A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Moving forward and upward

As I write this, DC Universe Online's launch is a day away. By the time you're reading it, it'll have already happened. Not coincidentally, I also had a chance to interview Melissa Bianco again, proving once again that Paragon Studios knows full well how to step up its game and strut its stuff when necessary. Unfortunately, this puts me in an awkward position, because there's interesting stuff between the lines of that interview -- but there's also a nagging question that people have been asking me about why I seem to care so much about DC Universe Online.

I should note that everyone who has asked that question has done so in such a way as to remind me how wonderful my regular readers are -- polite, respectful, and genuinely curious. Seriously, give yourself a pat on the back; the comments from the column are always a joy.

In truth, though, I think the interview partly answers the question. It should be clear from Paragon's burst of new information that the City of Heroes team has been keeping an eye on DC Universe Online, and I take that as a sign that the team knows how to run a darn good game. You can't honestly think it's a coincidence that we got a new groundswell of information and promises of more just before another superhero game launched, can you?

Let me open by stating quite clearly that I don't really have much opinion, positive or negative, about DCUO. I know that we have a couple people on the staff who really liked it, and that's great. This includes our columnists for the game, and they're both good people, but I personally haven't really formed an opinion beyond vague curiosity. My affection for DC and Marvel has slowly cooled over the years, so while I love me some superheroes, that's not really a factor in this discussion.

That having been said, if I had Ms. Bianco's job -- heck, if I had any job at Paragon -- I would have spent the past few months playing the beta if at all possible, scrounging up notes, and reminding everyone to treat this game as if it were the next big thing. And I think that City of Heroes needs to treat it as a legitimate competitor, even though the responses I've gotten in most of my comments have been "meh, who cares?"

Here's the thing -- our opinions, I'm sorry to say, don't really count here.

I'm not saying that Paragon doesn't care what we have to say about the game. I'm saying that if you're reading and commenting on an article about City of Heroes in your spare time, the studio probably isn't terribly worried about your loyalty. Its worries have to be focused on the players on the fence, the ones with no deep emotional attachment or long-term investment in CoH. They have to be convinced to play an older game over one that's newer and flashier, and even if you don't think DCUO is all that appealing, you always treat your competition as if it could topple you at any moment.

So it's important that the game is launching, and it's important for the City to show what it's got over DCUO. And that was one of the things that the interview highlighted, especially when we got to the point of talking about iconic characters. Readers will recall that I'm a big fan of the game's current approach to making player characters the greatest thing ever, and to see it laid out in so many words is a stark opposition to one of DCUO's biggest high-end rewards.

For those of you not following news about the game: Some of the biggest things you can hope to get are battlesuits in the style of a signature villain or hero. Be awesome enough, for instance, and you could wind up with a Batman-style battle suit that makes you an honorary part of the Bat-family. Yes, you too can enter the ranks alongside Ace the Bat-Hound! And that's the shortfall right there, in a nutshell -- if you're among the best, you're a very trusted subordinate. You aren't a peer, certainly not a superior. Not like in the Apex Task Force, where the player characters are at least situationally far superior to the entire Freedom Phalanx (minus Statesman).

Beyond that? Well, all we know about the Issue 19 Strike Pack is that it exists, but that alone has my curiosity piqued. I had at first thought this might be akin to the Bonus Mission Pack in Guild Wars, but the fact that we're also being promised something new in the store as a separate promise makes me even more curious about both. The new store pack is apparently something players have been asking for, which would be a great hint if we didn't have a tendency to ask for everything under the sun.

We've also had what seems to be a rather definitive nail in the coffin for the rumors of CoH 2, at least for now. That makes me sad in an abstract sense -- it's not like I feel the pressing need for a sequel, but it would have been nice to hope for, because the game is showing its age in some ways. There are aspects of the coding that have been mentioned before as impediments to creating a truly dynamic environment, and while the team has been making the game dance, eventually it is going to run out of steps.

Still, the idea of an Issue 19 add-on makes it clear that the game has more than a few dances left. I'm willing to guess that it includes unlocking the upper tiers of the Alpha Slot, but I'm also hoping that there's more to it than that. It's going to be an interesting year, it seems, and who knows -- I might just get my wish about how many issues launch this year.

As always, you can let me know your thoughts via the comment field or by mailing me at eliot@massively.com. Next week, it's either going to be some questions and answers, or I'll remember that I promised another Mission Architect week forever ago and actually have the time over the weekend to play through some arcs. (I'm currently suppressing that memory, you see.)

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.

This article was originally published on Massively.