This preview is reproduced from Jason Ocampo's article on ign.com.
It's usually pretty hard to demo a game when you don't have it with you, but Funcom's Ragnar Tornquist made a go of it at GDC last month as he gave us a briefing on The Secret World. This is a game that Funcom has been working on for years, with early design work starting up around 2002. Production was put on hold so Funcom could work on Dreamfall and then Age of Conan, but now The Secret World is back on the front burner. The last we had heard of it was in 2007, when the Norwegian company merely confirmed the game's existence.
The Secret World has had a couple of names in developing, including Cabal, which is a reference to the kind of game it's going to be. Funcom is going away from swords and sorcery and anything that might seem typical fantasy. Instead, this is a game that's set in the "real world" with cities like London, New York, and Seoul. But there's also an undercurrent of something paranormal that's lurking in the shadows. Ragnar showed me a cool internal concept video that the team used for inspiration and direction; it basically referenced everything from vampires to the Merovingians to Stonehenge to the Titans. Those may not be in this game, but Funcom is looking to tap the ideas that lurk in the shadows of our minds.
Ragnar did show me some other Secret World videos that will be distributed to the public. The gist of the videos goes something like this: a normal human in the real world is going about everyday tasks when they suddenly encounter something completely supernatural or paranormal. Then the gloves come off. This is a game that's going to be centered heavily on combat. It's also interesting because it's an MMO that will not have rigid classes or even experience levels. Instead, you can amass different abilities into you character and, if you want, you can respec your character at any time. Instead of creating a new character from scratch, just take your existing character and modify abilities as needed.
This all goes into the idea of taking out the grind, which is the need to go around in MMO games and kill a bunch of random creatures for hours on end in order to accumulate enough experience in order to advance to the next higher experience level. However, the grind is also a reason why you can play an MMO for weeks or months on end; how Funcom is going to get rid of grind has yet to be seen. However, another advantage of getting rid of it is that you don't need to worry about "catching up" to your friends so you can adventure with them. In most MMOs, if your friends are high level and you're low level, you can't keep up with them. That, according to Ragnar, isn't a problem here.