Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Hidden Earth

Over three years ago, Funcom (creators of the MMOs Anarchy Online and Age of Conan) began development on an entirely new IP for an MMO. It wouldn't be set in a fantasy setting (but would contain fantasy elements) and there would be no character levelling or even different character classes but would be entirely skill-based (as has been seen in Ultima Online). The name of this game was, at the time, The World Online. This was later changed to Cabal and, later still, was changed once more to its current and final title, that of The Secret World.

Originally announced back in May 2007, TSW seeks to redefine what we think of when we consider an MMO. No mean feat considering the elephant-ish MMO sitting in the corner of the room which has raked in over 10,000,000 subscribers worldwide based on a traditional fantasy-style MMORPG. TSW seeks to appeal to a new audience than WoW though it would seem, one more concerned with real-world history and locations than made-up tales of another place.

Details on TSW are still extremely thin on the ground, but we already know that there will be no classes or levelling, your character is entirely defined by the skills which you choose to have him learn and become proficient at. No more "you must be at least Level 70 to enter this area."

The game is set in the real world. No Northrend or Tyria or Auraxis, this is the real world with real locations that we are all familiar with. The two trailers so far released for TSW highlight this particular fact well. This is the first, released a few months ago:

followed by the second which was released just yesterday:

This leads on to the other major thing that is known about the game, that although there will be no classes there will instead be three factions that you can join: the Illuminati, the Dragon and the Templars.

The Illuminati believe in the survival of the fittest, that strength above all other things is the most prized of attributes. Based in New York City the Illuminati traces its origins back to Egypt thousands of years ago, where unspeakable horrors were battled and defeated. Members of the Illuminati are ruthless, rich and powerful. They are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

The Dragon are a clandestine organisation, preferring to work from the shadows in order to shape and guide events, rather than taking a leading role themselves. From their headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, the Dragon have learned that a whisper in the right place is often more effective than the barrel of a gun, and that playing the kingmaker is often more desirable than being the king himself.

The Templars are an offshoot of the Knights Templar of legend, and approach combat from a standpoint of knowledge and religious zeal. Based in London, England, they are the faction which perhaps has the most recognizable public face. Templars count on powerful support from the oldest European families, as well as royalty and aristocracy the world over. In their eyes, there is nothing that cannot be defeated by religious fanaticism and a lot of armament to go with it.

It's interesting to note that the first video would seem to feature a member of the Dragon, while the second apparently shows a member of the Templars. I assume that the third will focus on a member of the Illuminati.

You can head over to the official viral site for the game which is fairly sparse right now, but does contain some nifty artwork as well as a test where you can answer some questions to see exactly which faction would be a good choice for you (although you can ignore the results and "sign up" with whichever faction you wish at the end of the test - this puts you on TSW's newsletter and also gives you a shot at beta access further down the line).

TSW definitely looks to be that unusual thing, a truly original game, and an MMO to boot. No doubt there will be elements of mythology in there, but attempting to mesh the real world with fantasy aspects is something that hasn't really been done before. It has also been revealed that TSW will be using the "Dreamworld" engine, used by Funcom to great effect in Age of Conan (which may have sucked but at least looked really pretty while doing it), so should be visually impressive whenever we get our sweaty hands on it. And as for when that will be, don't hold your breath. From what I could glean there is no official release date, not even an implied one that the developers tattoo on their forehead and ask you not to mention in any articles *wink*

The game is currently in alpha-testing, which basically means people who work for Funcom and possibly some of their friends and family, but no large-scale testing yet. I think the earliest we could hope to see signs of a beta is Q1 2010 and that's a pure guess, it could well be later than that.

The bright spot here, or at least one of several, is that the lead developer is one Ragnar Tørnquist, the gentleman behind the highly-regarded point-and-click adventure games The Longest Journey and its sequel, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. Having a man with such a high pedigree working on this is a very good sign, and I am hopeful that TSW is going to be that elusive fish: the MMO that breaks the monopoly that is World of Warcraft.

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