Where does this leave refined group dynamics, though, if players have no framework for their skills or level of power? "That is a challenge, because yes, people are used to the damage/healer/tank dynamic," Tornquist admits. "In certain situations that dynamic will still exist, it's just a case of making sure your group stacks the deck of cards the right way, if you see what I mean. You do need this set of abilities, or this or this, but the main difference is you're not stuck being the healer or the tank." There will be guidelines for those intimidated by the freeform character development, too.
You'll be in total control of your character's look, and able to restyle it at whim; your equipment will be weapons, skills and artefacts rather than armour. The style seems to be cool, glamorous but grounded, and 100 per cent contemporary. In stills, we see a hard-bitten John Constantine lookalike with cigarette and trench coat; a milkshake-sucking Asian girl in a tank-top with magical tattoos; and a white-haired indie chick toting winter woollies and a shotgun adorned with magical charms.
All of which is very alluring, naturally - but in MMOs, too much freedom can be a bad thing. Where are the rags-to-riches satisfaction, the ostentatiously-worn bragging-rights to covet and strive for? "You can't make an MMO without having a focus on items, on progression, on getting the cool stuff, because otherwise there's no incentive; people would enjoy it for 30, 40, 50 hours and then they would go away," agrees Tornquist.
"It's not going to be loot in a traditional sense, but there will be a lot of really cool items you can use to enhance your character. It's going to be a lot about the skills you get, but it's also going to be a lot about the weapons. It's not going to be about armour and things like that, because if you want to wear a tank-top and hot-pants, you can. If you want to wear the trench coat and the combat boots and the hat, you can do that too, but it's not going to give you a different advantage over the person who just wants to wear the jeans and t-shirt.
"[It] will definitely be the weapons and the powers you have, the cool special effects that you have, there will be ways to really see and differentiate - yeah, that guy's been playing this game a long time, and you can tell."
Tornquist and his team - made up from veterans of Funcom's adventure games as well as its MMOs - aren't quite ready to throw the baby out with the bath water, however. The meat of The Secret World will be combat; missions to fight monsters. Tornquist isn't ready to detail the combat system, but promises it will be fast and feel like an action game. "Conan did good things," he says of that game's fast-paced combo system, but is keen to point out that The Secret World is following the path in spirit, but not to the letter. As for a player-versus-player element: "We're going to talk about that more at another time, so you can interpret that how you will. But there is definitely a common goal, though."
Combat will be conjoined with exploration, puzzle-solving, and what sounds like a much more languid, adventure-game style of play. "You can choose: today I don't want to fight things, today I want to explore this mystery, I want to find out about this story, I want go and meet these characters, I want to know what's behind that door, I want to know what's behind the legend of this place," Tornquist says. Puzzle-solving will be incentivised with new powers and other rewards, and "exploration in itself is gameplay".
Will there be an attempt to create group mechanics around this non-combat activity, we ask? "We are definitely trying that, but the more you get into adventure-style gameplay, the more difficult it is to make it group-based," he says. "So if you're the kind of player who finds combat difficult, actually grouping with somebody in order to do an investigation of something, to go into all these mysteries is important.
"We are creating puzzles, definitely, which require a group to solve. At the same time, I really really think it's important for people to be able to play solo through a lot of the story aspects of the game and be able to casually team up whenever that's needed. Yes, it's an MMO, yes there's a lot of content that does require a group, but when it comes to the story and the lore of the universe, I want those players who are not necessarily used to playing in groups to get into this world and find interesting things within it."