A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The Incarnate divide

A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann
The other week, our regular feature Global Chat featured an interesting comment by Blackcat7k regarding the City of Heroes Incarnate system. I'm not going to duplicate the entire comment here, but I'd encourage you to go read it so that we're all on the same page. In case you're in too much of a hurry to read, however, let me sum up: It's essentially lamenting that the Incarnate system has fundamentally broken the game's leveling and endgame structure, forcing players down a very narrow path in order to participate in most of the recent content additions.

Long-time readers and perpetual archive trawlers will remember that I did an article about precisely what could happen when the Incarnate system went live about a year ago. Well, we've had quite some time to see the system in action and find out what works, what doesn't, and so forth. And the thing is, the comment was right. The bad outcome has come to pass, in many ways. The endgame is the Incarnate rush, and if you're not a part of it, you're on the sidelines.

Of course, I'm not entirely convinced this isn't the best that could be hoped for.

Oh, just because it's using magic doesn't mean you have to be magic.  Because of reasons.Let's just say, for the record, that for better or worse, the Incarnate system has changed the face of the game in a way that IOs never did. IOs were, without a doubt, a huge leap in power for the people willing to put the work in. But there was one crucial difference that kept IOs as being very nice but not mandatory: the fact that the game's overall power level stayed the same when the new enhancements came out. Rather than allowing players to go to (essentially) Level 51 against Level 51 challenges, you undertook a big challenge to lessen subsequent challenges.

Not so any longer. Not only do Incarnates let you jump in levels against higher-level foes, but the challenges in question actively discourage anyone who is not an Incarnate from participating. You've either partaken of the Well of the Furies or you are no longer up there with the rest of the heroes or villains. Although these days, since everything is players fighting against Praetoria, that distinction feels kind of thin.

So City of Heroes has created a new leveling system. More than just a leveling system, actually, since there are tons of ways to level according to the main system. Incarnate progression requires Incarnate content, and you wind up in... well, the same endgame ouroboros that so many games find themselves in. Unless you're a free player, but that's a different discussion.

Is this bad?

On the one hand, no, it's really not. For a long time, there was no reason to keep leveling past the mid-30s or so, or at least no terribly compelling reasons. You had all of your powers, you could go up or down in levels as needed, and leveling was pretty secondary to enjoying the game's content. It was also where the level climb started to get truly obnoxious. Incentives to reach the cap have always been problematic, due in no small part to the fact that the game hasn't really given players some new groundswell of things to do at the cap.

On the other hand, which is significantly saner than the first hand, that was sort of one of the things we liked about the game. It was nice, after EverQuest decided that raiding was cool and World of Warcraft enshrined it as a religion, to have a game that essentially threw up its hands and said it didn't care. Reach the cap, don't, run old missions, run new missions, create a hero in shock safety orange spandex and call him Das Underblingen. The game does not care.

That's a top hat he's wearing, in case you were concerned.More accurately, the game did not care. The game currently cares quite a bit, since there's a whole lot of Incarnate content to get in on, and you know, these trials aren't going to run themselves, folks. And as was observed, it's not as simple as the split between SOs and IOs. You could still be relevant without any IO enhancements, but you can't be relevant in Incarnate content unless you're an Incarnate. And for the really challenging stuff, you have to have advanced pretty far in the Incarnate chain. Just having scratched the surface won't cut it.

So perhaps I should withdraw that statement on my first hand from before. A better question than "is it a good thing" might be "is there really a way around it" because that's a bit more ambiguous.

Remember how I mentioned that it's always been problematic to give people an incentive to reach the level cap or care much about it? Oh, sure, there were the Hamidon raids, but the rewards for that essentially added frosting on top of a different kind of frosting, especially when Enhancement Diversification killed the value of mass-stacking one sort of bonus. People have, traditionally, been kind of bored when hitting the cap in CoH. That's what the endgame is there for, anyway: to give people a goal after they've already lapped all of the other progression markers.

Some people wanted something to do at level 50. And it's hard to develop something to do at the level cap that doesn't either create a whole new progression system or wind up becoming totally irrelevant. IOs created progression and achievements, certainly, but they weren't going to keep anyone captivated forever, and they weren't enough of a power leap that they left anyone behind.

Incarnates went the whole distance. It added an endgame to CoH. And that means you have something to do at 50... and it's not an option. Bit of a bitter pill to swallow, when you get right down to it.

Have I mentioned lately that feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com? Of course I have. Next week, let's take another villainous group on, a group that offers us a great opportunity to investigate one of the most sadly misunderstood archvillains in the game's mythology.

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.