As I was thinking about this week's column, I was trying to figure out why it is that City of Heroes gets criticized as often as it does for being "repetitive." I'd gladly concede the point, but the follow-up question becomes, well, what's so inherently different between the gameplay here as opposed to World of Warcraft, or EverQuest II, or Lord of the Rings Online, or even Dungeons and Dragons Online? How is killing X of critter Y for questgiver Z in any way less repetitive than punching the Fifth Column around for the hundredth time?
But with the recent addition of Melissa "War Witch" Bianco as lead designer, with her promises of "more content," I formed at least part of an idea of why that pointless accusation will not go away. And I believe the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of that stupid warehouse map.
It's not that the warehouse map is bad. Well, not that it's particularly bad, at any rate. At low levels, frankly, it makes sense that you're hunting down thugs in a warehouse. That's what you do at the rookie stage. You expect that you have to go through the arbitrarily-laid-out set of corridors and pathways that have no logical place in a warehouse as part of your apprenticeship, and then you get to move on to things that are... slightly more superheroic.
Twenty levels later, you are still going through the warehouse. Or the office building. Or the sewers.
Can no one think of a better place to hatch their evil plans? I understand that the warehouse map is nice and generic, a definite draw for filling in a level -- any villainous group can technically go there, after all. But I have a really hard time believing that the Sky Raiders and Nemesis have to put things together in a random abandoned warehouse. Nemesis in particular seems like they should have secret bases just popping up all over the place.
Instead, most of your battles still take place in the same limited set of maps, with the same set pieces and small clusters of villains hanging out and waiting to be beaten on. It works, to be certain, but the result is that it feels like we're still in the same place as we started no matter how far we go through the game. And that has a big impact on how much of the game feels repetitive.
With Going Rogue, we're going to get one heck of a new setting. The entire world is different. But what are the odds we're going to see another reskinned office building, only this time we're fighting Praetorian Clockwork or Resistance Members or whatever other enemy factions are concocted? No matter how much we might want said faction to be fed their own face, that doesn't really qualify as new content in the eyes of most players.
Compare this to Final Fantasy XI, a game I know a thing or two about as well. There's little chance you would confuse the leveling game from 10-20 on the sandy shoreline of Valkurm Dunes with the snowy rock-strewn isle of Qufim, or with the lush and earthy jungles outside Kazham. Even though it's yet another endless series of camp-pull-kill until your eyes fall out, it feels a bit less repetitive as a result of the change in setting and format.
Bianco has promised new content. And there are a lot of things that the game can do even to just make more content feel new, even if we're still doing the same essential thing that we have been in the past. The various outdoor missions, Safeguards/Heists, some of the more imaginative settings for task forces... it's not as if we don't have interesting content out there so much as we have a somewhat unpleasantly limited access and scope much of the time.
I don't mean to make it sound like Matt "Positron" Miller didn't do some wonderful things with the game. His work on the game was nothing short of excellent. But a new task force, more often than not, really isn't new content. Faultline, on the other hand, is a clear picture of what the game can do when given the freedom to experiment and try new things. We need more of that in the game. more polish, more odd new areas, more strange lines of pursuit. And more big storylines, things that feel like they have a purpose and a goal beyond just "well, the Circle of Thorns are doing something."
CoH, to an extent, has always struggled against its setting. Comic books take place everywhere from the moon to deserts to strange spiritual realms to wilderness romps. Paragon City (and, by extension, the Rogue Isles) are about as diverse as you can possibly make a unified area, but there are times when the ubiquity of warehouses and office buildings and "hotels" that look exactly like office buildings starts to grate.
And that's Bianco's strength as a designer. I remember actually refusing to do much experience farming when I was making my way through the redesigned Faultline because, well, it was interesting and novel and it felt meaningful. It felt like there was an overarching plot, not just random thugs standing in a warehouse map.
So I say, death to the warehouse map. Let's see this content come out and start smashing down all of these endlessly repeated missions inside it. Let's start turning on the police scanner and finding out that there's a Nemesis base downtown, and getting to invade a steam-powered nightmare of a hideout. Let's see more overarching storylines and running elements, seeing resolutions to barely-addressed stories in the game. (The option to actually resolve the hinted-at gang war between the Hellions and the Skulls could be entertaining, for one.)
We've got an excellent design team with almost endless amounts of talent on it. Let's kill the warehouse map and dance upon its corpse.