Sunday, August 5, 2018

World Legendarily Secret; Skies Manned Up

I've been talking about the not-really-multiplayer game The Secret World on this blog since before it came out. For all its aesthetic charm, it also serves as a prime object lesson for misdirected design priorities. By 2015-16, three or four years after its launch, it was pretty much dead. Around this time in 2017, Funcom surprised me by not scrapping the project but instead relaunching it as "Secret World Legends" with even more dumbed-down gameplay, half its group content excised, wall-to-wall bugs and its original emphasis on immersive puzzle solving ignored.

I mistakenly assumed that if they relaunched it they must intend to actually do something with it... which proceeded to not happen. Instead they re-hashed their old seasonal content and lengthened the loot grinding treadmill. In April 2018 they at last rolled out their first new content in three years (since MFB) an unambitious new South Africa zone with a couple of decent single-player boss fights but half its supposed content marked "coming soon."

"Soon" is apparently four months later and amounts to even more faction reputation grinding plus a grand total of one new actual mission. Knowing TSW's storied past of pervasive bugginess I gave it a few days since the new patch launched on Aug 01, to let them hotfix whatever would inevitably turn out unplayable about it. Today I tried that new mission.
And it bugged out.
I'd love to claim prescience but even a bat with earplugs could've seen that one coming. But hey, hey, in all fairness, relogging did fix the bugged item, triggering the next cutscene...
... can you tell what's coming?
Why, yes, yes it did, the mission did bug out yet again, immediately, and this time irreparably.
Three fucking years.

And yeah, I'm pissed because back in 2011 I preordered myself a lifetime subscription to a slow-motion train wreck. In contrast, I later also preordered No Man's Sky which turned out to be a very fast-motion train wreck. Even two years later, NMS' overhyped, disastrous launch has remained the stuff of legend. Ignoring that few of its buyers could get their purchase running in the first place, its gameplay was limited to highly repetitive, aimless resource acquisition and arcade-style whack-a-mole FPS combat with no tactical or strategic elements whatsoever.

People were rightly angry. Hell, I was one of them. Nevertheless, I warned against completely dismissing NMS. Its core planet-generating algorithms, environment interaction and resource management mechanics provide a very solid basis for further development. I said all that while not really expecting that further development. After a fiasco of such caliber, it's traditional for a game development studio to simply pocket the remainder of their customers' money and skulk off into the sunset having gained some work experience for their resumes. Or string their subscribers along with timesinks, as MMO developers like Funcom are wont to.

Hello Games chose not to.
They patched most video card issues, and though the game loads slowly it now runs reliably enough.
Amusingly, the compass I demanded in my first post got implemented soon thereafter and comes in handy enough on occasional long foraging trips. It's not much but it's something, and something is more than I expected.
Over the past year and a half they've continually added base-building features, fleshed out the campaign storyline, added more resource storage functionality, toned down the constant pirate attacks and made it easier to avoid them, added more terrain sculpting, and their latest patch overhauled the resource system, presumably in preparation for further developing the crafting tree. They've even been toying with a multiplayer function.

I can't in all honesty give NMS a very hearty recommendation, even as it stands now. It's still quite flat and repetitive for its purported galactic scope. When I said it needed an overarching framework I didn't mean putting the player on the rails of some strict, linear plot, but giving the player the means to build one's own trading / piracy empire, to make one's own sandy-boxy plot. Some satisfying home-making aside, I doubt it's going in the right direction... but then it's still a pleasant surprise to see it going in any direction at all.

Hello Games took their lumps, ate their well-deserved heap of humble pie, then buckled down and have steadily been improving their product at no extra cost since release. Whatever you've heard about NMS, it's now at the very least worth a second look, and after that FUBAR launch it's been treating its customers a lot better than we've learned to expect from the customarily predatory game industry.

No comments:

Post a Comment