The Summoning Has Begun

It’s Halloween in The Secret World, and this year we must hearken the arrival of The Rider.

A group worshipping at the Kaidan Graveyard for an empowered manifestation of the Rider's Curse in The Secret World

When Halloween knocks on our door, it’s time to launch The Secret World – billing itself as a spooky, horror themed MMO, what better place would there be to enjoy the season’s festivities?

Every year since the game’s launch, The Secret World has added to its Halloween events with new content and activities to partake in. For 2016, the developers promised something different from previous events – a community-wide puzzle to solve. Has this experiment proved to be a triumphant treat for the players or a troublesome trick?

Ghosts of Halloweens past

The Secret World established Halloween as its most important event of the year a few months after it launched with “The Cat God”, a mission chain that brought you back to Kingsmouth to help much-loved characters Madame Roget and Deputy Andy with some feline funny business. It culminated in an epic dungeon battle with the Cat God Irusan, who it turns out is being impersonated by a mysterious Cajun fellow using some creepy voodoo.

Then in 2013, we once again return to Solomon Island to collect some spooky stories for teenager and League of Monster Slayers member Danny Dufresne. This complimented the original Cat God event well, being a set of side quests with a heavy focus on reading stories and then investigating their truths. One of the stories teaches players how to summon Stingy Jack, a group boss fight with a pumpkin-headed monstrosity. But we were also given a ritual we could perform to summon Super Jack, a world boss level version of Jack which required a whole bunch of players to defeat.

Halloween 2014 brought with it “The Broadcast”, a mission given by conspiracy theorist David Screed to investigate haunted radios and the mystery of numbers stations. It very cleverly wove into its story real old-timey radio broadcasts scattered throughout The Secret World, letting us revisit every zone collecting radio frequencies, including the newly accessible Tokyo.

Last year, we followed in the footsteps of Lorraine as she sought out “The Seven Silences” needed to escape the immortality of being a Secret Worlder. Another solo mission which had us travelling around the world and exploring disturbing nightmares, this one was interesting for its tie-in lore with The Park, a spin-off game which was released at the same time.

The Rider Cometh

After all of the previous years, what would game developers Funcom bring to the table for 2016? How could they do something new and more engaging? Enter The Rider, the four-in-one horseman of apocalyptic heralding.

You discover a strange tome in Agartha which describes the coming of a mysterious rider. All around The Secret World in every playable region, a portal has opened next to a set of candles. The Rider will appear from one of the portals and then wait for a short period before departing for another area.

While The Rider is around, enemies will have appeared at locations around the map and specific to the region. On Solomon Island, portals to Hell have opened along with Hellspawn. In Egypt, hulking zombies roam the sands. Restless spirit couples haunt Transylvania, while a legion of werewolves has invaded Kaidan.

The progress defeating all of these special enemies on the map is tracked by the candles around The Rider lighting up. Once all five candles are active, The Rider will begin a summoning ritual which brings a region specific world boss level manifestation on to the map, requiring many players to defeat. The reward is a loot bag containing a few new cosmetic items, but also some more random clues including photos of areas around the game and pieces of instructions for a more ambitious ritual.

This is where the community-wide aspect of this year’s event becomes crucial. After sharing all of the clues and figuring out what to do, the game community has to organise itself in order to perform the special rituals for The Rider and get him to summon enhanced versions of the world bosses which drop even better loot.

On every map, there will be three locations depicted in the photographs where specific numbers of players will need to go to begin worshipping (literally using the worship emote). Meanwhile, a designated player becomes “the summoner” if they have essences dropped by the event enemies and effigy items only dropped by the normal versions of the world bosses. If the summoner uses these while The Rider is summoning a manifestation and the three groups of worshippers are doing their thing, then an empowered world boss appears.

A group of players performing a ritual to summon an empowered Rider manifestation during Samhain 2016 in The Secret World
Praise Aten!

But then that isn’t the end!

Layers on top of layers

There’s yet another layer to the investigation event. The empowered world bosses will drop torn scraps of an emblem representing the Four Horsemen. There’s an emblem located in each of the four regions of the game – a war emblem in Kingsmouth, a pestilence emblem in the City of the Sun God, a death emblem in Transylvania and a famine emblem in Kaidan. The locations of these are hinted at by the book you picked up originally with the event quest – after ingesting some of the essences dropped by event enemies, you’re able to see hidden extra lines in the book’s pages which contain this information.

Once again, the community has to organise itself and bring together the players who have the required torn scraps in the correct location. The emblems will only appear on the ground a few moments after the death of an empowered world boss, which then releases its spirit. The spirit has to be chased down and can only be seen by players who are dead and in ghost form. After reaching the correct location, the emblem appears and the players with the scraps will only have a few seconds to arrange them correctly before the emblem disappears.

If the torn scraps are assembled into the emblem, then a new riddle from the book is revealed explaining that there are more special locations in instances around the game where players can find special stones.

The Stone of War was found inside the Eidolon Raid instance, after finding the prayer location and using an infernal essence dropped by Hellspawn from Solomon Island. The Stone of Pestillence can only be found by time travelling back to Sol Glorificus in 329 AD by a group of all Illuminati players. The Stone of Famine can only be obtained by a group of all Templars in Ibaraki’s Lair in Tokyo, while the Stone of Death requires a group of all Dragon players in Hatchet Falls in Transylvania.

The stones are carved with coordinates which correspond to locations in Agartha where the stones need to be activated at the same time. After doing so, The Rider appears in Agartha as the ultimate climax of the event’s investigation, from which players can claim a copy of The Rider’s face mask as a reward.

The four-in-one

That was one freaking complicated event! Funcom was definitely ambitious this year in attempting something like this, which relies heavily on players working together en masse and being well-coordinated. It was a gamble based on their experience of previous events, during which players created the in-game #Event chat channel to self organise during times like these and share information and provide global callouts for world bosses.

For the most part, the event seems to have worked as they intended, with the players organising and sharing information via chat. As the event progressed, the more complex stages were discovered and currently as of Halloween night people are farming the enhanced world bosses for loot and The Rider is in Agartha handing out masks.

But on the other hand, the new Halloween event seems to have flopped in some other aspects.

Where do I start?

The ambiguity around how to begin the event is a barrier for both new and veteran players wanting to experience it. Technically, you’d discover this event at random either by stumbling across the weird book in Agartha or entering a zone and seeing the notification that The Rider was there. But there’s no other information provided other than players sharing info via word-of-mouth.

Even if you pick up the book and the side quest in Agartha, the only instruction is to go defeat a manifestation. That’s meaningless to someone new to the event and doesn’t know what’s going on. Even if you first encounter The Rider randomly in the world, you just get a message “The Rider has appeared” flashing on your screen. There’s nothing to tell you where he is or what you need to do, or what The Rider is there for.

There are precedents for investigation missions in the game to not hand-hold you with explicit direction, but it just seems like something is missing here. In previous years, we’ve been directed by a text message from your faction handler or a phone call from Madame Roget or Screed signposting you where you need to go and perhaps even getting a cinematic cutscene to set the story and better prepare you.

Empowerpointed manifestations

Almost every event in the game nowadays seems to involve some kind of massive open world boss battle where there’s so much server lag that you only get one frame per second of gameplay and are essentially watching a PowerPoint presentation of a boss fight rather than playing. The game is also likely to crash and cost you a participation penalty for not being around enough to get gold level rewards.

Halloween already had Super Jack and now these Rider manifestations – and this is following on from a previous Golden Week with golem grind and will be followed at Christmas by Super Hel grind. It’s really getting old and tiresome and the thought of more boss grinding is wearing people out.

Worship RNGesus

There’s way too much randomness layered on top of more randomness in terms of boss loot and lore acquisition.

More often than not, I’m getting green signet bags (which themselves contain a randomly rolled signet) or bullion and pantheon marks rather than the actual new event cosmetics. Why are things available at all times of the year through other methods even in these bags? As filler? To reduce the odds of getting a Pale Horse mount down to 0.2 per cent for the lolz?

Unless you’re super lucky, it’s not fun to constantly be getting what is essentially trash items, or constant duplicates of the lowest rarity loot. There’s a precedent for a better form of event boss loot bags – the rewards from Super Hel during the winter event will check against what you already have and only award you cosmetics you need. Why aren’t more reward bags like this, especially as these bosses also only award cosmetics.

Worse though is the inclusion of RNG lore drops. There are nine new event lore entries to collect and you get the first one for free to pick up in Agartha. The next four are only obtained as random drops from the world bosses in each region. You can defeat these many times and not see the lore drop.

This is a problem because the final four lores come only as random drops from the empowered versions of the bosses. After people found out how to summon those, with their better loot, all they want is empowered bosses all the time. This makes it less likely that you’re going to get the normal boss versions of the lore if you’re still missing it, and seems like a poor design choice.

Making it difficult to obtain all the lore during a limited time event is not fun. If they wanted to introduce an element of randomness, they could have given all bosses common chances to drop all lores as tradable items – the anniversary golem in Tokyo for example dropped lore as SD cards which players could trade with each other for ones they were missing.

Community unspirited

This event tested community spirit and coordination to the limit. Players have often praised The Secret World as having the best community they’ve ever experienced in an MMO, but there are always a few black sheep.

Correctly summoning an empowered manifestation really needs people to work together and do their part. If the special mobs around the zone aren’t dealt with before the time expires, The Rider will leave and nobody gets any loot. This makes it particularly frustrating when you see people AFK around The Rider instead of out searching for enemy mobs or at least helping out at a worshipping site.

Paricipation is golden

To prevent people going AFK during world boss fights and getting loot for minimal participation, Funcom introduced checks for how much you’re actively involved in the battle. Initially when the event launched, the world bosses had eight million hit points which melted so fast with the highly-geared player base that it was extremely unlikely people would get the top tier rewards.

Forunately, the developers responded quickly with a hotfix that bumped all the world boss health up to 20 million hit points which extends the fights long enough for everyone to have a legitimate crack at getting the best outcome. Still, you’d think they would have accounted for this during the previous Anniversary and Golden Week events which also had this issue.

Not suitable for miners

One thing Funcom learnt this year is how their attempt at creating a puzzle to solve can be thwarted by data miners looking into the game code and revealing all the secrets before intended.

The drop chances for loot and the clues for performing the empowerment ritual were data mined as soon as the event launched. Knowing the drop chances for loot isn’t going to ruin an investigation puzzle. Knowing the clues, however, gave some people more time to theory craft. The developers stepped in and asked the data miners not to spoil things for others though and for the most part, the community solved the puzzle as intended. Incidentally,  Funcom had to reveal the clues for the ritual themselves on Twitter because it turns out there was a bug in-game preventing people reading them.

Death emblem discovered while in anima form during Samhain 2016 in The Secret World
Only the dead eyes shall see, where the unbound soul of the horror flees.

Brutes versus intellectuals

There’s still some controversy over the final two phases of the event, which were solved in a matter of hours and which many players missed out on participating in.

As far as I know, the first emblem puzzle that was completed by nine players carrying the appropriate torn scraps was the one in Kaidan, revealing a clue for the location of one of the Rider’s summoning stones. The other three emblems were completely skipped by brute force or luck.

People had apparently already discovered one of the stones in the Eidolon Raid instance days before and gone around finding the others. So in the end a minority of players completed the summoning and resolved the puzzle aspect of the event overnight.

Understandably, some players feel cheated that they didn’t get to participate and that parts were skipped, and that some other players had apparently found the stones and not shared the discovery in the spirit of community good. Others accuse data mining for revealing the existence of the stones and how to get them. It’s not likely that I’ll ever know exactly what the truth is, but I do feel like I missed out on some kind of full experience.

The summoning is complete

I hope the game developers learn something from this event and make improvements for whatever happens next. While I’ve enjoyed participating in the event and seeing the community come together, I feel that some things could have gone better. I wonder what they have planned for Christmas?

One thought on “The Summoning Has Begun”

  1. Like you, I feel like I missed out on something with this event. I loved the previous Halloweens because I got to solve the missions myself. This year I feel like I had it all solved for me, whether I wanted it or not, and effectively all I can do is participate in summoning rituals and boss fights. Yay.

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