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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Review: Draugen

Despite the near total lack of promotion or pre-launch info for the game, I’d been looking forward to Draugen for some time. A psychological horror game with Nordic themes by Ragnar Tornquist seemed the next best thing to a new Secret World game.

The logo and title screen for DraugenI think I may have over-hyped Draugen to myself a bit, but it still wound up being a solid game.

Set in 1923, Draugen is the story of Edward Charles Harden. Accompanied by his ward, Alice (AKA “Lissie”), he journeys to the remote Norwegian town of Graavik to search for his missing sister.

Upon arrival, Edward and Lissie find Graavik deserted, and as the days unfold they delve into the mystery of what befell the town as they search for Edward’s sister.

It is very much a walking simulator. There’s no combat, and the handful of challenges you do encounter are too simple to rightly be called puzzles.

Also, despite how I’d heard it promoted, I wouldn’t say this is a horror game. There are a handful of mildly scary sequences, and the story deals with some dark themes, but I don’t think it actually qualifies as horror. Indeed, most of the time the game is quite tranquil — relaxing, even.

Alice/Lissie in DraugenIt is, however, a mystery. You’ll spend most of your time uncovering clues, and the way the picture of what happened in Graavik slowly unfolds is very well done. It feels neither too slow nor too rushed, and it will definitely get you thinking as you try to put the pieces together.

However, if you want the sort of mystery where everything is wrapped up in a neat little package, you will be disappointed. The ending of Draugen is quite inconclusive, and it’s very much up to the player to decide for themselves what really happened in Graavik.

This is not a style of storytelling I’m especially fond of, but I felt it worked here for a couple reasons.

One is that it doesn’t feel cheap. Nothing is withheld from the player; you learn everything that characters in that situation reasonably could. They might not wrap everything up, but it’s not the sort of story that keeps everything vague and mysterious just for the sake of being “artistic.”

The other is that I choose to believe this is a TSW game.

An ominous message in DraugenGoing in, I had already half-jokingly decided that I was going to treat Draugen as part of the Secret World setting, even if it’s not officially labeled as such, and while nothing in the game disproves that notion, there’s not an enormous amount of evidence to support the idea, either. The closest you get is a piece of dialogue near the end that echoes a mission from TSW so well I question whether it can be a coincidence.

But I do grant even that is far from conclusive.

However, if I press forward with my idea that this is a TSW game, it works wonders to fill in all the blanks of the story. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but connecting Draugen to TSW is for me the perfect way to make the story make sense.

So Draugen didn’t blow me away — if I’m being honest, The Park is definitely the superior TSW-adjacent walking simulator — but it is a game I’d recommend. It’s interesting, and it’s well-done.

I wouldn’t say you need to know TSW to enjoy it, but I definitely think it helps.

If nothing else, it’s worth it just for the breathtaking graphics and soundtrack. This game is an absolute feast for the senses.

The beautiful scenery of DraugenI really want to visit Norway now.

Overall rating: 7.4/10

Interestingly, it seems a sequel may be on the way at some point. The credits conclude with the message, “Edward and Alice will return.”

Hmm…