Let's face it: This whole arc has been something new for City of Heroes, an attempt to replicate the huge multi-comic crossovers that are really fun until they make up all the comics ever. You know, like what happened to Marvel comics from the late '90s until the early '00s or what's currently happening at DC. And just like those big crossovers, this one had some big flashes of brilliance and some moments that seemed like a letdown.
You know how I sometimes rail against CoH for not really taking and running with the whole comic book thing? Well this certainly broke that mold. Not only did we wind up with a long-standing story and several sprawling mega-events, but the whole thing genuinely felt like an enormous multi-book crossover. And that's something that CoH can always use.
More than that, it was a great way to give in-game reasons for why certain things were happening now instead of later or earlier. Suddenly there was a reason that the game would be thoroughly disrupted and things like Incarnates would be popping up all over the place. The disruption of a big part of expectations, both in terms of gameplay and in terms of lore, opened the door for a lot of other disruptions. As a result, when you finally have the chance to face down Tyrant and really end things, it feels fitting.
Even if some of the events haven't gone over perfectly, the designers did a great job of slowly leading players through what was going on. If your character didn't start in Praetoria, you would have no idea what was coming until it happened; otherwise, you'd be trying desperately to prepare for the inevitable, either by trying to shield yourself on the Rogue Isles or by trying to prepare Paragon City. It even gave Praetorian characters a reason to keep making decisions based on that previous morality, throwing a very different set of moral choices into a more familiar framework.
It also had a real sense of motive underlying everything. The Rikti invasion and the Rikti's subsequent tepid attempts at re-invasion were mostly predicated on the idea that they could probably win. The Praetorian invasion is based on a need to get out of the horrible prison of their world, and that adds a sense of urgency. The invaders are fighting for survival at the same time that they're fighting for dominion.
Last but certainly not least, it was just plain cool to see a bunch of the major lore characters brought into stark relief. Sometimes the Phalanx can seem so unbelievably pure that it hurts the feel of the setting. This humanized them by showing their inversions.
Remember that big group of articles I did before the launch of Going Rogue? I was proud of them then, and I'm proud of them now, because they were written in passionate defense of the moral ambiguities that Praetoria presented as a setting. Loyalist and Resistance were not simply heroes and villains under different banners; they were a whole different ball game. And then we started the big story arc with Praetoria, and none of it mattered.
I think this was a massively wasted opportunity. Instead of the ambiguous picture that we got of both sides, we're back to a world of blacks and whites once we leave Praetoria. Tyrant isn't a well-intentioned man going to extremes (which may or may not be forgivable); he's a straight-up villain in need of a good punching. That means that the only tangible difference between a former Loyalist and a former villain is that one of them started out in a nicer city. It reduces the whole moral inversion thing right back to where it had been before the expansion launched.
Yeah, this always had to end with a slugfest with Cole. But it would have been nice if we had at least been painted a portrait of someone who didn't completely deserve it.
The other big issue that bothers me is that a big chunk of this major story played out entirely within endgame content for people to grind out new Incarnate abilities. It's not entirely surprising, but it's the same sort of mistake that World of Warcraft made on a regular basis, it's a mistake that a lot of people were worried would come along with the Incarnate system, and here it is. Compare that to Star Wars: The Old Republic, which carefully ensured that you had storylines to participate in regardless of where you were in terms of levels and group content.
Of course, the ending was a foregone conclusion, although I admit part of me would have liked to see a "Praetoria wins, so City of Heroes 2 is your attempt to take the planet back" setup. But aside from minor missteps regarding content availability and some storytelling choices, the first really big plot for the game went over very well. This was a long-term project that took several issues to play out in full, and it wound up benefiting from that extra time after all.
Maybe we could do it again some time.
As always, feedback is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I've got a new Signature Story Arc and a new zone that I really have to sit down to try. But if I can't manage that, I can at least talk about zone revamps and how much they're helping the game.
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.