The Secret World Might Be Microsoft's Killer App
There is a lot of buzz right now surrounding Sony's lineup of exclusive games for the Playstation 3, which seems to be enjoying a bit of a comeback. Some people are even proclaiming that 2010 will be "the year of the PS3". We're not quite ready to hand victory over to Sony, and neither is Microsoft. There are a number of interesting upcoming games for the Xbox 360, and one of them could turn out to be a definitive 'killer app' for the system. That game is The Secret World, and it combines massively multiplayer open-world gaming with present day urban mythology. The result is a game that could be captivating to the hard core crowd, while still remaining tempting to new gamers. Provided that it can ship before the arrival of Final Fantasy XIV, The Secret World will also be the first MMORPG on current-gen hardware. Developed by Funcom, the folks behind the successful Age of Conan and Anarchy Online games, there is some serious pedigree behind The Secret World.
In our postmodern world, it is easy to understand the popularity of conspiracy theories. The advent of Internet communication means that any idea - no matter how absurd - can circulate with as much authority as scientific fact. Between the recent global financial crisis, the outbreak of mysterious diseases, and the seeming breakdown of civil society, it seems like our world is falling apart, and nobody knows why. It is in this context that a game which taps into the pathos of millennial angst can succeed. There are no more good guys or villains, no more causes worth fighting for. There is just the reality of the moment, a reality that shifts under our feet constantly like quicksand.
The Secret World proposes an alternate reality where every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was actually true. Creatures emerge from behind the veil of the everyday. Vampires and other creatures hunt for blood in dingy London nightclubs, werewolves lurk in the sewers beneath Seoul, and the undead prey on the living in the shadows of New York City.
This is not just another multiplayer game featuring humans and comic-book monsters in an urban setting like Prototype or Infamous. More than three years in development, The Secret World aims to break free from the old constraints of other MMO titles. That means no more leveling up characters, grinding for XP, or being locked in to a particular set of skills. This is a game that spans the entire world, and blurs the line between the real, the virtual and the mythological for its inhabitants. The game will be entirely story-driven, and take players through environments as varied as New York, London, Egypt, Africa and Asia.
The philosophy behind The Secret World is to allow players to craft a virtual world of their own making. That means almost every single feature of the game is customizable, and players don't have to grind endlessly to change their characters in the way they want. The developer is promising that there will be dozens of weapons and hundreds of different powers to wield in the game. Weapons include katana, gold-plated pistols and machine guns. But things quickly become more exotic: dispatch your enemies with the power of voodoo or martial arts if you want. Everything from swords, to firearms, to magic, is controlled in real-time, meaning that players will have to on their toes to escape battles alive. MMO fans will be excited to know that there is Player vs. Player combat in this game, and it plays an important part in the experience. The primary task of PvP combat is to collect anima, a mysterious element that grants power to cabals that can collect it. It is harvested deep from within the "Hollow Earth", an area in which other cabal members will be looking to collect the same resource.
There will be some narrative structure to the game because it is - above all - a story driven experience. At the outset of the game, players will choose from one of three factions: the Illuminati, the Templars, or the mysterious Dragon. These groups are the secret societies that rule our world from behind the scenes, and in the game they are entangled in a battle for world domination. The Secret World refers this double reality which occurs when the player lifts the veil to see the hidden power dynamics behind the scenes. Within every secret society are individual cabals. These player-created organizations serve as a home-base for the player, and can bring them prestige and honor for accomplishing certain tasks and beating other cabals.
According to an online test we took at the game's official website, we are perfectly suited to join the Illuminati. "As a member of the Illuminati," the game tells us, "You don't play by anybody's rules. There are no rules. There is no honor. There is only victory." Words that are as meaningful for the real world as they are in the virtual one.
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