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MassivelyOP’s MJ has always liked vampires, and that makes The Secret World’s Transylvania zones all the more fun for her to explore!
A couple of weeks ago, I finished my first "playthrough" of The Secret World, having wrapped up the last quest and main storyline in Transylvania. One of the things about The Secret World that makes it so interesting is that each of the areas is thematically night and day different than what's come before. What I liked about the monsters is that they're given real substance and weight; they're not just treated like hairy or fangy cannon fodder. There's also the neat element of old-school Russian technology and mad science that is made manifest in certain enemies.
Consider the stranded who find themselves in a fate worse than death: college girls who find themselves fighting off werewolves, a cult member who is a captive in more than one sense, and a refugee whose only desire is to meet death on her terms.
Orochi Group makes an appearance or two as well; I can never get tired of these guys getting killed off in all manner of embarrassing ways.
That's not even to mention the lady with the possessed wagon, the Vampire Hunter who is tougher than you are even without superpowers, the inbred hillbilly who looks like Firefly's Jayne, and a couple of guys who have been sitting around for hundreds of years waiting for events to come to a head.
Probably my biggest criticism of Transylvania is its scarcity of compelling investigation missions.
While Transylvania does have a slight increase of toughness, I didn't find it as challenging as, say, heading into Blue Mountain for the first time. Any confusion or combat frustration I might've had was easily offset by the joy of traversing these zones.
As a veteran of many MMOs, I was quite appreciative that this "endgame" area had more beauty than lava and scorched earth. Marvel and DC movie legend Jose Fernandez will get to show off his design in the next year. It's repurposing two recently acquired mobile apps to help tweak your action camera footage. The instance's story setup is pretty slick, and I don't think we're treading too far into spoiler territory if I reveal that you'll be taking a peyote-fueled trip through time and memory to experience a traumatic event from the annals of the Wabanaki tribe that dwells in the game's Blue Mountain region. Earlier this week I took my own trip through the dungeon -- as well as parts of Egypt, Transylvania, and New England -- with a trusty Funcom guide and a pair of similarly enthralled game journalists.
Despite being an unabashed skeptic of MMO story, I'm intrigued by The Secret World's take on the mechanic. I found myself constantly asking our guide to avoid details about each new location, its inhabitants, and the strange goings-on in general. I'd just as soon discover this stuff for myself in a couple of weeks (on a character that I can keep, no less), so much of the dev-journo banter between fights and loading screens focused on TSW's mechanics.
After my initial Darkness War death, our GM summoned me back into the thick of the battle, and even that was no easy task, despite what amounted to godmode abilities. While the encounters are certainly challenging, The Secret World's skill system provides plenty of ways to deal with them.
Or you could fire up a mending spec and take some of the load off the group's primary healer. With The Secret World, though, Funcom says this won't be a problem because there is no "one build to rule them all." There are hundreds of unique encounters and hundreds of ways to approach each of them, so running around with the same build all the time isn't going to get you very far. I also asked the devs about mob difficulty, conning, and what happens when a low-skill player wanders into an area that features high-skill enemies (which is quite possible; travel isn't restricted in TSW). Each piece of your character's gear has a quality level, and each of The Secret World's zones is designed with certain gear ranges in mind.
We had a pretty tough time with a boss known as Deacon Claude despite the fact that we were rolling with endgame builds and equipment.

There was more to this particular dev tour, including a hallucinogenic roller coaster ride and an encounter with a world boss outside Egypt's City of the Sun God, but you'll just have to experience those things for yourself. That's pretty easy to do, too, since Funcom is basically taking all comers for its final public beta weekend. Besides the killer atmosphere to bask in, there are chunks of interesting story scattered about in the various missions — missions she sadly skipped in her mad dash to Tokyo. Don’t forget to check out past┬ástreams and playlists posted to our videos collection! Oh, sure, Funcom's going to push the finish line further away in the coming issues, but until that happens, this is the end of the road for the solo experience. For me, Egypt is the weakest part of the solo game, with dull desert zones, statues you're supposed to empathize with, and a truncated main story that didn't really pay off in the end.
Transylvania's "old Europe" charm felt like a refreshingly distinct experience than what I'd encountered before, and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through its three zones. Solomon Island was American-style horror: haunted houses, zombies, C'thulu critters, portals to hell, and (yes) ancient Indian burial grounds.
The vampires are genuinely disgusting, for example, harvesting blood from barely alive captives and hiding their bodies under a full getup that includes gas masks. These hulking foes remind me a lot of the Big Daddies from BioShock, a notion that is reinforced by the fact that they hit like a Mack truck. The Romany and Draculesti embody the native stubbornness that shrugs off the weirdness of the situation and continues to fight for good in a darkening realm. These are the folks I felt the most pity for because while you can run their missions, you are never given the chance to evacuate them from their plight. Let's just say that wherever you see the Orochi symbol, it's most likely attached to the jacket of a mutilated corpse. I thought that by the time I reached these high-level areas, I'd be scrounging the dregs of Funcom's storytelling. Yes, there are some (and one or two brilliant adventures among them), but Solomon Island still has the lion's share of the best ones. Yes, you can buy signets and potions, but I really can't understand why Funcom didn't allow players to save up sequins to purchase QL10 blues as in the other zones. Eventually Transylvania will be a middle child in The Secret World, and as such, I think it'll hold its reputation as an engrossing location that adds a lot of flavor and acceptable challenge to the game. Feast on a bowlful with MJ and Justin every Monday as they infiltrate The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. While it wasn't necessarily mind-altering, it was bizarrely enjoyable in a uniquely Secret World sort of way. The Secret World's dungeon bosses are hard and about as far from traditional tank-and-spank baddies as its possible to get. You may be familiar with the game's skill and ability decks from our previous coverage, but what you may not know is that you can swap out said decks on the fly as long as you're not in combat.
Traditionally, skill-based MMOs lead to cookie-cutter builds that enterprising players test and then share with the community, which ultimately reduces the design back down to the familiar class-based trinity mechanics in spite of a developer's best intentions.
These challenges are no-brainers in your average level-based themepark, and the devs have managed to incorporate similar level-based mechanics under the hood despite the game's skill-based progression. The Savage Coast, for example, is intended for folks wearing QL3 and QL4 equipment, so our uber-geared demo characters powered through mini-boss events at Atlantic Island amusement park with little difficulty (though again, we had the benefit of a GM with both powers and game experience).
I'm not complaining, though, as the occasional death-related time-out gave me a chance to soak in The Shadowy Forest's creeptastic horror movie atmosphere, not to mention spend some time looking at the zone maps, which are notable for their mish-mash of old-world-style and modern-day landmarks.
That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across.

It wasn't all bad, of course; Last Train to Cairo is six kinds of awesome, and Said and Nassir are two of the most memorable characters this game has produced.
Before my new Dragon alt dims my memories of my time among the bats and wolves of Romania, I wanted to jot down what I felt made this a special place to visit.
Egypt drew upon the Mummy mythos as well as Indiana Jones, although I wasn't seeing as many strong connections to other fictional tropes past this.
The werewolves come across as powerful, primal foes that nonetheless are subjugated by the vampiric order.
There are several allies you meet that might look human, but appearances deceive their true nature.
Even after I leave, they are still waiting in the cold forest for sharp things in the night to bite them.
It turns out that the writers may have saved some of their best creations for those who persevered to the end. Some of the enemies are almost impossible to defeat if you're not debuffing them or afflicting them with certain conditions. There's so much build-up about the queen of vampires coming back and oh how that'll be such a terrible thing. I loved the old-soul feel of the place, and there were plenty of creative locations (such as the largest wooden windmill I ever did see) to be had. It's still irksome that every player experiences the same narrative (and has a negligible effect on the game world or the play of others), but Funcom's decision to avoid the dead-horse "you are the One" trope, not to mention its nifty non-standard quest design, goes a long way toward making MMO story more palatable. If you buy the farm during a boss fight, for example, you'll respawn outside the instance; you'll need to either wait for your surviving mates to down the boss or wait for the wipe and try again. Funcom has largely eliminated trash mobs and room-clearing too, so the instance encounters flow from boss fight to boss fight, with each baddie incorporating aspects of the previous boss' repertoire into attack and defense routines.
So if you're having a tough time surviving a boss like Wayeb-Xul, you can take a moment to change from a ranged DPS to a tank build and see how the next round plays out. Transylvania, on the other hand, is a challenge even in QL10 gear -- doubly so if you try to make your way through its zones as a solo player. Early release for pre-order customers kicks off on June 29th; launch day comes your way on July 3rd.
But Transylvania seemed like this juicy fruit that hovered just out of reach the entire time I was in Egypt -- and I couldn't wait to be there.
All signs point to Tokyo as embracing the J-horror phenomenon, so throw grenades down any well you encounter there. And then there are the local legends, the spirits of the forest that are strange and deadly in their own way. One of the few that I did run, a mission involving a ton of music, was visually bugged to the point of unplayability in the final tier.
Yet we really never see this threat arise, and by the time that a little psychic girl (and her magical teddy bear) was thrown into the mix, I just felt confused instead of enthralled. These beings struck me as the natives who are seeing their home bulldozed by the evil and filth that is spreading everywhere. Maybe I need to go through it all again or wait for Issue #7, but I didn't really get her role or how Transylvania fit into the larger storyline of the filth.

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