This wasn't a bad present by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a present that left us momentarily baffled. We hadn't asked for a power juicer, we didn't feel a great need for a power juicer, and we weren't even sure exactly what to do with a power juicer. (Make juice, obviously, but beyond that?) It was a great present but one that struck us as so far out of left field that we really weren't quite sure how to use it at first, much less what it would offer us.
Issue 22 of City of Heroes strikes me in much the same way. It's not that the update is bad or unwanted or unnecessary; it's that the entire thing is essentially aimed in a direction away from my own playstyle. I imagine a lot of free players are going to run into the same issue because even though it's being touted as the game's newest free update, there's precious little in there that's actually changed on the free side.
At first glance, Issue 22 is yet another reason for free or paying players to roll yet another alt. After all, you're getting a primary powerset and two secondaries as a VIP, and it's still several new powersets. How is that anything but awesome, right?
Well... free is a relative thing. The Controller and Dominator secondaries are essentially cobbled together from existing sets. Not only are they plugging holes that really deserved to be plugged a long time ago, but if you're a free player, only one of the two sets is even useable without purchasing an archetype. It's a nice addition for something you already have, but it's not something that's quite as free as advertised.
As for the primary set of Darkness Control, it again feels like it's plugging a hole that's long been there. There are a couple of really neat powers in there, and it makes a ton of thematic sense for players to finally build a Dark control-oriented character, but the set itself feels fairly standard compared to some of the more unique mechanics thrown into new sets of late. Plus, speaking from a personal perspective, I know it's a new set for the two archetypes that I'm generally least likely to play. I'm not upset to be getting it for free, but as with the aforementioned power juicer, I'm not altogether sure what to do with it.
Staff Fighting, on the other hand, does interest me... but there's no definite decision on whether or not it will be included at the same time, and it probably won't be free either way. There's also the fact that this is something like the fifth melee powerset that requires players to track a whole new set of mechanics, which has got to be getting just a little bit long in the tooth by now. Not that any of that will keep me from buying it, but I have to keep in mind that not everyone shares my fascination with quarterstaves.
The solo Incarnate track
Of course, the other big change that Issue 22 promises is the revamp of Dark Astoria into a marvelous new land of solo Incarnate progression. This, of course, is a complete non-starter for the free players in the audience, since they're not able to take part in anything Incarnate anyway. But for the VIPs reading today, this is a bit more significant. I can't possibly complaining about this, can I?
Except that I do wonder just how this is going to play into the existing system because there are two methods, and both of them have issues.
To my understanding -- and this may be flawed, for reasons I'll get to shortly -- the current Incarnate system is pretty slow. You make progress, and getting your power for each slot feels pretty great, but it's going to take you quite some time to reach the apex of power in each slot. If the progress in Astoria is slower than that... well, it's going to be something to run on the side while you wait for your Trials. Players who haven't been able to take part due to group content will probably get bored of it before too long. On the other hand, if it's faster or on par with the Trials, then it's going to be difficult to justify running a Trial with other people when you can just rely on yourself to level your Incarnate abilities.
And then there are those of us who just aren't all that interested in the Incarnate system at all. One of the traits that has always drawn players to CoH has been the idea that you really can do anything in any pattern you want. Interested in one thing over another? Just do that. You'll hit 50 eventually and then you can largely sit tight, right?
Except if there's a solo Incarnate path... then solo content can start really expecting you to have some Incarnate power under your belt. At which point hitting 50 and going down the endgame route is no longer really all that optional.
Not bad, but not alluring
I don't mean to say that these are bad features. They're good ones, but they're plugging holes rather than introducing something totally new and awesome. Most of it isn't going to be accessible to free players, so if you're in those ranks, you're not getting a whole heck of a lot with this update.
Maybe I'm jaded, maybe I'm overly cynical, or maybe I'm just looking at this in the wrong light, but I can't help but be reminded of a juicer that I looked at with the simultaneous thoughts that it was a cool gift and that I had no use for it.
Your feedback, of course, is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next week, it's time to discuss the second anniversary of the column, so that's precisely what I'll be focusing on. But before I go, since last week was my first try at something different with columns, I'd like to make a special point of asking what people think. I started by giving everyone two different categories to vote in, and last week I wrote the column in question at long last. So was this something good and worth revisiting, or just lackluster?
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.