Reviewing an MMO brings an inherent danger. They’re so big that it’s difficult to properly encapsulate everything into a write-up of readable length, and then further condense that into a single score. Not to mention that, if you review an MMO early, it’s likely to be quite buggy, and that can negatively impact the final impression. If you wait too long, though, you’re not doing much good to anyone.

Hence my current presence in Funcom’s new MMO, The Secret World. My purpose is to review the game while mitigating all of these dangers. I won’t be condensing everything into a single review, but rather, detailing my experiences in several write-ups, and then, and the end, summarizing all of these thoughts and hanging a score on them. I’ve also given the developers a little bit of time to work the bugs out, in attempt to be completely fair to the game, but (hopefully), I haven’t waited too long, and left people wondering why I’m bothering at all.

I urge you to join me on my adventures through EA and Funcom’s latest title. If you’re an MMO fan, hopefully this will give you insight as to whether you should give this game a try, or just wait until Mists of Pandaria comes out and jump back into World of Warcraft. If you’re not an MMO player, maybe this will be the thing that convinces you that venturing into the genre may be a good idea.

Before I start, though, I’d just like to say that what you’re about to read is all preliminary thoughts and opinions. I’ve only been playing the game for about a week, so I’ve not had the time to delve into the game’s deepest depths yet. If you disagree with something I say, or feel like I missed something rather glaring, keep in mind that I’m still working through the game, and my opinions may change. Now, with that in mind, let’s jump into The Secret World.

That's a pretty dilapidated looking Ferris Wheel. I hope the game is more fun than that...

It’s not exactly a good thing that the first reaction The Secret World elicited from me was a rather large inward sigh. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the genre – my friend roped me into World of Warcraft last summer, but before then, I hadn’t really played an MMORPG – but it seems to me that the faction system is not inherently necessary. In some cases, sure, it makes sense. It’s good to have opposing sides for player-versus-player combat, as it gives a clear enemy, and when the acrimony between the sides is woven into the story, it works fine.

Here, though, there seems to be little purpose. Yes, it establishes sides for PVP combat, but aside from that, there is little purpose to it, save to give you a different home city.  On top of that, there are three sides. Now, a two-faction system, even when it doesn’t really fit, would make sense. Conflicting ideals and opposing goals would establish a clear reason for the two sides to be at odds with each other. However, throw in a third side, and it’s difficult to create characteristics for each faction that puts them immediately at odds with the other two.

The Dragon: it's all about chaos with these guys.

Before choosing a side, you have the option to watch a short introductory video that outlines the goals and motivations of each faction. The Templars, based in London, are concerned with re-establishing order, and creating a structure that will support society during the ‘dark times’ that the game keeps mentioning. Adversely, the Dragon, housed in Seoul, are concerned with chaos: with creating it, controlling it and manipulating it. At first glance, these two sides oppose each other nicely. And then, the Illuminati are thrown in. Hunkering down in New York, this third side is only worried about power, and obtaining it through whatever means they can.

Now, here, the old adage ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ comes to mind. If the Illuminati are opposing both sides, it would make more sense for the Templar and the Dragon to briefly join forces to eliminate the threat this third faction creates. Conversely, the Illuminati could ally with either of the other factions to eliminate the third. Three opposing forces cannot exist for long, it seems to me. And it’s not like the Illuminati are an underground force, gently manipulating the other two: the Templar, at least, are fully aware of their existence. It’s more than possible that, further on in the story, the constant conflict of these three sides is outlined, and I know I’m kind of overthinking it, but I’m being completely honest, and that’s what ran through my head when presented with a faction choice.

The Illuminati: the only faction in the game outright stated to be power hungry. And based in the U.S. I wonder...

Anyway, I jumped on the Templar bandwagon, since, as I mentioned, they’re based in London, and I rather enjoy London. I’ve never been there, but observing it from afar is rather enjoyable, so I figured my online persona – which I started creating after choosing this faction – should inhabit the city.

The character creation screen showed what kind of graphical style The Secret World was shooting for. It wasn’t (for want of a better description) the World of Warcraft style, nor was it the cartoony-realism that Star Wars: The Old Republic settled on. The graphics aren’t enough to blow anyone away, but they’re adequate, and it’s nice to see a break from the well-established formula. Later, it would become clear that this is exactly what FunCom were trying to achieve with this title.

The Templar: Order and structure are their game. As is snazzy dress. THESE are my people.

Character customization wasn’t extravagantly deep, but I was able to create a character I was happy with. Say hello to Alexander Cross: it is his red hair and rather wide chin that I shall be controlling as I make my way through whatever the secret world turns out to be.