The Secret World asks you, on its official website, to "imagine if your worst nightmare came to life." The game intends to make you believe that it's true. Your first step upon entering the game will be to choose a secret society to join and then to develop your character. Role-playing–real RP–lends itself especially well to this game as it's unimaginable that the player won't begin to completely associate with his or her avatar. The game is designed to ensure it.
Your choices for the secret society you'll champion are three: The Seoul-based Dragon, who instigate change through chaos; the corporate-manipulating Illuminati of New York, dangling the powers that be by puppet strings; and the Templars, on a crusade against darkness out of London. Think of these societies as factions, if you feel compelled to attribute the details of TSW to other games in the MMO genre.
Your character will then start working his way up through the ranks of your chosen society, receiving new skills and gear along the way. Not only will you be completing missions in PvE content to help your society work with the others in defeating the ultimate evil, you'll also be dealing with the fighting between societies that's bound to result from power struggles and differences of opinion on how–and by whom–that power should be wielded.
The Dragon are largely unseen by the outside world. They step soundlessly through the shadows to remove an obstacle and have no problems with creating a little chaos along the way. Only from destruction of one convention can innovation and re-creation rise; at least, that's their party line.
If martial and mental arts are a big part of your preferred modus operandi, you'll probably fit right in here. You'll be practicing deception while working to achieve balance in this society. With a distinctly Asian feel and a home base in Seoul, Korea, you're bound to spend some time in the seedy underbelly of the Eastern power bases.
You've probably already heard of this society, especially if you like the novels of Dan Brown and the movies those books have inspired. However, this Illuminati is not the ancient European sect you imagine; instead, they have founded their Labyrinth headquarters in modern New York. In search of a new world order, the Illuminati move ruthlessly toward their goals. They are adept at social engineering at its highest imaginable level, and are most comfortable as the power behind the face of power.
Their magic, like their other weapons, is modern and new–but no less deadly. With a symbol that rather resembles that of the Deathly Hallows, you'll recognize the unobtrusive blue color in their uniforms, if you ever see them at all. Working with the Illuminati will bring you all the money and power you've ever dreamed of, but at what price? They will tell you that if you have to ask, you can't afford it.
The Templars function on structure, discipline and tradition. Headquartered in old London, they are able to trace their roots back through ancient European and Middle-Eastern history and they can point out to you the changes for which they were responsible. In their description on the game's website, it says that they decide for themselves what counts as darkness. Here's to betting that both the Dragon and the Illuminati qualify at various points during the game.
The Templars probably have the most military-like feel of the available societies. Their magic is old and their loyalty to their own is unwavering. If you want to be backed up by those who disdain misdirection tactics, you'll likely fit in well here. Look for the deep red symbol decorated by an iron cross and you'll see evidence of Templar activity.
No Classes, No Leveling
The Secret World claims to offer players "total freedom of play." By that, the developers have stated conclusively that there will be no class selection in The Secret World, and no levels to gain through acquiring experience points as is typical in RPGs. Just how that will work is still under wraps, but we can make some assumptions.
Freeform character customization means that you can pick up different powers and abilities for your avatar by using and attaining proficiency in certain skills. Decide you hate specializing in a certain weapon type? Switch! You'll soon be getting better at that type, instead. As far as leveling up, you will of course be gaining more and more power as you work your way up through the ranks of your society. However, there won't be anything you can't participate in, at any time. Your society is heading off to tackle an objective? You're welcome to tag along, and you'll be effective, too.
According to Funcom's statements, your character will be able to use firearms, such as pistols and assault rifles. You'll also have access to explosives, melee weapons, swords and such. And, for the sorcery-types, black magic! The only things no one has really mentioned yet concern group play. With no real classes, it's hard to imagine how a tank-healer-dps trinity could be required. Also, speaking of healers, are there any? Are there healing abilities? Or will avatars be able to develop a kind of medic or first aid skill to help themselves and their cohorts recover from battle?
The answers to those questions will go far toward helping players come to grips with just how different The Secret World is from a mainstream MMO, and whether or not it will share similarities outside of the PvE / PvP choices.