See, from one point of view, this was a content-light year. I mean, we had two new issues and that's it. On the other hand, one of those was the launch of City of Heroes Freedom, and the result has been a steady stream of partial updates, minor improvements, new installments in the signature story arc, and so on. In previous years, going issue-by-issue worked as a way to look back over the course of the year, but it just doesn't work any longer.
But then, it's not supremely necessary. There are three big things that have defined the game for the past year: Freedom, the Incarnate system, and new toys. So we're going to break the format that doesn't really work and just talk about those in order.
City of Heroes Freedom
Every introduction to discussing a game that's gone free-to-play these days requires us to mention how the change in business models is sweeping the genre and so forth. So, yes, major surprise, people are much more prone to playing a free game, even if they are then far more likely to drop a bunch of cash on the game. It's the same thing we've seen in game after game at this point, and it's no longer really all that surprising with the advent of reliable online payment methods, but you know. Boilerplate.
I'm not honestly sure how many new players -- if any -- we've seen added with the switch to free-to-play, but I have a vague sense it's not that many. If anything, it seems to have resulted in one of the two major changes to the game that I'll be talking about further down and a much more relaxed attitude among the playerbase. City of Heroes always felt a little like a club where people rotate in or out depending on other hobbies, and allowing the people who aren't subscribing the option to jump back in periodically seems to have mostly encouraged that. People drift in and out of subscriptions now, sometimes just tossing more money back into the shop.
At its core, though, CoH has always been a game that's well-suited to the conversion. The game's two biggest draws are making alts and making costumes, and the cash shop is set up to cater to new costume parts, new powersets, and new character slots. Aside from one staggeringly bad call, I think that Freedom has been a generally good thing for the game, albeit perhaps not the huge door-busting change that its supporters would have preferred. It's been a little thinner on content than some of us may have liked, but that ties into other issues, mostly Incarnate ones.
It's unfair to say there hasn't been a lot of new content, but a lot of that content has been focused squarely at the endgame population, which is a little bit odd because for a very long time CoH didn't really have an endgame population due to its lack of, well, an endgame.
I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, to use an analogy I've grown fond of, for me and several people I talk with, the new Incarnate stuff is as useful as giving a bear a shotgun. On the other hand, claiming something is bad just because I don't have a lot of personal use for it is just plain dumb. The content is there, it works, and best of all it fulfills the vital purpose of making the Incarnate system feel as fleshed-out as the rest of the game. Considering it launched well after the game's launch, I think that's important.
The only real criticism I have of the Incarnate system that is not based on personal preference is still a big one, though: It's been the first big divider for the playerbase. Yes, PvP created a small cadre of loyal and long-suffering players, but by and large CoH has long had at least the appearance of a fairly unified group of players with somewhat unified playstyles. Incarnates change all of that. I wonder how much of the endgame population is really gung-ho about this and how much of it is made up of people just doing what they believe is required at this point. But it's still a lot of content for a system that needs it and a lot of refinement, so while I can complain about peripheral matters, I can't say these improvements have been bad.
New toys in the toybox
Look, there are things that I think we might have seen too much of and things that perhaps we've seen not enough of, but one thing I cannot possibly say is that we haven't gotten new stuff. We've gotten so much stuff. There are new powersets, new costume pieces, new zones, new pets, new story arcs, new Enhancements, new Inspirations... the list goes on. This year has been full of the team just tossing every crazy possible idea against the wall and seeing what sticks, with some real winners and some real clunkers but a whole lot to play with either way.
Yeah, some of the things the devs have come up with have struck me as really bad. But that's an inevitable side effect of trying almost everything. There have been ups and downs, but we've gotten several powers that seemed like they would never exist normally and a whole lot of neat new ideas with varying degrees of success. Points for effort, even if some of the execution could have gone better at times.
Oh, and let's not forget the Paragon Rewards system, which provides many more toys just for playing. I liked the whole Veteran program from before, but the new incarnation is far better.
It's a top-level overview for the year, but at least this time it's not sprawling out over two columns. Your opinions, as always, are welcome through email (firstname.lastname@example.org, you know) or in the comments. Next week, just like always, it's a look forward to the next year's development.
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.