With all the talk about the Skirmish system in Lord of the Rings Online and the World of Warcraft dungeon finder, it's hard to argue that people don't really like having the option to simply pick up and start playing something. Both of these systems thrive on the strength of their pick-up-and-play nature -- you don't have to wait to find a group, you just jump right into content without any slowdown. The obvious question, then, becomes "why didn't someone notice that people like to just jumping in and playing the darn game?"
Of course,the full answer is a bit less obvious but no less true: someone did. Several someones, in fact. Paragon Studios and Cryptic before them both realized how much people like to just pick up and go. That's why City of Heroes currently sports three different systems to allow you or a full team access to content quickly, ranging from reliving your character's greatest triumphs to fighting Nazi vampires on the moon.
Wanted: self-starter, highly motivated
When City of Villains first launched, it came with an innovative twist on the instanced missions that City of Heroes had made its trademark. Supervillains, after all, are pretty proactive folks when you get right down to it. Why should you wait for a random contact to tell you that Dr. What's-her-face invented something you should steal? Why not just let the character find out about it in the newspaper and go to steal it without further prompting?
It took a little while (Issue 8, to be exact) for this function to be ported over to heroes as well, but the result on the feel of the game and the available content was huge. From any level-appropriate zone in the game, you can listen in on the police scanner (for heroes) or glance at the newspaper headlines (for villains) and get a freshly-tailored mission. Do enough of these, and you get both a special event map (either robbing or protecting a bank depending on your allegiance) and a new contact added to your list. You're never without a mission, no matter where you go.
Those were the days
Maybe you don't want to go randomly traipsing off to fight whoever's on the police scanner. Or maybe the only headliners are the Circle of Thorns. (No one ever wants to fight Circle of Thorns. It's about as much fun as a hernia.) And in the back of your head, you know that all this content glut has meant skipping lots of interesting content along the way. So it's only a good thing that the game has added the Flashback system to ensure that you never really outlevel content and you always have a challenge waiting for you.
At around level 25, you'll be allowed to start traveling to Ouroboros, a zone that exists at the absolute limits of time. From there, characters can access any story arcs they might have missed or may have already completed. Clearing them awards both badges and reward merits, the endgame item currency, as well as bigger rewards for clearing the missions with restrictions such as a limited number of deaths or no access to certain powers. Even though you might have missed something the first time around, you can still catch up with the storylines and events.
Make your own kind of music
Of course, random missions can lack context, and flashbacks by their very nature are somewhat limited. What is decidedly not limited, however, are the almost countless missions available via the Mission Architect system. These range from the humorous to the poignant. In my own time in the Mission Architect runs, I've fought a secret plot to use salsa as an explosive, traveled back in time to prevent an army of androids from invading Paragon City, and battled alongside alternate universe Albert Einstein against his evil robot clone.
And, yes, Nazi vampires on the moon.
With the huge amount of content available via the architect, it's conceivable that you might never even step out of the building. The search engine is powerful and flexible, allowing you to easily find an arc that suits your needs and time limits perfectly -- you can go for a multi-mission romp, or just a single quick fight. The system also drops its own form of currency, allowing players to acquire their rewards and then largely choose what they would prefer to have dropped -- a far cry from the usual slay-and-pray of dungeon running.
Log on, off you go
At five years old, City of Heroes is admittedly looking a bit long in the tooth. The graphical upgrades promised to come with Going Rogue will help that a bit, but there are many fair criticisms of the game in terms of engine and system issues. But at the end of the day, you can log on to the game and be inside a mission within minutes. That's an enviable speed, and it might well be what the more recent entries of Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft had in mind with their content-dropping systems.