(s): Martin Bruusgard, Joel Bylos
Programmer(s): Øystein Eftevaag
Artist(s): Christer Sveen
Writer(s): Dag Scheve
Composer(s): Marc Canham, Simon Poole, Magnuse Beiter

Engine: Dreamworld

First Open Beta: May 11, 2012 (Kingsmouth Calling)
Second Open Beta: June 15, 2012 (Hell Raised)
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Steam Release Date: August 8, 2012

Expansions (issues):

  1. Carter Unleashed - July 31, 2012
  2. Digging Deeper - September 18, 2012
  3. The Cat God - September 26, 2012
  4. Big Trouble in the Big Apple - November 15, 2012
  5. The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn - December 19, 2012
  6. Last Train to Cairo - March 14, 2013
  7. A Dream to Kill - July 9, 2013
  8. The Venetian Agenda -November 7, 2013
  9. The Black Signal - June 4, 2014
  10. Nightmares in the Dream Palace - December 4, 2014
  11. Reaping the Whirlwind - May 6, 2015

The Secret World was developed by Norwegian video game development company Funcom, and published by Electronic Arts. Pre-production began in 2002, and the game was originally known as Cabal—as well as The Entire World Online. Work on the game was suspended until Funcom completed Dreamfall, released in 2006. The Secret World's development team consisted of MMORPG veterans who had worked on previous titles such as Anarchy Online and EverQuest II. And The Secret World utilizes the same engine as Age of Conan, Dreamworld. Beta testing sign-up became available on August 30, 2011, and Funcom revealed that over 750,000 people applied to take part in the game. The game continues to have a dedicated, core player base. And Funcom does release periodic updates, known as “issues," that expand upon the game's story line.