Category Archives: The Secret World

Certified for Nightmares

Last time I wrote about my progress in TSW, I was doing elite dungeons. Them being sandwiched between normal leveling dungeons and the “real” end-game nightmare dungeons, I didn’t spend a lot of time in them. After a couple of game nights, I had successfully pugged all elite dungeons and fulfilled that half of the “nightmare certification” list. All that was left was to defeat the Gatekeeper, who tests you before he lets you enter the branch of Agartha that leads for the nightmare dungeons.t

That fight was a bit of a letdown. It might have been because I was a healer, but I did it on try 3, and that only because I had to learn that he uses a debuff on you that you have to remove with a gimmick ability I had never put on my hotbars before. I heard horror stories from DPS doing their version, though… so it might have been a case of unequal balancing.

The premise was quite nice: the gatekeeper summed a “tank” that you had to keep up while dodging ground effects. At some point, “DPS” came in, one of which promptly decided to stand in the fire. You had to keep everyone up until the Gatekeeper was satisfied with your performance. I think it’s a very good idea to make sure you know what you’re doing before playing with the big boys, but it felt just a little too easy.

Yeah, yeah, thanks. No where do I pick up my certificate?

Yeah, yeah, thanks. No where do I pick up my certificate?

Since then, I’ve done three rounds of “18s” or “24s” (I just don’t have time at the moment to play on weekdays… I feel like watching old comedy shows is about all I’m able to do in the evening). By the way, I wonder who came up with that name. If you don’t know (and for me for reference in case I might need it years down the road), “18s” means the three nightmare dungeons that are considered easiest: The Polaris, Hell Raised, and The Darkness War. “24s” adds Hell Fallen. The number supposedly comes from the fact that each dungeon has 6 bosses. I have no idea where the “s” comes from, though. You certainly can’t run the same dungeons multiple times in a row on nightmare difficulty because they have an 18-hour lockout. Maybe it’s from the earlier days of the game, when nightmare wasn’t the default difficulty for the older population, and Elites were farmed? Who knows.

Anyway, I’ve done some nightmare dungeons, and most of the time, they worked pretty well. The “noobmares” chat channel is great for someone like me who is starting out with nightmares. There is not a lot of “rush rush” pressure during runs, which I certainly appreciate. There are also many well-geared players hanging out in there, which certainly helps. I also took the chance to interview my tanks afterwards to see whether they noticed anything I could improve on. Most of them were pretty happy and just noted I should work on positioning. In the beginning, I had problems with sometimes getting out of range of my tanks on fights in large areas with equally large ground effects (Machine Tyrant, especially). Switching auxiliary weapons from the healing-focused quantum brace to the rocket launcher seems to have solved that problem. Death from Above, a.k.a. the rocket jump, helped a lot with positioning. Yes, you can do a rocket jump in TSW! Isn’t it adorable?

So, anyway, nightmares going mostly well, so far. Yay! I’m happy that, apart from an occasional unnecessary death… or from blowing all my healing abilities on the tank, before I realizing that I had targeted a DPS, and the tank consequently dying… I’ve been coping with nightmares pretty well. Of course, it probably helps a lot to have, on average, at least two highly-geared people with you every run. I did meet a few annoying DPS, though. In one run, we had a fresh tank (with decent gear, but no tanking experience) and a DPS who found it funny to steal aggro from him… all the time… and die. We managed to pull through in any case, but that was more stressful than it needed to be. Then there was the group who had two DPS that were abysmally low on damage. So low that, in fact, we called the run on Machine Tyrant because we couldn’t get it down before the enrage.  Didn’t help that people died regularly on fights, either. But that’s the downside of pugging channels: you win some, you lose some. And it’s definitely better than an automatic dungeon-group-slap-togetherer, because it seems the runs are at least slightly more social that way. You still have players who’ve done it 50 times and just want to get it over with to get the bullion for upgrades, but at least there’s some talking and friendlisting involved before, during or after the runs.

On the Healing Fence

… or, when it comes to healing, I’m on the fence. Specifically, when it comes to TSW healing, but there are some general topics mixed in, too.

So on my return to TSW I decided to go the healer route for group content. The reasoning was like this:

  1. I’m not gonna play DPS. I just don’t like playing DPS in group settings any more. I play it all the time when I solo, I want to do something different when I group. Besides, I like to fill a “supporting” role.
  2. There is no pure support role in TSW, like the EQ2 bards and enchanters or the RIFT Archons. At least not for group content. Maybe for raids, I don’t know.
  3. I’ve played tanks before, and I like tanking. But I’ve played little organized group content these last years, and I notice I’ve become very nervous about potentially underperforming in groups. I’d need new confidence to retry a role that always seems to end up having to know everything about every boss to succeed. Besides, coming late to a game makes tanking hard, if you end up with DPSers in your group that massively outgear you.
  4. So, that leaves healing. Why not, I’ve never done that seriously, outside of leveling a Disc priest in WoW during Cataclysm.

Now, healing isn’t bad. It can actually be quite fun. At the moment, I’m rocking a Fist/Blood deck, which means I have a lot of healing choices, mostly dots and shields, with some oh-shit instant heals for nasty situations. It has served me well in Elite dungeons (TSW’s second-tier group content).

All green, all healing.

All green, all healing.

I like being able to support other players (point 2), and I got back some limited confidence in my playing abilities in a group context (point 3). Picking up people from the brink of death is fun, if sometimes pretty frantic. There’s just one thing about TSW healing that I noticed:

I really miss the mana bar.

See, with a mana bar, your healing decisions become less tactic and more strategic: which heal do I use? Can I wait for a few more moments to regen mana? Do I then have to use a more expensive heal? Which choice is the better one?

During vanilla WoW, I played a mage for some time as some sort of an alt. Endgame mage meant frost, and frost meant spamming one button most of the time. However, I enjoyed the mana management game immensely. Interleaving potions, mana gems (of different qualities), evocation (with a spirit staff to switch to), and, if I got really lucky, synchronizing those with an Innervate… the tactic game was boring, but the strategic game was an additional, appealing, slower gameplay layer on top.

Anyway, the problem with TSW is that it doesn’t have a mana bar. All abilities follow a builder–consumer ability style, even heals. Some abilities cost nothing and give you resources; others consume resources for more powerful effects. That makes the game very tactic and not very strategic: building up resources happens anyway, and since you are capped at 5, even if you spend them, you’ll have them back in no time. Conversely, that builder–consumer scheme means that every moment you don’t use an ability is wasted; as a healer, filling every gap with spamming builder heals because they don’t cost anything and potentially keep someone alive is a good tactic. And during downtimes in fights, where nobody is taking any damage, you are completely useless. In other games, using the downtime to regen mana felt like doing something sensible. In TSW, I feel like I’m twiddling thumbs in fight pauses for no beneficial effect at all, especially on fights that have the boss disappear and the others DPSing some temporary target that doesn’t deal damage.

I guess that’s one of the reasons people drift away from pure healing builds as their gear gets better. Most seem to end up running a healing leech build. Which I imagine can be lots of fun: I love classes that heal by dealing damage. I had lots of fun playing my Disciple in Vanguard or my Chloromage in RIFT before they overhauled that part of the game. But the gear requirements in TSW to run a leech healer well are very steep, ands I won’t be able to reach them for some time.

And then there’s the whole thing with watching health bars. That’s a more general remark and doesn’t have anything to do with TSW. But I noticed that I feel more disconnected from the world. When I played a tank, my impression was that 80% of good tanking was being aware of your surroundings. That worked pretty well: you tanked some boss or adds in the middle of your screen and just scanned the periphery regularly.

As a healer, I noticed that I have a harder time keeping awareness of my surroundings. Half the time, I watch health bars at the border of the screen. That runs the risk of getting boring. Every fight ends up being the same for a good amount of time, because, in a way, your primary enemy as a healer are the health bars, and you have to focus on those. I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely kill myself or others any more by missing environmental effects in the world, but I still feel like someone who’s texting while driving: watching the health bars… watching… watching… oh snap, I gotta move! I’m slowly getting used to it, but it still feels weird. I wish there was a better way of integrating healing into the world.

So yeah, I still enjoy TSW, and I enjoy doing group content, too. The community, overall, is refreshingly non-toxic, and the fact that there’s no randomized, auto-group-creating dungeon finder probably helps with that. I enjoy healing, but I do have some beefs with it.

Hm, maybe I should try tanking again. Start with some beginner dungeons for newbies…

Return to The Secret World

There are always a few games I have on my back burner, which I don’t play, but update in regular intervals. If I ever feel like playing them again, I won’t have to spend a whole evening updating, and miss the window of opportunity to get back into the game.

TSW is one of those games. I was really looking forward to it when it got released, and got a lot of playtime out of it for two months or so. Then I went on vacation for three weeks, and I never got back into the game.

However, earlier this year, the Tokyo expansion was finally released. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have an affection for Japan in general, and Tokyo in specific. The first introductory mission of TSW, which gave you something of a sneak preview into Tokyo, made me smile and hope for a quick release of the area which was already announced at launch. Alas, it took longer than expected (and probably longer than Funcom had planned; I bet they had plans for faster releases that relied on higher player and revenue numbers). But when it finally arrived, I knew I’d return to the game sooner or later, to have a look at Funcom’s twisted version of the city.

Of course, one does not simply walk into Tokyo. Getting into there requires at least a decent amount of end-game gear (if not necessarily of the highest quality), and finishing the story line.

Last time, I had left my character, Anselm “Tabascun” Arenberg, in the Besieged Farmlands, the first Transylvania zone. As I logged in, I remembered one of the reasons that had soured the game for me. Or two, actually. First, the Besieged Farmlands didn’t appeal to me in atmosphere. After Egypt, which I really liked, with some interesting characters such as Ptahmose and Saïd, and my favorite scenery (desert!), the game sent you to a dingy, run-down Romanian village. Second, there was a huge increase in difficulty between The City of the Sun God (the last zone of Egypt) and the Besieged Farmlands. Last time, that combination of high difficulty and unappealing scenery drove me away. However, this time I decided to give the game another chance, and bit the bullet. The good thing is that missions in Transylvania give you a lot of XP, so you only have to slog through a few missions before you can afford additional skills better suited to the area. Combined with level-appropriate drops, I soon managed to survive. Well, most of the time. TSW is probably the least forgiving game I (ir)regularly play. One mispull at the wrong time can send you the graveyard unless you massively outgear the challenge.

Soon, I was back on track and could concentrate on the things that I love about the game. Everything is weird and slightly off in The Secret World. It is the MMO closest to a David Lynch movie. And I love David Lynch movies. In fact, sometimes you wonder whether you aren’t actually playing inside a David Lynch movie:

Just missing a slice of damn fine cherry pie.

Just missing a slice of damn fine cherry pie.

Of course, there are also grown-up men having a seemingly inappropriate attachment to teddy bears:


But it’s all good, because it’s a special bear. Well, at least it talks. But only to that guy. Which we’ll just believe, because Secret World. And because otherwise, we’d have to deal with a clinically insane guy with a weapon. Of which there are enough in TSW already.

As long as it doesn't eat your face...

As long as it doesn’t eat your face…

Add to that clinically insane girls, or at least very-aggressive-if-need-be girls, and you end up in nasty situations. Like when you enter a nursery, and you see that:

Cleanup on aisle 3! Bring bleach.

Cleanup on aisle 3! Bring bleach.

Of course, it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill nursery: this one had laboratories for human genetic and paranormal experiments, and some of the children grew both powerful and aggressive… and developed their own sense of symmetry.

Looks like a happy childhood alright.

Looks like a happy childhood alright.

In short, TSW delivers what I was looking for: creepy and atmospheric scenery and missions. We’ll have to see about long-term viability, though. Most missions are great the first time around, but the shock effects and surprises obviously only work once. And Funcom definitely won’t be able to provide content as fast as I can consume it. Plus, before Tokyo they set an ugly gate: to get your “certification”, you have to collect tokens that you can only get in scenarios. Those work like LotRO’s skirmishes, and I hate those: run a procedurally-generated mission in an instanced area with random enemy waves, over and over again. We’ll see how that goes.

I really like the game, but if I want to stay with it, I’ll probably have to find a cabal to do stuff with on a regular basis. Grouping for those scenarios might also take the sting out of them. We’ll see. If all else fails, I can always return to the game later when Funcom has released more content packs.

Another Chapter in the Endless Story of Gamification

Keen notes that many MMOs these days focus on “unconventional gameplay”, and he names TSW’s investigation missions and GW2’s jumping puzzles as examples. In the comments, some people say that MMOs are returning to how they used to be and how they should be, while others point out the inevitable “but X did that, too”, which, in this case however, is an important note: it tells us that probably these things were never fully gone from games.

And indeed they weren’t. Jumping puzzles have always been in MMOs, they were never gone. I’m sure almost everybody at some point wondered whether they can climb a particular mountain, or house, and tried for a couple of minutes, and either succeeded, or gave up. More dedicated souls might have stretched the trying to hours. I know that back when Vanguard was releases, one of my favorite pastimes was climbing up mountains or towers, and just gazing at the amazing landscape. (Granted, that had as much to do with Vanguard’s at-the-time amazing graphics as it had with the game being released with buggy combat and insufficient content in the classic sense).

In that way, GW2’s jumping puzzles are simply another step on the way to more gamification. Of course, the term might not fit perfectly, because you could argue that jumping onto hills, trees, or houses is already a game, so it’s hard to define how to gamify it. But what GW2 does is apply gamification techniques, notably achievements, to broaden the appeal of one game aspect. It used to be that hunting vistas was an explorer’s game. Now, it will be also a thing for achievers to tick off their list. Google a list of where to go, how to jump, collect map, ignore view, go to next puzzle.

OK, that sounded a bit mean. I’m not opposed to this. I’m just torn. I said before that I think there is good and bad gamification. This one might be good, because it broadens the appeal of a part of the game. It might also be bad, because the original intent (get up the mountain, enjoy the view) is lost, and because  more obsessive achievers might feel they have to complete an arduous task they don’t enjoy just to tick more items off their list.

TSW’s investigation missions are different, but similar. In contrast to jumping puzzles, they were probably almost completely gone from MMOs for some time. That doesn’t mean they never existed before. Anybody remember Mankrik’s wife? That was one of the more simple investigation quests you could think of, and its infamy shows two things: MMO players, or at least WoW players, weren’t big fans of that kind of game (cue “Where’s Mankrik’s wife?” Barrens chat), and in effect, it was s solitary experience, a kind of test balloon, only rarely used as a bit of spice in some other missions. The Onyxia attunement springs to mind, and it was… a divisive quest chain. Let’s keep it at that.

Mankrik’s quest was removed in Cataclysm without replacement or followup. I guess the developers didn’t see a place for it in a world of streamlined leveling and quest locations on maps.

To go one step further back in time, Everquest’s quests didn’t have exclamation mark indicators. They often enough didn’t send to you a specific location, instead requiring you to roam the world to find the next place to go to. In MUDs, a typical quest might start from an item you found, and a cryptic information that “you should find someone who knows more about this”. If you were lucky, you might be told that finding the blacksmith who forged it might be a good idea, which reduced the number of possible targets from “all people in the world” to “all blacksmiths in the world”. Or, even more obscure: no notification at all, but when you talked to people while in possession of an item, you might get additional conversation options. Keep in mind that back then, not only did there exist no wowhead, no thottbot, no allakhazam. It was actively frowned upon to “spoil” these kinds of stories and quests for others.

The temptation to spoil or be spoiled when it comes to riddles is larger these days than it used to be. While investigation missions in TSW are not repeatable (as opposed to almost all other missions, after shorter or longer cooldown timers), they give, as a compensation I assume, a large amount of XP. I heard (delightfully rarely, but once or twice) the notion that “they are a great source of XP, especially because they are fast to do with a walkthrough”. Gamification and obsessive achiever mindset, indeed. I think these people miss the point. Yes, these missions give a lot of XP, but not more than a couple of the repeatable, more conventional missions. In return, you lose out on one of the strongest points of the game. Bad tradeoff, if you ask me.

So, the whole thing is a double-edged sword in my eyes: it’s good if games return to a broader appeal and range of activities. On the other hand, I’m not sure why game companies think they need to attach additional rewards to them. Do they think players might otherwise skip them because they aren’t “worth it”? Are they too scared that players might rather stay in their box than move out of it?

The First Effect of Funcom’s Cuts?

I’m still playing The Secret World, still on a quite leisurely schedule. Most of that is due to the fact that I cannot commit to any more heavy schedule at the moment – I’m preparing for a business trip / vacation starting next week, and that leaves little time.

I still enjoy the game, to the point where I run every area twice before moving on. That’s also got to do with the fact that it allows me to invest points both for solo DPS as well as group healing. One thing I really like about the game’s plan is the regular updates, called issues. Just like a comic book, The Secret World gets an issue a month. When I was still collecting comics, the monthly schedule was my favorite release schedule. It allowed me to keep track of several different series without committing to the more expensive bi-weekly releases, which often were only temporary, anyway, until a series settled in on monthly cycles. Releases every other month, however, stretched the time in between a bit too much for my taste. For MMOs, a monthly update sounds like a very good deal, actually, an ambitious schedule, even compared to the master of continuous updates, Trion, and definitely compared to the more glacial speed of Blizzard.

Issue #1 was released on 31 July. It added half a dozen missions to the game. Now, for most MMOs “six new quests!” is probably not a very exciting deal. For TSW, that is very different, especially since all 6 missions were investigation missions, the crown jewels of TSW. There also were a couple of other things rolled into the patch, like hardmode versions of two dungeons, but… well, I can’t play them yet, and they’re just run-of-the-mill dungeons, I assume. Investigation missions is where it’s at, where a single one with its riddles can take you a night to solve.

I imagine this must be how the job cuts at Funcom must have looked like…

A monthly schedule put issue #2’s release on 31 August, or, if you commit to one day of the week, 28 August. That was also the date that was announced originally. But it seems that Funcom can’t keep up with this schedule:

As you may know, this week has been a challenging one for everyone at Funcom. We initiated a process of reducing costs after the launch of The Secret World and this has naturally affected the production schedule as we work on readjusting the team and our internal development processes. As such, we have had to give ourselves a little more time to wrap up Issue #2 and the new release date for this update is September 11th, 2012.

We appreciate your understanding and we apologize for the inconvenience. We are definitely eager to get this update out the door so that you guys can finally get your hands on that awesome rocket launcher! We will also continue to push out regular content like announced before. This small delay is merely due to the re-organization and assessment of processes that has been initiated. We are working hard to get back on track as soon as possible.

So the August issue won’t be released until mid-September. The cuts are getting a bit worrisome. Of course, they say that they want to get back on track, but, realistically speaking, that won’t happen, will it?

It’s sad that what I still think is far and away the best game released this year so far is struggling so hard.

A Dearth Of Pants

The Secret World is, overall, doing a splendid job with clothing so far. All of the stat-bearing items you can equip are invisible trinkets, except for your weapons. Your appearance is solely decided by what you pick out of your character’s wardrobe. Of course, that freedom does lead to the occasional… ahem… fashion accident:

Despite appearance to the contrary, “XxXLegolarthasXxX” is not a hooker.

Note the juxtaposition: at the very moment I saw this individual with, let’s say, questionable choice of what to wear (or rather, what not to wear), another player in the chat box quotes Eddie Izzard. It’s not all doom and gloom!

This freedom has led to a lot of experimentation on my behalf.

For your run-of-the-mill zombie killing, I prefer a casual approach that emphasizes comfort and ease of movement over etiquette.

For some London strolling or to enter the exclusive Temple’s Club, something a bit sophisticated is in order. But not too dull, either.

If in doubt, I can always go with the dress uniform.

And finally, if I feel like it, there’s of course always plain silliness.

However, I notice that some options are woefully underrepresented. I’m at last done with Solomon Island, and my next area of operations will be Egypt. Naturally, I want some apparel that will fit the area’s climate. My first idea was to dress light. Above the waist, this is not a problem: there are enough options of T-shirts and tank tops available for both genders to equip all cast AND extras of Gone With The Wind with them. Not that you would want to do that. That would be silly. Though the mental image is amusing. There are also enough choices of jeans and cargo pants to go with the tops.


I will NOT wear these.

But when it comes to shorter types of trousers? You’re out of luck. There are exactly two choices for male characters at the moment, and one of them looks like it was conserved in time and last worn at a punk concert in the 80ies. And no pants is no option (literally, there is no in-game option to not wear any). So maybe I should go the other direction and shield myself from the sun. After all, full-length pants are in ample supply.

However, I run into another problem then. There are no brimmed hats in the game at the moment! I can get baseball caps, military caps, even something that remotely looks like a bandana… but no Stetsons, no Bowlers, no Panamas, no Homburgers. Shouldn’t London have its fair share of hatters? Worst of all, though, not even pith helmets! How can a proper, self-respecting gentleman go to Africa without a pith helmet? Funcom, this is something you clearly need to work on.

Why Faction-Based PvP?

For a long time, but especially since the success of WoW, MMOs have been implicitly expected to bring a portfolio of activities:

  • Quest-based leveling content (preferably soloable, at least the vast majority)
  • End-game content based on small and large groups (dungeons and raids for gear progression)
  • Player-vs-Player combat (preferably between factions that are decided by your initial racial choice)

Let’s focus on the last point today. Faction-based PvP always seemed restricting and arbitrary to me, especially because it artificially splits a game’s player base, which for all except the really large ones is a problem. There are different ways to implement this, ranging from a largely cooperative game whose players only fight against each other in designated PvP areas, but otherwise are free to play together, from completely segregated communities that can never interact.

Where does it come from?

I don’t know which MMO first came up with faction-based PvP (I’ve not played the really old ones), but it might have been Dark Age of Camelot. Older ones had, at least initially, either Free-for-all “gank-style” PvP (Ultima Online) or no PvP at all (Everquest), but neither had fixed factions. I honestly can’t remember how it worked in UO, but EQ, if I remember correctly, had you start being loved by some and hated by other NPC factions, based on your initial racial and class choice. However, you were free to work on all of them to improve your reputation, and to group with other players regardless of standings.

I’m not a big fan of faction-based PvP. Not only because of the mentioned split in the player base that at least some games avert, but also because I like to play with people, not against them, and the artificial animosities between factions both amuse and annoy me. (I think that’s one of the reasons why Cataclysm was such a letdown for me.) Of course, you don’t need game-provided factions. Just go and listen to “official” statements by leaders of EVE alliances, and how they try to incite their members to fight against their horribly evil, incompetent enemies of the month, and you see that you don’t necessarily need the game to provide factions.

Let’s look at two examples: Rift, because it’s all in the news with their coming change to faction mechanics; and The Secret World, because it’s the original reason I started to write this post, before it grew from a funny aside, filler post, into something with at least slightly more substance.


Pick one, fight, call it a day. We don’t care what faction you come from.

Rift seems to be the first of the strict faction-based games that so far neither allowed grouping nor guilding or visiting the “enemy” cities, that gets a clue. As far as I understand it, the “Conquest” mechanic introduces a transient, instant choice between three new factions every time you sign up for a PvP battle. I just assume that each faction will have different rewards, to entice people to sign up for one or the other, but still make sure that people have a reason to choose each of them (so there won’t be a player bottleneck by players shunning one faction), and it doesn’t end up with “all mages go ram, all rogues go raven”. Outside of PvP, factions will pretty much disappear.

The funny thing is that the implementation, but especially the lore reasoning, is almost exactly what I had always wished to happen in WoW: the Horde and Alliance splintering over their diverging goals, and giving the player to choice of staying with them, or joining common causes such as the Argent Dawn or the Cenarion Circle. Well, not quite like Rift, more like a crossover between Rift and the EQ way, but still. If I just could get into the world of Rift, I might actually be really happy with the game! Alas.

The Secret World

The Secret World has three factions, of which you choose one at character creation, and which you can never change. On the other hand, factions don’t restrict you much at all. All players share the same zones, you can group up for quests and dungeons, you have common chat channels (though each faction also has their own “private” channel), so that’s fine. And, with the slightly worrying player numbers, definitely a good decision in hindsight, if only for that.

Lore-wise, the factions do fight each other, but it’s more of a political scheming and occasional assassination thing. Each group looks down on the others, but fighting is stipulated by rules that are watched over by the inter-faction Council of Venice. And now that all hell has broken loose (quite literally) in the Real World, the fighting in The Secret World seems to have stopped almost completely to focus on the common threats. Also, the whole “immortalized by spirit bees” thing makes all sorts of killing annoyingly ineffectual anyway.

TSW does have battlegrounds, though. Which makes you wonder what the point is. Thankfully, there is a tongue-in-cheek in-game explanation for this. In the beautifully posh (and fitting for such a most superior organization) Templar’s Club, you meet the Stuart sisters, whose revealing costumes belie their sharp tongues and (at least for one of them) wit, talking to the librarian Gladstone, something of a crossover between Timothy Leary and Erich von Däniken. The topics you can interview them on almost all end in hilarity, but there is one that specifically lampshades PvP and battlegrounds. I found it funny enough that it fraps’ed it, and I’ll end my post with it:

Direct link for feed readers with embed problems. (edit: if you see a video that obviously is not a TSW ingame video, please use the direct link. It seems something wonky is going on with the wordpresss/youtube integration, and it sometimes shows videos from previous posts instead of the correct one.)

This, in one minute, covers everything I love about the Templars: posh locations, slightly snooty behavior and sharp tongues, rooted in history (note them mentioning The Great Game!), and back in time after a day’s work to plush upholstery, Pimm’s, and canapés!

I’m sorry for the bad video quality. It’s the first time I ever uploaded a video to youtube, and it seems I did something wrong. The video looked reasonably good in the humongous fraps output, and pretty much the same after I encoded it with H.264 to 1% of its size, but after I uploaded it, youtube seems to have reencoded it, and now it’s all blocky. But the audio is fine, and that’s what it’s all about in that video anyway.

What exactly is the problem with Blue Mountain?

I finally reached Blue Mountain yesterday. I’ve taken my sweet time in The Secret World, using a pattern in the first two zones of “run every mission once, then do the dungeon, then run a bunch of missions again, and a couple even a third time, plus a second dungeon run”. Now I’m in the worst zone of them all, according to many people, among them Bhagpuss and Syp.

It’s just that I can’t agree.

To me, starting out in Savage Coast was painful. I died so often on the first missions, I was getting genuinely annoyed. The missions around the Overlook Motel were bad, and the League of Monster Slayers one was downright painful, with the horrible, horrible Ak’abs and their pathologically social behavior of coming to help their mate from across half the map, just to kill me. In comparison, Blue Mountain is cake so far. Granted, I’ve only done the Sasquatches, the Grunt camp, and the mansion. Maybe the difficulty and annoyance magically ramps up afterwards.  Maybe my build just happens to be weak in Savage Coast, and strong in Blue Mountain. Maybe it’s just that I spent what felt like a lot of time in the previous two zones. I actually did my Jambala Special Assignment mission before I moved out of Savage Coast.

But even the Ak’abs feel much more considerate in Blue Mountain, graciously letting me kill them without calling every relative for help down to their third cousins twice removed.

Also, Funcom got some massive bonus points for this:

OMG, it’s my favorite band’s logo! Though very… colorful. Also, a bit ahead of its time. That flashback scene takes place in 1966, and Blue Öyster Cult published their first album in 1972. But maybe Sandy Pearlman was a survivor of that artist’s colony?

My main problem with the game right now is actually that I can’t figure out what to spend AP and SP on. I’ve focused on blood magic so far, with a small amount of pistols, just because I like the combination style-wise. I branched out into fists when I came close to the maximum allowed backlog of 175 AP, simply for Bloodsport, only to realize that I didn’t like it. When I reached 170 again, I bought all of the inner wheel blade skills, with the idea that I might go back and try tanking in the first two dungeons. I’m still completely clueless on how to design a good deck though. I know in theory you should try and figure out how to exploit certain one of the four major debuffs (afflicted, impaired, weakened, and hindered) , or of the attack type, but I still feel pretty lost and mostly just choose stuff based on what sounds nice. On the other hand, I always try to save up points until I’m close to the allowed cap, just in case I suddenly get a clue.

Funcom in trouble?

Bhagpuss found an interesting tidbit of news on the Funcom site. Not good news. Apparently, they’re in a bit of a pickle, financially. They’re not broke by any stretch of imagination, but it seems they’ve gotten into the investor trap of “yes, you’re making money, but I expected you to make much more money, so you suck!”.

It would be a real shame if that had effects that would, for example, impede the development and update cycle of The Secret World. In fact, it would be extremely sad. Funcom seems to be a company that has improved with every MMO they published (granted, it could only get better from their initial game’s worst launch in history), and at least from blog postings, you get an almost overwhelmingly positive vibe. Of course, there are people who don’t like the game, and that’s fine. But I didn’t expect the overall positive reception.

In fact, just last week, I thought about how EA/Bioware with SW:TOR and Funcom with TSW were almost antitheses to each other. Here, the game that was hyped for years and years, produced with an immense amount of money, a popular IP, and inflated expectations; and in the end, failing those for many. There, a game by a company that was not exactly known for producing the best games in the world, produced almost in obscurity for much of its development cycle, in a self-created scenario that wasn’t supported by an expensive IP, and starting to the wariness of many people. I can’t count the number of posts I read on blogs that said “I wanted to skip it, it’s Funcom after all, and I didn’t want to touch their games with a 10 feet pole any more, but then I tried, and boy, am I having fun”! (Case in point: Kadomi. Hi there! Good to see you writing again!)

Let’s just hope that the outcome won’t be the same for both, that in the one case the hype and its failure to live up to it is its undoing, and in the other case the low expectations and wariness of customers.

I really want TSW to succeed. It’s earned its right to succeed, and it shows that Funcom seems to be a company able of learning, which in and of itself is rare enough that it should be rewarded, not punished. Plus, I am having so much fun in the game now! It would be sad to see Funcom fail 100 meters before the finish.

Overlook Motel, Solomon Island: the coziest place off the New England coast

I’m not very good at writing diaries. I tried a couple of times as a kid, but it never progressed far. I think I managed to fit five years of entries into a single notebook, just a couple of them a year. The thing fit some poems and aborted writing attempts, too. The stuff you do when you’re 15. I started again when this weirdest of all journeys started last month. But then, I was given the instructions to come to London, and when I packed for the Eurostar, I packed lightly and forgot the damn thing at home.

No, I’ve always been more one to write in hindsight. So now that I’m sitting here at the Overlook Motel, zombies, ocean beasts, and the minions of hell raging outside… what better time to recap the recent events, and put it all into perspective to my own story?

My name is Anselm Arenberg. “Anselm” means “under the protection of the gods”, but there also was a famous theologian and scholastic by that name. Guess my parents wanted to make sure to cover all bases when they gave me that name. The Arenbergs were a famous and reasonably powerful House of the Old German Empire. You know, not the one with those Prussian cretins, the real one, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Voltaire joked that in the end, it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. But let him talk, what did he know? Lived at the miserable Frederick of Prussia’s court for a couple of years, must’ve gone to his head. In his defense, he returned to France in anger after the two had a fallout.

As I said, House Arenberg was reasonably powerful. We rarely were the focal point of politics, but that made our life a lot easier. What counted was that we reigned over a small area, but always in our own name. In our area, we were as powerful as the kings of France and England. Nobody stood between us and the Emperor. When we wanted to be heard, we would be heard. It is not quite clear when our family rose to prominence, but by the High Middle Ages, we held several territories in the western parts of Germany. Presumably sent one or two members on crusades, too, though not on the most successful ones. Such is life. Story I was told as a kid said one of us was in the entourage of King Barbarossa on the Third Crusade, was one of the last men that saw him alive before he drowned. Stood on the bridge when the king got impatient, rode through the Saleph river, and was caught by a wave in his heavy armor. Moral of the story: just because fate has chosen you for a position as a leader, never overestimate it. Not everybody and everything will bow to you. Maybe that attitude was one of the reasons we never had a lot of problems in our territories. Great power, great responsibility, and all that.

Anyway, at some point, we seem to have been considered famous, stable, and noble enough to be approached by the Templars, as they were known. How they tie in with the Knights Templar that were disbanded by Philip IV (technically by Pope Clement V, but he was conveniently kept in his Babylonian captivity in Avignon), and when exactly we were approached, I haven’t been able to find out yet. The Templar archives are still off-limits to me, and parts of our family’s archives were lost in a fire in 1698, so I can only guess that the connection must have already been established by then. Maybe we were approached when we were raised from counts to dukes, maybe it even was part of a deal: More prominence and precedence in the empire, and in return one of your non-heir children will always be in the ranks. It wasn’t all that bad a deal, it seems. Some of my ancestors were put on church positions that at times were little more than a sinecure; I can just assume that was part of their facade.

Of course, all that worldly power ended around 1800. First, Napoleon came and annexed our possession left of the Rhine. We got compensated with other areas, but you can’t create land out of thin air. The whole German Mediation was a big farce, a mixture of annexation and charity for those who had lost their lands to the French. It didn’t help anyway, when Napoleon pressed further, we lost our new, alien lands, too. And then when he was defeated, the bloody Prussians annexed it. Always blowing their big German horn, but nothing but thieves, all of them. What’s  left today is a title in the Belgian peerage from one of our smaller former possession in the area. And, of course, our connection to the Templars. Just because we’re no rulers any more doesn’t mean they lost interest. In their eyes, we’re obviously still prime material.

They told me to pack light, casual, and comfortable. So I did.

When I reached London, I was picked up at St. Pancras Station by a guy called Gabriel Ritter. He’s from a landed gentry line somewhere in Bavaria. His family has been part of the most active branch of the Templars as “Schattenjäger” for a few generations, fighting lesser evils like werewolves. He’s old enough now to be semi-retired, though, with a desk job at the central bureaucracy. He gave me a short rundown of the most vital rules, and informed me of my new name within the order. From now on, in internal communications, I will go by the name of Tabascun. Those names are family-bound and inherited, and mine has been passed on from my uncle.


Come to think of it, great-uncle Phillip always entertained us with these magic tricks. He loved stage magicians, was one of his hobbies. When we visited him, he always performed tricks for us. He even let us in on some of the secrets, but the most spectacular ones, he kept to himself. Maybe they weren’t much of a trick at all. After the whole bees thing, I’m starting to wonder how much of it was real magic. Gabriel told me that only Jurors and higher ranks gain unlimited access to the Templar archives. This is my goal, I want to see just how deep we’ve been involved, and for how long.

One thing I’m pretty sure of, though: uncle Phillip never had to deal with the kind of stuff I have to. All those living dead and things. Can’t imagine that. Maybe he did all those secret handshake thingies, maybe they had some clandestine orgies with lots of wine and women and sacred rites, but I can’t believe he’s ever stood face to face with a drowned returned corpse. The smell is the worst. You’d think when they started living again, they would have stopped rotting. Maybe they did, and it’s just that the moving makes them disperse the smell everywhere. When it comes to that, I prefer the demons. With them, it’s mostly pumice with just a hint of sulphur. Thankfully, neither type likes blood magic, which is what the bees seemed to have chosen for me. Think uncle Phillip was more of an elementalist; then again, I was told your talents progress slowly and can branch out, so one day I might be able to light candles from afar for some nephews, too. Sure would beat sitting in this godforsaken place rambling on some paper with an “Overlook Motel, Solomon Island: the coziest place off the New England coast” letterhead printed on it while all hell breaks loose outside, quite literally.