Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Five years of scum and villainy

Eliot Lefebvre

Let's face it, being a supervillain is fun. Sure, you root for the hero, because blowing up the entirety of California would probably be a bad thing, but in your heart you think that having come up with a plan to wipe out an entire state is pretty darn cool. City of Heroes might have launched letting players just take the role of a heroic sort, but five years ago tomorrow, they launched the game's first expansion, the appropriately named City of Villains.

Of course, these days few players think of CoV as an expansion. Since the two games were merged two years ago, the very concept seems almost ridiculous, and the two have long felt like halves of a whole. City of Heroes is generally accepted as the name of the game, despite a better fashion sense and leveling experience over in the Rogue Isles. But let's take a step back through to 2005 and honor this hive of scum and... well, you know the rest.

Better Archetypes

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the archetypes in CoH were clearly designed to fill MMO roles first and superheroic archetypes second. This is hardly a black mark against the designers -- they were trying something new and radically different. It was a good call to keep things grounded in familiar settings. But while the heroic archetypes have found their niche, they've never quite felt as flavorful as the initial outlay of archetypes in CoV. Think about it for a second. You don't have to think about Rhino or Bane to know their archetype -- the name and mechanics of Brutes fit every trait of the character perfectly.

But even if we leave aside the rich heritage of comic books that the game draws from, the individual archetypes are able to do more things in more interesting arrangements. Masterminds have no equivalent on blueside, Brutes are both brawlers and tanks, Corruptors are both blasters and healers as the situation warrants. Stalkers and Dominators are a bit more single-note, but they both do their thing in a very different manner than their heroic equivalents. And when we finally got our villainous epics, it turned out that playing a nameless mook was actually pretty awesome.

Each of these archetypes was important in creating an overall environment for developers to expand beyond the rather stultifying roles that the game started with. Newer powersets are designed to offer a variety of different functions, with shields and pistols and so forth fitting in various
multiple playstyles. Most importantly, the new archetypes meant that powers could be combined in different ways, could interact differently than they had at launch, could be far more versatile than we had all come to expect.

Better Missions

When it was launched, CoH had innovations that were downright astonishing at the time. The idea that most of the game would be experienced via mission storylines wasn't unheard of, but it was a big break from form. And sure enough, most of your leveling in the city involves finding contacts and completing the tasks they assign to you via stiff and uninteresting dialog which sounds like it was written by a bored and frustrated programmer.

To be fair, by the time most of the dialog was written, I can imagine that it was being written by bored and frustrated programmers. However great a writer you think you are, there comes a point where you are essentially just writing words until you hit the requisite count when you're churning this stuff out. There are only so many ways you can say "go into this warehouse and beat these Hellions into powder" before you just throw up your hands.

The point I'm getting at here is that there weren't many storylines to grab you in the original game. There were some bits and pieces, but it wasn't until CoV that the game really gave its missions a full set of attention and investment. That is where the tutorial mission chain involves you taking part in multiple Arachnos operations and taking out a fairly big threat to the island, where you get a feel for the raving lunacies of the Fortunatas, the subtle superiority of Arachnos agents and the labyrinthine politics of islands where everyone's a criminal.

These missions have personality. They're presented as a coherent, overarching story. And it's the reception to this sort of gameplay that led to the team to decide that a story-heavy expansion like Going Rogue would find a positive audience. Opinions might differ on how well the expansion plays, but it's hard to argue against the quality of the writing and storytelling seen in the game.

Better Zones

This is the one point that's easiest to write about, mostly because it's hard to describe what's a very visual phenomenon. But let's make it simple: go log in to CoH and travel through each of the hero zones. Take a screenshot of each, then shuffle them and try to pick out which shot comes from which zone. If you want to make it even harder on yourself, avoid Croatoa and Faultline.

Not only do the villain zones look more distinct, there's a progression of sorts as you move through them. Mercy Island has sectioned off the non-horrible parts of the island, which look very similar to the architecture in Port Oakes, which is further cleaned and spread out in Cap Au Diable... you get the idea. There's still some overlap, but the grimy industrial sprawl of Sharkhead Isle versus the artificial shine on Nerva Archipelago is much more striking than, say, Talos Island versus Independence Port.

There are a lot of other innovations that came along with the Rogue Isles, but if I have to summarize it all? I'd have to say that the company essentially relaunched the game with a bunch of new options and the same basic engine, and... then they convinced us to pay full price for it again.

How evil.

Further reflections or observations about CoV are, of course, welcome in either the comments field or my inbox. As always, you can reach me at Next week it's questions and answers, like always, so be sure to get those in!

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.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr