TSW: Waiting on a Miracle

Is there a word for something that’s both unexpected and yet totally unsurprising?

A Filth infected person in The Secret WorldLast month, the Halloween season had me feeling nostalgic for The Secret World. It was the first time in years I didn’t have TSW’s Halloween event to look forward to. Eventually I figured, “To hell with it, it’s not Halloween without TSW.”

So just a few short months after saying goodbye to the game, I was back in the dark days. For what it’s worth, this was still probably the longest I’d gone without playing the game since I started.

For the most part my characters are still retired. The only one I’ve pulled out of mothballs is Kamala, my second of three Dragons. Years after her creation, I finally finished Kingsmouth with her, and as of this writing she’s just started on Blue Mountain.

I’m playing very casually, just poking away at a mission or two here or there, and I’m not sure if this is a long-term return or just a lark. At this point I might as well finish Dawning of an Endless Night, but I’m not thrilled with the idea of slogging through Egypt yet again, so we’ll see.

The irony is not lost on me that I refused to make the jump to Legends because I didn’t want to start over, so my solution was to pretty much start over.

I’m complex.

My second Dragon alt in The Secret WorldI will say there’s a difference between starting over by choice and starting over by necessity. In the immortal words of Frank Costanza, “It’s different psychologically.”

And there’s things Legends can’t offer me. I’m a big fan of Kamala’s appearance, but near as I can tell there’s no way to make a character who looks like her in Legends. That same problem dogs all my characters, really — it would have made such a difference if I could have imported my original character looks into Legends.

Nor can I tinker with builds in Legends to the same extent. That has always been one of the greatest joys of TSW, at least for me. For Kamala, I’ve focused on super-charging her resource generation as much as possible, so she can fire out finishers like a machine gun. As with all fist builds, it does lack AoE damage, but otherwise it’s proving very effective, and it’s damn fun. It’s crazy how fast I can tear through single targets. Being twinked six ways from Sunday doesn’t hurt, I guess.

There’s something oddly surreal about playing this walking corpse of a game. You can almost feel it dying day by day. Almost every week there seems to be some new bug or crash. Most recently the DirectX11 client randomly stopped working for about a week.

In some ways it’s not as dead as you might think, though. Oh, it’s mostly dead, but not entirely dead. There are still people hanging out in Agartha, though much less than there once were, and I’ve even run into a few other lowbies out in the world while leveling.

The Savage Coast Lighthouse in The Secret WorldI’m also still getting spammed with notifications about Fusang non-stop. Of course maybe it’s just one guy running around solo-capping stuff for kicks. Over my five years in The Secret World, I think I’ve spent maybe an hour in Fusang, and most of that was to fight the lunar golem back when that was a thing.

Still, I won’t pretend this isn’t a game with one foot in the grave, and there is a very lonely feeling to playing it these days. I guess the silver lining is that this is a game that’s meant to feel lonely and unsettling, so in a twisted sort of way having the population crash kind of enhances the experience.

As I’ve said, I’m surprisingly okay with not seeing any more content updates. I’d love more, of course, but mostly I’m just grateful for all the awesome stuff I’ve already gotten to experience.

What does sadden me is the thought that no one new can ever find this game again. It’s a bad habit, but I’ve always had a great desire to share anything that makes me happy with other people, and so I’ve spent years evangelizing this game and trying to get everyone to give it a shot. I miss being able to do that. I don’t like that this is something I’ll never be able to share with anyone else ever again.

And beyond personal concerns, I wish more people had been given the chance to play TSW. It was always very poorly advertised, and a lot of people were scared off by the fact it was an MMO despite the fact you could just as easily play it as a single-player RPG, so there are undoubtedly tonnes of people out there who would have loved this game but never got the chance.

A wild Rakshasa in The Secret WorldThat’s the real loss here.

Yeah, there’s Legends, but it’s just not the same.

Still, despite it all, I am having fun. Even with the game bleeding out, even with this being my fourth time through, I’m having fun. This is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. Maybe the best.

One thing that I’ve always loved about TSW is that it seems like every time I revisit an old zone or mission, I find something new and interesting that I never noticed before. Amazingly, after all this time, that’s still true.

This time the discovery came while interacting with John Wolf. Now, I’d undoubtedly heard this conversation many times before, but the significance had somehow passed me by.

John talks about a home that he lost. And he gives this home a name: Miracle.

Now, even if you’re a long-time TSW fan, I don’t blame you if you don’t know what Miracle is. But if you do know, it’s a name that’s likely to give you chills.

I’ll explain, and it is very hard to find concrete info on Miracle, so take anything I say with a grain of salt, but this is the story as I understand it.

Bong Cha, the Voice of the Dragon, in The Secret WorldRagnar Tornquist has worked on the setting of The Secret World for a very long time. Almost sounds a bit like me and Soulcleaver. And while The Secret World is the only incarnation of that universe to make it to the public so far, it’s not the only one he has planned. Miracle is another.

We know Miracle is a video game, but beyond that the details are harder to uncover. It seems clear that for a time Miracle and TSW were in fact one and the same, but somewhere along the line he seems to have decided Miracle would be a separate game in the same setting.

Reading between the lines — and again, grain of salt — the impression that I’m left with is that Miracle is the true conclusion to the arc of TSW and its main conflicts. The end of the Fourth Age of Humanity and the dawn of the Fifth, all that. TSW is the set-up. Miracle is the pay-off.

The matter of when or even if Miracle will be made, like so much about the game, is an open question. But at least there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Ragnar ever gave up on the idea.

And it is therefore to Miracle, not Legends, that I am currently inclined to give my hopes for the future of the franchise.

Until that day comes, I’ll continue to enjoy TSW as I can.

The Franklin Mansion in The Secret WorldBe seeing you, sweetlings.

In the half-light.

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Gaming Round-Up: A Return to SWTOR, Wolves of Midgard, the Horners, and More

I finally got a bit burnt out on Legion, so I’m taking a break before I tackle the last few class stories. In the interim, I’ve been bouncing around between a few different games, which means it’s time for another multi-topic gaming post.

A rare moment of quiet in Vikings: Wolves of MidgardBack in the Republic:

Long-term, I want to give some serious time to SWTOR. Catch up on the story and maybe finish the last two class stories. However, there’s supposed to be a major content patch soon, so I figure I should wait for that before I get too heavily invested, and as a result I’ve just barely dipped my toes in.

Despite my obscure tastes, I did lose a couple of character names during the recent server merges. I’m rather pissed to have lost my bounty hunter’s name, as it was already my second choice for her name, and now she’s down to like my sixth or seventh choice. The others I don’t mind, but boy is it hard to find a new name now. Absolutely everything is taken. Who the hell even knows what “Bagrada” is other than me?

I did eventually think of a name for my knight that wasn’t taken, and I actually really like it. I should use it more. And thankfully my main characters — agent, warrior, and consular — all got to keep their names. The reign of Empress Maigraith Numin continues undisputed.

Another mild annoyance is that SWTOR apparently stores UI data client-side rather than server side, so I had to set everything up again since I’m playing on a different computer now.

Unlike most MMO players, I’m not fussy about my UI. I’m usually happy to play with the default settings of any given MMO. Even ESO’s much maligned interface is fine by me. But for whatever reason the default UI in SWTOR makes me want to punch kittens, so I have to rekajigger it a fair bit.

Cipher Nine and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old RepublicOn the good news front, I am delighted to be able to customize the armour of my KotFE companions. Well, Lana, anyway. I never much bother with the others. I put together an outfit based around the Protoss-looking armour from the new light side vendors, and she is now the glorious space paladin of my dreams.

Mr. and Mrs. Horner:

In other news, this week saw the hotly anticipated (by me) release of StarCraft II’s latest co-op commander(s), the husband and wife team of Matt Horner and Mira Han.

My early experiences with them were actually something of a baptism by fire. I was struggling even on normal — something I haven’t done since I first started on co-op. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re a bit like Karax, despite having a totally different playstyle: They have a very steep learning curve, and they’re highly dependent on leveling upgrades.

I’m getting the hang of them now, but I would definitely say they’re one of the most challenging commanders in co-op.

The thing is that Matt’s units are extremely strong, but also extremely expensive. Meanwhile, Mira’s are pretty much just trash. The goal, then, is to mass up a large force of Matt’s air units while using Mira’s mercs only as a mineral dump. The trouble is getting to that point. You simply can’t afford Matt’s units in the early game, but you can’t spend too much on Mira’s or you’ll never get ahead.

Matt Horner and Mira Han's army in StarCraft II co-opThus, while the Horners are a force to be reckoned with late game, the early game is a nerve-wracking ordeal.

Their one saving grace in that regard is the Assault Galleon. These are Mira’s main production structure, but they’re also powerful capitol ships. They’re a lot like Tempests — long range, high damage — but with much more health, and you can build them right off the bat, and they only cost 200 minerals. And later on you can upgrade them to also be Carriers.

Galleons are kind of amazing.

My strategy therefore is max out on Galleons (you can only have a maximum of five) ASAP, lean on them to survive, and try to fast tech to the truly valuable units: Wraiths and Battlecruisers.

As far as Mira’s units go, my preference is for the Hellion. Their range means they don’t die quite as quick as her other stuff, and their damage is quite respectable. A lot of people seem to like Reapers, and that can work, but they die so much you end up replacing half your army after every battle.

The good news is the Horners definitely scratch my itch for an air-focused commander. Five Galleons plus their fighter bays plus Wraiths plus Battlecruisers is the unstoppable doom fleet I’ve spent all my life longing for.

Matt Horner and Mira Han in StarCraft II co-opAlso, dropping a space station on people is every bit as hilarious as I dreamed.

Overall I do think they’re a fun commander, but you definitely need to bring your A game. You have to work for your wins.

One final thing to note on the subject of StarCraft: I recently managed to solo a brutal mutation for the first time ever. My ally DCed on the load screen, and I was left to fend for myself. It was very challenging, I had to base trade with Amon, and there were only 21 seconds left on the clock when I killed the final objective, but I did it.

Considering I normally struggle to solo even standard matches, and that brutations are generally the toughest thing in the game short of PvP, I feel pretty proud of myself.

Nova OP.

Favoured of Skadi:

On top of that, I also played through a single-player RPG I got cheap on a Steam sale, Vikings: Wolves of Midgard. It’s a Diablo clone inspired by Norse mythology, which also neatly explains why I bought it.

Fighting a boss in Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

Most folk’ll never lose a toe, but then again some folk’ll, like Cletus the slack-jawed Jokul…

Even after having finished it, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it.

It has some neat ideas. One example is the exposure mechanic of environmental hazards. For example, if you’re traveling in a cold area, you’ll need to warm up by fires regularly or risk freezing to death. I really wish more games made the environment part of gameplay like this.

The combat is also very fun, and it does an admirable job of bringing the world of Norse mythology to life. It’s clear they actually did their research, even if they still take liberties in places. The story’s junk, but the strength of the setting carried it through, and the main character’s voiced by Alix Wilton Regan (if female), which is always a plus.

I did enjoy the class system, as well. Rather than traditional classes, you gain bonuses based on which of the Norse gods you follow, and it’s possible and even encouraged to put points into two skill trees at once, with the option to swap between them at will. I enjoy that level of versatility.

Most of the trees still more or less correspond to traditional RPG archetypes — Skadi, my main choice, is an archer class — but the Odin tree is a bit different. It’s the caster class, but it’s melee, focusing on acrobatic staff fighting. I suppose that might be bad for people who prefer traditional casters, but for my part I think “Gandalf + ninja” is a pretty awesome class concept.

But Wolves of Midgard a lot of rough edges. Despite some solid graphics, it’s nonetheless clear the game was done on the cheap, and it has many polish issues. That I could live with, but what really surprised me was how old school and unforgiving it felt at times. Save points, for example, are few and far between, so a single death can prove very punishing.

The realistic snow effects of Vikings: Wolves of Midgard

This is the first game I’ve played where the snow actually behaves like snow.

It got worse near the end. There’s a massive spike in difficulty in the last few levels. The intention seems to be to grind earlier content to level up, which is fairly awful. You can get around this by lowering the difficulty, but it’s just not a great situation all around.

So that put a damper on what had otherwise been a pretty fun game up until that point. If you really like Norse mythology and/or you want a more “hardcore” RPG, it might be worth a look, but otherwise I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend it.

And finally…

There’s actually one other noteworthy thing I’ve been playing lately, but that deserves it’s own post, so it can wait.

In the meanwhile, why not check out my latest article for MMO Bro? This time I’m pondering if and how the stories of MMOs can be given satisfying conclusions.