Secret World Legends: Home but Not

A few weeks back I did a second run through of my TSW-inspired D&D campaign for a different group of players. One of my friends became so taken with the setting that she decided she wanted to play the original.

I and my friend's characters in Secret World LegendsOf course, the original original is no longer an option, except for those of us who were already players. That left Legends as her only option.

So now I find myself in the position of playing Secret World Legends with her over Discord one night a week.

I have of course been quite critical of this reboot from the start. My last attempt at playing didn’t exactly go well. But I’m not a believer in making stands on principle when it comes to what games I play, and I’d always wanted to introduce more friends to this setting, so I’m not too salty about it.

We’re still not that far into the game — my friend and I are currently working on John Wolf’s missions in the Savage Coast — but I’ve now spent enough time in Legends to develop a better feel for what this rebooted version of my favourite game is like.

I will say, it’s not as bad as I thought.

It is easier, and I still don’t think it needed to be. I’ve said it a thousand times, but original TSW was not too hard as long as you had a decent build. It just needed better tutorials. Half the people playing had no idea what they were doing, and that is almost entirely the game’s fault.

I and my friend's character in Secret World LegendsA part of me died when I ran the new version of Horror Show. The old version was probably too hard for an introduction to sabotage missions, but the new one is insulting. There’s just gaping holes in the lasers you can easily waltz through.

That being said, it is not quite as mindless as I feared it might be. Once you get past the early quests in Kingsmouth, challenge does ramp up. It’s easy, especially with two people, but not quite at the “enemies drop dead from a dirty look” extreme that far too many other MMOs shoot for.

Similarly, the new build system is unquestionably inferior to the original’s, but it’s still much better than you see in most other games. There’s still quite a lot of flexibility in how to build you character, and you can still adjust and make new builds on the fly. If I wasn’t comparing to the sheer awesomeness of the original’s ability wheel, I’d be far more impressed.

The character I chose to play with my friend is a recreation of my “Elf” character, whom I barely played in the original. I’m playing her with blood magic and elementalism, just as I intended to in the previous incarnation.

I am not in love with the changes to blood magic. The corruption/martyrdom mechanic is confusing and clunky.

My Elf character in Secret World LegendsElemental magic, though, is damn fun. Dare I say I think I like it better now than I did in the original. Balancing your heat level is a fun and intuitive mechanic that still includes some depth. I had intended to go mainly blood with a few elemental skills, but instead I’ve ended up with the opposite. Blood is fine as a supplement to my elemental spells. It works out to a fun build that I’m really enjoying.

I must also admit the new magic animations are really neat. My blood AoE is spectacular, and I really like how my lightning spells turn red as my heat level gets high.

It’s odd how not all animations have been updated like that. My friend is going for a sword build, and near as I can tell none of those animations have changed at all.

One change that I do think is very positive is making the story mode dungeons more accessible. My friend and I were able to do Polaris with just the two of us, with crappy gear and basic solo builds. TSW has always been best experienced solo or in a small group, so making it even more friendly to those playstyles is a big plus.

Now if only they could get rid of solo instances. Forced lack of grouping is as bad as forced grouping.

Most importantly, the story and ambiance — the main appeal of this setting — are largely intact. There’s a few things that compromise the immersion — like those tacky glowing tracking aids for blood trails — but mostly this does feel like the same world I love.

A scenic beach in Secret World LegendsAt this point my biggest issue is how much they screwed us grandmasters. With how fast the leveling is now and how seriously this version of the game takes its vertical progression, the XP buff feels more like a penalty than a bonus, and you don’t get much for your GM status beyond that.

No more stipend of cash shop currency, for one thing. But near as I can tell there isn’t a cash shop anymore? There just seems to be an option to pay for various boosts, which is deeply unappealing given, again, how easy it is to outlevel stuff now. In the original, I never felt like I had enough points to get everything I wanted, even with the GM stipend, but in Legends there’s nothing I’d want to buy even if I did have the currency for it.

Even so, I must admit I am having fun. The original is still a better game in almost every way, and I still think the reboot was a bad plan, but even an inferior version of a brilliant game can still be pretty good.

Also they made those beeping tracker missions less aggravating. It’s almost worth it just for that.

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Walking the Path of Exile

A few months back, I wrote a post about how I would probably never play Path of Exile. From that point on you had to know it was inevitable that I would.

The character select screen in Path of ExileI did not, for the record, end up trying PoE because my view of it had changed. Instead, it was due to my job with Massively Overpowered. MJ provides most of our PoE coverage, but since ARPGs are one of the main genres covered by my column, I feel I should have at least some minimal experience with the big names in the genre, including PoE. And since it’s free to play, there’s not much to lose by trying.

Path of Exile is not entirely what I expected, though it is pretty close.

Given its popularity with the “uphill in the snow both ways” crowd, I was expecting this game to have some quality of life issues, but I was not prepared for just how bad it would be. What stands out for me about Path of Exile more than anything else is just what an absolute nightmare inventory management is in this game.

Maybe it gets better later on, but at least to start, inventory space is severely limited. Making matters worse is that there’s no gold in this game; it’s all barter. Yes, really. So your “currency” also takes up inventory space.

The barter rates aren’t exactly generous, either. Town portal scrolls, for example, are actually fairly pricey, at least from the perspective of a low level character. I quickly realized the optimal way to play was to just not pick up the large majority of loot. It doesn’t sell for enough to justify the cost of taking a portal back to town to sell it.

For a loot-grinder game, this feels downright bizarre.

My witch in Path of ExileOh, yeah, and unlike any other game made in the last twenty years, you can’t double click or right click to sell things, either. You have to click and drag each item over to the sell window — which is entirely separate from the buy window, because screw you, that’s why — which itself has limited space.

On the subject of items, I do want to note how irritating it is to have your skills tied to socketed gems. Nothing like not being able to equip an item that’s an upgrade because its sockets are the wrong colour.

I also quickly realized that there isn’t actually much depth to PoE’s massive and much-applauded skill web. The large majority of the passives are very simple, and it’s not hard at all to figure out a build. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out that if I’m playing a class focused on magic and pets I should take the passives that buff magic and pets.

The only thing that makes it challenging is the fact that the damn thing is so huge and is not exactly laid out in the most logical fashion.

The really funny thing is that the actual gameplay — at least at low levels — is really easy. Right now I don’t even have to push buttons on most fights. My zombies can just mow down everything for me.

Near as I can tell Path of Exile’s vaunted challenge is based almost entirely on bad UI design. Clear up some of the QoL issues and you’re left with a relatively simple and pretty easy game.

Combat in Path of ExileNot that I’m really surprised. The kind of people who speak most loudly about games being too casual these days are generally not the upper tiers of players. They’re people who want gatekeeping so they can feel elite regardless of their actual skills.

All that said, there is one thing that impressed me about PoE: The world-building actually seems really good. The setting seems quite deep and fairly original, and I found a lot of interesting lore snippets out in the world. Each is narrated by some surprisingly strong voice acting, and as in Diablo III you can keep moving and fighting while you listen to the narration. It’s great.

Based on its reputation, I had not expected PoE to be a game that puts any effort into story at all, but instead the story seems to have had quite a lot of love poured into it.

This is a world I would like to spend more time in. I am more than a little tempted to keep playing based on the strength of the story alone. I’m just not sure it’s worth fighting with the gods-awful UI and inventory issues.