Review: The Walking Dead, Episodes 1 and 2


     Adventure games are dead, right?  Many gamers would say so, but Telltale Games is looking to prove them wrong with their latest offering based upon the comic book ‘The Walking Dead’.   With this game they sought to capture the violence of the comics and highlight the difficult choices the characters must make.  The game focuses primarily on story told through machinima and shies away from convoluted puzzle solving.  An adventure game with mass appeal.  About the dead.


     For those who take offense at my opening comment, yes adventure games are still alive and well, but there is a perception that they’re dead.  At the very least one must recognize that they are much diminished from their hay day when they were regarded as AAA titles.  Today no matter how well crafted a ‘traditional’ adventure game may be it will never be more than a niche product.  This is not due to any devaluation of adventure games themselves but  because gamers as a market have broadened and differentiated themselves from the times when computer gaming was done in the basement with a $2000.00 piece of hardware.  Today the market majority are not interested in the minutia of trying to organize a complicated set of precise circumstances to take a single step forward – the hallmark of old school adventure games.  The Walking Dead doesn’t follow this traditional construction.  So for those who are looking for an adventure game of yore, you will not find it.  Telltale games is trying to reach that broader audience by making less an adventure game and more of an interactive movie with mild point & click sequences.  And I say this not to denigrate their efforts but to explain that this game cannot be appreciated (or reviewed) as a traditional adventure game.   As always we want to look for the good we can find in any artistic work and so I urge those who play the game not to criticize it on its shortcomings compared to classic point & click puzzlers.  This is an interactive movie.  For those who have played games such as Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, or to a lesser extent Shadow of Memories/Shadow of Destiny you should look at this game from that standpoint.

And with that caveat out of the way, it’s also important to play this game with both the proper expectations and in the correct way.  I started this series with a traditional adventure game mindset – subtitles turned on, nose to the screen ready to do my pixel hunting.  If you go in with this kind of mindset you’re going to miss a lot – this game was also developed with the console market in mind.  As such, if you’re pressed to the screen looking for details or reading subtitles you’re going to miss a lot of what you’re meant to witness – little facial expressions, cues in the background, and even the overall action are meant to be enjoyed from a comfortable viewing distance.  The environment does not need to be dissected critically so you can comfortably sit back 4 or 5 feet (as far as those headphones will reach!) and enjoy the game.  Personally I’ve taken to playing on my HDTV from my comfy couch.

     Let’s discuss the source material and the expectations most viewers will be bringing with them.  ‘The Walking Dead’ is a comic book written by Richard Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (originally) and Charlie Adlard (after issue 7).  It focuses on a group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse and their travels to find safety.  However, most people have not been exposed to the comic version of the story.  AMC began producing a version of the story for television in 2010 and found great success in telling the story of Rick Grimes and the survivors from Atlanta.  The show focused less on the zombies – called ‘walkers’ in the show and in Telltale’s game – and more on the problems of survival.  Ethical questions about when it was acceptable to kill another, the importance of inclusion and safety within a group, and the question of whether the walkers should be destroyed.  Most people who will be interested in the game will have watched the TV series – at least in part.  It’s important to note that the game tells a different story so you won’t be getting a rehash of AMC’s series and you’ll have different characters to get to know.  Also, the game is based more closely on the comic book than the TV show.  While the series on AMC gained notoriety for its realistic depiction of the hardships and moral challenges faced by the survivors the comic book is known to be less realistic with significantly more gore.  The themes dealt with in the TV show are still present but they’re driven by a comic book style with stylized killings, blood and dismemberment.

So that’s a lot about what to expect – now how does it hold up?  Does it meet the goals we should expect for this kind of game?  Yes and no, but there is a lot to enjoy here.

Episode 1 starts slow and makes a few stumbles.  It sets the stage for what we can expect from the game – cinematics and choices.  It doesn’t do so in the most elegant way possible though.  First and foremost what I noticed when I started the game is that, while it does sport some comic styled graphics, it doesn’t impress in the looks department.  This feels like an older direct x 7 game with simple textured polygons, baked shadows, projected shadow maps, and pre-created lightmaps.  Certainly we do see some HDR/bloom lighting and the occasional depth of field effect but that doesn’t change the fact that the game presents itself as simple polygon set-pieces with precalculated lighting.  Character animation seems to be purely keyframe defined (and why not?  Since it’s not variable for the most part) with no dynamic animations.  Modeling is last-gen with plenty of simple textured backdrops, low polygon objects, simple alpha textured grass, and poor rigging on character models.  As far as the character animation and modeling goes they look good from a distance but closer inspection shows severe vertex warping at joints which doesn’t really cut it as we’re gearing up for DX11 consoles.  And so my first impression is that the game just doesn’t look modern.

The introduction of the game falls flat by just not being that interesting.  We meet the playable character – Lee Everett – and start to get some background but nothing concrete and before you know it you’ve hit a walker, crashed, and wake up in an overturned police vehicle.  After escaping in a sequence that’s more annoying than compelling we break into a house to find first aid and have our first face-to-face with a walker.  The game quickly shows you how brutal it’s going to be as we have no choice but to collapse the creature’s head with a hammer.  During the encounter we also meet Clementine who Lee decides almost instantly to take under his wing.  And herein lies the issue that I had with Episode 1:  it doesn’t make you adequately appreciate the characters at this early stage of the game.  It feels like they’re just props standing in to put on a cliché zombie story.  They meet and before you can even start to feel sorry for Clem they’re joined at the hip.  Lee only comes off as a good guy even if you try to be a jerk which makes you start to wonder why you’re bothering to make these choices.  So to take an example from later if we’re going to choose to kill someone then why does Lee have to frown and look remorseful afterwards?

As you don’t immediately feel an attachment to the characters your inclination might be to toy with them at this point in the game.  Meanwhile the group grows as you meet other survivors in town and begin to work together (whether you want to or not!) to find medicine for Larry and gasoline for Kenny.  The game does have some mild adventure game sequences that involve finding creative ways to off zombies or opening doors.  These are sequences are – as stated above – very simplistic compared to other games of this nature and you quickly find that the most enjoyable part of the game is not the point & click, but the choices you get to make.  So after saving Glenn at the Motel and killing four or five zombies by pinning them with cars, shoving an icepick through their eyes, or with a swift axe to the head we find that making the decision to kill an infected girl, leave her to her fate, or let her commit suicide is much more compelling than all the puzzles that lead up to it.  And at about this point in the game I started to notice I felt differently about it – the decisions did matter, and not just in what they showed on the screen but in what they said about my own thought process in dealing with the situation.  It’s a shame the game waits until almost the end of episode 1 to start making the player feel this way, but at least it ends on an upward note.

Episode 2 was released late, but with what I see as good reason.  It feels much more polished than Episode 1.  Graphically it’s still mundane, but we see better direction in the overall presentation.  The camera feels more dynamic, depth of field is put to better use, and the characters interact in motion (hunting in a woods, clearing fences, arguing while trying to escape a locked room) much more often.  It gives a better impression that they’re taking part in a world rather than just talking at the camera.  My theory is that Telltale put more money into this episode than the previous.  Telltale famously has said that they can produce one of these games and break even by selling a mere 100,000 copies.  The Walking Dead, due to its strong brand and advertising through the TV show and its availability on Xbox and Playstation consoles, sold over 1 million copies when it was first released.  So Telltale certainly gained a buffer for their production with this game.  After the release of Back to the Future they stated that they were looking to increase their staff from 90 employees to 140 employees so it’s feasible they’ve picked up even more hands recently – there are actually job postings on their website as I type this.  The takeaway here is that I found Episode 2 to be more aesthetically pleasing than Episode 1 and have hopes that the increased production values will continue into Episode 3.

Episode 2 takes the importance of decisions and runs with it.  Straight from the outset you’ll be making choices that paint you as warm or cold, invested in the group or a loner, principled or utilitarian.  Now the same caveat applies from above – Lee always acts like a ‘nice’ guy even if you try to be the most cold hearted Nietzschian motherfucker to ever walk the face of the earth but you CAN still make those choices and they do start to add up and effect the way the others look at you.   I found myself trying to make choices that would cement alliances and inspire loyalty in some of my companions while pushing others aside who I felt were either too volatile or too annoying to stick beside.  And by the end of Episode 2, after some predictable but incredibly well orchestrated plot twists, I was surprised to find I had started to care about Lee and about the example I was setting towards Clementine and my friends in the group.  The game was no longer about just playing with props; now I was interacting with characters.

     So what can I say about the game overall?  If I take all the negatives and headaches of the game’s presentation and delivery I can’t gainsay the one thing that it has accomplished – it’s made me care.  Nothing more needs to be said – I’m eagerly awaiting Episode 3.

 For those interested in taking the plunge be sure to check out  or look for the game on Steam.

I’ve also started a playthrough of The Walking Dead on my youtube channel –

Swords/Fists build for The Secret World

I’ve put up a video discussing my current build in The Secret World, which I’ve used to solo dps up through the Shadowy Forest.

Whether it’s good or bad or I’m crazy I couldn’t say, but I don’t think it’s worse than some of the builds I’ve seen people link out there!

Grass Cutter
Bamboo Cutter
Dancing Blade
Go for the Throat
Tear ‘Em Up

Fatal Flourish
Sharp Shooter
Iron Maiden
Sharp Blades
Twist the Knife
Flight of Daggers

Basic single target rotation is Grass Cutter x1, Tear ‘Em Up, Go for the Throat, Dancing Blade then Grass Cutter x5, Tear ‘Em Up, Dancing Blade.

Basic AoE rotation is Berserk, Bamboo Cutter x5, Berserk, Bamboo Cutter x5. As noted an AoE blade finisher should be added when you don’t need a heal on your bars – Clearing the Path should be optimal.

Tweaks: Bloodsport can be traded for incision – this will be better for single target dps in most cases but possibly worse for AoE. It WILL be worse for AoE if you take Clearing the Path as a sword finisher. Follow Up could also be used in this space and may be a better option if you have very high (50%+) penetration chance.

Bloodsport, Flight of Daggers, or Sharp Shooter can be swapped out for impair abilities such as Restraint or Five Times a Charm.

Cauterize can be swapped for a blade AoE finisher or even the blade active impair ability if you want to REALLY stack impairs.

A full impair build will have Go for the Throat (30 seconds), Restraint (30 seconds), Five Times a Charm (45 Seconds), Trial By Swords (45 seconds). This allows for 20 impairs per 3 minutes, though their timing will be somewhat random.

Diablo 3 – Inferno Act 1 Farming

I’m still playing Diablo 3 off and on, though my time with it has been severely shortened by the release of The Secret World.  I’ve progressed with my demon hunter up to act 3 but haven’t had much inclination to beat my head against that wall.  For me, I enjoy the game more as something I can do without really paying attention while watching TV or listening to the radio.  And that’s why my main activity in the game is to farm Act 1 of Inferno.  Because it’s easy and relaxing.  My system is simple:  I wear as much magic find gear as possible to get a passive MF of 229.  I run with a ‘tanking’ mitigation build and pretty much stand still until elite packs are dead.  And I don’t take more than 10 minutes in a run if possible – easy in, easy out.

My farming locations are Cemetary of the Forsaken -> Festering Woods -> Leoric’s Manor as detailed in the video above.  If I’m feeling bored with this short rotation I keep going onward to kill the Butcher, but experience has shown I get more loot in less time by just running these few areas over and over again.  I’m still waiting to find that nice piece I can sell for 50 million and finally buy the gear to start tackling Act 3.

And so I run Inferno Act 1.  Forever and Anon, so mote it be.

The Secret World 1.01 update, new dimension available

Funcom has patched The Secret World up to version 1.01 today fixing an assortment of issues – most importantly fixing some quests which were holding people up.  They’ve also added a new dimension because so many of the launch dimensions were filling up.  Full patch notes can be found here.  It’s a fairly beefy 400+ megabyte patch, so hopefully they caught most of the bugs that have been niggling people since launch!

Update 1.0.1

Fixed the cause of some stalls in performance while in Seoul.
When you zone, you will now be returned to you original dimension (unless you are in a team, in which case you will stay in the same dimension).
Fixed a visual issue where blood effects while using magic abilities would show green or orange square textures.
You can now use the Meet up feature if you are in combat stance, but not in combat.
Reduced loudness of Radio music during a cinematic with Sophie in Besieged Farmlands.
Weapons should now behave properly in the training areas.

The Athletic hoodie, blue now appears in the dressing room.
Fixed several clothing items that had the wrong visual looks compared to their descriptions.
Clothing in the item shop now matches their thumbnails.
The Neutral Faction pants and jacket should now get delivered correctly when claimed.
The Bubble Vest, blue item will now be delivered properly.
Players can no longer buy anything they already own from the clothing vendor.

Increased the size of pets.
Pets no longer collide with players.
Owl pets have had their visuals slightly improved.
All dogs now look like shown in the preview in the item store.

Addressed an issue which could sometimes prevent players from using chat while the servers were under heavy load. We are aware that this fix will not resolve all of the current chat issues.
The officers chat in a cabal is now restricted to only those that can see it.
Fixed an issue where it was difficult to select a chat channel if you left the game via disconnecting.

Hammer sounds have been improved.
Updated the Striker ability to properly apply damage when the target is hindered.

Fixed several issues, including one regarding incorrect tooltips on QL 3 glyphs.
Updated all mission rewards to properly decompose into dust/fire/water as appropriate.

Hell Raised Normal – Recursia: Triggerthings have had their HP reduced by 20%. Elite and Nightmare Triggerthings are unchanged.
Hell Raised Normal – Recursia: Phase 3 will now trigger at lower health. Elite and Nightmare modes are unchanged, and will continue to trigger at the previous (higher) values.
Hell Raised Nightmare – Recursia: Recursia should now successfully cast Anima Eruption at any target in the fight, regardless of range.
Hell Raised – Machine Tyrant: The Machine Tyrant should now hit his targets more consistently.
The Darkness War : Nightmare mode buff Underworld Ward now works.
Nightmare mode minibosses will now drop Nightwatch level glyph kits.
Reduced the number of unique item drops from Nightmare bosses.
Gatekeeper’s Challenge : Gatekeeper’s damage output was reduced slightly.
Minibosses in Nightmare mode dungeons will now drop QL 10 blue items with a chance of QL 10 epic Glyph crafting kits.

The particles for Immunity are no longer overwhelming and easily noticeable on the larger bosses.
All guild related events (except for someone else in the guild joining up, leaving, and changing online status) should be displayed as onscreen messages now.
Right clicking one item then left clicking another item will no longer both close the menu and pick up the item.
Sending too much money should now only give you one onscreen message.
Compose Letter is now correctly called Compose Mail
Compose Mail “To(recipient’s nickname):” text field only accepts characters, letters and hyphens, as intended.
You can now use SHIFT-TAB to jump back between textfields when composing a mail.
Mails are now marked as read properly.
After confirming the deletion of a mail item, you will no longer have to manually select another mail – the next mail will be automatically selected for you now.
Holding an item on the mouse pointer and then clicking the right arrow (next page on store and sell) no longer opens a deletion popup.
“Expand Size Limit” in the store tab now looks like Expand size in your inventory.
You will now get feedback if you try to remove funds from your Cabal bank and you are of too low a rank.
Scrolling through your mail with the scroll wheel should now work correctly.
Changed the color of the envelop asset from red to white.
The prompt given to players when deleting mail with no attachments now reflects that there are no attachments in the message.
Messages can now be sent if the message body only contains numerical characters.
Fixed an issue with the Expand size on the store tooltip.
The split item GUI should no longer misbehave when splitting a stack in the guild bank or store and sell tab.
You are no longer able drag and drop items to the Compose Mail attachment through the Postal Service windows.
Placing an item from normal inventory over the bank GUI will no longer cause the bank GUI to grab the item.
Read mails now appeared greyed out after being read.
Improved the visibility of receiving mail.
Fixed the ability to send cash without having to write a message as well.
Increased width of drop down menu components to support longer text.
Players are not able to type more than 4000 characters in the text field. Larger text pastes will be truncated. There is no visual indication that you have reached the limit.
Trying to take a mission that puts an item in the inventory when the inventory is already full now shows the message „One of the Mission Goals failed to create. Make sure you have an open slot in your inventory. „
Depositing an item in the same cabal bank slot at the same time will no longer cause the player to become unable to receive items.

Spectres in Blue Mountain should now be a little easier to defeat.
Teeth have been fixed on several NPCs.
Lair monsters should no longer block the path to where Gravedust can be found.
City of the Sun God : Sutekh no longer walks through rocks on his daily constitutional.
New York : Fixed Charles Zurn’s hair.

Players will now appear as they should in the first cinematic.
Dragon – Into Darkness : Bong Cha’s congratulatory phone call will no longer echo to bystanders.
The Haunting: Fixed an issue where one task could fail during the mission.
The end boss in the mission Too Deep, Neesh-Um, the Stalker of Nightmares, will no longer aggro the player until his adds are killed.

Media popups for gravestones in Kingsmouth town should now appear correctly.
Fixed rubberbanding issue in Kingsmouth sewers.
Ravens will now properly fly off during missions when they are supposed to.
Player can pick up the flamethrower and get the finished product when on Tier 3 of the mission Flame Away.
Dead Air : The mission should always be completeable now. The crate will respawn after the filth hulk dies and can be interacted with so long as there are players with Tier 5 active.
Dead Air : Waymarker is placed properly at the serial number location. The serial plate no longer has an empty tooltip.
Ambushes are now triggering properly, and will solve the goal on any player near the Lost Drone.
The Trapped Survivor in Kingsmouth Town should now respawn correctly after dying or completing the mission “That’ll Leave a Mark”.
That’ll Leave a Mark – Injured man will get into the fight more often, but if he manages to get to the sheriff without fighting, then the player can consider himself fortunate.
A Sacred Place : Dragging zombies into the church awards group credit.
Journey’s End can now be shared.
Adjusted the placement of the map and Beaumont’s Notes in Dawning of an Endless Night so they no longer have clipping issues with the tables they are on.
Made it more clear how to interact with the computer in Kingsmouth Code.
Horror Show – Collecting cameras now awards group credit.
Zen and the Art of Weapon Maintenance can now be shared.
The buff provided by the Siren’s Song during Dawning of an Endless Night now has a description.
The Hunger : The Voracious Wendigo is now killable.

The Savage Coast
Tolba Bay’s zombie population should now stay dead longer.
The Terrible Wendigo in Savage Coast no longer spawns right where the Council of Venice have set up shop.
Jack’s Back has had some improvements made to prevent some issues with the mission.
Monsters should no longer fight players in Nicholas Winter’s immediate vicinity.
The Urn for mission ‘The Black House’ should now always be present if you are on the right tier.
The Urn for The Black House in Savage Coast now does less damage if activated incorrectly.
The Resident Horror should now always respawn properly for the mission Life Imitating Art.
The Mud Golem encountered in ‘Theme Park Tycoon’ should now provide mission credit to all players who have engaged him.
Poltergeists during the Strange Candle event in the Black House now have a proper name for the burning effect.
Newspaper clippings for “The Black House” should now have proper subtitles.
Taking the Purple : Made improvements to this to help ensure the ambushers will always spawn during tier 2.
Increased the grace location on the telescopes so it’s more lenient about where you can solve the mission A Reasonable Man.
Hell Hath no Vacancy : Daniel Bach now has a more audible reason to appear unsettled during the cinematic.
The Player, Not the Piece should now fail and resume correctly if you disconnected during the final event.
Volatile Essence Flask inventory item now has an updated icon.
Waypoint for the second mangled corpse in mission ‘The Strange Boat House in the Mist’ now correctly points towards the goal.
The Angry Clown in the mission Theme Park Tycoon now properly wields his chainsaw.
Ak’ab should no longer be able to move the wardstones with their dash during the Savage Coast ward defense for Dawning of an Endless Night.
Added several waymarkers to mission ‘Gravity’.
Photographing monsters for Daniel Bach during “Bring it Bach” should no longer randomly award two updates for one picture taken.

The Blue Mountain
Visuals for the trail will show properly in War of the Totems.
The Filth Amendment : Subject Zero will now always spawn when all four spikes have been defeated. Spikes will recover from their wounds after 5 minutes and must thus all be defeated within that time.
Off the Menu: The zombies during the Defending the piece of meat event are now less numerous and weaker.
Homeland Insecurity – Checkmate beacon activation time has been rebalanced to take 2 seconds to activate.
Homeland Insecurity – Penumbral brood queen has had her hitpoints reduced somewhat.
Homeland Insecurity: The respawn rate of the Dreyrugr Lord for tier 2 was greatly lowered.
The Orochi Group: When the player is caught by a drone or an agent, he will no longer have to fight a Corrupted Orochi while exiting the container.
Scavengers: The difficulty of the Skeleton Crew mob spawned during the assault in Tier 1 was slightly lowered.
Dawning of an Endless Night : Fixed an issue that prevented players from completing Tier 18 if they crashed during the cinematic in Tier 17.
Dawning of an Endless Night : Disconnecting during a cutscene at the end of the mission will no longer strand you in black waters.
Population of Ak’ab at Kraken Cove and in the immediate surrounding of the Mansion has been reduced.

The Scorched Desert
“The Big Terrible Picture” in the Scorched Desert should now reset both the flames and crystals puzzles correctly.
Ammunition crates gathered during “Ten Thousand Bullets” in the Scorched Desert should now give credit to all players in a team.
The Ancient Tomb Guardian boss for “Black Sun, Red Sand” has been rebalanced to fit better with appropriate gear intended for the fight.
Map marker for “Black Sun, Red Sand” tier 4 now has been updated.

City of the Sun God
Funeral Pyre can now be shared.
Ghoul, Well done can now be shared.
Mission “Halls of Lost Records” should now be more multiplayer compatible.
The mission “Foundations” has now made it back into the City of the Sun God. The mission is given by “Tablet Piece”.
Earthrifts in Dust Devils should now be more multiplayer friendly.
The Eye of Horus ability no longer has a placeholder name.
The mission starter for “She Who Likes Silence” in the City of the Sun God has been moved slightly, making it easier to pick up the mission.
Waypoint marker for From Ashes now include all the urns.
Mission marker for tier 3 of Mummy Issues in the City of the Sun God now points to the door of the Tomb.
The Dark Places – Soul Corruptor no longer has a placeholder name for the ability that makes it take to the skies.

The Shadowy Forest
Tenebrae : Tenebrae no longer keeps attacking when reaching 0 hp, and will resolve the mission goal properly.
The siren song now plays at the end of the cinematic for “Fungal Fireworks”.

The Besieged Farmlands
Updated muzzle flash on Scarecrow shotgun to use a custom modified one that is now facing the correct way. Effects also updated to use better looking shotgun spray.

Carpathian Fangs
Tweaked collision around Dracula’s Castle in order to make the window more accessible.

Random Screenshots of The Secret World

I’ve been playing The Secret World a moderate amount of time since its release and my screenshot folder just keeps growing!  So here’s a few, just  for fun.

The Secret World: Combat Log Analyzer – the next best thing to an in-game damage meter

Since The Secret World launched a lot of people – myself included – have been waiting for a damage meter of some kind so we can begin evaluating our builds.  As of this time there are no in-game damage meters to help us out with that, but there is now a combat log parser available to use offline.

This is detailed on The Secret World forums at  Many thanks to tippocalypse for posting about it and Martohtar for creating the TSW plugin for Advanced Combat Tracker!

To parse combat logs for The Secret World you will need to download Advanced Combat Tracker.   This is a well known combat log parser that has been used in many games.  I first ran into it when I was playing Rift for a time, but it has also been used for Age of Conan.

Age of Conan uses combat logs very similar to The Secret World so one user (Martohtar) updated the AoC plugin to support The Secret World combat logs.  You need to download the TSWParser plugin separately.  Yes, it’s a .dll.  No, it’s not a virus.  It may have some bugs at the moment with regards to shielding but it seems fairly complete otherwise.

First unzip TSWParser.dll into your ACT folder:

Then make sure the plugin is enabled in ACT:

Next you need a combat log to parse.  Play The Secret World and type “/logcombat on” in the chat window.  This will start recording EVERYTHING that happens around you in the game world.  These logs are very robust, so you don’t want to leave this on for hours at a time or it will take you hours to parse the logs.  To turn off combat logging type “/combatlog off”

From there you just load the .log file with the import/export tab and then return to the main screen to view your parse with breakdowns, graphs, and pie charts.

Now you can find out who’s slacking in your dungeon runs!  I hope it’s not you!

Crafting Gadgets in The Secret World

I recently found some info on the Something Awful forums about creating gadgets in The Secret World.  This is fortunate, because now I don’t have to sell every gadget toolkit I come across!  The items you can make are called Stimulants and Kickbacks.  They offer a significant buff to your primary or secondary stats for 20 seconds on a 2 minute cooldown.

I posted a how-to video regarding these items on youtube that includes a list of rune/material properties:

Credit goes to the goons for figuring out how to craft these swank items.

The Secret World Launch – impressions and thoughts

This weekend Funcom launched The Secret World for those who had pre-ordered with what appears to be great success.  Servers were up promptly (though early-early access for lifetime subscribers was only an extra hour or so) and things were running quite smoothly in Kingsmouth.

For myself, I played way more than I should have.  I got much further than what I did on the open betas – already I’m sitting pretty in Egypt and making good progress there with a refined and enjoyable skill loadout.  There have been highs and lows along the way, I’d like to take a moment to comment on them.First, a bit about the zones.  Kingsmouth has already been played and discussed to death but playing through it a second time was no inconvenience at all.  It still stands out as a truely masterful starting area with dense missions and lots of variety.  With the large population at the game’s launch quests were easy to help one another with, with many an impromptu group forming up and then going their seperate ways.  People were eager to jump into the first dungeon, as well.  Overall the atmosphere of the game was very good – better than what was seen in the Weekend Betas, I would say – with people being helpful to one another.

Kingsmouth was good, but The Savage Coast blows it out of the water for quest and level design.  It was good to see things continually feeling fresh with really inventive environments.  The Savage Coast serves up a Haunted Amusement Park (complete with investigation mission!), a Haunted House, a Treehouse for elementary school monster slayers, the hilariously disfunctional Innsmouth Academy, and Sam Krieg who just has to ‘drink-write-shoot-write-shoot-shoot-drink’ every day in his Lighthouse.  It’s a pleasure.Blue Mountain, by comparison, feels less polished.  It’s still a lot of fun and we see the Dawning of an Endless Night storyline come to a head here when characters from all the previous zones come together to help you in your battle with Beaumont.   The initial missions in the zone feel kind of week – those you pick up from the military detail just inside the entrance to the zone from the Savage Coast.  But once you branch out you’ll find a lot to enjoy when you run across a tribe of Sasquaches, step through a stand mirror in a haunted house back to 1904, help with the problems facing the Wabanaki tribe in their trailer park, and explore the infamous Blue Mountain Mine.  The difficulty really ramps up in this zone so you’ll want to group up when possible to run quests, but everything was soloable for me if I took enough time to be careful.  My only real gripe about the zone is that it has this half finished Indian Casino and you never really get to explore it.  My hunch is that this is where the lair boss for the zone is at, so this might not be a real criticism later on.

The final tier of Dawning of an Endless Night is one of the best written and most thoughtful sequences I’ve seen in the game.  I hope they keep things coming with this quality and it’s made me very eager to see just what choices I’ll have to make in the future.

The three dungeons I’ve run so far – the Polaris, Hell Raised, and the Darkness War – are all superb.  Polaris is quite easy when you tackle it with people who are interested in succeeding but feels just right for a first dungeon.  Hell Raised ratchets up the difficulty and really begins to punish anyone who stands in fire while rewarding those who are light on their feet and can throw interrupts at appropriate times.  The there’s the Darkness War – let’s just say that by this instance, the third instance of the game, we’re already seeing content that’s as hard as any Heroic blizzard has ever put out.  Running the Darkness War with QL5/6 gear on everyone felt like tackling Magister’s Terrace in Burning Crusade pre-nerf.  The game throws a huge number of adds at you, has constant aoe ground attacks, and many other gimmicks such as mobs you can’t get within melee range of.  It’s crazy, and it’s wonderful.

So as I’ve already said before:  The zones are great.  The quests are great.   The instances are great.  But what problems have we seen so far?

Unfortunately quite a few.  The main issue we’ve seen with this launch has been missions bugging out server-wide so that no one can progress in them.  This has happened to me in a few cases as well but seems to usually effect quests with a lot of scripting or phasing.  The biggest culprits this weekend were:  Men in Black Vans, Something Wicked, Taking the Purple, The Black House, and the Scavengers.  Ultimately it wasn’t really effecting a huge amount of the content, and often times you could complete these quests just by taking a break and coming back to them later, but because it effected such a large number of people these issues became very apparent.  Also, it led a lot of people to assume that just because they couldn’t complete a mission that it was automatically bugged.  I saw a lot of people complaining about a quest in Blue Mountain where you had to destroy an A’kab burrow saying it was bugged – but it wasn’t.  They were destroying the ‘Royal Burrow’ which is used in a later part of the quest rather than the regular ones which were further to the east.  But when it didn’t give them credit after destroying a burrow they just wrote it off as being glitched.

The game is showing a lot of potential.  I’ve moved on to Egypt and it’s a very different setting than I’ve seen so far.  And it’s bloody hard.  Hopefully Funcom can run a few patches through to squash the bugs that have crept into some of their missions.