The set at a glance
Temporal Manipulation, in brief, is absolutely everything I like to see in sets for Defenders, Corruptors, Masterminds, and Controllers. If it weren't coming out significantly after my little series of archetype discussions, I'd probably rank it pretty high for the first three and a bit lower for Controllers just because it has no real offensive bite. (Killing things would take a very long time, see.) But only a little bit, because seriously, the set seems to have all the tricks you could want for paralyzing your enemies and buffing your allies in a single mix.
You get slows, which are powerful. You actually have a hold in the mix even if you're not a Controller, and if you are, that might make up for your total lack of damage. You get a nice heal and buffs to regeneration, recovery, and attack speed, all of which are crucial buffs to have. And more even than that, these effects are cascading based on the set's unique built-in buffs -- using the right Temporal Manipulation effects makes your next buff bigger or your next debuff more vicious, which is a boon against particularly stalwart enemies.
Notably, the Accelerated/Delayed system is arranged so that you don't get the cascade benefit on whole groups of enemies. Instead, you Delay a particularly powerful target or Accelerate a really potent ally, and then bust out the area abilities that affect the selected target a little bit more. The result is that two already-good abilities become much more tactical because you have to think not just about what will be affected the most now but also about what's going to matter immediately afterward. It's a clever sort of mechanic that gives players a really good excuse for thinking in terms of time, which should be the focus of a set like Temporal Manipulation.
All told, I think it's going to be quite solid. Assuming that the interplay isn't overpowered (which could go either way at the moment; we haven't seen the set in heavy play, after all), it'll fit in alongside sets like Kinetics or Radiation Emission as a versatile all-duty powerset. Good news all around, right?
Well, maybe not quite.
Now, the designers want to make new sets interesting. And there are a couple of obvious ways to do that, with the most obvious one being to make the set just plain more powerful. Needless to say, though, that's a pretty terrible option -- after all, if Kinetic Melee is straight-up stronger than any other melee set, your level 50 Claws Scrapper is going to be a source of neverending rage. So the other technique is to give sets new twists, something that each set can do that its contemporaries can't. Dual Pistols can change damage types. Dual Blades has its own combo system. Temporal Manipulation has cascading buffs and a mix of buffing and debuffing elements.
The problem here is that the "new" sets often feel much more gimmick-related than their predecessors. A Dual Blades Scrapper has to worry about combos, which don't even exist in a Katana Scrapper's headspace. That leads directly to the predictable result -- the sets feel like they're more special, like you have special mechanics and a unique play experience that older sets just don't get.
Of course, redesigning the older sets to have unique play mechanics isn't really an option; it'd pretty much screw the people who have grown accustomed to playing those sets. But the end result still makes the old sets look unappealing. Why play Kinetics when you can get most of the same effects from Temporal Manipulation and more besides?
It doesn't matter that the power levels are most likely balanced. It matters that they look unbalanced in terms of cool tricks. So even though Temporal Manipulation looks exciting, I can't help but be a bit nervous about it regardless.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, yes, villains. Really. I never lie. (I just get aggressively sidetracked. Like with all of these parenthetical asides.)
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