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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Tripping the XP fantastic

Eliot Lefebvre

City of Heroes has the best pseudo-seasonal event anywhere: the double XP weekend. Forget holidays that you're usually sick to death of in which you can get some arbitrary gimmick powers, it's cold hard character boosting that really gets everyone excited. And if those of us that play the game weren't swimming with enough alts, we also had our chance to scream up with dual pistols. In summary, it was poised to be the best Christmas ever, except for the minor detail of not being Christmas.

Going into the weekend on Friday. I had three major priorities. I wanted to level one of my two "mains" which had been suffering from some neglect, I wanted to bring a villain to 20 or as close as I could manage, and I wanted someone with paired handguns. A tall order, even for a doubled-up weekend, but I live for challenges. Or I'm a glutton for punishment, one or the other. Read on past the break for the path of events and some observations about the leveling game, and perhaps even a bit of enlightenment.

"Many other functions"
I decided to kill two birds with one stone by started a Dual Pistol/Kinetics Corrupter to both level a villainous character while testing the new powerset. After a few moments of thought, I settled on Asacusa, Security and Training Robot (Many Other Functions) as my new villain.

Those of you who don't get the reference, don't worry, it's not necessary.

Leveling through the starter zone was a reminder of how much the design team had learned since the core game, as well as some of the lessons they didn't learn. On the one hand, you're not street-sweeping for random enemies -- you have specific tasks to take care of a group of serpentine malcontents and handle a few "loose ends" on the Arachnos side. On the other hand, there's no real granularity in the content. Your first new hero contacts start up around level 5, and you have an immediate choice of who to work with. By contrast, you don't get your first real villainous contact until you get off Mercy Island -- up until then it's a straight chain of "go here next" without any choice on the player's part.

Worse yet, when you do get your first choice of contact, the choice isn't based on anything. You go to one of two people who... well... give you a newspaper. And they will eventually give you people to talk to, with no information about that up front. Okay, so there might have been slight immersion hiccups in telling you "go talk to Doctor Bratwurst, he fights Hellions" right up front, but it was sure as heck a nice case of Exactly What It Says On The Tin.

Of course, that's nitpicking of the highest order. The starter zone for villains is miles better than the zone for heroes, and I can only hope that one day Atlas Park will get a nice makeover. Perhaps when Going Rogue launches? I can dream.

Hyper-accelerated experience threw me to level 13 in a few hours worth of play, with several breaks as well as me overcoming the slight learning curve on my Razer Naga. It also gave me a fair chance to grab several powers in the Dual Pistols set, which is clearly a product of later design and also immensely satisfying to play. From what I saw of the powers, the first three are solid entries into the usual ranged power tiers (fast-and-weak, slower-and-stronger, cone attack), and Swap Ammo is an interesting idea that isn't quite as interesting in play.

To expand: switching between damage types to overcome resistances is a nice idea, for example, but it's useless to bother with in the event that your target has flat-out Ranged resistance, which isn't hard to get in PvP and is handed out to enemies with some regularity. That leaves the secondary effects to judge each ammo by, and they're neither consistent nor strong enough to be hugely important. The slow effect on Cryo Ammo is negligible, the attack reduction on Chemical Ammo is irrelevant in light of how fast you kill things, and Incendiary's DoT would be useful if not for the same problem. This is only exacerbated by the randomness of the secondary effects and the fact that no ammo gives you a much nicer secondary of knockdowns.

Mind you, I'm not complaining about the powerset as a whole. But that particular aspect of it feels kind of weak, and that's a downside in a set using it as one of its "iconic" features. Presumably pairing up things like Fire Ammo and Bullet Rain will give you a nice amount of area control, or snaring enemies in PvP, but the secondary ammos need to have constant rather than possible debuff applications. Then again, they've stated the inconsistency is the tradeoff for versatility, so perhaps my inexperience is talking here.

This all sounds pretty negative, but the fact of the matter is that it's not meant to be. All of these issues are small ones contrasted against the sheer fun of gun-twirling mayhem that you can unleash. Dual Pistols isn't going to be the Next Greatest Thing, but it's a very good thing and well worth the time to learn.

Down in the dumps
I wasn't just going to let Asacusa have all the fun. Sipahi, my still-young tanker, has been gracing the header for this column for the past several weeks without having gotten nearly as many levels as she deserved. (The other two routine stars are Seagull, my better half's main when she played, and Mister Swift, a large gentleman who really deserves a place in the game one of these days.) She had been stuck in the low-level doldrums for a bit, and I wanted to get her out of them and into the interesting stuff on the hero side.

And here we come back to the problem of the low-level hero zones. It's not just that they're old, it's that they're not terribly interesting in any design terms. Okay, the Rogue Isles look all kinds of decrepit and have seen much better days, but all those ruined buildings and slick Arachnos forts have style. Paragon City at low levels looks like Hartford, Connecticut. It's a city because they say it is, with no real human element to reinforce the immersion. Later zones are better, but darn if it's not hard to push through sometimes, even just to Skyway City.

Lucky for me, I got an invite early on to a Sewers party, and that's a solid shot of experience no matter what weekend it is. The great thing about the double XP weekend is that it's coupled with the reactivation weekend, which means that all of your low-level characters are virtually assured of having someone to group up with. Some members of the group were working with Dual Pistols (with sentiments ranging from mirroring my own to being enthusiastically happy), but most of us were just enjoying the run.

And for all the slight content issues and repetition that City of Heroes has, working together in a group is some kind of kinetically panicked fun. Watching things blow up left and right all around me while I immolate enemies to keep their attention is a pretty singular experience.

That, above all else, is why the double XP weekend is so excellent. Because it gives everyone an excuse to just group up, go out, and curbstomp anything you see. The acceleration lets you try things you wouldn't, make your way up, and forces you out of your comfort zone better than any other rewards possibly could. I didn't quite make 20 on Asacusa, and I didn't get quite as much time on Sipahi as I would have liked, but it was a great way to get out of the ivory tower of theory and discussion and back into the meat of taking justice (or injustice) to the streets. That's a net win in my book.

So, let me know -- how was your weekend? If you have some interesting stories, some questions, interesting community threads, or whatever you'd like, send them along to Eliot at Massively dot com. Next week is still up in the air, so if you have something you'd really like to see addressed in the column, you can even feel free to send that along. (I make no promises about writing it, but I'll at least look.)

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