The NDA about nothing
The more I think about it, the more I've become convinced that Issue 20's NDA really had nothing to do with the content of the issue. It was all about the content of Issue 19, and that's what made all the difference.
In order to properly test the leapfrogged future issue, after all, players would need to be exposed to the full Incarnate system. They'd need to be given enough materials that testing the system was reasonably possible, and that would mean having the Alpha Slot already in place. But the Alpha Slot is probably the least cool of all the abilities we've seen to date, with the other powers each getting a far flashier set of commands for players to enjoy.
Oh, sure, you know enough about the system to know that a flat recharge increase for every single power is a huge boost in power. But in your heart of hearts, do you really want that if you've heard about the later slot that lets you shoot fire from your eyes no matter what your archetype is?
So the Alpha Slot needed to stand on its own in order to sound cool. And the only way to make it stand on its own was to make sure that the testing for later slots wasn't all over everyone's lips. The NDA made Issue 19 seem cooler to everyone (cue the disagreement that it focused too much on group content, which is a sentiment I've echoed before and is being addressed).
The next question, of course, is why it was necessary to test Issue 20 prior to Issue 19's launch. That question requires a bit more conjecture, since it certainly doesn't seem strictly necessary... but in all likelihood, it was done to ensure that both the higher slots would work for a mass rollout and that the Incarnate trials can be run quickly and efficiently. The drop-and-go system being rolled out isn't too flashy from a player standpoint, but I would imagine it's pretty ornate from a programming standpoint and merits some extra time in the oven.
I really wish that we still had the option to link directly to comments since the site revamp, but as we don't, I'm going to have to just direct everyone back to the PAX East panel comments, in which longtime reader J Brad Hicks had some choice words regarding the complete lack of a low-level revamp. It's fast becoming an unpopular topic even among fans, despite the fact that it really does get asked at every single panel and is always met with a surfeit of blank stares and "well, we'd like to do that eventually."
The thing is, on one level, it has already been done. Praetoria gave us a brand-new starting zone that hits us from the start with fresh content, and I don't think anyone would argue that it isn't leaps and bounds better than what we had to deal with before the expansion. The argument would seem to be that there's no reason to start a character anywhere else, so the problem is solved.
Of course, this neatly avoids two issues. The first is that, for better or for worse, there are going to be players who don't have access to Praetoria or would prefer not to start their character in an alternate Earth, if it were even a choice available for the EATs in the audience. The second is that it's not as if all of the old and outdated content ceases to exist once players cross the boundary to 20. There's a lot of newer content in the midgame, but there's a lot of older content too, and it suffers from the all-too-familiar slump in experience. No matter how many hundreds of times you've done a particular arc, the higher level it is, the greater the odds that you'll be hitting every contact in that level band just to get past the area.
A lot of older content has been revamped over the years, which is nice. But more is needed, and even more importantly, there should be pointers for players to find what content is the new awesome and what's still sealed in a plastic container marked "USE BY 4/15/06." As it stands, you're left to stagger around aimlessly through a sea of contacts without any real flow, and I think that's a major aspect of why things feel really repetitive in the lower game.
We know it's a lot of work to redo older stuff. But guys, you've got a captive audience of folks who will happily roll low-level characters to experience the new content. Take advantage of it!
Next week, I promise, we're actually going to move forward on the archetype discussions. You can feel free to admonish me on that -- or talk about the subject of the column -- via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comment field. And to answer a reader comment from a couple of weeks ago that I've been bad about replying to: Yes, we will be getting back to Mission Architect reviews sooner rather than later.
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.