The core of the system is pretty well-understood, but let's just start there so that we're all on the same page. Once you're past level 20, your character has one of four alignments: hero, vigilante, villain, or rogue. Heroes and villains are pure alignments, while vigilantes and rogues are transitional alignments. The main difference is that rogues and vigilantes can both access the Rogue Isles and Paragon City without restriction, with the game treating them as if they were natives. On the other hand, reaffirming your identity as a transitional alignment doesn't grant you specialized merits, nor does it grant access to the specialized hero or villain zones.
Everyone by now knows the vector: a hero turns into a vigilante and then can become a villain, whilst a villain can become a rogue and then turn into a hero. By killing enemies, you can unlock Tips. Each tip mission can be performed one of two ways, and the player chooses which direction he wants to get credit for. Once you've completed 10 total missions in a given vector, you can also get the drop of a morality mission for the alignment you've been chasing. Succeed at that, and your alignment changes.
There are also badges both for maintaining an alignment for a specific length of time and for making the shift from one side to the other. In addition, each alignment gets a minor power as long as you maintain it for seven days -- the power remains as long as you keep that alignment. None of them is terribly game-breaking or anything, but they're a nice bonus for not changing your affiliation constantly.
Now that we've gotten the broad sweep of things out of the way, let's get into specifics.
There are two categories of tip missions: Paragon City tips and Rogue Isles tips. Rogue Isles tips can be performed according to either villain or rogue alignments, while Paragon City tips can be performed according to either hero or vigilante alignments. Pay attention to that fact, as it's important.
Let's say that you want to switch from being a villain to being a hero, since the path is identical either way and only the names change. (It's also exactly what I'm doing with my crab spider, so it's a fine example.) Once you start getting some tips, you run them according to the rogue option every time, helpfully labeled as such and with plenty of text confirming that you do, in fact, wish to be rogue-like. (Not roguelike; that's different.) You can only get alignment credit for five of these a day, so it'll take you at least two days to fill up your rogue bar. Once it is full, you will get a morality mission at the same rate you previously got tips. The morality mission says outright that performing it will change your alignment, but you do get to choose your reward at the end in case you'd rather remain a villain.
There are no choices to be made during the morality mission. Your choice is in accepting the mission or not and in all the choices you've made up to that point. There's no big turning point a la the Praetorian arcs in which you have you choose whether to support Arachnos or take his wallet, for instance.
Once you've cleared the morality mission and changed to a rogue, your existing list of tips will be wiped out, and you'll have three tracks of morality: villain, rogue, and hero. However, tips in the Rogue Isles will still allow you the choice of either villain or rogue methodologies. In order to become a hero, you have to go to Paragon City and start getting hero tips. (Didn't I tell you that was important?)
There are a few different ways to get to Paragon City. The obvious one is to take the submarine offered by Submariner Janus, who runs a transport between Independence Port and Sharkhead Isle. You can also use more unconventional means -- for instance, members of the Midnighter Club can enter in Cap au Diable, head over to Steel Canyon's building, and then walk out the front door. Pocket D is another option for transition between zones. Lastly, if you're part of a villain group, you can always return to the Isles via a Base Portal, although that won't let you get into the city in the first place.
Once you're in Paragon City, the same principles as before apply: start killing things that give you experience and they'll drop tips. You only get one option for completing these tips, however, and that's the hero option. It's a slight letdown. You can also, however, pick up a police radio and take part in heroic task forces or story arcs. This is a good thing, since all villain missions are dropped when you switch sides and all villain tips leave your list. Just make sure to visit a detective the first time around so that you can get the radio and start building toward contacts.
It goes almost without saying that the process from hero to villain is identical -- you just need to get a newspaper rather than a police radio, become a vigilante instead of a rogue, do villain contacts in the Rogue Isles, and so forth. The actual flow from moment to moment doesn't change.
You might be thinking that there's every reason in the world to stay in a transitional alignment, since you can get all the benefits of both sides without any negatives. But there is a single negative -- you can't earn Hero Merits or Villain Merits. By reaffirming your existing alignment -- that is, doing a bunch of tip missions as a hero while already a hero -- you can complete a morality mission for your existing alignment, which nets you a few merits of the respective "pure" alignment. Those, in turn, can be used to purchase pure awesome, including the super-rare purple IO recipes. You can also reaffirm a transitional alignment, but there's no benefit to doing so.
I have to admit that I'm a little more disappointed with the actual transition from villain to hero and vice versa. Villains to rogues make perfect sense -- you spend way more time worrying about getting paid than absolute power, and as a result by the time you go into the morality mission, you just want to get paid. Then you get to Paragon City and... start doing selfless things for no real reason. It's a bit of a jump thematically, is what I'm saying.
Still, you can't fault the entire system, and it works like a charm. The tip missions themselves are great, and I'm glad you can change sides. I just would have liked to see some rogue-to-hero missions... maybe with Issue 19.
That's this week's diatribe, but I'll be back next week with another, or at least with a roundup of community threads. If you have one you'd like to highlight, or even just general feedback, feel free to shoot a mail along to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, naturally, there's the comment thread right down there.
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.