A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Facefirst into Praetoria

It's finally here, and I have to admit, it's a little weird to realize it. After I spent the better part of half a year focusing on Going Rogue, the expansion has been released and is totally playable. To have the game sitting in front of me (metaphorically) after it's become such a huge part of my professional life is almost too daunting. I almost didn't even want to fire up the launcher to...

OK, yeah, that part isn't fooling anyone. Getting to play around a bit while it was in beta to see how it would play was nice, but I couldn't get myself into City of Heroes fast enough to start leveling a Loyalist and going to town on the new side of town. At the end of the day, I'm just a player like everyone reading this column, and the game I got to play on Monday evening made me very happy indeed. There's a lot to see and do, and I've tried to recap some of the disconnected thoughts in this week's column. And as a bonus, there's a sad announcement at the end! It's like a bonus, anyway.
Jackbooting for fun and profit

My first order of business was to create a new character as a Praetorian, as was nearly everyone's first order of business (judging by the sheer number of people running around Nova Praetoria). I was actually going for the Loyalists straight off the bat, since their philosophy has more high points than people realize, and I liked the idea of eventually going over to Paragon City with the same mindset of vigorously purging evil. So I created Dawnforge, a woman who decided to take "technology as a religion" to the next level and attempt to be an incarnate techno-deity.

Or, for those of you who aren't into roleplaying, a Kinetic Melee/Willpower brute. It sounds less interesting that way.

Aside from the slight issue of not knowing where to find a tailor or crafting bench when I started -- I had been holding on to the techno-wings piece, you see -- the flow of actual play went quite smoothly. I talked a great deal about the early levels in my First Impressions piece, but playing through it again I couldn't help but be struck by how well everything hangs together. I was especially impressed, truth be told, by the fact that the Nova Praetoria arc ends in another morality choice, this time having given you more of a framework to move within.

To be fair, I'm not sure if the Resistance side also does this, having not yet kicked my Resistance character into existence. But I'd be willing to place a bet on it. There's a lot of thought being funneled into the way each choice is presented, with neither side being "good" or "bad" in an absolute sense. Aid a fugitive or execute him arbitrarily? Defend a traitor or follow someone known to be unnecessarily harsh? It's your choice, and the fact that each character's choices are unique keeps things fresher than before.

It's the same principle BioWare has used to great effect in its games, and it's just as workable in City of Heroes. For those keeping track, this means that it's yet another "big advance" in the genre that Paragon Studios got to first and did so quietly. Cue next year when we're knee-deep in moral choice.


Due to various circumstances too dumb to recount here, I didn't get a chance to dive into the morality shift system during the beta. So when I hit a roadblock on Dawnforge due to circumstances equally dumb (although this time entirely my own fault), I decided to hop on over to one of my villains and pick up a Tip mission.

Or more accurately, I decided to start killing everything that moved in the hopes that something would drop a Tip. As has been publicized, Tips are random drops that allow you to take part in the shift from one side to the other. Alternatively, they allow you to re-affirm your existing alignment, allowing you to purchase high-end recipes like supercharged Reward Merits. But they rely upon random drops, which is a system that I love nearly as much as I enjoy people throwing sharp objects at my head.

It's a minor complaint, I suppose. I'm not going to ask the development team to go back and retrofit every single mission in the game with morality. But I can still get pouty about it.

Anyhow, once a Tip mission drops, you click on a Tip from under your Contacts window and choose to undertake the mission in the direction of a given alignment. For example, if a villain gets a Tip about a science lab developing new computerized weapons, the villainous thing to do is steal the weapons and keep them. On the other hand, you could decide to be a rogue instead, picking up the weapons and selling them off to a broker for a tidy profit. If a rogue got the same Tip, she could opt to outright destroy the company in question to help keep more powerful armaments off the street, and so on.

The functional side is something I could go on about for a while, but that's really the territory of Paragon Wiki, and the folks there are already hammering away at it without my halfhearted attempt. What I will say is that my Tip missions were not normal missions. Oh, sure, I was running through relatively familiar maps, but I'll be darned if there weren't triggers and changes and encounters in those maps I hadn't seen before. The devs at Paragon Studios forced the game engine to get up and do a dance here, and for that I commend them.

I would commend them more if the system didn't also involve the blatant un-logic of having a Tip about mystic artifacts drop off a random superhero in Paragon City. But then I'll just start wondering what an Enhancement is in the physical world to make something physically drop training, and then it's just time to back off.

So much more to see

Let's recap, shall we?

In one of the alt-heaviest games on the market, we have an expansion designed to make leveling your new alt more engaging than ever before, complete with the added option of ignoring all the talky bits and getting straight to the face-punching. And once you're into the higher levels, you can experience content from several sides... and stringing together Tip missions eventually lets you earn powerful, high-end recipes that were previously not for sale.

So tricking out your character is easier, leveling is easier, and the game is already stuffed to the brim with awesome. In summary, Going Rogue is my happy place, the end, good night. If you want to claim otherwise, you can feel free to alert me to your incorrect thinking either in the comments or by mailing me at eliot@massively.com. All contacts are encouraged to ensure their tongue remains firmly planted within their cheeks for the duration of the letter.

The final issue

And now, for a sad announcement: A Mild-Mannered Reporter is losing part of its creative team. I'm not going anywhere, but our illustrator has penned her final illustration for the column.

Alex Fienemann is an old and dear friend, and I've been very proud to have her artwork gracing the top of each column for the past six months. Unfortunately, she has other personal and professional commitments, and so she's stepping down from doing further work for the column. Starting next week, we'll have a steady header image featuring her art, but we will no longer have a new illustration every week.

I can only hope that readers have enjoyed seeing her work as much as I have. She's turned in a lot of fantastic images and dealt with my own frequently scattershot approach to writing, and I'm sorry to see her move on but glad to have had her. If you've enjoyed her work, please, do her the courtesy of leaving her a comment here or sending her an email at fienemanna@gmail.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.