Lovecraftian themes in “The Secret World”

Article by Patrick L. Helms.

The works of Lovecraft have been very influential in many forms of media. Everything from film to television has been touched by the mythos he created in one way or another. One of the more unique ways his influence has been seen is through video games, and one of the games that has the most easily identifiable Lovecraftian influence is the 2012 MMORPG by Funcom called The Secret World.

The Secret World is a modern horror MMO in which players join one of three secret societies: The Illuminati, The Templar, or The Dragon. What this means is that you won’t find elves or orcs fighting over castles, instead you will find human beings with extraordinary abilities fighting in locations based on places in the real world or from modern literature or mythology. Locations such as New York, London, and Seoul are focal points for the primary factions that players can join. But there is also another location that players will visit, a place that feels like it came to life from the pages of Lovecraft’s chilling tales. That place is Solomon Island and the city of Kingsmouth and its surrounding environments.

Kingsmouth is a sleepy seaside village located on an isolated island in the American North East. I won’t go into the history of the town because playing the game will have you explore that history and the strange cults and secret organizations that have dwelt there since its inception. Strange monstrosities come ashore in Kingsmouth. Hideous and barnacleencrusted, they are slowly taking over the town and infecting its citizens with madness and disease while resurrecting the dead and bringing them under their foul control. They are called the Draug, and with them they bring strange monsters that resemble large polyps or more hideous and disturbing cancerous shapes. One of their more powerful beasts is called the Ur-Draug and it resembles a famous creature from Lovecraft’s tales, Cthulhu. This massive beast rises from the depths and attacks players who investigate a shipwreck off the coast. It can kill a man in one swipe of its claws and drive players to madness with its hypnotic glare. It has almost 100,000 hit points, and is one of the easier boss monsters in the game!

Also near Kingsmouth is a secluded school called Innsmouth Academy. This is a school where students are taught occult practices and demonic summoning rituals as regular courses. The headmaster is voiced by regular Lovecraftian actor Jeffrey Combs, who adds his chilling voice to the school that has been overrun by homunculi and ghosts of dead alumni. There are many quests there that have players seeking forbidden knowledge in the vaults below the school, looking for tomes of dark magic and facing the horrors they call forth much like many protagonists in Lovecraftian fiction.

Another area is called Blue Mountain and once there, players will encounter faceless horrors in mineshafts and caves. Players will also have interactions with the local Native American tribe and beasts from the Mayan apocalypse myth while delving into more mysteries tied to the original inhabitants of the island and the strange totems they erected to worship these faceless monstrosities.

Other settings beyond Kingsmouth and Solomon Island are Egypt, where you will face cults that are trying to revive an ages dead pharaoh from his slumber in the Black Pyramid, and Transylvania, where descendants of Dracula’s vampiric reign have raised an army to take the night back from the unsuspecting populous. Venice is also involved. The mysterious Council of Venice will interact with players as they go on their journey into the world. The final acts of the game take place in Tokyo where a strange black sludge called the Filth has created horrendous mutations and brought creatures from Japanese myths to life in an effort to flood the world in darkness. To get between each these dark locales, players must travel through Agartha. Agartha is also known as Hollow Earth, points from all over the globe can be reached in just a matter of moments by walking through this strange and mysterious place.

One unique thing about The Secret World that makes it different from other MMORPGs is that the game focuses heavily on puzzle solving. There are entire quest chains where you will have to do your own research outside of the game in order to solve puzzles inside of the game. Much like the main characters of Lovecraft’s tales, players must seek out knowledge to solve riddles and complex cryptograms in order to unravel the mysteries the game puts in front of them. This leads to a very tight knit community working together in order to solve mysteries and to survive the terrors within the game.

The Secret World is also unique in that it has no classes. Which means when you make a character you don’t start out playing as a mage or knight. Instead it relies on a skill based Ability Wheel broken into various weapons and their corresponding sub categories. This provides nearly limitless customization as players develop their own sets of powers. Do you want to carry a pair of pistols while reading incantations from ancient books in order to destroy your enemies with a hail of bullets and blasts of magic? No problem. Do you want to be the heavily armed defender, wielding hammer and blade to protect your friends while wearing a suit that would make James Bond jealous? Absolutely. The possibilities are endless, but to help players out you can use preset combinations called decks that fit you into specific roles. Each of the three secret societies has its own unique deck with corresponding rewards for earning all the powers in them such as titles and clothing.

The Secret World is rated Mature because of the horror elements, language, gore, and other factors. Originally it required a subscription to play but went subscription free, meaning you simply purchase the game and can play forever…or until your mind is destroyed by the Ur-Draug, whichever comes first. I highly suggest that you check out The Secret World if you enjoy horror, games that make you think, and moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you do decide to try The Secret World, whatever you do, do not turn off the lights and wear headphones. Or do, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Article by Patrick L. Helms.

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