First, the Secret World reminds me greatly of The Matrix Online. This is a good thing, as I loved that game. I was Escutcheon from No Exit, super patcher/shotgun extraordinaire. I also made Super Jump hats. They sold really well.
Anyway, The ability wheel lets you have a pseudo-classless system. Threat still exists, and archetypes (called decks) exist, but you have a lot more freedom than you do in a class-based MMO. You get points to buy new abilities fairly frequently, so "wrong" choices early (or, more accurately, abilities that do not play into your play style) are not as punishing as realizing at Level 50 that you should have been a mage.
|Notice how the wheel is divided into ranged, magic and melee?|
You get to play with the early starter abilities before you commit to a weapon, and even that commitment is relatively minor. At any point, you can have two weapon types equipped. You can equip passive abilities, the purple ones on the screenshot, from any weapon, just make sure they will actually work with what you plan to do. Like with Guild Wars, the focus seems more on making a synergistic build that plays well with others rather than the more rotation or priority based gameplay of other MMOs.
This, however, does not mean the MMO trinity is dead. People were still asking for tanks and healers during the Beta, whether or not the game play once it goes live will lend itself to more hybrid specializations and support type roles is yet to be seen. I never reached the instance, so I don't know how hard and fast needing those roles are, but just be aware that you may not be able to break free from that particular aspect of an MMO for a bit, if at all.
Like the Matrix Online, The Secret World has an ambitious story to tell. But, unlike Star Wars: The Old Republic, your character is not really an agent in the world. In one sense, you are, as you go out and do things. But your character, at least so far in the Beta, is simply a pawn being moved forward by some very jerky quest givers. This lack of agency in your characters gets incredibly bad during the Dragon introduction. Speaking of lack of agency, in the Matrix, you, as a character, chose which of the three big factions you were going to join after the tutorial. In this, you choose at character creation as the player. This might seem minor and nit picky, but the difference between your character having a choice in who they are, and being drafted (or worse!) is huge, especially from a role-playing perspective.
For video game voice acting, you've got decent enough voices. A few actually really get into their character really well and give solid performances; the Templar and Illuminati handlers really deliver. I'm not going to talk too much about the graphics, as they've said lots of stuff is placeholder. But, it seems fairly standard MMO fare. But, for an example of the graphics:
|Erik "Escutcheon" Shields, The Secret World.|
|Escutcheon, The Matrix Online.|
All in all, The Secret World is a pretty ambitious game. It's quests try to engage the player, some more successfully than others. It has a unique approach, though the story lacks in interactivity. It makes up for that in style and atmosphere. This shouldn't be a surprise since this guy is at or near the helm (mattering how high you consider writer/director). The amount of character really comes through just looking at the motifs and designs for the various factions. I like to reward designers for being ambitious.
With the time I had with the game, I feel confident saying that you should not be disappointed if you pre-order. The game has a lot of potential; it does a lot of things right. A modern setting is a change of pace, and the overall conceit of secret societies is unique and fanciful enough to not fall on its face. But, like most MMOs, I really think you need to try before you buy. It does things differently, which means your mileage may vary. But, it is worth trying. We owe it to a study that puts out a good college try to at least give them more than a cursory glance.
Here are some dwarfs! A master engineer with his organ gun, and then another master engineer with a bunch of engineer trainees. I... I like war machines.
|Organ guns, like dwarfs, are alcohol powered.|
|You can tell they are engineers because they have funky backpacks.|