I feel like I was somewhat unfair to the Secret World’s combat system last week after playing around with it a little more. My criticism at the time was that even though the game superficially abandoned the class and leveling systems of more traditional MMO games, the results still felt much the same. While the first few hours of the Secret World’s combat do feel superficially like combat in World of Warcraft, you quickly come to understand that the resemblance is somewhat of an illusion.
You see, rather than having to choose an individual class, every character in The Secret World has an ability wheel that lets them unlock abilities in 9 different weapon varieties. Shotguns, Assault Rifles and Pistols make up a ranged third of the ability wheel. Blades, fists and hammers constitute the melee portion. Finally there are elemental, chaos and blood magic paths that you can learn to control.
Leveling down each of these paths in the ability wheel feels somewhat like leveling a class in WoW or other MMOs as you unlock new abilities unique to that weapon’s strengths and become capable of equipping more powerful weapons of that type. What’s interesting about The Secret World, however, is that the process of leveling a weapon takes relatively little time so before too long you find yourself branching out to other weapons. It’s a system that differentiates itself by being a relatively short leveling curve that then widens out to be more about choosing the wisest selection of skills rather than unlocking everything your “class” is capable of.
At any time you can have two separate weapons equipped allowing you to use abilities from either weapon at any time. This can lead to interesting synergies between your stills as status ailments caused by one weapon can power up attacks using the other weapon. These synergies form the core of your “build” in The Secret World and need to be studied carefully because you’re limited to only 7 active abilities at a time, a number you can reach on a single weapon in just a few hours.
Combat itself in The Secret World is also much more active than in WoW. Your character can move and even dodge out of the way of incoming attacks while continuing to attack themselves. That’s easy to miss at first while enemies are relatively week but soon enough you’ll find that even random quest mobs have large area of effect attacks you’ll want to dart out of range of before continuing your assault.
Overall I’m still not totally sold on combat in The Secret World. It can feel punishingly difficult for no real reason at times (the game as a whole seems to suffer from this as you progress, though some MMO fans might see this as a cure to some of the more idiot-friendly MMOs on the market) and the synergies between weapons take a bit too much time to kick in for my taste but it certainly isn’t the WoW clone I thought it was last week.
Next week we’ll be taking a look at the strongest element of The Secret World, the games storytelling and world-building.