@feenwager Pendulo are doing some good stuff. Their newest project just went up on the new Gamesplanet Lab platform (worth keeping an eye on if you’re into unusual games — it’s like a quality-controlled Kickstarter) and sounds pretty cool.

The Secret World still has its hooks in me deep. I’ve been playing for about 22 hours now and I’m still in the first main “zone”, which I’ve now got to know very well — it feels very well-realised and not at all like simply “somewhere to run through”. There are three large “hub” areas in the game — the “Not Innsmouth At All, Honest” town of Kingsmouth, an Egyptian area called Valley of the Sun (I think) and… Transylvania. Awesome. Each area is made out of three large “zones”, each with a bunch of quests to do in each. Each hub also has a lengthy and very involved “story mission” to complete, and the game is designed in such a way that you will naturally come across its objectives as you complete other quests.

The cool thing I’ve found is that surprisingly little of the game feels like “filler”. MMOs are usually rife with filler content to help you grind, but most things you do in The Secret World feel meaningful. This is helped at least in part by the fact that “main” missions start with cutscenes, but even the side missions (which you just find on discarded objects and things lying around the world rather than from people) have a sense of purpose to them.

The investigation missions continue to be the game’s highlight. I did one tonight that required me to visit the website of a company referenced in-game, look up product information and then use said information to find the appropriate items to solve a puzzle. Subsequently, I found myself translating morse code (with the assistance of an iPhone app — my Morse transcribing is not what it could be) and deciphering the message to find my way to my objective. And that was a simple one.

Even the combat-heavy missions are pretty neat, too, though. There are a few “kill [x] [y]s” along the way, but these are usually tied in to another objective at the same time — for example, in one, you’re hunting down mass graves and making sure the dead bodies therein stay dead. For the most part, though, the “action” missions involve some lateral thinking and environmental puzzles, too — it’s rarely as simple as “go to this part of the map and kill shit for half an hour”.

The levelling system is probably the most interesting thing. You have a wheel of skills, and nine different disciplines — pistols, shotgun, assault rifle, swords, hammers, fist weapons, blood magic, chaos magic and elemental magic. You can assign ability points to any of these disciplines at any time, so if you’re getting fed up with a particular build, simply switch it out. In order to facilitate this, many of the less important side quests are repeatable, allowing you to effectively “grind” them to respec if you so desire — alternatively, you could take your existing deck of abilities into a higher level area, gain AP at a much more rapid rate and spend your vast quantities of points on new low-level abilities. It’s a really nice, flexible system, with the only slight issue being the lack of an explicit “level” sometimes making it difficult to judge whether or not you’re “strong enough” for a particular challenge. It’s certainly a different approach, though, and it works very well.

I did a “dungeon” tonight, too. This was slightly more traditional MMO fare, though it still has nice things like cutscenes to give it a sense of narrative. The boss fight at the end of it was pretty spectacular, as well.