Tuesday, October 4, 2011

City of Heroes - Incarnation

Over the weekend I finally got to experience some of the Incarnate Trials – City of Heroes answer to endgame raiding.  It took a little bit of effort to get there, and for anyone else coming back for City of Heroes Freedom I’ll give you my hard-learned tip: don’t use the LFG tool.  It suspiciously looks like it’s intended to help you look for Trial groups, and maybe that was the developer’s intention.  The players have, as they so often do, subverted the original purpose into something else.  The LFG tool doesn’t help you find groups, it just teleports your existing group into the Trial.  So the way to find an Incarnate Trial group is to travel to the Rikti War Zone and spam in broadcast that you’re looking for a trial group.  Eventually you’ll get invited to a team that’s forming up to run trials.  So far, it’s been hassle free.  Nobody has said “OMG noob, you don’t have all purples and haven’t run this 1127 times before?!”  If you’re level 50 and capable of activating at least one of your powers, they’ll take you.  Why?  Because the more people who participate, the better the rewards are for EVERYONE.  Eventually, the League (a league is the CoH equivalent of a raid group, consisting of multiple “normal” groups) will be full, or close enough, and the leader will use the LFG tool to launch the selected trial.

I’ve now experienced three of the four Incarnate Trials – Behavioral Adjustment Facility, Lambda Sector, and The Underground.  I have been fortunate to mostly be teamed with experienced players who know what they’re doing and leaders who could keep things moving, knew the best way to do things, and had no problems with explaining things to helpless newbs.  That’s a good thing too, because unlike typical raid content in a lot of games where you can just keep battering at it until you win, Incarnate Trials can be failed, and once you fail it’s game over for that attempt.  The Behavioral Adjustment Facility (BAF, I won’t even tell you what that does to my DAoC honed acronym sense) and Lambda sector both fell fairly easily with strong groups and an experienced leader.  The Underground was much, much, harder, and the League I was with that time probably ended up wishing they had fewer players who could only activate one power.  We wiped on the second boss for over 20 minutes until time ran out and the trial failed.

Despite The Underground being a dismal failure, it ended up being one of the most productive trials I participated in and unlocked both my Judgement and Interface Incarnate slots.  That’s what the trials are for, earning “Incarnate” xp to unlock your special Incarnate slots, and collecting the special components needed to create the special abilities that you place in your Incarnate slots.  Incarnate Abilities are the only real method of progressing your character once you reach level 50, short of investing huge amounts of time into creating the best enhancements (gear) possible.  The bonuses provided by this alternate advancement are not insignificant either – a fully invested Incarnate level 50 is vastly more powerful than a fresh level 50, just like the difference between a new max level character in WoW and one that’s fully decked out in the most powerful raid gear available.  Well, maybe not quite that pronounced, but distinct, all the same.

Case in point, the Judgement slot.  The Judgement slot allows you to add a new superpower to your arsenal, an extreme damage area-of-effect attack with a long cooldown.  The “long” cooldown was considerably less than I expected, only 90 seconds.  The “extreme” damage though, no argument against that.  Every 90 seconds my Tank can now incinerate a lucky target and up to 23 of his friends with a blast that will one-shot minions, severely hurt lieutenants, and seriously dent bosses.  It’s a game changer.  All by itself it trivializes a lot of non-Incarnate content.  You know what though?  I think that’s great, that’s how it should be.  A level 50 has no real reason to do “normal” content, so why shouldn’t it be trivialized?  It’s relatively meaningless to the character after all.  Much like raiding, the main point of accruing Incarnate abilities is to make running the current trials easier, and the harder trials possible.

As to the trials themselves?  Well, as a melee character I can’t say they were a blast.  Interesting perhaps, rewarding definitely.  Fun?  Maybe.  The game ends up battling itself here, as melee characters have to be right up front with the hordes of enemies, but that requirement means you can see very little aside from a wall of mobs and players surrounded by constantly flashing special effects, and you can’t move freely since City of Heroes uses collision detection.  I think they’d be more fun as a ranged class where you can see what you’re doing.  However, I did enjoy the content, appreciated the rewards, and intend to do more when time allows.

The biggest issue at this point is they need to release more trials.  There are only four so far, of which one at least is very hard (The Underground).  It takes multiple runs of the trials to unlock each Incarnate ability slot (I have now unlocked 3 of the 5 currently released) and get the materials for a basic ability, plus many, many more runs to upgrade those slots with more advanced versions of the abilities.  Four trials do not provide enough variety.  I’m sure they’ll release more, presumably when they release new slots for unlocking, but the sooner the better.  I sincerely hope they don’t limit the Incarnate content by making it paid.  The last thing you want to do is limit the players available to participate in content that demands large groups.

Still, my overall feeling is that it’s not a bad endgame.  Is it great?  No.  Is it too grindy?  Yes.  Is it a model other games should aspire to?  Well, maybe.  It’s certainly accessible.  I couldn’t (currently) hop into WoW and hope to raid with the ease I can in CoH.  It’s not something I’d want to do every day for six months though.  Rather it feels like a nice way to top off a character and go “now I’m done”, far more so than simply going from level 49 to 50.

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