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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Whose side is time on, anyway?

Eliot Lefebvre
So last week I promised our next little enemy spotlight, but that was before I realized that this past weekend was that delayed double-experience extravaganza in City of Heroes. (I could have checked a calendar, sure, but I assume they're a form of witchcraft.) Based on past experience, this week should be a recounting of my time in the magical land of double or nothing, right?

Well, not so much. Due to a perfect storm of circumstances, I didn't get any significant leveling in, and this weekend is also coming before a dump of several new powers rather than just after. So unlike last time, this time I mostly just took part in other activities. (If you really have to know what I was doing, tune back in on Saturday.) So instead, I'm going to take the time to talk a little bit about Temporal Manipulation, partly because I'd like a bit of a do-over for the past weekend, and partly because I'm not sure if I like it just from reading about it. It strikes me as a set that could be very good, but in its own way that might be kind of a bad thing.

Would manipulating time really produce ribbons of light?  Isn't that more like Light Manipulation?The set at a glance

Temporal Manipulation, in brief, is absolutely everything I like to see in sets for Defenders, Corruptors, Masterminds, and Controllers. If it weren't coming out significantly after my little series of archetype discussions, I'd probably rank it pretty high for the first three and a bit lower for Controllers just because it has no real offensive bite. (Killing things would take a very long time, see.) But only a little bit, because seriously, the set seems to have all the tricks you could want for paralyzing your enemies and buffing your allies in a single mix.

You get slows, which are powerful. You actually have a hold in the mix even if you're not a Controller, and if you are, that might make up for your total lack of damage. You get a nice heal and buffs to regeneration, recovery, and attack speed, all of which are crucial buffs to have. And more even than that, these effects are cascading based on the set's unique built-in buffs -- using the right Temporal Manipulation effects makes your next buff bigger or your next debuff more vicious, which is a boon against particularly stalwart enemies.

Notably, the Accelerated/Delayed system is arranged so that you don't get the cascade benefit on whole groups of enemies. Instead, you Delay a particularly powerful target or Accelerate a really potent ally, and then bust out the area abilities that affect the selected target a little bit more. The result is that two already-good abilities become much more tactical because you have to think not just about what will be affected the most now but also about what's going to matter immediately afterward. It's a clever sort of mechanic that gives players a really good excuse for thinking in terms of time, which should be the focus of a set like Temporal Manipulation.

All told, I think it's going to be quite solid. Assuming that the interplay isn't overpowered (which could go either way at the moment; we haven't seen the set in heavy play, after all), it'll fit in alongside sets like Kinetics or Radiation Emission as a versatile all-duty powerset. Good news all around, right?

Well, maybe not quite.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the lack of clocks everywhere.  I'm just saying, spirals don't suggest
Now, the designers want to make new sets interesting. And there are a couple of obvious ways to do that, with the most obvious one being to make the set just plain more powerful. Needless to say, though, that's a pretty terrible option -- after all, if Kinetic Melee is straight-up stronger than any other melee set, your level 50 Claws Scrapper is going to be a source of neverending rage. So the other technique is to give sets new twists, something that each set can do that its contemporaries can't. Dual Pistols can change damage types. Dual Blades has its own combo system. Temporal Manipulation has cascading buffs and a mix of buffing and debuffing elements.

The problem here is that the "new" sets often feel much more gimmick-related than their predecessors. A Dual Blades Scrapper has to worry about combos, which don't even exist in a Katana Scrapper's headspace. That leads directly to the predictable result -- the sets feel like they're more special, like you have special mechanics and a unique play experience that older sets just don't get.

Of course, redesigning the older sets to have unique play mechanics isn't really an option; it'd pretty much screw the people who have grown accustomed to playing those sets. But the end result still makes the old sets look unappealing. Why play Kinetics when you can get most of the same effects from Temporal Manipulation and more besides?

It doesn't matter that the power levels are most likely balanced. It matters that they look unbalanced in terms of cool tricks. So even though Temporal Manipulation looks exciting, I can't help but be a bit nervous about it regardless.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to Next week, yes, villains. Really. I never lie. (I just get aggressively sidetracked. Like with all of these parenthetical asides.)

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.