Let's assume, for the purpose of this article, that Paragon Studios is knee-deep in development of City of Heroes 2 and simply isn't telling anyone. What sort of things would the game need? What would be the best possible route for the game to take? How could it satisfy fans of City of Heroes while drawing in new players? I don't have the absolute answers... but it sure does make for some interesting speculation, based on the things the team has been doing over the past several years.
Start with the import
No matter what, a sequel needs to carry over certain features from the first game. There are some features that can be there or not, but there are others that players associate pretty closely with the game's structure. And ironically, most of the features that CoH sports in this sense weren't even launch features.
To be more specific, I think that CoH2 would absolutely need to have playable heroes and villains from the start, an alignment system, a strong set of costume customization, and some nods toward all of the currently available powersets. You don't need all of the sets in place (that would be overwhelming, and I think there are ways around that), but remove all of those features and the game stops feeling quite like a sequel.
And yes, of those, only costume customization was a launch feature. At this point, however, the idea of excising villains from the game even by omission would make the overall environment notably weaker. Players expect heroes and villains to both be in from the start, complete with their respective factions and leaders. The alignment system feels like a natural outgrowth of that. As for the powersets... well, there are so many at this point that you want everyone coming in to feel like he's got some familiar concepts to hang on to.
Of course, that's not a lot that has to be carried over. Leaving the game free to mix things up, such as...
A brand-new same-old setting
The obvious temptation is to set the game in a later Paragon City, with the War Walls down and an open environment to explore. The problem with that temptation is that I think we can all safely say by now that city environments are boring.
I'm not attempting to slight the designers working on the game. The zones manage to feel very different from one another despite the fact that they all have to be part of one massive city and thus have to maintain certain design elements. But you can tell there are places where the game bumps up against two big problems. The first problem is that Paragon City is still a city, and as such it still needs to look like a plausible city. The second problem is that it's in Rhode Island.
So ditch Paragon. If you want to be really revolutionary, have Paragon be taken over by Praetoria or the Rikti (finally) or heck, Nemesis. Give players, heroes and villains alike, a new city to fight over that incorporates elements from the old favorite but becomes a very different animal. And make it large enough so that you can move on to the outskirts, give players ways and means to travel to other zones further outside of just city, city, city. Champions Online certainly let you have superheroic adventures in a variety of settings; there's no reason CoH2 couldn't take that lead.
Obviously, it would make sense to have heroes and villains sharing zones now. We're halfway there already.
Thus far, I haven't really talked about the mechanics that I'd expect from the game at all. Both Champions Online and DC Universe Online have pushed the expected mechanics of a superheroic game toward the "action" side, which isn't necessarily for everyone. At the same time, something a little bit more active wouldn't go entirely remiss.
More than anything, I'd like to see an abandonment of the whole archetype system as it currently exists. Mixing and matching a power set with a role might work out better, as we currently have an electrical set available for pretty much every single archetype in one form or another. Focusing on picking sets of powers and then changing functions and available powers based on desired role would certainly feel more like a comic book -- think a combination of the flexible abilities from The Matrix Online and the Destiny system from Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.
Obviously, this wouldn't work for every setup currently in the game. Masterminds, obviously, have their own set of issues with minions, and there are the weapon-based sets that are a bit more constrained. But the point is that there's a balance to be struck between the current setup and the anything-goes build of games like CO. Aiming for that balance is probably a good target.
And while I'm not totally on board with it, I think that redoing Enhancements to be more like traditional equipment would make the game more accessible to everyone.
So is this what we're getting?
Who knows? Like I said, it's all speculation. But it beats more complaining about the Super Pack.
Feedback, agreement, disagreement, and so forth can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or left in the comments below. Next week, to show that I have learned precisely no lessons, more complaining abut the Super Pack.
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.