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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The right now in review

Eliot Lefebvre

About a year ago, we saw the six-year anniversary of City of Heroes, and along with the overly long and yet still not comprehensive retrospective, I wrote a column about what the game needed for the future. It was a reasonable column at the time, what with a year stretching out ahead of us, another potential competitor on the horizon, and the game's latest and greatest expansion still not available for play. But time makes liars of us all, and there are a lot of things that have happened over the past year.

So before we look back on the game over the past year, let's take a look at what we needed then, what's happened since, and where I was enormously wrong. (I'm nothing if not honest.) And let's also look around at games other than City of Heroes, because let's face it, if you're in the genre of superheroic MMOs, you can't ignore the other two competitors in the fairly narrow field. When I first talked about the future, we were awaiting DC Universe Online's launch, and we weren't expecting any big business-model moves out of Champions Online.

Well, DC Universe Online did finally launch, with very little fanfare. I've not yet played it, but I've heard that it's having certain problems with player retention and long-term goals. This is not an unusual set of problems, but it is taking place awfully quickly in the game's lifespan. The intense competition I predicted doesn't seem to be materializing, which makes twice in a row that CoH has seen its would-be nemesis fail to come out swinging.

As for Champions Online, the free-to-play conversion prompted a lot of speculation about what this would mean for CoH. The official line remains that there are no plans for the older game to follow suit, and quite frankly I agree that it's presently not in the game's best interests to do so. At its age, the game is better off attracting new players by giving old players lots of reasons to come back and drag friends along. For better or worse, it's not going to have the graphical "oomph" to wow anyone out of the gate.

But enough about that. Let's get into the meat of the column, the stuff I said we needed over the next year. How did we do?

Hero side needs some revamping

The hero side revamp still seems to be on the table for launch on the fifth of absolutely never, which is a real shame. You could, of course, argue that Praetoria serves as the revamp requested, except that it puts players on a strange footing. It's not that I have a problem with characters starting on a world not resembling my own, as my own world doesn't contain superheroes capable of shooting laser beams out of their eyes. It's the mild disconnect of starting a character in a world not resembling my own, followed by the transition to a world still not resembling my own but resembling my own a little more closely... it's a touch strange, is what I'm saying.

We need meaningful choices

The addition of the Incarnate system certainly is a nice step in the direction of highly meaningful choices. Sure, you'll never be stuck having to pick just one Incarnate power and never looking at another, but you still can only have one active at any given time, and that winds up making a pretty substantial impact overall. Similarly, your alignment choices do have a long-term impact, although the whole procedure is a bit mutable over a long enough span of time. You're ultimately encouraged to pick one alignment and stick with it, but that runs a bit counter to the content available to both sides... so maybe I'm understating how much choice you get after all.

Our characters need more sense of place

Praetorians get a much stronger sense of identity and backstory by beginning in a unique zone with distinct backstory elements... which then sort of goes out the window once they get to Primal Earth. Origins are something the developers have confirmed they want to diminish in importance rather than reinforce. On the other hand, DCUO hasn't hit the origin button very hard at all, so... I don't know. Call this one a wash?

Update pass on old costume parts

We've seen no updates on extant costume parts, but there's been a steady stream of new ones, albeit occasionally tucked away in super boosters. The attitude seems to be that the old stuff is fine and the new stuff just helps add options, which is what we really need. There are also the marvelous and dreamy rumors that we will one day get a nice set of backpacks, something that fills me with joy when one looks at all the marvelous NPC backpacks out there. I'll call it fifty-fifty.

New powersets

The four powersets from Going Rogue are pretty darn pimp when you get right down to it. None of them is overpowered, but each one brings new mechanics or differing playstyles into the mix, and they're definitely the sort of thing we need in the game. More would and will be nice, and I'd like to see some sort of ETA on more options, but I'm an insatiable altoholic, and even so, I recognize the balance nightmare that could result from a flood of new powers.

Old powersets could use some revamping

This joins the hero-side revamp in the chain-gang of things that don't seem to be on the priority list, which is kind of understandable, but again -- you can see the difference between Kinetic Melee and the classically lackluster sets. Even if you adore some of the older options (and I do), they can start to feel dated.

So where does all this leave us? The development is strongly tilted toward bringing in the (perceived) new hotness with no regard for correcting or changing the older elements of the game. We've gotten some nice new developments but not a whole lot of the older passes that we could have used. That means that the top of the game and the latest expansion are great, but the older stuff is still not terribly friendly to new players.

Next week, however, we're going to take a look at all of the stuff we did get over the last 12 months, as it's time for our anniversary column. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments or mail them along to just like always.

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.

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