Friday, September 23, 2011

City of Heroes . . . wait, what?!

Didn’t I quit that game?  Forever?  Wasn’t I all “been there, done that, pfft, whatever”?  Said my goodbyes and everything?  Yeah, I remember that too.  I also mentioned something about it taking a major revamp of the game for me to bother ever looking at it again.

So, City of Heroes: Freedom.  A major revamp of the game.  Conversion to a F2P model.  Reworking of low level content and power accrual.  More stuff to do at max level.  New shinies. 


I may not be interested in subscribing to CoH ever again . . . but for free?  I have all those characters . . . all that history.  And, you know, free.  Like any good American I can’t resist a bargain, and “free” is the best price you can find on anything, ever.

So of course I re-subbed for one month of VIP access, which I will let lapse and try the F2P version when F2P is turned on.  Currently the CoH:Freedom content is on the live servers, but F2P access hasn’t been turned on yet.  There are some significant perks for VIP players during the “head start” period, such as discounts on items in the store (and VIPs earn points every month they’re subscribed), one of which was 90% off a 6-pack of server transfers.

Despite my ennui when I tried Going Rogue (I’ve still never gotten a character all the way through Praetoria) and my inability to even log in during “free” weekends, CoH:Freedom has done something I didn’t think was possible—it’s made CoH fun again.  The low level game in CoH is the best it’s ever been, and I love making alts.  I have dozens.  Making those alts fun to play instead of a tedious chore of leveling to “the good part” is huge for me.  Granted my view is a little skewed because any new characters I make come into play with a slew of veteran perks, but still.

Travel powers are now possible at level 4 and have no pre-requisite, and getting to level 4 hardly takes any time at all.  No more low level trudging around the city.  This is how it should have always been (and indeed, in beta you could get your first travel power at level 6) and I can’t believe it’s taken them this long to make the change.  There are also several purchasable powers from the store that aren’t as good as the “true” travel powers, but are quite serviceable and don’t cost you a power choice.  They unlock for every character on your account, so buy one and never worry about travel powers again if you like.

They also added a few new powersets, which combined with the continued proliferation of powersets between Archetypes means that your Archetype choice is really about playstyle, and not access to a particular flavor of power.  Once upon a time if you wanted to sheath yourself in fire and slash things with a flame sword you had no choice but to be a Tanker.  Now you can do that multiple ways, and can choose the playstyle you want to go along with it.  Power proliferation has been going on for years, but I think it’s reached the point now where almost everything that makes sense is available to each Archetype.

You can now make any of the 10 core Archetypes (Tanker, Defender, Blaster, Scrapper, Controller, Brute, Stalker, Mastermind, Dominator, Corrupter) as either a Hero or a Villain, right from the start.  If you want to play a heroic Corrupter, you just do it.  You don’t have to level to 20 in Praetoria.  You don’t have to start on one side and use the morale system to switch sides.  You can still do both those things if you want to, but you no longer HAVE to.  I’m always in favor of having choices.  Limiting player choice limits player fun.

Galaxy City as a starting zone no longer exists.  All new characters go through a new tutorial that is short, to the point, and much better than the tedious slog of the original tutorial.  During the tutorial you choose if you want to be a Hero or Villain, and get dumped into the starting zone for the appropriate side.  For Heroes, that means good old Atlas Park . . . except this isn’t the Atlas Park veterans will remember.  Instead of going to an Origin specific contact who gives you origin specific missions against a particular enemy group (all science origins used to fight Vahzilok, etc.) you get sent to a new contact who gives you story based missions that incorporate the mission mechanics added with Going Rogue, and have you doing more than just going into an instance and clearing mobs until you’re done.  It’s hardly revolutionary, but it’s well done, and keeps things moving well for the first few levels.  You unlock more missions in the new arc every 5 levels (I presume, I unlocked the next set at level 10).

I made a heroic Corrupter with the new Beam Rifle and Time Manipulation powersets, and have really been enjoying the game.  Much to my surprise.  Beam Rifle is the ranged powerset I’ve always wanted.  Energy Blast should have been it, but the mix of smashing/energy damage, the bubbly graphics, and the irritating sound effects kept me away.  Beam Rifle is, well, energy damage done right.  I wish it wasn’t a weapon power, but otherwise it feels right and satisfying.  Time Manipulation isn’t as fun as I’d hoped, but it’s still interesting.  Both powersets have internal synergy.  Beam Rifle has Disintegrate, which places a damage-over-time effect on the target.  Other Beam Rifle powers have additional effects when hitting targets affected by Disintegrate, and can also spread Disintegrate to additional targets.  Time Manipulation debuffs can cause other Time Manipulation debuffs to work better if the target has both on them at the same time, a synergistic stacking effect.  These sorts of synergies make the powersets much more interesting than the simpler powersets that shipped with the original game.

We’ll see how long the game can hold my interest, but it’ll be F2P shortly, which kind of takes the pressure off.  If I get bored I wander off for a while and lose nothing.  I think the F2P conversion has the potential to really increase the content that gets added to the game, especially when it comes to hard to design things like powersets.  They rarely added powersets in the quarterly updates because of the development time involved.  If they can sell new powersets on the market for $8 each though, that gives a clear return on that development time.  We’ll see.  Maybe they’ll finally be able to work on more epic Archetypes too.  I’d gladly pay for that.

Overall, I’d say City of Heroes is in the best shape it’s ever been, and I’ve been following the game since early Beta.  Many games can’t really claim to be more fun than they were at launch *coughWoWcough* but I think City of Heroes can.  Hats off to Paragon Studios for doing a good job, and really giving the impression of working hard to balance player desires with the company’s need to make money.  After all, in the long run, the best way to make money is to make your customers happy to spend it.  Just, no $25 sparkle ponies, please?


  1. Aw, no mention of the awesomeness that is the sewer trial? Or how counter intuitive to typical player behavior the Vahz encounter is? Or the step toward WoW mechanics the hydra head encounter can be perceived as?

    I will say that I think this has the potential to make CoH an even better past time. As you say, it's easier for them to get "little things" out when they can throw them onto the market and get (almost) immediate recoup. I'm also loving how they allow subscribers to avoid the "froobies" by retreating to Exalted (subscriber only server). It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that not every free player is going to be a positively contributing member of the community, so if the idjit population gets too high, there's always a place where you can avoid folks with essentially disposable accounts. Then again, I'm told "It can't get any worse than it already is on Freedom every day". I don't play there so I don't know how true it is.

  2. Honestly, I had to draw the line somewhere on what I was talking about. If I started going into things like the sewer trial and the LFG tool and so on I'd have pushed out another page or two :P

    All my villains are on Freedom, and I've never noticed any problems. I don't play my villains as much as my heroes though. I made villains on Freedom, and transferred most of my heroes from Pinnacle to Virtue.