The passage of time has not made the secrets of The Secret World any less mysterious, nor has it softened the tenor of the grim undertones that resonate through the bowels of a global society in disarray. If you take a game like Ever, Jane, for example, which dances among the pleasantries and intrigues of civilized society, you might find yourself at a picnic on a nice summer’s day having a conversation with your companion. Your task may be to ingratiate yourself with them, perhaps in the style of Vanguard’s Diplomacy sphere. It may be that you’ve had a glass of sherry or a cup of coffee and there’s a nice background hum to the rhythm of the day. The sun smiles upon your face as you bite into a slice of succulent watermelon. Your companion laughs as they reach for a napkin and dab playfully at the juice that’s running down your chin.
In contrast, The Secret World offers a fundamentally different milieu for those who seek their chthonic pleasure in somewhat darker surroundings – not necessarily within the underbelly of society, in its back alleys, or between the hips of its inhabitants, but in its flirtation with the line between the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown. It’s that air of mystery that the security guard in Kaidan Hospital said he needed to maintain prior to the day’s back-office liaison with an office administrator whose questions had spilled over into the domain of the personal…the mundane. This world’s secrets are seductive and even intoxicating precisely because our fleeting glimpses into their domain are only ever through fragments, memories, dreams, and imaginings.
It has now been four years since the magic-users of this world – the “bees” as they are called – were first invited to sample its dark delights in search of the Forbidden Orgasm. The Guardians of Gaia are erupting from the peaks and valleys of Earth’s bushy landscape as one of Gaia’s natural, cyclical defense mechanisms against the filth that seeks to corrupt her. The Gatekeeper, a golden being who guards passage into the more nefarious depths of the black ichor’s realm of influence, acts as the conduit via which the Guardians are given corporeal substance.
Less tasteful individuals who are not entirely in character might choose to call them “loot piñatas.” I beg to differ. A more accurate description would be “hit point sponges.” Keep in mind that this is an endearing description on my part; I am quite fond of the game despite the occasional finger cramps that occur from prolonged combat.
In the spirit of The Secret World’s community which is generally helpful, forgiving, and wary of unsolicited exposure of the meatier bits of the game’s story, I decided to engage all of the “golems” at close quarters without reading up on any of the strategies. This meant eschewing ranged weapons such as the Elemental Focus which allows for continuous, maximal damage output and concurrent avoidance of close-range mechanics. This would be anathema in a game whose culture worships power and stats; here, nobody seemed to care much save for a choice few whose frustrations with the 40-person Gatekeeper encounter were given voice in public channels. On the whole, I was largely successful in melee combat. I’d like to think it’s a product of experience and having played games like WildStar and GW2. The only golem that gave me trouble was the Guardian of Pestilence in the Shadowy Forest. It was here and here alone that I experienced heavy lag and thus couldn’t react to its deadly purple poison ground-based AoE fast enough for the server’s liking. I’m just not willing to compromise on graphics quality, I guess, apart from turning “Effects” down a notch in Blue Mountain.
Many players were using an AddOn called ShoutOut to send a nicely formatted message to the Event channel when they had spotted a golem. An additional script adds the ability to automatically accept all “Meet Up” requests, which is an option from the menu that pops up when you right click on a player’s name in the chat log. Clicking on Meet Up sends you directly to wherever the target player is. Accordingly, players were regularly offering “taxis” to popular destinations such as London in addition to the locations of the golems.
Up close and in person, the golems have varied and interesting mechanics: small circles are generally less lethal attacks but may leave behind Bad Stuff on the ground; big circles are bad, so run away; and golems may poison or afflict you which should be cleansed or healed through as the presence of this status on players will empower the Guardians’ attacks against those players. Generally speaking, the melee dance was enjoyable if a bit longish but I suspect that’s partially a product of my relatively paltry Epic 10.1 gear with stat-appropriate signets and glyphs of varying quality.
After slaying all eight of the golems and reaping their rewards, I made the self-surprising decision to use the Meet Up feature to join a 40-person raid on the “Hatekeeper,” the enraged form of the Gatekeeper who must be summoned on a large platform that resides in the veiled chiaroscuro of Deep Agartha. To summon the Gatekeeper, eight different types of golems must be called forth by players. (If you have a blue-quality object in your inventory that features an icon that looks like a golem and is named something like “Irate Shard” or “Roiling Shard,” that’s what I’m talking about.) Once this has been done, the Gatekeeper will appear on the main platform and players can begin chipping away at his health pool.
It took our raid three attempts and over an hour to finally defeat him. I was able to melee him fairly decently but developed a bad habit of being randomly one-shotted by the copious amounts of chameleon-patterened Bad Stuff he leaves on the floor and thereafter switched to add duty away from the main fight, mostly to avoid the stat loss from 100% damaged talismans. In addition to his small circles that leave lightning-colored bad stuff behind, he also regularly telegraphs a long rectangle that sweeps in a small arc in front of him, terminating in a long line of fire-colored bad stuff on the floor. Periodically, he will pulse out a raid-wide AoE “buff” that cannot be cleansed by normal means and takes away most of your health once it wears off. Finally, there are three narrow walkways that branch off from the main platform. At the end of each path is a portal from which custodian machines spawn; if any of these custodians reaches the Gatekeeper, he is healed back up to full.
Our winning strategy had groups of five players camp each of the three branches while the remaining 25 players stayed on the boss. The custodians power down after receiving a certain amount of damage and will then wake up after a fixed amount of time; additional custodians will spawn from the branches’ portals at set intervals which means that you may have two or three custodians per branch coming back to life at the most inopportune of times and threatening to undo all your hard work. Five bees per branch with self-designated “floaters” seemed to work well enough in dispatching all of our custodians before they made it to the outer ring of the central platform.
I was rewarded with five epic-quality flare gun toys for my trouble. I’m here for the story, so I don’t really care. There are some pretty cool rewards that you can get if you win the loot table lottery or want to make a game out of farming the engagements. I’ve taken this month’s subscriber points stipend and purchased a week-long AP doubler which stacks with the 2x AP rewards already in effect for the duration of the event (June 29th – July 13th). I’ll be alternating between repeating Transylvania missions (which I’ve found to be the best stream of SP and AP), battling the golems, and completing outstanding missions in Kaidan. I thus hope to finally complete my ability wheel and at least acquire all of the Rocket Launcher abilities on the auxiliary wheel; I obtained my shoulder cannon quite some time ago and the poor thing hasn’t even been fired once.
Overall, I’d recommend taking part for the social experience even if you’re not terribly far along in the story or aren’t interested in the combat mechanics. This is the first time since I started playing that I’m in a position where I’m ready to look at public chat channels. (What a strange thing to say!) Prior to this, I had been playing a deliciously dark single-player game with only the occasional passersby to remind me that others were operating in the same environs. With the main story complete and other gaming interests mostly muted, I think it’s time to see whether the social aspects of The Secret World contain any stories worth telling.