Last week we got an extended preview of The Secret World, but we also got the chance to sit down and pick the brain of the lead designer.

The Escapist: Why only seven active skills? What was the reason behind wanting a limit what in many MMOs you would see double hot bars and 20 or 30 abilities to juggle?

Martin Bruusgaard, Lead Designer: It was because we wanted people to focus, we don’t want every player to be a jack of all trades. We wanted to take the time and come up with a build that serves one or multiple purposes but it should be focused, if you can have 20 abilities on your bar then you miss some of the fun in making a build. Do you play Magic: The Gathering?

The Escapist: Yeah.

The Secret World: It’s somewhat comparable. If you have a deck that consists of 200 cards it wouldn’t be as fun. It’s fun to boil it down to those 40 cards that really do what you want it to do. You bring four of each card because you really want to do that with that build. That’s the reason really, we want you to focus and be really specific about what you want to achieve and what you want to focus on.

The Escapist: So, The Secret World is modern setting with supernatural elements. So how is the story handled thus far? That all of these legends and myths are real but they’ve either been kept quiet or not as bad?

The Secret World: They’ve always been real but they’re now waking up so the story is that two weeks ago, in the game, a bomb went off in a subway in Tokyo. So something happened and created a rift. This evil is now seeping into the world and some of that stuff you saw today is referred to as “the filth”. This filth is corrupting animals and people and making them mad, literally. And all these myths and legends, they’ve always been there but now they’re waking up and they’re out roaming in the free. Gaia herself is picking out her warriors to fight against this rising darkness and those are the players. So the player’s the hero, the player’s just a pawn in an army of heroes and we make a big deal out of that in the story actually. So the player then joins one of these three secret societies that has a very peculiar relationship where they are not clearly good or clearly bad. They have their own agenda, but they all stand united against this rising darkness. They can actually team together in the zones and fight monsters together but each of the three secret societies wants to be the strongest secret society that has vanquished this evil. That’s the baseline of the secret world, the universe.

The Escapist: What was the reasoning behind three missions?

The Secret World: It’s somewhat back to the first question. It’s focus, what we didn’t want was to have this massive quest hub where you picked up ten missions and you’re sort of, “I need to go like this and I need to end up here and then I go to the next hub.” Let’s say that you could have ten missions at the same time, you wouldn’t care as much about the cinematics, for instance, if you were watching ten cinematics in a row. We want you to focus on what you’re doing. We said that in order to complete a mission you never have to go back, and you always sort of keep moving. I don’t know if you noticed, but usually whenever you finish a main mission there’s usually a side mission there and that side mission will usually take you to another NPC. So you kind of get this flow. We want you to focus on what you’re doing right now, we want you to care about your task at hand and also care about that list of checkpoints that you need to complete, that you will spend the next two hours on. We want you to care about this, so that’s the reasoning. Some people like it, some people question it, they’re used to having a lot and I think it’s just because people are used to that they might feel like, “Oh, this is missing.” But I think when you start playing it, I at least, stop missing having lots of missions because I always have something to do because we pick you up with these side missions. I never feel like I don’t have anything to do, it floats kind of well.

The Escapist: So obviously you don’t have levels, but is there a level cap of sort or a soft cap that you will eventually get to a point that leveling will be so exponentially long?

The Secret World: What you can cap out is the weapon skills, they go from one to ten, and the same with the chakra skills. You can cap out if you collect every single ability, I think it’s 588. You can in theory get maximum weapon skill and every single ability all on the same character. But it will take some time especially the ability part will take some time, which is cool. That’s the only way you can cap out since we don’t have this number that defines strength but also hypothetically let’s say that you have all of your weapon skills and you have 400 of the abilities. You can still go back to Egypt and it will give you XP and you will keep getting ability points and skill points. You can still progress so it’s kind of cool because in most level based MMOs you have a very tight window where you can play. You can play against monsters that are one level beneath you and three levels above you. But in our game it’s much more open you can go almost anywhere and fight, you might die but you can fight. Especially if you have a few friends.

The Escapist: So really the time invested is less of getting that much more powerful but getting more varied and opening up a wider set of skills?

The Secret World: Yeah exactly, but you can look at it as two sets of progression, we have a vertical one and a horizontal one. The vertical one comes in the form of gear, like getting better chakras, getting better weapons, that will be there. The horizontal progression comes from the ability collection, lore, achievements and stuff like that.

The Escapist: What do you have prepared for end game content?

The Secret World: Well at the end of the storyline there will be, the dungeons will be available in three modes. What you played now was the easiest mode, then there will be a hard mode and there will be a nightmare mode. So people can do that.

We hope that PVP will be a big part of the endgame. There are warzones that are open 24/7 that you can go in and capture certain objectives, and say that you’re Illuminati and you go in there and you capture the zone then every single person from the Illuminati society will get bonuses and rewards from it even though they didn’t PVP at all. So you can basically go in there and be the hero, which is pretty cool, and also since we have three secret societies or three factions instead of two it also makes PVP more dynamic and interesting because you can actually make deals with the other secret societies to kick out the third one. Only one can control it so at some point there will be some backstabbing and we really hope that PVP and the meta-game around PVP will be important.

In addition to that we have a lore system where there are thousands of pieces all around the world where you can pick up and basically form a story or get more information about the area. So let’s say that you arrive at this castle and in this castle you’re doing missions and then through the missions you get some information about this castle, but if that intrigues you and you want to know more about this castle then there are certain pieces that you can pick up and as you’re doing that you’re sort of forming the story about the castle and who lived there and who was that knight and who was he married to and why does this matter to The Secret World. The universe of The Secret World is huge, the story is just massive. So that’s something the people can spend time, for the people that like story.

I think a lot of people will spend time making builds. And a really important part of having a good build is having the items to match it. Because if you’re, let’s say that you wanna revolve around pistols and critical hits, then you want gear that enables you to crit more which means that you want crit gear which you can get through either PvP, PvE or crafting. But in addition to that we have a really cool system when it comes to matching your items to your decks or your build. All of our items are divided up in three segments basically, a prefix, a core and a suffix and at the endgame, since you asked, there are special suffixes that people get from very special and really hard content and these are different camps all around in the world. So let’s say that you want to do this, make this crit build, in order to get these suffixes that you can just basically slap on an item, almost like an enchantment if you will. In order to get good crit stuff you want to go to the crit camp. It’s a camp of monsters and in order to beat those monsters you need to have a crit build, you need to bring a crit effect. I don’t exactly remember what the effects are but it’s hypothetically all the monsters are covered or are protected in a barrier, it will take zero damage but as soon as you crit them that barrier goes down and you can damage them for a few seconds and the rewards they give you are suffixes that enables you to crit better, like, every time you crit you get a crit buff for instance. That’s completely different from, let’s say that you want to focus on block then you need to go to the block camp and bring block in order to get that. Also an important part of the endgame is getting these items to match your build.

The Escapist: It was mentioned that once you’ve achieved certain skills combinations, you’re granted special clothing rewards, we saw the dragon martial artist for instance. What are the avenues for gear and visual customization?

The Secret World: They start right from the beginning of the game. No clothing has any stats attached to them so it’s pure visual, because we want you to play the way you want to play and we want you to look the way you want to look. So some of the clothing pieces will be rewards for missions so you can purchase from certain clothing stores in the hubs, some you can buy through the item store that we’ll have that you can purchase for real money but a major part of it is actually reward based because a lot of MMOs like to show off what they’ve done basically, like the walking achievement. So all the dungeons will have a unique clothing piece or a complete outfit that you can only get by beating that dungeon. If you go in and you beat nightmare Hell, for instance, which is really really hard, you get a unique clothing outfit that shows that you completed nightmare Hell so you can brag about that. I think somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of our clothing is reward based, you cannot get it unless you complete certain challenges.

It’s also really cool to look the way you want to look. If you want to be always dressed like a cowboy and wear a trenchcoat, with a cowboy hat and sunglasses you can do that. You can always be the cowboy. For instance, in certain games, I get an outfit and I think I look really really cool then I get a better item and it doesn’t look as cool but I kind of have to wear it either way.

The Escapist: Is that the same for weapons?

The Secret World: Yes. The ones with higher equipment requirements usually looks more special, there are certain time periods that you can get weapons from that aren’t really time periods that you have heard of before, it’s time periods that we will tell you about that existed and have been forgotten so certain weapons look really cool and very special. Also you can get certain items that modify the look of your weapon and doesn’t change any stats but let’s say that, back to the cowboy, you want be the guy that always walks around with a six shooter, but the weapons you just got look sort of sci-fi-ish and it doesn’t match so you can purchase certain items that change the look into the six shooter so you can keep your style.

The Escapist: That’s really cool. So we saw and heard about zombies, vampires and mummies, but what else can we expect?

The Secret World: Quite a few actually. The last boss in Hell today, you saw the rat looking ninjas, they’re based off an Asian myth and legend. They’re called the Oni. We have the draug, we had a lot of draugs in Kingsmouth, draugs are sort of the spirit of drowned Vikings. We’ve got a good share of vampires, we’ve got trolls, I think we have over 100 unique monster models in the game and they’re all connected to The Secret World in one way or the other.

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