Secret World Legends invites you into the world that exists beneath our own, full of the mysterious, the unexplained, and the things that go bump in the night. Released in 2017, Funcom’s MMORPG revitalizes the original Secret World, transitioning the game to a free-to-play model.
Improvements to gameplay and graphics give the game a modern feel. While some elements still feel outdated, what Secret World Legends offers in story and environment makes up for the rough edges.
Since the dawn of time, a war has raged between the forces of light and dark. Throughout history, secret organizations vie for control, pulling the strings in our world and battling the forces of darkness in theirs. The Templars, the Illuminati, and the Dragon work against each other in this eternal battle of good and evil. Starting out, the player chooses one of the three factions to pledge their allegiance to. After that, the story begins and from there the secret world reveals itself.
Fully voice-acted cutscenes drive the story along with impressive cinematography and animation not often seen in MMOs. The voice acting stands out, bringing to life the outstandingly-crafted characters and sharp dialogue. The smaller side quests showcase the care put into the character writing, one of my favorites being Henry Hawthorne. This small town priest thinks he’s an honorary member of the Illuminati after “extensive research on the net” where he found “forums that don’t show up on Google.”
The mission design feels fresh and innovative even when it’s not. Simple fetch quests or “kill X amount of monsters” become interesting with bits of lore or an emotional moment from an NPC. The writing littered throughout the world also delights, with computer entries or handwritten notes that result in unexpected gut punches. This all coalesces to make the characters and the world they inhabit believable and interesting. The expert storytelling on display also shines through the game’s strong environmental design.
Of course, the Secret World needs to live up to the title by building an engaging world to discover, and in that regard the team at Funcom went above and beyond. From New York to Transylvania, Secret World Legends offers a wide breadth of areas to explore.
Every inch of the world feels lovingly crafted, or in the case of the first area, Kingsmouth — “Lovecrafted.” Besieged by a zombie apocalypse, the small New England town where the player starts their first mission showcases a perfect blend of The Walking Dead, Stephen King, and eldritch horror. Stroll down Elm Street, check out the church on Arkham Avenue, or spend some time at H.P. Arts and Crafts; this sleepy town offers a lot to see, though some things you’ll wish you hadn’t.
Attention to Detail
This level of detail and atmosphere extends to building interiors as well. Rooms tell an entire story just through the environment à la Bethesda. Missions often incorporate the environment in interesting ways, asking the player to explore rather than telling what to do.
One example I enjoyed involved a mission to retrieve case files from a doctor’s computer. Of course, a password locks the computer. By looking at objects around the house, you can discern that the doctor is a fan of the classical composer Vivaldi, and that his music played an important role in his relationship with his wife (late wife, as the blood and bodies scattered around imply). Type “vivaldi” as the password and boom, computer unlocked. It’s a small moment, but it gives insight into the doctor’s character and elevates a simple quest from mundane to memorable.
Uncovering the Secret World
Forcing players to explore and uncover mysteries themselves instills Secret World Legends with the feeling of discovery. The game lets you peel back the layers between our normal world and the one underneath, rather than shoving it in your face.
Conventional MMOs often feel like a theme park where the player is guided from one attraction to another, standing in line to see the same thing millions of others have already experienced. But, the Secret World feels exactly as it should: secret.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
Despite the revamp the Secret World went through for Secret World Legends, some aspects still feel outdated. Funcom apparently reworked combat, but I can’t tell because fighting in Legends feels clunky. As such, the PVP content offers little engagement.
Despite playing on a PC that can handle VR with ease, frequent frame drops plagued my experience. One annoyance came during a main story mission where the objective required me to enter a new area, but it was gated off until I could grind four more levels.
Thankfully, the side content doesn’t drop in quality from the main quest, but not being able to take the story at my own pace was frustrating. Overall, it seems the confines of the MMO structure take away from what could be a truly amazing single player RPG.
Secret World Legends somehow remains a well-kept secret, failing to reach wide-scale popularity despite some of the best writing I’ve seen in an MMO. You could attribute this to the dated look and feel of the game, as well as the frequent bugs and technical issues that mar the otherwise engrossing experience.
If you’re willing to look past the blemishes, you can’t beat the incredible worldbuilding and characters that the Secret World Legends offers, especially in the free to play MMO market. Try it out today on Steam or SecretWorldLegends.com.