Fight Gods, Kill Demons. Solve Ancient Mysteries.
Welcome to The Secret World. It is modern times, this isn't a fantasy world that you've never heard of, this is Earth and all the stories are true, monsters and darkness have been lurking just out of sight for your entire life, for the entire history of mankind and beyond. Evils older than time and as young as you or I have come busting out from behind the curtains. You have been chosen by a mysterious power, call it Gaia, call it the world tree, call it fate, call it destiny. Welcome to an MMORPG that's as much of an adventure game as any MMORPG ever has been.
TSW is not just another MMO, right off the bat sure it does have a lot of conventional MMO conventions, but what is a quest, would a quest by any other name smell as sweet? People are already rebelling against Guild War 2's "Open Quests" realizing its just a thinly Veiled Kill X, Collect X quest. I honestly ask you what else can there be? No quests? No nothing at all? Every movie, every book, every story ever told has the same structure as all the rest. The real problem in this reviewers mind is when these X quests become the only foundation that a game has to stand on and it stands on them so heavily you are left with precious little else. That is not The Secret World.
TSW has several quest types:
Main Story quests that cover an entire zone and combine all other quest types giving you a variety of goals to accomplish, things to kill, places to go, and puzzles to solve, yes puzzles to solve, more on this in a bit.
Action quests that cover one specific character that you are interacting with that tie into the main story, these involve combat, whether its thinning the local population of wisps so you can kill a possessed Jack 'o' lantern or working your way through a ruined temple in Egypt killing huge guardians to assemble artifact pieces to weaken and then kill a Demi-God that is wreaking havoc on the surrounding area.
Subterfuge quests involve light puzzles like avoiding mobs, using stealth, staying out of camera's view range and planting explosives, these focus on keeping yourself out of combat, getting in to complete your goal and getting out.
Side quests are the only ones that could be really called fetch or X quests, but almost all are linked seamlessly to the surroundings, like a dead body caught in a bear trap, at the airport. These are usually short and sweet combat focused quests but some are deceptively long and puzzle heavy.
Dungeon quests which are obviously meant for a group to tackle, these are seriously no joke on difficulty, sure you can over gear, but if you are completing them as you are brought to them by the Main Story quest, you should find a good level of challenge awaiting you. Each is filled with multiple bosses that require strategy, cunning, and quick feet to combat. Also several (soon to be all) have multiple difficulties each with obviously better and better loot.
Lastly, Investigation quests, real honest to god puzzles. In an MMORPG. Hand to god. These are not meant to be easy, not meant to be solved quickly, these are meant to stop you dead in your tracks, ask for help, look up reference materials with the in-game web browser, for example after some time with TSW don't be surprised if learn Morse code, binary language, number logic strings, and how to translate unknown languages from an incomplete keystone. These are long, grueling insanely devious quests that can unfortunately be quickly dispelled by a simple walkthrough, which of course you are free to do, but you are really only ruining the experience for yourself. Investigation and puzzle solving is near and dear to the founding principles that is The Secret World.
Almost every quest type (except side quests) has one or many quality profession voice acting cut scenes to set up what is going on and what you need to do, there is no quickly discard-able quest text as your only gateway to these quests. There is weight to what you are doing and why you are doing it. Also a large number of NPCs, quest giver or not, have several fully voiced dialog options that give you a large amount of back story into the character themselves and the world around them.
The graphics have been a bit of a debate, so many people these days seem to hate a games graphics no matter what, unable to sync with the particular style that the game is using. I find TSW stunning. Not only are the graphics technically wonderful but just how each area is brimming with life, objects, scenery, effects, people, locations and so on... I feel like I could just step right in and live there. That said I have had the opportunity to look at the game on two very different computers, one six years old and one brand new, while the older computer could play the game well, on higher settings and in DVI or HMDI is where TSWs engine really shines.
Game play it self is also always a matter of debate. A lot of people genuinely seem to dislike "hotkey" combat. Again I really have to ask, what else is there. Aside from motion controls, everything is a key. Every action requires a key press to activate. Certain actions can be used again right away, certain ones require a cool down. Cool downs range from 1 second to several minutes. How TSW sets itself apart is in how your character unlocks new abilities. There is no apparent level and absolutely no guilds or classes. Choose one of three factions, each at war with each other, and turn your character into anything you want it to be with no restrictions, as you gain exp you unlock AP points with which you choose 14 abilities (7 passive and 7 active) to fill out your slots, the interesting part is you choose from over 500 choices. Your character can equip two weapons out of nine which each have about 24 active abilities that require them to be equipped, but there are also more than 200 passives that do not require a specific weapon and you can change and mix weapons and abilities any time you aren't in combat. Just like with its quests I've spent more time thinking in an MMO than I have in more than 15 years. Also with AP you as you gain exp you unlock SP which is a much simpler system, you invest more and more points into specific weapons and Head, Major or Minor talismans to access higher level equipment. Your character does wear weapons, but not really armor (unless you want them to) 7 slots make up your talismans and are basically equipment that doesn't show, and while that doesn't exactly sound fun what is fun is the clothing system, by starting the game you are given some basic clothing, you quickly will unlock more by completing quests, achievements, unlocking abilities, or using in-game money (not real money) at a shop, or at the real money item store (which only sells cosmetic items, no buffs, no boosts, just pets, titles, clothing, and now server transfers). It mixes very well with the modern day setting of TSW and while it may seem limiting at first, after some time spent with the game, you realize just how unique and beautiful everyone's characters look.
Content, just like the rest of the game apparently is always a hot issue for any MMO, how long does it take me to reach the top "level" how many raids and dungeons are there? I personally thing TSW has a lot of content for such a new release, but I'll try to leave it up to you to decide for yourself. As far as time to the top level, that's a pretty tricky thing to put a finger on in a classless / level-less situation, but I will say after about 150 hours my character is finally maxed in two weapons, but not talismans (armor) and about half way (the quick half) with all other weapons and only about 50% through the story, and really not yet explored dungeons or PvP. I move pretty fast and I don't usually waste a lot of time, enjoying being efficient with my time, this is more time, than it took me years ago to max out a character in World of Warcraft to level 85, which is now exponentially faster than it used to be. You could argue one character in TSW is essentially all characters, because there is no classes, but you would probably want to complete the Main Quest for each faction for their different storyline, also each faction has 12 different "Decks" or sets of 14 abilities that once you unlock you receive an outfit tailored to that set, most look extremely badass. The game also currently has 8 dungeons, which seem to be one to two hour romps (on normal difficulties anyway) and again almost all have multiple levels of difficulty they can be set to. Also there is three PvP battlegrounds, basically small group, large group and persistent battlefield type scenarios. Each with goals a missions that are akin to capturing bases, or flags and holding them as long as possible, typical PvP conventions again I know, but each is flavored heavily and fits into TSW lore. Lastly Funcom has promised (and kept up with so far) monthly content patches, adding new quests, new stores, new dungeons, new PvP battlegrounds, new raids, new clothing rewards and so on and so on.
At the end of the day I have to throw in my personal bias on this one, I've been addicted to MMORGS from playing MUSHes or MUDs (checkout play.net) since the mid 90's. Moving up through time and playing every single MMORPG I could get my hands on, beta testing and playing months or years into release for most. Too many to name. Some subscription based, some free, some big budget, some not. Maybe it's that I also greatly enjoy adventure or point and click adventure games, and its that influence in TSW that elevates it for me but, I honestly believe that TSW is a lush wonderful world, fantastically crafted with great writing, great voice acting, an interesting take on character development and something that truly is new to MMORPG quest styles, and thus it's a great addition to the genre.