Wednesday 18 July 2012

I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times

Unlike many MMOGs that bestow an ever-expanding range of skills, spells and abilities upon players as they frolic and cavort o’er hill and dale The Secret World is more similar to Guild Wars, restricting the player to seven active abilities, chosen from a wider pool, and seven passive abilities. Eight abilities shalt thou not equip, neither equip thou six, lest ye not yet have gained sufficient AP in the Lord’s sight to purchase seven. Nine is right out.

This system works rather well, especially for players who like a bit of deck building. Some attacks are of a particular type such as “Frenzy” or “Chain”; other abilities are more effective when used on mobs in a certain state such as being “Afflicted”. Get yourself a couple of nice Frenzy attacks, find a passive ability with an effect like “All Frenzy attacks also Afflict the target with a DoT”, then slot in an attack that does bonus damage when the target is Afflicted, ate wallah (as they say in Swindon), a nice bit of synergy. If you just want to get on and poke stuff with swords (or hit things with a plank of wood) then each faction has a number of template decks you can work towards; if you want to get yet more complex you can delve into the crazy underworld of bridging passives and the like (full details available from guides such as Yokai’s). For the moment the game is young and thrusting and urgent, the coffee is free and the love is cheap, and as far as I’ve seen the nigh-infinite possibilities of power combinations have yet to congeal into a couple of Player Authorised builds, deviation from which shall be most sternly frowned upon. It might even stay that way; at the very least it’ll give us some more data points for the good old debate around classes/skills/roles/templates/tankmages/whether to put jam or clotted cream on a scone first.

At the risk of being something of an MMO Goldilocks, though, after complaining about having too many abilities over four crammed hotbars in SWTOR, I’m feeling that the seven active abilities of TSW aren’t *quite* enough. With two or three long (30-60 second) cooldown abilities you’ve got room for, say, a couple of attacks that build resources and a couple more attacks that consume those resources. Solo combat can then get into a bit of a rut of mashing long cooldown attack(s) when available interspersed with 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2 (or maybe 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4 for AoEing a group). On the plus side this does mean you can devote more attention to what’s happening in the game world rather than the interface, especially useful with so many mobs in TSW having telegraphed attacks that you really want to avoid, but perhaps just a couple more ability slots would make things a bit more interesting.

The option to switch weapons, abilities and gear at any point that you’re not actually in a fight makes for great flexibility. In an instance you can go from a resilient AoE-heavy build designed to pick up adds during one fight to all-out single target damage if the next boss is all alone (you know, that boss that none of the minions really like; “yeah, Norman, sure, we’ll turn up if you start getting attacked, soon as you get to 75% health we’ll all swarm out, attack the healers, don’t you worry about it… (aside: not really, we’re all going down the pub now)”.) In theory you could do the same thing for general solo gadding about, alleviating some of the problems of repetitive combat, but having put together a set of abilities that seem to be good enough for most encounters I’ve been pretty much sticking to those. One reason for not experimenting more has been the gear management system; in theory you should be able to put together a set of weapons, gear and abilities, and save it for instant recall later; in practise it’s been rather unintuitive and flaky. Apparently yesterday’s 1.02 patch has improved it, though, so I might give it another go.

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