Review: Moons of Madness

I may not be thrilled with Funcom’s handling of The Secret World and its less than stellar reboot, but I love this setting, and I want to keep it alive, so I’m more than happy to support any games using its IP. Let’s be real anyway: A franchise of single-player games is probably what TSW should have been all along.

Mars as depicted in The Secret World spin-off game Moons of MadnessEnter Moons of Madness, the second single-player spin-off of The Secret World. It is significantly bigger and more ambitious than its predecessor, The Park, but not quite as brilliantly executed.

Taking place in the not too distant future, Moons of Madness places you in the shoes of a mid-level Orochi employee on a research base on Mars. Just by saying “Orochi,” I’ve probably given you a pretty good idea of what ends up happening. Suffice it to say things don’t go well.

The strange thing is that Moons of Madness is much more overt in connecting to the story of TSW than The Park was — familiar concepts like the Filth and anima are front and centre — but it still feels less like a TSW game.

What I like about the TSW setting is that it’s not what I would consider to be “traditional” horror. It’s not a barrage of jump scares and gross-outs; it has those things, but it doesn’t use them as a crutch. It’s more subtle.

Moons of Madness is not subtle. There are jump scares waiting around every corner. If you’re a hardcore horror fan, you might enjoy it, but I found it exhausting, and it feels crude compared to what has come before in the TSW setting.

Maddened scrawlings in The Secret World spin-off game Moons of Madness.It does get better near the end. The final couple hours become more surreal and narrative-focused, as you would expect from a good Secret World story. I enjoyed the game a lot more by then.

I didn’t love the very ending, though. It feels like it trivializes the threat of the Dreamers a bit.

When it comes to gameplay, Moons of Madness is competent, if not groundbreaking. When you take away the trappings of horror, this is essentially a puzzle game. A bit like an extended investigation mission from TSW, though not quite so devilishly arcane and difficult. Some puzzles are obvious, like brewing a specific chemical concoction, while others are more environmental puzzles around evading various threats.

I’m not a huge puzzle guy, but I think they mostly did a good job on these. A few are a bit frustrating (usually due to unclear instructions or other quality of life hiccups), but mostly they manage to hit the sweet spot of being just challenging enough to be interesting, at least for me.

They do a good job of keeping it fresh, too. New mechanics are continually introduced throughout the game, so it never starts to feel stale.

A creature of the Filth in The Secret World spin-off game Moons of Madness.On the whole, it’s a solid game, but it doesn’t feel quite as special as previous Secret World games.

Overall rating: 7/10

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.