Remember that story from history class where five guys with machine guns, a Norseman in a bearskin cloak wielding King Arthur's sword, and some Native Americans had to fight off an evil, Mayan dragon monster? Yeah, neither do I. But The Secret World 's new five-player dungeon, The Darkness War, reveals that this totally epic event was deliberately stripped from your social studies curriculum by the global conspiracy to hide the supernatural. I got to see it first hand.
The action starts when a quest-giver of the Wabanaki tribe—Native Americans who have been defending the Blue Mountain near Kingsmouth, Maine for centuries—instructs our party of mixed company from all three secret societies (Templars, Dragon and Illuminati) to use a nearby sleeping bag. Don't worry, it gets more exciting.
Through a dream state, we witness events that took place 1,000 years ago right where we currently slumber. And what I see doesn't exactly line up with what the history books have told us.
We land in the middle of a huge battle between the Wabanaki and invading Mayans, who seem determined to release a supposed "serpent" caged within the Blue Mountain. Corpses litter the ground, and the sounds of battle echo around us. That's already pretty disorienting, and then the Vikings show up. It turns out that those Vikings that really did land in North America in the 11th Century weren't there for a picnic. In The Secret World, they were actually coming to the aid of the Wabanaki, brandishing the sword known to the English as Excalibur. The scenario is made even more awesome by knowing how many university professors in Western Civilization will be getting nosebleeds over it.
Mechanically, the fights in this five-player dungeon were pretty frantic and interesting, requiring more movement and quick decision-making than you see in most other MMOs outside of top-tier raid content. Combat wasn't quite as active as TERA (TSW requires targets for most of its attacks), and it ended up feeling more like Guild Wars 2's combat style. However, the seven abilities given to my character didn't provide the same breadth of utility I'm able to provide in the group content of Guild Wars 2 and other MMOs.
It seems pretty clear that even the game's mid-level instances like this will not be holding your hand. Our group of intrepid journalists were geared and specced for damage, while our GM guide filled a hybrid tank/healer role. I found the rhythm of my rotation after a couple of fights, but the lack of utility I mentioned kept my rotation pretty straightforward.
In one of the first fights in The Darkness War, we're required to stay close to a Mayan sorcerer boss, in the eye of a storm he's casting around the entire battlefield. But we can't stand still--we run in circles around him as we attack to avoid a spinning knockback that would put us in the most dangerous part of the storm.
After battling our way through Mayan zealots and warriors, we run into the unfriendly creature pictured above and his minions. We need to take them down before our Excalibur-wielding Viking comrade's health runs out, so he can seal the pathway that the Mayans opened. After a difficult struggle, we kill the beast. It drops loot, but the real reward at the end of the instance is a major clue toward unraveling the New England storyline that, by the time you reach The Darkness War, you've likely been puzzling at for many hours.
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I also got a quick tour of Transylvania, The Secret World's endgame questing zone. It revolves around an order of vampire hunters called the Draculescti, doing what vampire hunters are wont to do. Funcom was hesitant to go into specifics on their ties to the legendary Dracula himself, but hinted that perhaps he'll turn out to be one of the good guys. At least, so far as there are any "good guys" in a multi-way shadow war over things man is not meant to know.
The more I see of The Secret World , the more promising it looks. While the combat and a lot of the quests seem like the same-old, same-old we've seen in MMOs before , the large arcing stories that players get to unravel and be a part of are some of the most compelling I've come across in a long while. I look forward to peeling back the darkness further when the game is officially released on July 3.