Sunday, 29 July 2012

A Virus Named TOM (Video Game Review)

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Dark Knight Rises (Film Review)

As with most trilogies Dark Knight Rises isn’t the best of the lot. It does an admirable job at concluding past events, is a very fun film to see and lacks idiotic undermining moments like “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you.” It’s bigger, louder, more intense, but the same time you know it’s falling short of its full potential for a few reasons.
If you’ve not been keeping up with the trailers - Bruce Wayne retired his cowl eight years ago after the events of The Dark Knight and Gordon has used Harvey Dent as a martyr to enforce draconian policies to clean up the streets. This is changed when the terrorist Bane launches his assault upon the city with plans to disrupt the positions of power within the city and is specifically targeting Wayne Enterprises. Bruce is forced to once again don his armour and rise as the dark knight to confront him and protect Gotham.
I’ll get its weaknesses out of the way first. The obvious flaws come from the film’s structure and its villains. After the traditional midpoint reversal, the film ends up effectively repeating itself. We see Bruce rise up and become Batman twice and in spite of how well handled it is you can’t help but think that rather than having the film repeat itself it could have fleshed out otherwise overlooked aspects of its tale. Like when Gotham is turned into an anarchistic equalist state due to the manipulations and charismatic speeches of Bane.
Speaking of Bane, he’s a good villain overall. In spite of sounding like Sean Connery using a Transylvanian accent while auditioning for Darth Vader, Tom Hardy manages to pull off the part and remain both interesting and threatening. The film would have been fine if they just stuck to him, but a second person was added who really drags the film down. I won’t reveal who it is but they’re obviously a villain long before they’re revealed to be one, only emerge properly in the last five minutes and their role effectively amounts to simple fan service. To anyone who has not read the comics or watched the 90s cartoon their inclusion will feel like a badly implemented last second plot twist.
The biggest flaw though is that the film doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to say. We do get some general stuff covering class conflict, revolution and the oppressed mobs, but that only comes into play during the final act. In The Dark Knight we had constant questions of anarchy, free will and the mystery behind the Joker driving it forwards. Here it seems it’s trying to cover certain themes but lacks the direction, focus and planning of the previous film.
Now this, aside from the complete lack of mention of the Joker hanging over the whole film, makes up its only bad elements. None of them are crippling nor do they ever manage to tip the scales from “good but with a couple of shortcomings” to well, something on par with Batman and Robin.
All of the characters present within the film are treated with a great amount of respect and handled extremely well, getting all the moments they deserve and with each of the actors putting their a-game into playing them. Even those who disappear for most of the film still get plenty of great scenes; with Michael Caine getting one of the best in the entire film despite only appearing in the first half. Or to give another example of how big an improvement there’s been – Christian Bale actually seems to have some varied emotion as Bruce and his Batman voice actually sounds intelligible. Well, intelligible enough to deliver his lines with some actual power rather than deflating any impact they might have.
What’s more is that Nolan has definitely continued to improve when it comes to fight cinematography. A long time criticism was always that he tended to have things fall to pieces in close range melees or action set pieces with people teleporting around the place or aspects disappearing. The real highlight of the engagements has to be the vehicles though, with the film making full use of the Bat(wing) which has been in the trailers. There are some impressive escapes, vehicle engagements and sequences with the aircraft which all show the film’s budget and bring a whole new level to the conflict. No pun intended.
The build-up towards these fights is the best in the trilogy, with the continued loss of control over the city and how Bane sets himself up as a non-leader while forcing Gotham to turn in upon itself. It’s never as psychological as the Joker’s plots, though it does contain hints of that thinking, but it feels satisfyingly bleak. Creating a massive sense of crime dominating society which even the mobs never quite had. It creates a much more palpable sense of what Batman is fighting against than the last two films.
Finally, perhaps the thing most worthy of praise is the ending. It’s definitely not what you’d expect, and some have claimed it to be a cop-out, but the last few minutes give the most closure to Bruce Wayne’s tale than any other medium over the years. Rather than showing him continuing superheroing about, it is a conclusion to his life as Batman.
Despite its problems The Dark Knight is a very good film and you should definitely see it while it’s in the cinema. It is the ending to a trilogy and as such you should watch the previous films to avoid bring caught out by continuity. At the same time though you can probably watch it without marathoning through them directly prior to entering the cinema.

Actually there is one small note to make after this. The teaser trailer for Man of Steel was shown almost directly before Dark Knight Rises. If you’ve not seen it yet you’re not missing much. You get only a couple of seconds of actual superpowers on display, and the most exciting part was where a friend and I went the first forty seconds thinking it was a teaser for a Aquaman film.

Dark Knight Rises and all related characters and media are owned by DC comics and Warner Bros.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Horus Heresy - Butcher's Nails (Audiobook Review)

What is it with the Horus Heresy and the World Eaters legion? Whenever they show up as secondary or background characters they tend to edge out against the protagonists, giving interesting hints about their legion and why the Emperor allowed them to exist in the first place. Yet when they actually get their stories, short ones unfortunately, they’re consistently unremarkable and can easily be passed over. This is the real problem with Butcher’s Nails, it’s the first proper look at the legion and primarch since the betrayal from their own viewpoint, and you could skim over it without losing anything.
To make matters worse the blurb manages to both completely misrepresent the story and spoil a good half of it. It seems to suggest the whole thing will be the pivotal moment in which Angron truly turns to Chaos, becoming Khorne’s champion, and a follow-up to an apparent attempt by the Eldar to kill him while he was young. Instead most of what we get is just conflict between the Word Bearers and some expansion upon Angron’s character from his own viewpoint. It’s not bad but it’s not what the audiobook has been advertised as focusing upon. To make matters worse is that all we really get about Angron becoming the chosen of Khorne is this: Lorgar changes his opinion on the primarch and realises that the combat devices implanted into the back of the legionaries’ heads were always turning them to Chaos. These are things we’ve always known and honestly it feels like Lorgar should have known about the former far sooner than he did.
None of this is to say that Butcher’s Nails is bad, it’s just unremarkable as a story. While it does have the problems highlighted above there are a few points in here which prove to be interesting – Angron himself is presented as being the berserker gladiator king we’ve known him as but he’s written with far more depth than his original concept. This is most obvious when he’s first introduced, showing more value and respect to the non-astartes members of his crew than any other traitor primarch has. He’s still abrasive and perpetually furious but he treats them as he would his astartes and, if the relationship between Kharn and Sarrin are anything to go by, as do the rest of the legion. Angron even objects to being referred to as “lord” or any similar title, which is a nice touch and fits well with his history as effectively being 40k’s Spartacus. It goes some way to humanising the legion while not detracting from their reputation as the eaters of worlds.
A similarly interesting point is that the audiobook suggests that it was the Dark Eldar who tried to kill Angron in his childhood as they show up here to make another attempt upon his life. This is again a decision which is oddly appropriate. Previously everyone had thought it was the craftworld Eldar who had attempted to assassinate him, but their relationship with Slaanesh makes them far more fitting to want him dead.
One noteworthy thing is that this is the first Horus Heresy audiobook with a fully voiced cast and the second one in the Warhammer universe. This allows for a much wider vocal range and helps to distinguish between certain major characters, always a good thing, the problem is that not all of them really fit their roles. Ones like Lorgar, Sarrin, Argal Tal (yes, he has a cameo in this), and the Eldar all work. Kharn and Angron not so much. Kharn sounds far too in control and calm to the point where it’s effectively impossible to imagine him going into a berserk fury. Angron on the other hand actually has a voice which sounds like it’d suit Kharn far better but is too subdued for the primarch. It sounds like he’s frustrated, angry to the point of decking the nearest person at a moment’s notice but still in control. Angron’s supposed to be a walking avatar of blood, death and rage, when he speaks it should sound like the guy is ready to kill at a drop of a hat, with every word as a sheer blast of sound. More like the one we got in the audio adaptations of the opening Horus trilogy.
The final big problem with Butcher’s Nails, and this is going to sound petty, is the cover. On the one hand unlike the cover of Tales of Heresy this actually looks like Angron rather than an overweight man in armour. He looks like a linebacker, a combat monster capable of cutting swathes through armies and one of the most physically powerful of the primarchs. This helps to offset the current attitude of new fans which consider all primarchs bar Guilliman to be easily dealt with and comparatively weak. Even out of his armour Angron looks like he could easily fight the other primarchs we’ve seen to a standstill.
On the other this isn’t artwork worthy of a cover – a man with two axes standing half naked and screaming at the reader is the sort of thing which looks like it came from a bad 90s comic. That or one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. Either way they probably should have kept this one on the inside cover of and used one of the images of him fully armoured. Previous audiobooks have shown Black Library has no problems reusing old artwork from the Horus Heresy Collected Editions, so they could have easily just used Wayne England’s image of the primarch:

Again, in spite of all these criticisms, Butcher’s Nails isn’t overly bad. It’s a big let-down to be sure but it’s not some massive outright betrayal. If you’re a fan of the World Eaters or Aaron Dembski-Bowden then this one is worth getting and you’ll probably be satisfied with it. Everyone else, you can probably skip this one without too much trouble. If you’re looking for more in-depth coverage of some of the less focused upon primarchs’ thoughts and ideologies, you might want to look up the duology of The Dark King & The Lightning Tower. Both of which do a much better job of fleshing out Konrad Curze and Rogal Dorn than this audio does with Angron.
If you do get this though, be prepared for the remarkable stupidity which is the ursa’s claws. No, really, brace yourself – it’s something which when first hearing it I thought I’d accidently picked up a 40K parody.  

Butcher's Nails and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Anna (Video Game Review)

Read the review in full on

You’re stuck in a very small enclosed area, poking about with things which are clearly supernatural and the powerful semi-aware environment clearly disliking you. It apparently doesn’t even regard you as being enough of an irritation to actually do more than just freak you out with haunted acts of mindbuggery. It’s arguable that it manages to pull this whole thing off better than Silent Hill 2 as there are no actual enemies or combat. There’s nothing to distract you from how screwed up the environment really is or threats to directly combat. While it might be in a much smaller area with a much shorter time until you complete it, it never feels like it begins to lose the emotions it started to evoke. Even the most calming part of the whole game, the oddly cheerfully out of place soundtrack, starts to make the whole experience more and more unnerving as time goes by.

The game can be bought from here, here and here for £7.99. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a horror title who wants something more to a game than mowing down zombies with semi-automatic weapons. Further links to reviews and details can be found on the developer’s blog.

Anna and all related characters and media are owned by Dreampainters.

Monday, 16 July 2012

I Wanna Be the Guy: Gaiden (Video Game Review)


For those of you not in the know, way back in mists of time in 2007 a man called Michael "Kayin" O'Reilly developed a game called I Wanna Be the Guy. It proved to be one of the hardest games ever made short of Kaizo Mario World, and perhaps even exceeding that due to the lack of save states. You were likely to die a good twenty times more often than in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and was the No.1 cause for tears of rage, hatred and blood for that year due to its obscene difficulty. Don’t quote me on that last bit.

Upon initially playing that game I thought that this must have been some mistake. That there must have been something wrong during its creation, that perhaps O’Reilly had been possessed by Beelzebub or it had escaped from eldritch dimension of horrifying deaths to our world. The sequel proves this wrong. O'Reilly is just extremely good at making video games worthy of being banned under the Geneva Convention. Somehow he managed to make this one even harder than the first.

Now some of you might be thinking this is exaggeration, that I Wanna Be the Guy: Gaiden is just a bit too difficult for someone who tends to play most games on Normal difficulty. To those people, here’s a simple answer:

I have yet to encounter anyone who has made it to the first stage of the map screen without being killed at least ten times. Yes, before you even reach the first level you’re going to die more often than you would in any normal title – and it only gets steadily harder from there. For one thing you’re going to be lucky if you can even land on opening area without dying the first time. Not since Dwarf Fortress, a game with the mantra “losing is fun”, has there been something with such a steep difficulty curve.

Really, that’s all that needs to be said – I Wanna Be the Guy: Gaiden is made from the ground up to be obscenely difficult, infesting your computer like the raw stuff of hell and driving you to bash your head against walls. It’s not even that it’s badly made, it’s well thought out and very well made, but every brain cell which went into this was put towards making it harder. There’s certainly nice elements to it, like its predecessor it manages to capture the same retro vibe of old titles. The music is fantastic. Each level reminded me of classic games such as the original Mega Man series and Super Mario, but you’re not going to notice that while screaming obscenities at the screen after dying for the thousandth time on the opening screen.

If you want to repeated torture yourself, it can be downloaded for free from here. It is not recommended for the light hearted.

I Wanna Be the Guy: Gaiden was developed by Michael O'Reilly.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Kymera Keeper (Video Game Review)

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: This is a Pokémon clone. You’re hunting down and capturing mini-monsters, fighting in turn based combat and wondering a myriad of different locations. What makes this worth playing is that it’s a fun Pokémon clone with a very different visual style. With the monsters ranging from some overly cute looking bee-monsters to an abominable snowman which looks like it walked straight out of Castle Crashers. It’s also online.
As you might expect, the story is effectively a guideline for you to follow from place to place. While there is an attempt to handwave away the existence of death dispensing pocket moonsters and a story surrounding an ancient McGuffin stolen from its resting place it’s nothing all that memorable. Though is admittedly better than what you usually get out of something on Facebook and it’s more a backdrop to the gameplay than something to draw new players.
Speaking of the gameplay, rather than being free roaming Kymera Keeper has you moving between set locations on each map, allowing you to quickly move to exactly where you want to be. Like flying in the Pokemon games though, you have to have travelled to the location the long way at least once, meaning you can’t skip half the areas and run right to the end. This allows for more efficient methods of grinding and finding the critter you want, without dozens of random encounters sapping your creatures’ HP along the way. This might sound easy initially but it is balanced out by the limitations placed upon healing your kymera.
To help try to create a sort of balance amongst older players and newer ones, healing in town costs money. The more times you need to heal and revive your kymera, the more money you are forced to spend each time. While there is a slot allowing you to heal for free, it takes a full hour to recharge and if you want to heal more regularly you’ll need to fork over cash. The costs for this continually rise and never fall back to their original levels; as such you need to put some thought into what you are doing. Do you keep fighting and gaining exp but risk driving prices too high for what you can currently take from defeated enemies, or pace yourself but progress much slower? It’s an ingeniously simple solution to this problem.
On the subject of grinding and developing it is worth mentioning that levelling is surprisingly easy and feels far smoother than in Pokémon.  Rather than repeatedly getting reamed for small amounts of exp. at higher levels the difficulty steadily rises but never seems to truly become overwhelming to the point where you’re spending hours trying to get very little progress. What really helps with this is that the developers Red Seraphim seemed to also be trying to take the elemental weaknesses and strengths aspects of these games and change them slightly. You can end up with kymera which have a vast number of weaknesses against a variety of different types in this and seems to be more dependent upon the individual creature than what elemental class they belong to. This is often offset by what each one might be capable of, especially on higher levels as some kymera which might be weak to just about anything could end up being capable of very powerful attacks when levelled up correctly balancing out their flaws.
The battle animations themselves don’t stand out that well. It feels like an odd criticism to make of the game but each of the animations feel oddly lacking either appearing heavily pixilated or very stiff, even if you’re going in with low expectations. Only a few of the monsters even seem to have moving images shifting between two different stances, often being stuck in the same frozen pose during battle. The reason for this is likely budget constraints, but seeing your own miniature monster’s unmoving .JPG lurch forwards and fire streams of sparks never fails to seem awkward. The combat itself is well handled and you can easily overlook the flawed visuals if you focus upon the statistics and how well designed the turn based mechanics are.
Speaking of the combat, it’s worth mentioning that Kymera Keeper’s combat sequences aren’t completely lifted from the Pokémon games. There are also a few aspects which are taken from Final Fantasy. Each kymera has what is effectively a limit break, a bar for a special attack which is charged up with each engagement and can be used to inflict heavy damage under the right circumstances. I’d talk a bit about how that relates to strategy and how you have to pick and choose your battles, but anyone reading this who has ever spent five minutes looking at a Final Fantasy game will likely already understand how this stuff works.

Besides the combat and artistic style there is one other thing well worth praising.
The soundtrack, compared to the others of its genre, and the themes featured in the game are of quite a high quality. While not always fitting of each situation and area, there are a lot of standout tunes and the music for the game's opening title screen is especially memorable. Sounding sweeping and epic in its own right, but without sounding at odds with its look.

If there’s one really big complaint to make it’s that it’s buggy, once in a while you’ll start playing and encounter loading problems or other small irritating glitches. Sometimes, though not too often, ones which are so problematic they can stop you from playing the game at all or refresh the screen. Though this is somewhat forgivable as the game is in beta and problems are still being ironed out.
Really, Kymera Keeper is okay. What it really has going for it is its presentation, ability to link up through android and its combat system. It’s not all that remarkable and it has its shortcomings, but it never really feels like it’s doing anything especially wrong. If you’re a fan of turn based strategy games, Pokémon or want an online multiplayer game which is capable of moving at your own pace; you should check this one out. It’s vastly more enjoyable than some Facebook based games I can think of, and doesn’t require you to install EA spyware Origin to play.
The game can be found here, here and the artist behind the game's unique look can be found here.
Kymera Keeper and all related characters and media are owned by Red Seraphim.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Doctor Who - Lurkers At Sunlight’s Edge (Audiobook Review)

Lurker’s at Sunlight’s Edge has an odd feel to it. It’s one of those few bits of media which you know was a massive missed opportunity but at the same time you can’t help but like parts of it.
Set after the last story, The Angel of Scutari, and lacking any mention of that tale besides a white TARDIS; the heroes arrive in Alaska. Having spotted an oddity in his historical records, the Doctor has chosen to visit an island in 1934 which has seemingly appeared out of nowhere and begins to encounter strange goings on. An alien fortress sits at its centre with an expedition determined to break within, ignoring the horrifying fates of those before them or what they might unleash upon the world. Dragging the Doctor with them, it quickly becomes clear all is not what it seems to be, and everything is linking back to one science fiction author: C.P. Doveday.
So yes, what we have here is effectively Doctor Who at the Mountains of Madness with even a stand-in for Lovecraft playing a central role. Unfortunately however, the audiobook moves away from that setting in favour of something very different; more concerned with a “what if” idea behind Doveday. While the plot itself is intelligent and has a few interesting concepts, it can throw a listeners through a loop if they were expecting a more traditional Lovecraftian tale. This isn’t helped by the fact that the author Mary Ross seems to have decided to juggle between this and his own self-aware plot surrounding Doveday and a more traditional Lovecraftian tale.
This unfortunately results in not enough focus being placed upon the latter and we only see brief glimpses of the audiobook’s most interesting aspects. There’s just not enough noted about the alien environments and get very little in the way of details about the aliens themselves besides the fact they’re horrific. The lack of description just makes them feel underwhelming and the cast’s bad American accents come off as being more disturbing by far than the barely appearing alien threat. Another problem stemming from it juggling between the two plots is that it has frequent pacing issues. The beginning seems to move forwards at a breakneck speed so that everything for the Lovecraftian tale can be set up and sorted out, but . While this evens out in the later episodes as the two plots move closer together, it can be hard to tolerate and look passed along with the other issues.
The Doveday plot is stronger by far for a number of reasons, the first being that is allows for some more character growth for Ace than is usually given. Her interactions with Doveday comes across as being far more tender than you would expect for a character best known for using explosives and beating daleks to death with baseball bats. Doveday himself, has a great deal of focus placed upon him and this thankfully pays off. In spite of his accent, he is also set up as a good tragic figure due to his nature and his breakdowns are far more chilling than any of the battles in the alien fortress. As for the Doctor, true to his seventh incarnation you get the feeling he knows a lot more than he’s letting on. There’s a good balance between humour and seriousness in his role which helps to keep his character interesting even when he’s pushed into the background.
Really, the idea was mishandled more than anything else. There is obvious potential behind the plot and some gems of quality found in this but the script definitely needed a few revisions. There’s definitely far worse to be found other Doctor Who audiobooks but this one really doesn’t do enough to stand out and doesn’t focus enough upon its biggest selling point. This one is worth taking a look if you’re interested in Doctor Who tales with alien incidents in the past, but don’t expect too much of it beyond good performances.
And some bad accents. Did I mention the accents?
Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation and are produced by Big Finish.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Secret World (MMO Review)

Newly released The Secret World, or as I like to call it Hellboy the MMO, has had a troubled development. First thought up in 2002 under the name Cabal, it suffered being repeatedly side-lined due to other projects, scrapped and restarted ideas and various problems which would likely have sunk any other game. Such a development has spelled doom for other projects under EA, a certain Tiberium title comes to mind, but TSW is finished and is about to be released. Is it any good? Yeah, seems it actually is.
The story behind this MMO is fairly good, a cut above the normal and while not as well done as The Old Republic it is far less intrusive to gameplay. After gaining superpowers through eating a bee, it makes more sense in context, your character is contacted through one of three organisations fighting to preserve the world. While all have agendas which oppose one another each of them understands that something very wrong is happening. Their war to protect modern civilisation from the fantasy horrors such as vampires, deep ones and zombies has taken a turn for the worse. Something has been brought to the town of Kingsmouth and not long after your initiation you are sent to investigate the goings on there, beginning a long journey to hunt down and stop a weapon of destructive power.
Truth be told, the choice of the three factions, Templar, Illuminati and Dragon is largely cosmetic. While they differ in motivations they won’t really change your progress throughout the game and few if any NPCs will react differently to seeing you. It really just comes down to a choice of whether you’re aligned with which way of thinking; the Templar’s “Halt demonic presence at all costs” mentality, the Illuminati’s manipulative elitist tendencies or the Dragon’s ideology of causing controlled chaos to strengthen the world. Even that is not much of a choice as the Templars are easily the best written of the three, embracing the same mix of humour and horror present in the rest of the game. Atop of that their city of choice, London, easily has the most character, standing head and shoulders above the rest in terms of presentation, size and variety. The Illuminati are written to be overly ridiculous  feeling at odds with big chunks of the game. The only thing the surprisingly bland Dragons have to offer is a hilarious method of recruiting new members and an implied vision inducing lesbian encounter if you join with a female character.
That aside, it does have to be said that all the cutscenes, both faction specific and otherwise are well done. Unlike WoW, WAR and DCUO missions tend to involve you entering a brief voiced cutscene with a quest giver talking about what they want and various subjects involving their situation. These only tend to be two minutes long even for the major ones, but they’re well-made. All of them give a good amount of characterisation to each NPC involved and some genuinely funny dialog, especially from the major quest givers in Kingsmouth. This really helps with the atmosphere to each area and helps to both emphasise upon how doomed they are while elevating them from being apathy inducingly dark. Hence the nickname Hellboy: the MMO.
The areas themselves tend to be somewhat samey at first. The opening two levels are set in doomed towns being overrun by creatures of darkness which have pushed the surviving human residents back to a few hastily constructed strongholds. What differs between them is some of the enemies and the look of their surrounding areas, with Kingsmouth mostly featuring zombies being backed by aquatic pincer armed men of Cthuhlu occupying a town, forest and coastal environment. Whereas the next area featured nests of gigantic bug monsters, with stronger zombies backed by aquatic pincer armed men of Cthuhlu taking over slightly different beaches, more monstrous forests and a more burned out farmlands and towns. There are noticeable differences between them but seeing recoloured monsters just on the second area did seem like a questionable choice, even with hulk sized chainsaw wielding scarecrows occupying the inland locations. So enemy variety does have something to be desired, as do the early settings but what about the characters themselves?
Well, character creation is fairly lacklustre. Skin tones, hair and other aspects don’t stand out as much as they usually would in other MMOs and the clothing only really makes you visibly differ when you take garish colours. This is largely due to TSW trying to take a more realistic appearance to contrast with its more fantastical aspects and enemies, but there’s no denying that there’s not enough initial variety. While more interesting clothing becomes available later on such as uniforms this is a weak-point in the game.
In combat the only real weakness is the animations, many of which can appear very stiff or overly scripted and don’t seem so fluid as in other titles. At the same time the combat feel vastly more mobile and action oriented than in many other MMOS, not requiring you to stand in one place while you attack like in Lord of the Rings Online. This allows for more tactical advantages such as circle strafing and hit and run attacks. There are some weapons which require remaining static, but this is usually due to the character requiring aiming them and are the longest ranged.
One of the game’s big selling points, especially in terms of combat, was its lack of classes and levelling. This is done entirely through equipment instead, with no base builds for characters and instead having you choose a weapon of choice early on, then buying abilities surrounding that weapon. One nice touch is that you can both wield two sets of weapons of your choice and buy skills in any tree you desire, allowing you to quickly change from one weapons set to the next quickly. There are a limited number of active and passive skill slots but this allows for experimentation and set-ups to shift dramatically. After a few hours of gameplay and unlocking the right skills it becomes easy to flip between roles. Whether they be tanking or using a more attack orientated style, you can switch between the two in a few minutes on the skill screen. An easier option than starting an entirely new character.
Improving HP and stats comes purely through the form of equipable items, which you’ll take, sell and discard as time goes by, are bought in shops and dropped by enemies. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect of any game like this, only without additional levelling. You still get grinding on an off of missions, but it’s nowhere near as tedious or frustratingly slow as in many other games. This is due to several things – the aforementioned good combat, the fact you can easily do it travelling from one place to the next and the fact that as it’s not level or exp based you seem to progress much faster. What can also help is the quest variety and how it can break up the combat.
While the vast majority of quests do require you to bludgeon/hack/blast something to death; there are some which feel more like puzzles and outright research tasks. These can feature you having to dodge around laser triggered explosives or navigating a sewer network, or in the case of many using the in-game browser to find information to get passed something. While they only turn up every ten or so quests, they do a good job of giving you a breather from combat and forcing you to do more than just think about what skills to use when. Though admittedly the combat quests themselves are a cut above average, the “we need you to kill five zombies” quests feel like an actual quest, not a chore you’re having to perform before getting to the proper quests. This is admittedly in part due to the cutscenes and atmosphere, but they also tend to be better laid out and planned than many similar variants found in other games.
The game’s biggest flaw is actually its graphical requirements and the game can be very taxing on computers, requiring the DirectX11 card to run and you can often find the game badly lagging when there is a lot of activity taking place. Or loading your character without hair, clothing or just making them invisible. At the same time, in spite of this, the game is fairly stable. At no point in running it off of my laptop did it crash or had frequent connection problems I’ve had with other MMOs such as DCUO.
Even with some of my personal gripes about MMOs present such as “collect/kill X number of items/monsters” missions there’s no denying this is a very well made title. If you’re looking for more of a story orientated MMO without it being so constraining as in The Old Republic, and can forgive a few of its flaws, The Secret World is a solid title. It won’t appeal to everyone but with the right mindset it can be a truly immersive world with strengths which far outweigh its flaws. It can be found here and is officially released on the 3rd of this month. If anything in this review has made it sound interesting to you, it’s strongly recommended you take a look.

The Secret World and all related characters and media are owned by Funcom.