John and I spent the better part of the weekend checking it out, and I gotta say, it's a blast.
The Secret World is unlike any other MMO I've ever played in terms of the quality of writing, the depth of the story telling, and the gorgeous world maps you're encouraged to explore. It took a bit getting used to playing an "M" rated MMO, but I gotta say that I don't think I could ever go back to playing a "T" rated one again. The freedom to say whatever you want allows for a much richer, deeper, more realistic setting.
I made a character of each faction to check out the starting zones of each one, but the character I focused on was Zinzanni, a Templar who I was working to make an Exorcist. She had fist weapons (claws) and blood magic, and she was really bad ass.
My main character in City of Heroes was a claws scrapper, so I was reluctant to go down that route. But I wanted to build a deck with blood magic, and the Exorcist was my favorite choice. My first taste of what it meant to play an "M" rated MMO came when I slashed at something with my claws for the first time and blood came out of the target. I actually stopped and stared at the screen for a few minutes before saying out loud "I was robbed of eight years' worth of blood!"
FunCom ran a promotion this weekend where players could earn 1200 bonus points for the store by completing 30 missions. That wasn't hard to do, and I had a great time spending my points. I bought a new outfit and a dog vanity pet. I then took my dog to the hotel in London, Tabula Rasa, where we enjoyed some quiet time in room 6, which I picked because I'm 12 and the word "sextus" makes me giggle.
This game is not for dummies. If you're looking for a tank-n-spank MMO, this isn't for you. You will have to use your brains, and I was happy more than once to have a functional knowledge of Latin. You have to use the bible to solve one puzzle, Morse Code on another, and have to decode DNA strands for another. My favorite puzzle, however, involved going into anima form (essentially, ghost form) and talking to some white ravens. The voice work was hauntingly beautiful, as was the result of solving it. Don't get me wrong - there is some mindless violence (like the Polaris dungeon), but there are many missions that are all brain power, and I love them so, so much. There is even a built in browser in the game to help you research your clues. This comes in handy if you don't have Wheelock's Latin laying around.
The game does have a few drawbacks for me, however. I miss having a global chat identity, and there doesn't seem to be any way to set up private chat channels for friends (aside from creating a Cabal or teaming up). I don't like that it has a monthly subscription and an item store, something I really hated about CoH that caused me to leave after eight years. It was also hard getting used to a game that doesn't use levels, as I couldn't tell if I was ready for new content or not. In other games, I could look at an enemy and say "Oh, they're 5 levels above me. I'll wait and do that after I advance." In The Secret World, it's not so easy. Your powers and build are the determining factor, and for a new player, it can be quite confusing. However, I was also trying to get as much play in as I could while it was free, and I think that if I had more time to research and experiment, that part would have been better. I firmly believe that my limited play time made the learning curve so much steeper.
On the whole, the community was great. The only time they weren't great was when I asked for help with a mission and was told "If you're getting killed, your build sucks." Otherwise, they were helpful, friendly, and excited to have new people playing. I did have to silence the chat a few times, as people were posting spoilers after being asked not to. But you have trolls all over the internet, and they're not going away. Unfortunately.
The game is full of witty dialogue and banter, and I genuinely laughed out loud many times. The voice acting is superb, the cut scenes well done, and the clues very well written. The Secret World takes story telling in an MMO to a whole new level, and future games are going to struggle to match it, let alone beat it.
I also found it refreshing that the women in this game are not, by and large, sexualized. There was one character in the starting area (Solomon Island) who used her "feminine wiles" to get what she wanted, but she was in reality a real bad ass. The female NPCs are smart, tough, and fully clothed. My favorite NPC on Solomon Island is Norma, a middle aged, grandmotherly woman with shotgun and a bonfire for burning zombies. It is rare, if not unprecedented, to see a character like her in a video game.
Right now, it's not in my budget to buy it (or pay the monthly sub), but I intend to within the next few months. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a good cerebral challenge, or anyone who is tired of the same old thing.