Today is the day that everyone’s favorite conspiracy theory/Lovecraftian horror MMORPG The Secret World gets relaunched as Secret World Legends, granted you have head start access. Given that, you’re probably wondering how the game turned out, whether it’s worth playing, and so on. Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to play the game over the past few days and am going to share my impressions of what I’ve seen so far with you.
Before I get to any particular details of what has changed, it should be noted that the world, the story, and a large majority of the quests that I’ve encountered thus far appear to be unchanged in any way. At its core, Secret World Legends is still The Secret World. While all of the original game’s content is free in Secret World Legends, meaning that you don’t have to pay for DLC, it is still the same content. You will be adventuring through the same zones in the same order all over again.
One zone that has seen significant and immediately recognizable changes is the Agartha. Gone are the zone’s twisting branches lined with portals. They have been replaced by smaller platforms that are connected by jump pads. Each of these platforms holds a group of portals that lead to interconnected zones. It’s a streamlining of sorts—and a welcome one, at that.
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Now that that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the combat system. Many did not like The Secret World’s combat system. I was never entirely sure why, but I digress. Many of those same people are now likely wondering if Secret World Legends’ revamped action combat system addresses the problems that they had with The Secret World’s combat. Unfortunately, I’m inclined to say no.
The problem with Secret World Legends’ combat system is that it simply isn’t an action combat system. All that’s changed is the way that players interact with the underlying mechanics. Instead of tab-targeting, you now aim with a reticle. Instead of using the 1-0 keys to attack, you use the left and right mouse buttons, 1 and 2, and Q and E. The new control scheme allows for a total of six abilities to be equipped at any one time; only one of these abilities can be a basic ability, but each weapon archetype has multiple basic attacks available. Beyond these changes, which are simply changes to the way that you control your character, nothing that has changed is indicative of an action combat system. You still have to “target” enemies by aiming at them or you can’t attack at all. There’s no way to miss because you aimed poorly. The underlying combat mechanics are the same, despite the fact that the controls have changed. Don’t get me wrong, The Secret World had a lot of action combat mechanics to begin with, such as an active dodge, and it would be easy to believe that this is an action combat system, but the reality is that all that there is is a new control scheme that obscures the existing tab targeting mechanics.
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But Funcom did, in fact, go a step further than simply changing the controls. Each weapon archetype now has what I like to call its own unique “minigame.” Each weapon has its own resources that regenerate independently and such, but each one also has an interface that appears just above your health bar; the primary weapon’s interface appears on the left while the secondary’s appears on the right. These each add new challenges to combat and require constant monitoring.
During my time in Secret World Legends, I played as a Warlock, the Blood Magic/Assault Rifle hybrid that I played in The Secret World. The Blood Magic minigame has a meter with an orb in the center. As you cast damage spells, the orb will shift to the left; casting healing spells instead will cause the orb to shift to the right. If the orb gets close enough to one side of the meter, you will begin to take damage, but each side of the meter also represents a different resource that you must build up in order to cast certain spells. You have to learn to balance your spell usage, and that is somewhat interesting, but it amounts to little more than a combat minigame.
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The Assault Rifle minigame is far less interesting. As you use non-grenade Assault Rifle skills, there is a chance that you will load a grenade into the grenade chamber that is attached to your Assault Rifle. You can only use grenade skills if there is a grenade in the chamber, but, once the grenade is in the chamber, you have to launch the grenade by using a grenade skill within around five seconds or it will explode in the chamber and you will take damage. That is the extent of the Assault Rifle minigame.
As mentioned above, these minigames do add new challenges to combat, but said challenges don’t do much to add to the experience. I don’t think that there was a single time during the time that I played The Secret World that I thought “you know what would be great? More stuff to monitor during combat.” Even as a healer, I always felt that I was kept busy enough by my usual rotation. In fact, I find it to be somewhat of a less welcome change in Secret World Legends due to the very move to a faux action combat system that the developers are touting as one of its defining features. With the change in combat system, you already have to ensure that you are always aiming at your intended target. With the addition of these minigames, you have to ensure that you are always aiming at your intended target while also ensuring that you don’t take damage from a minigame that you failed to monitor.
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The several other systems have also seen a significant revamp. Whereas The Secret World previously only used experience as an indicator of when you would get more Ability Points or Skill Points, Secret World Legends has a level system, albeit it may only exist as an indicator of what the player can and cannot hope to fight at any given time. The infamous skill wheel with several tiers of ability for each weapon archetype that had to be unlocked by spending enough points in the previous tier is gone, replaced by “weapon pages.” Each weapon page is split into two pages: one with three paths of “Active Abilities” and one with five paths of “Passive Skills.” The three paths of Active Abilities all lead towards one Ultimate ability, whereas the five paths of Passive Skills are each completely independent of one another. Interestingly, despite each path of Passive Skills containing upwards of five Passive Skills, you can only have five Passive Skills equipped at any one time.
So far, I’m fairly fond of the changes to the skill system. They streamline each system significantly while also making the Skills and Abilities menus far easier to read. The skill wheel was a unique way to represent as many different weapon archetypes as each character could have at once, but it could also be somewhat confusing if you weren’t entirely sure what you were looking at. It should be clear how the weapon pages work fairly immediately.
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Secret World Legends introduces a new item upgrade system, as well. Each weapon and accessory that you obtain will begin at level one. Each one will be of a specific tier, with higher tiers providing better bonuses with each level than lower tiers, but they will all begin at level one. To level up your weapons and accessories, you must sacrifice other weapons and accessories to them. Weapons can only be upgraded with weapons while accessories can only be upgraded with accessories. Using a item of the same kind as the item that you are attempting to upgrade will provide a 2.5x bonus to the experience provided by the item that is being sacrificed, but any item of the same class will do. The system is straightforward enough and it works, but it’s not one that I’ve ever been wholly fond of in any game that I’ve seen it in, as upgrading your weapon is as simple as throwing an endless number of other weapons at it.
Perhaps the most significant change, however, is the change in business model. Whereas The Secret World was a subscription game that later became a buy-to-play game with optional DLC purchases, Secret World Legends is free-to-play with an optional Patron subscription and a premium currency that can be traded for in-game currency and vice versa. The Patron subscription, which costs $12.99 per month, has all of the usual benefits, such as a daily additional Cache Key that offers a bonus daily login reward, additional Dungeon Keys, 10% bonus experience, a 15% boost to in-game currency earned from Missions, access to the Cabal Bank, 8-hour Mission cooldowns, and “unlimited free Anima leaps,” which allow you to teleport to Anima Wells that you’ve unlocked completely free of charge. It’s a fairly typical subscription to a free-to-play game.
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However, there is one benefit that truly bothers me and that is “direct trade with other Patrons.” That is correct. If you want to direct trade with someone, you both have to be Patrons. I am almost certain that this move is intended to inhibit gold sellers, which is practically unnecessary due to the fact that you can simply trade premium currency for in-game currency, but it is rather frustrating. It is even more frustrating due to the fact that almost all loot that I’ve encountered has come in the form of bags that provide you with a random item, most of which have been specific types of bags that provide either a random weapon or accessory. You will not need most of these weapons or accessories, but, if you are adventuring with others, they might. Unless you are both Patrons, however, you can’t trade the items to them. Fortunately, however, each of these items can still be used to upgrade your current gear, giving them a fairly significant purpose beyond that of being sold for more money.
While it may seem like I have a number of issues with Secret World Legends, I’ve rather enjoyed my time with it thus far and I’m glad to be back in the game’s uniquely dark world. But I’m also inclined to wonder if the only reason that I have enjoyed my time with it is because I enjoyed The Secret World before it. As someone that played The Secret World, I simply don’t think that the changes that were made to the combat system will mean much of anything to anyone that was previously driven off by The Secret World’s combat system. That being said, combined with the free-to-play model, they may very well be just enough to bring new players in. There are a few minor issues with some of the changes that have been made, but, if you passed on The Secret World before due to the fact that it was buy-to-play or simply want to play the game again, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Make no mistake, though, Secret World Legends is essentially The Secret World 2.0. It is not a new game, nor should it be seen as one. It is simply a revamp of an older game that may or may not include the exact changes that are necessary to draw your interest.