After almost a year of waiting Tokyo is finally here in all its bright neon, filth-infested glory.
Of course, Funcom, the usual teases that they are, didn’t make getting in easy. You have to -literally- climb through the sewers of Venice – complete with laser walls, machine gun turrets and a crack squad of commandos to get there.
The effort is well worth it though. After the first step into the portal, the tightly-woven narrative of The Secret World starts to show, with a very familiar scene from a flashback sequence in the game’s tutorial:
Apart from the old, a slew of new NPCs also make an impression, the most visually striking being Inbeda, an Oni decked out in bling with a rather… extensive collection of anatomically correct mannequins.
And if they’re not colorful in appearance, they can certainly be colorful in expression. Apart from Oni living the high life, there’s also a delusional tank driver, a band of anachronistic demon hunters, a fast-talking Yakuza boss and a certain NeuromancerQueen99. To say the NPC crew is diverse is an understatement.
There are plenty of references to Japanese culture as well, both subtle and overt. For one, there’s cute mascots for everything, especially eerie childcare institutions of dubious legality. It’s like I Walk into Empty, Kawaii Edition.
Without spoiling too much, plenty of Japanese horror movie tropes also make an appearance throughout the Tokyo quest chain, including creepy kids, furniture moving by themselves and mysterious phone calls.
And of course, no Secret World quest chain is complete without boss fights that have plenty of white shapes doing bad things to people standing in them
One minor complaint though, is that while Tokyo is not lacking in quality, it feels a little lacking in quantity. The production values are great and all, but the map itself feels a little sparse, and the quests feel like they ended all too quickly.
That said, at the price of US$12, it should be judged against previous story Issues rather than a traditional MMO expansion, and in that regard, it packs more content, including sidequests and cutscenes, than any other Issue to date.
Apart from the story, Issue 9 brings with it the AEGIS system, touted as “horizontal progression”.
In a nutshell, enemies in Tokyo can have multiple lifebars – their normal health bar and their AEGIS, a colored bar, or bars, that can be either orange, purple or blue. The colored bars must go down first before their normal health bar can go down. To damage colored bars, each weapon can be linked to a Weapon AEGIS of the right color. And to make things interesting, enemies can put their AEGIS back up.
So far, it’s a straightforward system. Load matching color, kill stuff. It only gets somewhat complicated when enemies have two AEGIS shields, and they regenerate them. Generally, this just means slot two builders and two consumers in your skill palette – one for each weapon/AEGIS pairing, unless you like having four seconds of downtime while changing AEGIS. However, word is that Issue 10 and 11 will have more enemies that use have a double AEGIS.
At present, AEGIS does not seem to add much depth to the game at all. It’s based on rote learning of which enemy uses what colored bar, after which things play out like they would have without AEGIS. Perhaps future issues will add mixed spawn types so that players will have to decide between taking care of one color or the other first.
Other than the AEGIS system, patch 1.9 that came with Issue 9 has a number of sweeping changes – the biggest of which is that procs can critically hit and penetrate, making actives and passives based on procs much more viable than before. There was also a balance pass that buffed a number of underused abilities.
As the first of three Issues comprising the Tokyo expansion, The Black Signal does not disappoint. For the price of a normal Issue, it delivers a new zone and gameplay system – AEGIS. However, the AEGIS system feels lacking at present, which future issues will hopefully be able to address.
If there was anything to fault, it would be that the story ended a little too quickly, with a cliffhanger and a very ominous wall blocking the way to the next installment.