The City of Heroes team against the Apex task force, page 2

War-walk with me

The end of the task force proved to be every bit as engaging as the prior components, even though we weren't running around any longer. Clockwork and War-walkers were storming their way toward the police station, with the quantity of walkers increasing as the battle wore on. Keeping the police drones up wasn't entirely necessary, but it helped a lot against the tides of enemies converging on our position. They became less useful against the giant robots, however, which were capable of raining death upon us at any moment.

We were given ample warning when an orbital strike was about to hit us -- a message flashed across the screen and a large target crosshair appeared on the ground. There was also an animation cue of the robot's raising its arms and opening fire, the sort of thing that tells you to move immediately. Fortunately, the strikes weren't quite fatal, but they were exceedingly painful, and taking damage after being hit by one would usually result in someone dropping almost immediately.

As it was explained, this was put in as something of a dry run for players to get used to running out of the big red zone of death. If players were handling it fine, they were in good shape for the next part of the task force. If someone was having a chronic problem getting out in time, well, the next part might get ugly. In an odd confluence of good luck for testing purposes, my connection was choosing that night to have some rather awful problems, but even with that I didn't find myself rubber-banding back into the red zone of death or having any issues running away when one appeared at my feet.

Once the station was secured, there was a new issue to deal with -- something screaming into the skies of Steel Canyon and blasting Valkyrie and PPD forces in Blyde Square hard. At first it was assumed she had been hit by something from outer space, but the reality would soon turn out to be far worse for those of us not fond of getting our parts hacked off.

Incarnate showdown

Checking back in with Apex, we moved to the second and final mission in the task force, hopping on another helicopter to arrive at Blyde Square. Unfortunately for us, we encountered what could euphemistically be referred to as turbulence.

Players had been wondering where the flying swords we had seen in the trailers were coming from. As it turned out, those weren't our new tricks. In fact, as evidenced shortly thereafter by a horde of them sweeping at us across the roof, they were our newest problem, one that was arriving courtesy of Praetoria's own Battle Maiden.

Aside from looking remarkably cool, the swords also possess a vampiric ability that saps the health of anyone they hit, encouraging players to focus fire and take them down fast. They weren't terribly difficult opponents, but they harried us quite effectively as we made our way across the roofs and down to the street level of Blyde Square. That's when we met Battle Maiden, surrounded by her minions and ready to take the fight to us. Flying swords were the least of our problems, however, as the remainder of the mission turned into a drag-out fight against an exceptionally powerful opponent.

Battle Maiden's signature ability involves a devastating area attack that hit the ground hard, turning an oblong region into pure death for any character caught in the middle. If you were lucky and caught the edge of it, you might have a half-second of time to run out and survive. But if you didn't bother noting that something was about to crash into your head, well, it was nice knowing you. This was where our lack of coordination started to bite us a bit, as the last part of the task force became a bit of a comedy of errors in which War Witch and I took turns dying within the death zones.

This isn't a fault of design. There's plenty of warning that Battle Maiden is dropping her ability. This is a fault of people not paying attention. Fortunately, since this is CoH and not World of Warcraft, there's time enough for players to learn rather than simply wiping and having to start the fight over, so the experience was enjoyable but difficult rather than simply frustrating.

At first, the fight against Battle Maiden is fairly easy, with her dropping the purple burst of death once in a while along with a standard suite of tank-smashing tricks. At about half health, however, she decides to mix things up a little by taking to the skies and sending in more of her minions and flying swords. Oh, and there are also now more of the death-dealing zones screaming from the sky. This is when things get a bit more crazy, with groups of enemies rushing in coupled with dodging Battle Maiden's attacks. After a little more chaos, Battle Maiden rejoins the battle, forcing you to contend with the area damage, minions, and Maiden herself in the last part of the fight.

The running battle was a bit less visually engaging than dashing along through Kings Row, but the mechanics kept things interesting and rewarded us for paying attention. Although there was a huge amount of damage being thrown around, it was a satisfying conclusion to the task force, and it whetted my anticipation for the Tin Mage battle against the Praetorian invasion.

Issue 19 has been getting hyped up quite a lot, but the task forces certainly look to deliver on what's been promised. Hitting the street and fighting back against the invaders was one of the most fun experiences that I've had in the game, and that's in a game filled with memorable times. If this is the level of content we can expect post-Going Rogue, it's well worth the wait.