The Secret World and New Player Experience

There have been a lot of changes incoming for The secret World that were outlined among the the recent blog, chief among those the Enhanced Player Experience, aka a nerf bat raining down upon the lands. There has been a bit of criticism around this decision as well, TSW is about the difficulty in a way. It’s about learning the skills and creating the right kinds of builds. It is a process most people are meant to go through.

The mmo player in me that’s prone to hardcore bouts of grind and utter devotion from time to time balks at such a thing. Having a certain amount of challenge in these mmo’s is a point of pride. it gives that sense of achievement for me and, it’s one of the primary things within these games that makes me strive for better. Without this element and mmo loses a great amount of appeal, or at least the average mmo does.

For TSW, I’m not so sure. This is the one game I could go casual for, and want to go casual for but there is so much getting in the way. TSW is just not a game I think you can devote yourself too entirely, their just isn’t enough interesting, and engaging content and mechanics to keep your time and with how much they update it never will be. That’s not a bad thing though as what they have their is good enough to make me want to repeatedly come back to try and enjoy but not enough to get through some of the other elements.

The difficulty has never been it’s strong point, in fact, it’s often a point of frustration. I can get by just fine within the game, I enjoy the skill building aspects but all those elements of difficulty and complexity get in the way of the game I want to play. I really don’t care about the combat in the slightest, it is rather average and is rather boring. No, what I enjoy within TSW is the story. It is by far the strongest part of the experience so why they wouldn’t want to create a greater ease around this aspect is beyond me.

In my mind there efforts to balance the game a bit more in regards to skills, time to kill and difficulty of the combat elements is a very good thing. I believe it will bring a lot of people back in who hit that difficulty wall before rather early in the game and then gave up. This way it gives people a chance to get hooked on the narrative first, to get immersed and involved with it. To give enough time and space to learn about the skills, passives and the inherent complexity there without being overtly punished. The difficulty is still there for end game content too but if you have gotten there your probably invested enough to continue at that stage.

TSW has been struggling for some time, Funcom has been struggling, you can see it in their financial reports each time. They are working on a razor thin margin their for running their games and hopefully this will bring people back to the game and keep Funcom going with creating this wonderful title.

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9 thoughts on “The Secret World and New Player Experience

  1. Yep, the combat difficulty nerf does not worry me in the slightest. It is the difficulty of the investigation missions (and some of the side missions) that interests me, and I would raise a massive outcry if they moved to nerf or remove that difficulty. I like working for my story. I like getting greater insight into the lore and backstory through exploration of the world, both in and out of game.

    • oh yeh, I hope they don’t touch those at all, really enjoy them and even if someone did want to skip them or make it easier there’s google.

  2. The longer I play all MMOs, the less interested I am in any kind of obstacles or roadblocks to enjoying myself. There was a time when I enjoyed the sense of satisfaction that comes from overcoming obstacles but as I near retirement age I really can’t be bothered any more. Life is short enough without having to clamber over artificial barriers just put there to make the journey take longer.

    In games whose entire purpose is the overcoming of difficulty and the practice and improvement of skills then clearly there is no place for easy, unchallenging gameplay. Games based around great storytelling, however, gain nothing whatsoever from making that story difficult to access. The difficulty and challenge there, if any, should come from the concepts and ideas not from the twitching of your fingers.

    Sadly, good though the changes are in TSW and much though I approve of them, the core gameplay remains too difficult for me when it comes to some of the main storylines. I think all storyline-based MMOs (and any game really) should very simply have a “skip” button that can be used to bypass any and all content the player either can’t or doesn’t want to do, especially when the game uses linear progression for the narrative.

    • I still find the satisfaction in the difficult but only when I’m invested enough and focused on that game. If it’s just a game on the side that’s when don’t want to deal with it as much.. Although yeh, like you said it also depends on the purpose of the game and knowing what your getting into. I want the story here as well so the difficulty gets in the way to a certain extent.

  3. I’m a huge fan of the new starting experience, TSW is now my goto gaming experience. I haven’t hit the roadblocks that Bhag discusses but I’m still just in Kingsmouth, so lots to do. The combat is much more manageable now (from when I first tried, last November) and I can focus on sorting out the missions instead – which are completely awesome so far. I’m really loving the experience, so much so that I think I will already pre-buy Tokyo (which is on sale)

    • kingsmouth is pretty easy, it’s when you start getting through the blue mountains that it apparently gets a lot harder… I didn’t see that as much as my build was alright so it really depends at that stage at how well you’ve created your skill set and gear to match.

  4. On the nerfing, my feelings are mixed for i basically think that the taken route is wrong.

    The old “do or die” approach, where people were sent into the game and had to either spend a lot of time studying the ability wheel or look up a good setup indeed was wrong. A game has to be comforting to the new player. But i feel that the way TSW was made more comforting is wrong.

    I still believe that the game was not actually too hard. Anything was easy enough to do before the nerf, as long as you had a halfway reasonable (mind you, “reasonable” is still far from “good”) setup, which includes not only abilities but also a sensible selection of gear. (Whereas “sensible” gear is green gear of adequate QL, but with acceptably chosen stats. )

    By now it indeed is possible to leave the tutorial and kill rare bosses in Blue Mountains now with just the beginner gear and the abilities you get from the tutorial. Yes, i guess for the complete beginner this stunt is hard to do, but for us longer time players it’s actually still easy. Now consider that you get QL5 gear before going to BM, so this equates a Lvl. 1 Character in WoW to stop bosses in the lv. 50 zone. (For Rift it would be lv. 30, for GW2 lv. 40 bosses or champions, which you have to defeat on a newly created character. ) Even the most experienced player in those games can’t pull that stunt, but in TSW it can be done and i believe that everybody could do it with sufficent understanding of the game. The lower tier rare bosses just have lots of health, they don’t have tricky mechanics where you need to counter or dodge quickly. The “trick” rather is to properly select which of the QL0 talismans you use to squeeze the necessary performance out of the set of abilities you get in the tutorial and the “problem” is that the beginner player just has no idea on how to do that and the game also does nothing at all to provide this information.

    So in my eyes this was and after the changes up to now still is the core problem: the game has good mechanics but a lot of essential information is provided poorly and some even not at all.

    I looked at a number of videos on youtube, where people tried TSW. They made it to Blue Mountains without a second weapon, without understanding what gear helps them, without understanding synergies of builds. Heck, i even found some videos of a guy who made it into Blue Mountains without even understanding the concept of builders and consumers!

    So, if people can make it into Blue Mountains without any clue, the fights in the area really were not too hard, but the game should inform and educate the players better. And here the changes in my eyes still fall short. Yes, you now get a second weapon before you can leave the tutorial and you get semi-instructed on building and consuming. (Although i also already found a video of somebody who even after this tutorial had problems understanding this very complex mechanic, which only a few games which nobody ever heard of, e.g. WoW, SwTOR and LoTRO, ever used. )

    So yes, dropping a second weapon into the new players lap was a good move. But unfortunately the game stops there. You don’t get information on how to make a good build.

    It’s not like FC was unaware on a way which people use to get good setups: the decks. A few of the starter decks got minor upgrades, changing them from “bad” to “barely adequate”. But the advanced decks, which are generally rated “terrybad” are untouched and i already now saw people documenting their steps into TSW who work towards those bad old decks. Kill them with fire! If you can’t fix them, remove and purge them from the game! Or better, replace the selected abilities with a combination which is actually useful,.

    Next to that, some of the decks provided are really more built for specific dungeon roles and not really useful for solo play, but the new player has no way to know that. After all, all information on the decks are the outfit you get and some fluff-and-flavour text on the deck, but no information on how it works and what it is designed for. Adding just a few more lines of text for each available deck would’ve made worlds of a difference. People could pick up decks in an educated manner and by using them also learn about synergies.

    Even worse i find the move with gear. Formerly you had the choice of which mission reward to get. And yes, i saw people gimping themselves badly by choosing terrible gear. But again i dislike the way taken. Gear which is not “optimized” for a specific way of solo-play is simply not offered any more. Not only do i generally find the removal of options to be bad, it also affects people negatively who follow a “wrong” deck from the offered sortiment. Some decks want heal rating to work, others need defenive values, etc. The new player thus does not need “standard gear”, he needs information on which gear is good for him and which is not.

    So formerly the game showed respect to the player. It considered the player to be sentient and to make reasonable choices. The new solution considers the player to be too stupid to make choices and babysits him instead.

    It would’ve been preferable if options would have been kept but information would’ve been provided more readily and easier accessible. The current status could be just “one step” on the way there. If the next patches, which have to come like one per month for the next few months, contain more “tutorial missions”, things would be acceptable. If you wonder what i mean with “tutorial missions”: why not send a player on additional missions with “playful teaching”, which have to be completed to be allowed to progress to the next zone? (And no, designing those missions is not easy. But it would help the game much more than a blunt “gear here, carry on” dumbing down of the game. ) Unfortunately i fear that the whole “improvement” is considered to be done, and the game now has to survive on these mediocrely done changes.

    So all in all, i am aware that the game is being easier for beginners, but the latest zones are not being nerfed. So in a while, the same people, who formerly had to walk uphill throghout the game, will have a breeze and speed up, till hitting the cliffside. They missed so much of the essentials that the game suddenly turns into a terrifying behemoth and drives them away again. I doubt that this is better for customer retention than the former approach.

    @bhagpuss:
    Excuse my curiosity, but what of the storyline do you consider to be “too hard” still? I doubt it’s combat. I haven’t played my character which was made for testing too far after the introduction, but things are really easy now.

    If it’s not combat, though, what’s holding you back? And if it indeed IS combat, feel free to contact me in game ( Slad ) and i’ll assist as good as i can, be it fire support in those missions where it is possible, but mostly information on how to improve your setup so you can go for some serious steamrolling. 🙂

  5. one thing i’ve noticed over the years, especially within mmo’s is don’t underestimate the amount of stupid. Yhe you and I went through those areas fine but like you pointed out there are a lot of people that don’t understand the basic principles , and that’s just the surface of them.
    Personally I don’t want them to get rid of the personal choice either, it is an element I enjoy and treating players with respect is a good thing, but they certainly have to solve the newbie problem. I think you hit on the biggest problem too, there is a distinct lack of tool tips and tool tips that actually explain the mechanics and concepts properly. Tutorial missions for different elements might help too, but yeh… just better communication of concepts and usefulness.

    One element I’ve thought might help is just automatically give people a complete build from those beginning sets once they complete a certain earlier tutorial. That one they’ll be set up to continue on from there and can maybe slowly learn and changes out skills and passives as they go. It’s like giving someone a class in a way, then the customisation opens up as you play.

    And yes, I do believe it is a good thing to change the difficulty. It will be that cliff later on your saying but by then I think people would have gained a better grasp of the mechanics, their abilities, and will be invested enough to want to learn more to continue.

    And thanks for the comment, nice to have that in depth open that differs

    • Not just tooltips. You can put in hundreds of them, but matter of fact many people click them away without reading them. The same happens with tutorial videos. I admit it, even i sometimes do that when “just trying” a MMO, and with a lot of the “clone of a clone” MMOs this doesn’t affect you negatively at all. So i can’t blame people who enter TSW and do the same.

      The “trick” is, there already are advancement missions, both for zones and faction rank. There could be some more for the lowest ranks/zones, which are actually disguised tutorials. Teaching all the complexity of TSWs combat would still be out of reach, but some mechanics could be taught that way. (In case of doubt, reinforce the “learning experience” with some free tier appropriate gear and a few free skills. ) It’s not foolproof, but it might fool some people into proofing that they can improve. 😀
      [And yes, i know that the last sentence hurts, but it satisfies my sadistic streak. *grin* ]

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