First added in City of Villains as newspaper missions and later ported over to heroes via the police radio, these missions are great little bursts of content that give you a place to fight and a reason to do so without hunting down a contact or a specific arc. Unfortunately, they also do so in a way that really steamrolls much of the game's content and encourages their nigh-exclusive use. Like many of the systems added to City of Heroes over the years, they add a lot of fun, but they also are directly at odds with an existing set of fun content.
Let me just start off with my usual comic book rant and say that I've always loved radio missions because they're just so appropriate. Sure, sometimes Batman finds himself on the trail of a longtime nemesis, but half the time he's just showing up at random muggings or robberies to punch some dudes out of their crime spree. Similarly, Doctor Doom doesn't just sit in his castle and wait for a while until a friend calls; he hears about some gems on display and he goes to steal them. Or... you know, gets a robot to steal them. It's not always totally clear.
But even beyond the appropriateness of the comic setting, radio missions are one of those mechanics I wish existed in every single MMO ever because they solve a ubiquitous problem that every other game in the world has struggled with.
Back in vanilla City of Heroes, you would slowly build up a daisy chain of contacts. Contact A introduced you to contact B, contact B led to C and D, and so on. All well and good, but it was very possible to wind up with several contacts left entirely by the wayside or with a very limited choice of missions. You could find yourself accepting missions further along a high-level chain and eschewing a broad spectrum of contacts quickly, leaving you more or less stranded without much content to consume for a while.
Radio missions fix that. If you're in the right level band and haven't filled your UI with all the missions you can possibly take, you can just jump into a zone, open up, and bam! Your mission, complete with a side-order of motivation. Pile up enough of those and you get a mayhem or safeguard mission, and then you get another contact to help get you back on the path. Or you can just ignore that and keep running through radio missions.
They're great for group play, too. Instead of worrying that everyone needs to be on the same stage of a quest line or making sure that everyone can run a complete dungeon, you just queue up a mission and go. Someone has to drop out? No big deal; you can be a bit ad hoc in your party composition. They're the ultimate in low-stress content, something that gives you the fun and flavor of the game in a couple of clicks without sacrificing anything in the process.
Except you do sacrifice something, and that something is every other part of the game.
It's great that you can just go ahead and click into a new mission without any other preamble, but it also means that the game turns into a series of isolated hiccups without any overall sense of continuity or connectivity. You don't get a sense for who people like the Council or the Hellions or the Freakshow are; you just know that they're enemy groups that you beat up for the end of the mission.
OK, that's what you think about the Council after you do know who they are, but that's beside the point.
This also screws with the game's pacing entirely. Radio missions are like many other parts of CoH in that they can scale upward based on the size of the group. But also like most CoH content, the scaling is pretty darn messy -- you quickly wind up with a lot of extra enemies, but in a large enough group, those extra enemies don't directly scale up to an increased threat. As a result, you aren't rewarded for playing cleanly so much as you're rewarded for just rushing and killing things as fast as humanly possible. Notions of roles like "tanks" or "support" are thrown out the window, and the idea of actually using a hold seems downright pointless. Why immobilize when you can kill, right?
CoH is the least action-based MMO currently on the market, but the radio missions really reward being as active as possible. They also reward chain-running them, since it's faster than going back and forth to your contact. Why not just grab a quick radio mission? So you just click to go again until your finger gets sore, and the game feels...
Well, it feels like some of the worse moments of many other games. You can probably think of an example or two. I'm not going to name names.
Despite all of this, I like the missions a lot. I think they're worth playing and a fun addition to the game. But they do have some definite downsides if you don't consciously aim for inefficiency every so often.
On a completely unrelated note, I both hope and fully expect that you've had Radio Gaga stuck in your head this whole article through.
Feedback is welcome, as it always is, either in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let's talk about summer blockbusters for a bit.
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.