Guild Wars 2 vs The Secret World

I hadn’t really planned to do much reviewing of MMO games because, for one, you’ve probably heard enough about them that I won’t be adding anything new, and for two, if you haven’t heard about them you probably aren’t going to play it anyway.  MMOs are not usually the sort of game you just pick up and try… but in this case there might be an exception.  And it’s a two for one review so it might be a nice long juicy one.

Also I can refer to them as GW and SW and it won’t be confusing at all!

Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World are similar in that you can play them largely solo (for most of the game, anyway), and there is no on-going commitment like a subscription.  They are both “buy to play” (BTP) which is distinguished from free to play (FTP) in that your account is not a crippled husk, since you’ve made an initial investment to get going.  That does mean you have to invest before you get an idea if you like it, but how many other games have we wasted 20 bucks on and then not played much of, right???  At least you can log back in without having to renew anything.

Also important is that (at least so far) neither game is “pay to win”.  The marketplaces are almost entirely dominated by cosmetic items, and maybe a selection of items that will make things quicker, but nothing unobtainable outside of the market.

The settings are considerably different.  GW is a sort of traditional fantasy environment of traipsing across a countryside slaying mythical monsters and various wildlife, and trying to prove your worth as a hero while stopping bad guys, while SW is a modern day foray into the supernatural underbelly, with an “X-files” “The world is ending and only we can prevent it because all the normal people must never know” sort of overtone to it.

Both games reward exploration.  They have fantastically created worlds with details hidden all over the place.  I fully admit to being a bit of a completionist, and GW is really terrible for people like me.  Each explore point, each quest, each event… I must get 100% in each zone!  SW is pretty bad too, but the counter is hidden a little more carefully so it’s easier to ignore until you’re on a collecting kick.  SW has hidden lore points that reveal backstory about the world, so actually finding them can be a bit more rewarding than just dashing through an area with monsters trailing behind you so that the little box on your map lights up.  Both games actually reward you for doing this shit too, though.  GW gives you a token for completing a map, but actually crafting some of the legendary items can require getting 100% exploration in the world to obtain the tokens to use in the recipe.  SW rewards exploration with experience and skill points, which is a little more generic but at least a bit more tangible than a meaningless score.

If you are not a completionist, you may be thinking “Bullshit, I don’t want to be obligated to explore!”, but advancement in SW is a bit non traditional.  Every action you do gives you AP and SP which can be used to buy abilities and make those abilities more powerful.  One of the goals of the game is to actually collect all the skills and abilities (completing specific “decks” of abilities will also reward you with cosmetic outfits to go with them).  You can essentially earn an infinite number of AP and SP, since many quests are repeatable.  You won’t find yourself actually repeating quests until you’re trying to get every single ability in the game, though, so that particular grind is also a matter of choice.  Unless you really fuck over your character by putting like, one or two into everything and find yourself unable to actually win anything.  There are no real “levels” in SW… monsters con off the quality of your equipment, and your skill level determines the level of equipment you can equip.  So character advancement in SW is a matter of customizing the abilities you think you’d like to use, finding some synergy between them, and then dumping skill points to make yourself more powerful at using those abilities, and being able to equip better quality items in those skill trees.

Character advancement in GW is both simpler and stranger.  You have standard gear with stats on it and you want to have the gear with the highest numbers, so nothing new there.  You equip a weapon which activates a set of abilities (your bar changes to display the appropriate ones, so you don’t have to drag and drop buttons anywhere).  You can mix and match your main and offhand to change what abilities you have, but it remains largely static.  Using a weapon unlocks the better abilities, but that doesn’t take long and soon you can have everything unlocked and good to go.  You level traditionally and can spend some points, but levels are largely meaningless because everything in the game scales.  I was originally impressed with the scaling because it was so well balanced… literally every single zone in the game is current content, unless you wander into something way over your head.  So by the time you cap levels, every zone in the game is current content!  Great for completionists because going back and doing the quests doesn’t seem like a chore, right?

Welllll… it seemed great until I wandered through the newbie zone and started getting my ass kicked by dozens of level 3 monsters, because I hadn’t stopped to clear them out properly one by one.  I don’t want to fight this shit again, I just want to run through.  I’m level 50 why should I have to fight this shit!  But now the game has scaled me and I am as weak as a level 5 newbie rat (or… whatever) again.  Your gear and talent points DO help, but you still have to stop and clear everything out in a more populated mob area.  If it’s not your goal, it can be pretty tedious.

Worse than that, it actually removes all satisfaction from the character advancement process.  I have all this awesome high level gear and I’ve destroyed scary high level monsters look at me I’m so bad ass now!  And not a speck of that comes through when I have to fight a level 5 rat. Again.

As you can see, the levelling system in GW is almost entirely arbitrary.  So character advancement in GW is actually more cosmetic than anything.  There are tons and tons of cosmetic skins in the game, and when you look at the top level items, you’ll see that the stats are all exactly the same.  The skins are different, ranging from boring to “holy shit look at that thing” (there is a bow in the game that shoots rainbows as ammunition.), but the actual power of the item is meaningless.  Everyone is literally equal.  This is great for balance, but kinda bad for making you feel bad ass.  I played the game a lot, but I never got invested in my character.  I was interested in collecting the items and playing the pretty princess dress-up game (MUST COLLECT DYES.  MORE DYES.  NEED DYES.) but without that sense of advancement I lost the urge to log in and do that one more thing.  I do pop in every now and then and complete some quests or do a match or two, but it just doesn’t have that MMO grasp.  (Fortunately there is no subscription!  So I can pop in and out whenever the hell I feel like it and not feel guilty!)

Where GW excels is PvP.  In design, anyway.  If you ever played Dark Age of Camelot, you’ll probably remember that they had the most awesome pvp system ever with keep storming and relic stealing and huge armies clashing together, and even though there were plenty of flaws, it stood out as one of the better PvP experiences in an MMO.  Somehow no one managed to re-create that… until GW2 came along.  GW2 is DAoC reborn, when it comes to PvP.  You have keeps to storm and siege equipment and giant crowds of players smashing on a door while having oil poured on them and… not exactly relic raids but little orb thingers to gain and keep control of, and all of it gives your server little generic boosts like more exp gained and such. When you zone into WvW, you scale, so you can join in on the action at any level and not have to grind your way up.  (Your equipment and talents still matter though… but the loot drops from WvW outstripped questing by far)

If the WvW pvp isn’t your style, there’s an optional “battleground” style pvp which is basically completely separate from the game as a whole.  You zone into it and you are basically given a version of your character with everything unlocked and completely separate gear sets (which are all exactly equal in stats, so the only difference between characters is class and cosmetic look.  And player skill, I suppose.)  With an equal playing field, all you need to do is learn how to take advantage of your abilities.  Unlike WvW, you do not gain experience… you gain honor.  Honor is a separate levelling system, the purpose of which is only to allow you to unlock fancier looking armor skins.  So you look increasingly more badass, but your character power remains the same, so that the matches stay fairly balanced.  I like that because you can tell who is badass by looking at them, not because they killed you in one hit with their legendary weapon which they obtained from a raid that you have absolutely no hope of ever even seeing inside the door of because you didn’t sell your soul for 35 hours a week to [hardcore raiding guild X].  It also means they might actually be badass and have spent a lot of time earning their honor and pvp ranks, rather than earning items in PvE and then popping in to give them a shot.  And it also means if you are new to the game, you are not faced with the impossible task of getting to the same gear levels as the people who have been playing for the past three years, by somehow winning against the players who have been playing for the past three years.  You just don’t look nearly as cool as the players who have been playing for three years.

But of course, battleground style pvp does almost nothing for your game… it gives your guild some points… but if you advanced to max level in battlegrounds your PvE character would still be level one and you’d have seen nothing of the actual game or contributed to your server at all.  You can’t even wear your badass looking pvp armor while killing level 5 rats (maybe you can transmute it over, I’m not sure if it works between pvp and pve gear… but even then it’s kind of expensive so you want to transmute gear that you aren’t going to replace in 15 minutes).  The battlegrounds could be a completely separate .exe and it wouldn’t change much.  Still awesome if you enjoy battleground style pvp, though.

I have not tried PvP in SW.  Everything I have heard about it is that it is grossly unbalanced both in skill (If you have ability X you win.  If you don’t have ability X you lose.  If you don’t have the HP to survive a hit from ability X you lose.) and in faction (if you are on server X you can go afk in the corner and become rich.  If you are on any other server, hahahahahaha).  I have not confirmed any of these things, but I’m not exactly rushing to try it after reading about it, either.  Suffice to say… if you want PvP… get GW instead.

Let’s talk about PvE some more: Quests.  GW does this in an interesting way by having quests be things in the world.  You walk into the area on the map and boom, you’re on the quest.  Walk out of it, boom, not on the quest.  The actual quests are pretty typical.  Kill X of these.  Collect X of those. Kill big scary thing.  Return shit to me.  Even when it’s something like “Close that thing” you usually close it by beating the shit out of it.  But then they also have events, which are like “public quests”, except that they work the same way – you walk in, you’re contributing.  When it’s done, you are rewarded based on your contribution.  Do a lot of the work, you get gold and a bunch of karma/etc.  Punch something once then go afk and you get bronze and not as much.  It’s nice in that you don’t have to assemble a group for a tough quest – the quests scale to the number of people working on it, and if there’s one thing GW is good at, it’s scaling.

Quests in SW are more traditional.  There are several types of them:

Side quests are your typical MMO quest of fetch/kill/whatever, and you’ll usually start them by finding something lying around and inspecting it.  They do a decent job of making these interesting, despite being pretty generic most of the time.  They also hide them everywhere, so finding a side quest can be a decent incentive to explore something out of the way.

Story quests are the bread and butter, and they usually kick off with a video and have some involved step points.  I’m a speed reader so I was initially pretty annoyed about having to sit through a video for every god damn quest, but they’re fairly well done so I stopped thinking of it that way and started thinking of it more like playing a single player game and advancing the story.  The characters are really well done, and well voiced (so far).  Also my character looks like a paranoid Demi Moore in a business suit, so it’s always amusing to watch her react.

Then you have sabotage quests, which use stealth elements.  Sadly, you’re not going to get any splinter cell action out of these.  “Stealth” usually involves following a very set path from one place to the other, designed so that you don’t trip a trap or alert someone along the way.  They’re still cool and you feel very “Secret Agent-y” as you slip past cameras or laser triggers, or use a disguise to wander past a guard.

Then, the investigation missions.  These are the most unique because many of them involved “ARG” elements that take you beyond the game.  For example, in the first zone you will encounter a quest where you need to unlock a laptop with a password.  Investigation of items in game will uncover some password hints, but they’re not enough to give you the answer.  Further investigation will reveal a website URL.  You have to actually go to that website (the game client includes a web browser that connects to the actual internet, not an in game internet) and look for info relating to the hint, and figure out the password from there.  This was kind of tricky because I didn’t realize they had created fake websites specifically for this game so you can actually feel like you’re investigating something all hardcore like (and gosh I hope they don’t lose the hosting for them :P).  Later on, there’s another quest to repair a radio tower. Once repaired, you can hear what is very clearly a morse code signal.  You can either take this signal and decode it using a morse code translator (I’m assuming you don’t know it off the top of your head), OR you can just look up a walkthrough and see what the answer is.  (Guess which one I did.)  It’s cool because if you want to, you can spend time analyzing things and deciphering the clues… or you can just look it up and move on.  The majority of players probably do the latter, but it’s still cool.

One thing I’m not completely sold on in SW is that you are only allowed to have one of each kind of quest at a time (3 for side quests).  If you pick up a second of a type of quest, it will pause the first one.  Pausing doesn’t LOSE your progress, but you have to go back and resume it to finish.  Just now, I was on step 4/5 of a quest, and my in-game phone rang, popping up a window overtop of everything saying “If you accept this your current quest will be paused.”  My phone is ringing and this seems important, so I took the call and paused my current quest.  It was headquarters informing me I was about to rank up and I needed to get my ass back there now to do a task for them.

But… I was on step 4/5.  I literally just need to walk over there and hand this shit in, and I’m done.  Walking over there did not finish the quest, because now I have the other big important quest.  But I was scared to re-take the quest I was almost done and put the important quest on pause because I wasn’t really sure how to get it back again, since they called me.  Maybe it would have been okay, but I ended up going back to HQ and advancing that.  Now I need to do this task before I can go back and hand this other thing in, and the whole time I know it’s sitting there, waiting.  It bothers me.

I guess the limitation forces an element of priority, like “I’m working on this now, I will come help these people when I’m done”, but mostly I’m finding it restrictive.  I guess it’s nice to not have 20 things on the go at once, but I can’t always remember where I saw a side quest while I was running around with 3 active already, too…

And then there was the time I finished a quest and got a full screen pop up saying “CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE FINISHED X NUMBER OF QUESTS, NOW YOU CAN…” that’s about as far as I got because I finished the quest while a giant mutated monster was beating the shit out of me and now I couldn’t see where it was to fight it, so I closed the window, finished the fight, then couldn’t call the information back up.  Now I will never know how important that popup was…

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the “end game” of either game.  From what I understand, GW2 has very little end game besides collecting prettier pieces of gear.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with the dungeons in it (it was hack and slash the whole way through, and I didn’t feel like I could do much to change the outcomes on a personal level), so I had no real desire to farm them for a pretty princess armor skin.  SW seems to have some decent cooperative dungeons and such, but I cannot comment on them aside from noting that the abilities system promises to make dungeon/raiding a decently challenging co-op experience where everyone can fulfill every role if they unlock the right stuff, although it remains to be seen if there is a decent incentive to do it at all.

I have probably said enough about the gameplay at this point, but I want to say a little bit about the companies running the games, too.

ArenaNet (GW) has done some things that I consider a little iffy.  They had some serious issues with hacking in the first bit of the game opening, and while it worked out okay, I’m not sure it was handled very smoothly.  People who lost their accounts to hackers had some serious issues getting things back in order.  The game launch was solid as a rock which was awesome, but at the same time it was a customer service clusterfuck.  Now that things are settled, I’m still not sure I trust their service teams.  They routinely come down hard on small infractions (like 72 hour bans for stupid names.  I’m all for getting rid of stupid names, but enforcing character name changes is a little bit more appropriate than slamming down a ban with little explanation until the ban time is expired…), and really hard on big infractions.  Except, sometimes the areas are a bit grey.  Like taking advantage of an item which was mis-priced in game.  Which is definitely exploiting, but hardly hacking.  Some people deliberately exploited the error to make big bucks – good reasons to ban, although a permanent ban seems… ehh.  But then some people got caught in the backwash, having sold some of the items without even noticing the error.  For the most part it seems to be running okay, but… I’m not putting a lot of faith into it, especially since accounts are apparently so difficult to recover even if a mistake is made.

Funcom (SW) has a bit better track record so far… they’ve made some mistakes but then publicly apologized for them and made good to compensate for it.  That said, I bought the game through Steam during the winter sale, then had to go activate my account on their website.  No problem, I punched in my Steam key and the account activated and I was able to log in.  …except on my account status page, it says I owe them 30 bucks for the digital version, and my account is now locked for non payment.  Ummmmm.  I mean, at least it’s not ACTUALLY locked, but I’m a little worried about ever buying anything from their in game store now because I do not want a 30 dollar charge put through for a game I already paid 22 bucks for through steam.  This might be an issue if I decide to purchase DLC, at the very least.  I did some googling for this issue to see if it was a common “whoops” thing with Steam versions or what, but what I found was not encouraging.  A lot of people have had billing issues and had a lot of issues trying to resolve them, through no fault of their own.  This worries me, especially since I’m enjoying the game so far.  I emailed customer service the day after I bought it, and I have not received a reply several weeks later.  I’m guessing when I actually do want to purchase anything, I’m going to have to do some serious effort to get in touch and get this resolved.  Hopefully it goes smoothly then…

That was a lot of words, and I am going to shut up now.  TL;DR: They’re both good games, each with their own unique sets of flaws.  They’ll appeal to you differently, depending what your end goals are.


About tagracat
I am not a professional, I don't get paid to review shit, I am just opinionated and I seem to have some sort of disorder that results in spewing my opinions onto the internet. I enjoy writing long-winded posts about things and sometimes I like to pretend people want to read them, so a blog seemed an appropriate place to stuff it. But mostly I just like writing about things.

One Response to Guild Wars 2 vs The Secret World

  1. Tyler Murphy says:

    Nice review. Guild Wars 2 fell apart for me before I could finish, but I have yet to give The Secret World a full shot. Reviews like this make me think that maybe I should.

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