A Mild-Mannered Reporter: 2011, year of freedom

A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann
It's just about time for us to bit 2011 a fond farewell, something that I'm sure some of us will be glad to do. And just as I did last year, I thought now would be a good time to look back at the five biggest stories pertaining to City of Heroes over the last 12 months -- including the very obvious one. But there were other stories, some of which might not be about the game proper do but still impact the market.

I will definitely say that last year seemed to have a larger number of stories that shook up the status quo in the game. In comparison to last year's various major changes, Paragon Studios took this year in a bit more of a low-key route, the huge shift in the game's business model notwithstanding. But it was still a year of changes, just like every year, so let's take a trip down memory lane at my picks for the top five stories.

Batman does not approve of your city.5. DC Universe Online went free-to-play

If Champions Online should have had City of Heroes on the ropes, DC Universe Online should have been knocking it out of the ring with a folding chair. Not only is it based on an immensely popular IP, but there's the simple fact that... well, do I need to belabor the point? I'm going to assume not and move on.

With the entry of DC Universe Online into the free-to-play model, it's basically become impossible for any new superheroic game to legitimately bill itself as not using a hybrid business model. It also means that accessibility can't be a major selling point of CoH any longer -- DCUO offers players the opportunity to play on either the PC or a console, and it's definitely more action-oriented. It's not crushing our beloved city, but it's upping the stakes for the future.

I fly through the air with the greatest of ease, with boiling steam shooting down at my knees.4. The launch of the Steampunk Pack (and the technical issues added)

Is the addition of another microtransaction pack really something newsworthy? I'd argue so for two major reasons. The first reason, of course, is that I really like this pack. I've got a real thing for steampunk flavor, and the addition of a whole pack themed around it makes me very happy.

But something else significant happened with the Steampunk Pack: characters finally got access to backpacks, something that the players have wanted for years. This had been hinted at during conventions, but making it a reality constitutes a fairly major shift in costume designs. Admittedly, right now there are only two backpacks, and they're not going to be all that useful for several players (I haven't found a use for either on a character just yet, by way of example). But the potential future additions are well worth noting.

So, yes.  Logo.3. Getting tied to the NCsoft accounts

I almost hesitate to include this in the lineup because honestly, is it really that big of a deal? We log in to a slightly different interface, but in all practical terms the game functions just the same. The only real change is that it means NCsoft has a slightly bigger presence on the computer and makes a bit more of an impact.

However, part of me wonders if this wasn't part of the precursor to the top news story of the year. I have a feeling that NCsoft really does want to promote the idea that there are several games under the same company, all of which sport a hybrid business model -- something that's becoming increasingly true with a handful of holdouts. The option to have a single launcher that will allow players to start off on any of those many games is certainly interesting. Likewise, I wonder if this means we're due for more cross-game promotions, something to encourage CoH subscribers to take a look at Lineage II or similar.

Oh, and it is a change to a launcher that's worked more or less fine since the game launched seven years ago. So that's worth noticing.

Glorious soldiers of the Vanguard!2. The Vanguard pack and the implications

Quick question: How long does content need to be in the game before the developers will let you bypass it? The Vanguard pack sets a precedent for precisely that.

Now, I've spoken in defense of the presence of the Vanguard pack before. This is content that's been long in the game and is not complicated to do, and it works as a freebie for people who weren't ever going to unlock it any other way. But it does set a milestone because it means that the developers are willing after enough time to essentially remove content and turn it into a microtransaction. You can buy the pack now in the store if you missed getting it the first time; the only reason it's still obtainable in-game is because it's tied to a system that hasn't been gutted.

This doesn't bother me, but it is significant in subtle ways. It's a long way from here to games where you can just pay to bypass intentionally annoying chunks of gameplay, so we're not going down that slippery slope, but it does at least make a hill.

Explode punch!1. Announcing City of Heroes Freedom

Well, duh.

The game's latest expansion could be argued as something other than expansion altogether, but no matter what you want to call it, it's a huge shift for the game. New players can jump in with much more ease. Old players can come back and return without having to pay for a subscription. All sorts of new rewards are available. Subscribers get a regular update feature for free. New powersets have been added at a much faster clip. The entire dynamic of the game has changed, and that's no small feat on the part of Paragon Studios. This is big.

At the same time, the actual mechanics of the game haven't changed any. It's still the same game, but it's being aimed and marketed in a different way. You can't argue that it's not a huge change, but you can argue that the game might need some more practical changes.

That, however, is a topic for next week's wish list. For this week, I'm going to sign off with the usual promise that you can provide feedback via mail to eliot@massively.com or just drop your opinions in the comments field. See you on the other side of the world ending next year.

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.