It’s been a long time since a game has made me take notes. Theorycrafting napkin maths, sure; spreadsheets of profit-and-loss and crafting recipes, well, they’re a given with me and MMOs. But actually taking notes? The last game I remember doing that with was Loom or Myst.
TSW’s investigation missions are a puzzler’s heaven, and break the mold of standard questing in a big way. They don’t follow preset formulae the way normal MMO quests do; you’re just given some information to find out, and the game leaves the rest up to you.
One investigation mission has you learning Morse code to translate an intercepted transmission so that you can reach the drop point. Another gives you mysterious conspiracy-theory style clues about Bible verses and times on a clock to lead you to hidden treasure. Some have ciphers, or clues based on nursery rhymes. Many require you to make friends with Google: not for spoilers, but for in-universe websites with hidden clues — there’s a web browser accessible within the game (your character is given a smartphone as part of their factional induction), because they know you’re going to need it. Unlike most MMO quests, completing an investigation mission isn’t just a case of “pick up all the clue macguffins; presto, quest complete”. Investigation missions in TSW say “here are (some of) the clues; now work out what answer they’re hinting at” — and leave the rest up to you.
In many ways, TSW’s investigation missions are reminiscent of ARGs, or Alternate Reality Games, where subtle clues lead you on a treasure hunt across multiple websites and other media. Funcom employed several ARGs as part of TSW’s prelaunch marketing and community building, and it seems they don’t intend to drop that thread now.
It’s a really fascinating addition to an MMO, and it perfectly fits the flavour and atmosphere of The Secret World. I really look forward to the investigation missions, because they tax my ingenuity and imagination. Solving one doesn’t give you any idea of how to deal with the next, except by showing you how far afield you might have to search for your answers.
…The downside, of course, is that unlike most quests, an investigation mission isn’t repeatable — once you’ve done the legwork once, the second run-through isn’t a challenge.
Thankfully, Funcom is planning a monthly update schedule with regular injections of new mission content. The first update, Unleashed, went live this week with seven new missions — five of which were investigations. That’s a promising start, and I hope it becomes a trend.