I didn't get nearly as much time with the Going Rogue beta as I would have liked, and I'll be the first to admit that I'm biased when it comes to City of Heroes. But even with those standards set, I was impressed right away with how the game has been revamped from the start -- and what these revamps mean for the game as a whole and moving forward. Click on past the cut for the first impressions of the latest expansion, which launches today. (Coincidental, yes?)
Starting at 11
The first thing I noticed about the opening mission was that it involved fighting off an army of ghouls, then facing off against either a respected police officer or a high-ranking Resistance leader.
I want to reiterate that. Your first tutorial mission, which walks you through the same ground as the original tutorials, is the sort of thing that would be a multi-mission chain in the classic game. You start off being told that you're part of the Powers Division and working for Praetor White -- complete with dialogue trees to allow you to get more backstory if you want it. They're helpfully marked with a little tag indicating that they're optional, allowing players who want to skip straight to killing the option of eschewing story.
Once you get into the meat of the mission, you're sent into the Underground, where you immediately find a commandeered Clockwork that you can either listen to or send back to the PPD for dissection and analysis. The choice doesn't change the central choice at the end -- to back up the Resistance officer who helped against a huge swarm of ghouls, or to do your job as part of the Powers Division and take him out. The choice itself is presented through a cutscene, albeit one that almost makes the Resistance leader a bit too sympathetic.
The impressive part is that the game isn't starting high and then dropping you into street-sweeping against random gangs. Your second Loyalist mission (the first "real" mission) involves fighting through hordes of Resistance operatives in a climactic rooftop fight over a slow-rotating fan. The game just keeps going upward, and the handful of missions that were at a lower key served as a nice trick to break up the flow rather than coming off as filler.
Branches within branches
When I penned my columns on the two major Praetorian factions, some people were a little upset at the implication that they were all-or-nothing. There were good and bad aspects of both groups, but it seemed as if you had to be awash in both sides at all times to stick with a faction.
Fortunately, that turned out to be far from the truth. Almost as soon as you finish the first mission string, you get the option of two different mission arcs -- one of which focuses on the more villainous side of your chosen faction; the other, on the heroic. You can do both arcs, or do only one -- whichever you want. The game cares insofar as different choices result in different interactions, but there isn't one path that's better or worse than another.
But it gets better. The big villains at the ends of arcs? They will chat with you. They'll try to bribe you, try to reason with you, or sometimes just trade insults with you briefly. Sometimes it's a ruse, and sometimes you can actually negotiate something significant. As someone who has long felt the game was lacking the option to get a proper banter going with opposing leaders... well, this pushes all of the right comic book-geek buttons. It's a beautiful thing.
To be fair, the new tech included with the expansion also includes open-zone glowies for the clicking. It's a nice idea, but I can't say it's breaching untold regions of design. I mean, it does tie in nicely with optional objectives and so forth, but... they're glowies that you click. Same sandwich, different bun.
Kinetic Melee is a wonderful powerset
The header says everything.
Think older zones or older costume pieces need a revamp? Older powersets need a revamp. Dual Pistols and Demon Summoning are familiar ground at this point, and I'm a terrible control player, but boy if Kinetic Melee wasn't all that and a bag of chips. Accessing the powerset and seeing how smooth the animations and attacks flow together really show the age of the older sets.
In practical terms, I don't know if I'd say that it's particularly better or worse than other sets. You do have a little bit more range, which is nice, and the arrangement of knockback and stun effects certainly helps mitigate the need for more control when melee classes get into the mix. It's a reasonably useful set, certainly, but I'd hesitate to call it a big jump in power level. So it's still balanced with its contemporaries, but it gets a big heaping dose of cool factor as a new set with excellent animations.
So much more to see
There's a lot more in the game than listed right here. After all, there's the whole morality switch at higher levels, which I didn't play around with. There are new costume sets, with individual pieces that work wonderfully on their own. (The Clockwork torso is especially impressive.) And there are little tweaks to the UI and gameplay... but all of that is getting past the point.
If you're sick to death of City of Heroes, you might not find a lot to like in the expansion. Rest assured that it is the familiar game. But there are many subtle changes in the mix, and each one of them has a surprisingly large impact. It's the herald of a very different and progressive design philosophy, and it's going to make the future of the game very exciting to watch.
Going Rogue isn't a perfect expansion. But it's a pretty darn good one, and it's laying the foundation for refining and updating the core strengths of the game. That's a hit in my opinion.