Secret World Legends Review – Rebirth of a Cult Classic?
Secret World Legends26th June, 2017
Re-launching, or at least re-branding any game has its issues. Some have managed this successfully, such as Elder Scrolls Online while others, like Evolve and Battleborn, weren't successful. What is fairly unusual is changing what was an MMO into what can then primarily be a single player experience. Welcome to Secret World Legends, a world of mystery, intrigue, and surprise.
Of course, being five years old, there are issues that the game faces. Having looked at videos from the original release it's immediately obvious that Funcom have placed some effort into improving the aesthetics, functionality, and approachability of this release.
Now, I never actually played The Secret World back when it was originally released. It interested me and I considered it, but never had the chance. Justifying a subscription is difficult when there are no guarantees that I'll even have the time to play a game. What I do know about The Secret World is that it had a very rich story in a somewhat more real-world setting than other games offered.
From what I've played I can definitely understand this intrigue. A world beneath that of our own, secretive groups combatting an unspeakable evil that wants to seep into our world. The way that quests are structured and the variety of them, it's an intriguing game and this could be the release it needs. Particularly so when you realize that the redesign has made it a single-player oriented experience, where at most you'll see half a dozen other real players due to the server settings.
Visually, improvements have been made. While these are no dramatic improvements, the game doesn't look too dated due to the visual style that the original had. What has improved, from what I can tell, is the fluidity of animations. While still somewhat clunky, characters are less rigid and just better to watch. The major problems really come in combat. Due to the limitations set by the original game, only so much can be improved, and the combat still just feels weak. Whether you're setting off a bomb, firing some pistol rounds or simply swinging a bat, there's no real oomph. Everything looks and, as a result, feels dull.
It's a shame because the action RPG style brought into Secret World Legends has a lot of potential. The action RPG style brought into this release has some fluidity, particularly when dodging attacks and managing ammunition, heat or whatever other resource you deplete while attacking. It's the only time when combat really offers anything of interest. In reality, the monster design is the most compelling part. Most certainly inspired from the Cthulhu mythos, including one in the first dungeon that practically is Cthulhu itself.
What also makes combat and character building interesting is the lack of stats found in most MMO's. There's no vitality, spirit, endurance and the rest of the usual to be found here. Indeed, there's no traditional armour to equip. Your clothing choices are purely cosmetic and the only stat altering things are your two weapons and a handful of accessories like jewellery and a belt.
The limited pieces of equipment are interesting in the way that they can be developed. As you complete quests and dungeons, you'll gain more weapons and gear as rewards. You always have the ability to sell these items, though the best option is to use them as a way of increasing the level of your equipped gear, increasing what boost it gives you.
Also introduced in Secret World Legends is a character levelling system, which maxes out at 50. This is mostly a way of tracking your progress as new quests unlock as you level up. The gathering of AP and SP happens both in between levels as well as long after you've hit the max level. It allows for a quick way of levelling and combines with the excellent storytelling to incentivise you to do more quests.
Going free to play with microtransactions is a difficult time for any title. If done wrong, sometimes even when right, it brings about the "pay to win" cries. Secret World Legends should be able to avoid such cries, although the microtransactions may be divisive. Real world money can be used to purchase Aurum, a premium currency. This is then used to buy in-game cosmetics, additional weapon types, characters as well as AP and SP.
It's the latter two that concerns me the most, where paying for these directly helps you unlock more advanced skills. At worst it could be construed as Pay to Win, should you focus on the rather inconsequential PVP. In reality, it's more of a pay to progress. Paying to unlock other weapon types or to increase your AP and SP, letting you unlock more skills, mostly allows you to focus on one character rather than using up the eight slots made available to you when starting. The most important thing to take away is that all core gameplay is available for free.
One interesting aspect that was changed from the original is a dramatic simplification of character development. While I haven't personally experienced the old style of character development, reading about it and watching it has it seem incredibly complex.
The former 500+ abilities are reduced to a managable number of around 200. When starting, you now select a character class, giving you specific weapons and abilities to work through. You do have the ability to expand out and unlock other weapon types using a large amount of in-game currency or a smaller real-world money equivalent, allowing you to make a character as expansive as the original allowed you to while removing extraneous aspects that could have needlessly complicated matters.
Storytelling throughout all aspects is a lost art for the majority of games now. The reliance on repetitive fetch quests is mostly out of the way here in Secret World Legends. Every now and then you'll find some strange side-quests which literally have you post somebody's mail. Other than that, the majority of quests fit in well with the surrounding world and environment.
Major quests are supported by strong voice acting and have multiple stages that span across a number of areas. Strong character development also supports the world building as you begin to understand the key players within Secret World. What is annoying, though, is the fact that you can only have a limited number of quests active at one time. Only one main story quest makes sense, but limiting you to three side quests, one dungeon quest, one action/sabotage quest and one investigation quest means a lot of needless backtracking.
While far from perfect, there's little doubt that I'm looking forward to spending more time in Secret World Legends. As I've said, the combat is far from exciting. It's not exactly the best looking game either. However, it's very atmospheric and incredibly compelling, thanks to an interesting story unmatched by other MMO's.
Copy provided by publisher.
Secret World Legends is far from perfect, but it's certainly captivating. With storytelling unsurpassed in the MMO genre, it features some incredibly compelling narrative and development, set in an atmospheric world. It isn't without its problems, with a dull at best combat system and irritating limitation on the number of quests you can carry. If you're looking for a unique and interesting story, this is the game for you, so long as you can live with some flaws.
- Excellent story oriented content unlike other MMO's on the market
- Unique settings, well designed and very atmospheric
- Well designed monetisation system that isn't Pay to Win
- Combat is dull at best, lacking any real weight
- The quest system, limiting the number you can have at the same time, is irritating and results in a lot of backtracking