Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Blanding

Riding its cavalcade of poor design decisions into the living death of failed online games, The Secret World has so far barely managed to stay borderline kinda sorta playable due to its inspired, atmospheric setting and writing. This manifests in part in the coherent spin the writers put on TSW's version of deed/badge/achievement unlocks, the lore descriptions. Exploring various locations doesn't accumulate mere tired little one-liners as in most games but opens up, paragraph by paragraph, scores of pages of rather flamboyantly word-smithed vignettes presenting each game concept/location/monster from the point of view of "The Buzzing" - the bee-themed hive-mind impersonation of Gaia incarnate.

These rather bubbly, giddy, semi-coherent passages, through their unmistakable personality, have lent TSW a great deal of continuity and identity which may otherwise have gotten lost in the half-baked clutter of nonsensical features. When, with the Tokyo expansion, a second set of Lore entries was added, it too was designed from the start as a coherent personality instantly recognizable by the player, this time a bit of grungy film noir grit to offset the bees' sweetness. Other recurring characters' text followed suit, maintaining a specific persona, providing consistent touchstones by which players can interpret their adventures. Richard Sonnac's haughty, restrained, respectable aloofness came through with every paragraph lamenting mangled children or bad wine-making.

So what's been happening now in TSW? Well, after releasing their latest "issue" which boiled down to a grand total of one mission bundled with a bunch of old ones for a new price, Funcom finally implemented the closest thing yet to player housing: the museum! There you can mount replicas of various monsters on display, but if and only if you've collected all the new lores implemented for every monster type, endless numbers of them. A great big collectible heap of timesink for players to chase, all in one gulp, with no fanfare to wash it down.

Anyone notice something different? Compare the old lores' style:
To the New:
The bees still call you sweetling, and that's as much of the old buzz as has been retained. Suddenly, TSW's lores have acquired the stilted, stiff, nondescript, uninspired tone of my own ramblings, my own talentless obsession with the declarative "to be." Don't ask me how. Maybe they fired whoever wrote all that older free-running prose, maybe the same writers simply put out much less inspired material as a massive rush job as filler. Still, if your flavor text starts sounding like something an amateur blogger with a grand total of ten readers could put out, you're either bland or incoherent or both. It's not so much that the writing's bad as that it's nothing, the same nothing one could find in any other perfunctory customer-fleecing device from Funcom's competitors.
This is a description of a monster, from subject to verb with precisely the acceptable ratio of adjectives per punctuation.
And no, the picture doesn't have to match the topic, while we're at it. How silly of you to suggest.

Through all its failures, TSW's writing, voice acting and atmosphere have carried it farther than it should ever have gotten. A half-baked group system tacked onto a single-player game, hopelessly mangled by trying to shoehorn in PvP mechanics where they never belonged, compounded by obvious budget cuts upon cuts, flubbed releases, new instances that nobody seems to actually want to play, yet another PvP instance which drove away more players than it satisfied, more effort poured into the game's cash shop than actual content, a monstrous gear-farming treadmill separating players from each other, yeah, TSW had all the problems one expects from this degenerate avorton of a genre once called MMOs.

But the writing, up until now, had stayed good. It had stayed interesting. Hell, their big Halloween event a couple years back was nothing but flavor text yet still enjoyable despite the blatant rip-off. Is this TSW now swearing off even decent flavor text, and do they expect to survive jettisoning their last bit of fuel? Burning down Rome was bad enough but now even your fiddlin's gotten worse, Nero!

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