Game Review - 'The Secret World - Reaping the Whirlwind'

4 stars for 'Reaping the Whirlwind'

The release of Issue 11 - Reaping the Whirlwind is a big moment for long-time fans of The Secret World. Not only is it the end of the story-arc that has carried players through Tokyo - but, it has also been labelled, by the developers, as the end of the game's 'first season'. It's clearly set to be an important moment for the game, as a whole - with answers finally given to long-standing mysteries, and foreshadowing of future events. It's a release that I have certainly been looking forward to for the past few months.

The previous issue ended with players entering into a strange (and, likely, very temporary) alliance with John, who seems to have become the voice and consciousness of the Filth after being assimilated by the unnatural substance. John's promise to open up access to Orochi Tower, as soon as he is able to, has been the road-block placed in front of players for the past few months, ever since the release of Issue 10 - Nightmares in the Dream Palace. Now, though, John is shown to be a 'man' of his word - hacking his way through the tower's security systems and opening the door for us, and allowing players to enter the tower for the first time - and, finally (hopefully) having the opportunity to learn exactly what role this mysterious corporation truly plays, and why they seem to have been involved in every event to have occurred since the game's launch.

Fighting your way through the tunnels beneath Orochi Tower, you will eventually find yourself in the building's lobby - where you will find that you're not alone in your assault. Three key figures that players have encountered in Tokyo will also be along for the ride: the demon-hunting samurai, Gozen; the chaos worshiping yakuza boss, Daimon Kiyota; and, the demon mercenary, Inbeda. It's a tense and tentative alliance, though - one that leave Kiyota (much to his own amusement) as the voice of reason, as the demon and the demon-hunter seem only moments from turning on each other. From there, it's time to begin fighting your way up to the very top of Orochi Tower - alone, of course, as you work to open the way for the rest (you are the only one there who can't actually be killed, after all).

Orochi Tower, itself, is a great addition to the game. There is an impressive sense of scale once you get in there - with each of the sub-divisions which make up the corporation, as a whole, being present and accounted for. The most interesting thing about the tower, though, is how much of it will remain unexplored by the end of your first play-through of this new content. Each of the sub-division which make up the Orochi Corporation will have two or three floors (it varies) to itself, and each will have its own little sub-story which you can uncover as you progress - but, in order to make your way to the top two floors (where the main story takes place) you will only end up having to explore three. The end result of this is that, while each individual journey up the tower might feel a little short, there is going to be quite a bit left over - it's simply not possible to see everything there is to see in one go. It's content that practically demands multiple play-throughs - especially for those obsessed with uncovering all of the game's lore (which would be most of us - that's just the sort of player that the game appeals to). There's even a bit of randomness in which floors you will be able to access as you make you way to the top.

As mentioned, each sub-division will also have elements of its own sub-story for the player to uncover (and, its own unique boss to fight). Anansi, for example, is basically Orochi's research and development division - and, is responsible for much of Orochi's technological innovations (including the AEGIS systerm which was added to the game when we first arrived in Tokyo). Here, you can find surprisingly friendly Orochi scientists eager to thank you for contributing so much data for their AEGIS research (and, who are just as eager to ask you to take part in further tests), and learn about Orochi's experiments in AI development. You will even find yourself playing an augmented reality take on Pac-Man.

Of course, that's just one of the eight sub-divisions which make up the Orochi Corporation - and, three of a total of over twenty floors which make up the tower, itself. And, at the very top, there is a chance to finally get some much-needed answers about the Orochi's role in everything that has happened - along with another encounter with Lilith, a mysterious and clearly very important figure who we haven't seen since the end of Issue 7 - A Dream to Kill.

This might be the end of the first major story-arc in The Secret World, but there is still clearly quite a bit of story still to come. The revelations we are given into how some of this strange world's disparate pieces actually fit together are fascinating, sure - but, they also come with their fair share of new mysteries. Quite often, the story of The Secret World can be as baffling as it is fascinating. This has always been the sort of game that has rewarded attention to detail - and, one where the lore is more required reading than additional color. Honestly, as as though the developers seem to assume that, if you're playing their game, then you're the sort of player who has read every bit of information available. And, this has often seemed to be both the main strength, and a potential weakness, of The Secret World. Here, for example, we have so much information tossed at us over such a short period of time that it can be genuinely difficult to keep track of everything. As much as I enjoy the game, I do have to accept that it's refusal to hold the player's hand, either in terms of actual game-play or even the game's various story-lines, has to be one of the contributing factors to The Secret World being such a niche game.

As much as a love the story and atmosphere of The Secret World, I do have to admit that I have sometimes struggle a bit with the actual game-play - hitting walls of frustration and difficulty which have, in the past, almost pushed me to the point of giving up entirely. While nothing here was quite that bad, there were still some moments of annoyance for me. Some fights were much more difficult than they really needed to be, due to the fact that I simply hadn't spent enough time upgrading my AEGIS gear as the developers seem to have assumed I would have. Once I was able to get a creature's AEGIS shield down, things usually progressed much more smoothly - but, actually getting to that point was occasionally a struggle. The epic battle on the roof of Orochi Tower which brings the story-line to a close, for example, became an almost tedious grind as I found myself forced to ineffectually hammer away at an opponent protected by all three types of shielding. As has happened so many times before with this game, though, this was largely my own fault - and, it is a problem that is easy enough to resolve. Spending some time working on upgrading your own AEGIS gear (somewhere around 1.5 seems to be the consensus on what is appropriate) before you begin your own assault on Orochi Tower, if necessary, is likely to spare you some of the frustration that I experienced. Whether you love it, or hate it, the AEGIS system is a part of the game, now - and, you'll only be making things more difficult for yourself by neglecting it.

In all, though, Issue 11 - Reaping the Whirlwind is another great addition to The Secret World. The official ending to this first story-arc gave us some much needed answers, and also left us with plenty left to discover. And, Orochi Tower, itself, is a fantastic new location which should hold a player's attention well after the main story is over. Sure, it's a shame that it took us so long to get to this point - but, with a small team working on a niche MMO, that really couldn't be helped. Now, there's just the impatient wait to see what's next.

© 2015 Dallas Matier

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