Let's just start things off with our good friend the elephant, shall we? You may have thought he was part of the furniture.
While there was some limited PvP combat in City of Heroes, it was the Rogue Isles that really brought player warfare to the forefront. And in theory, it sounds like a great idea. If there's one thing that superheroes do with unique vigor, it's fight. Villains and heroes duke it out, and when the villains don't have any heroes left to fight or they just have a conflict of interest, they fight each other. It seems like a knockout hit direct to the game, and as a fan of voluntary PvP, I can't say I don't like the concept.
The problem, of course, is that actual hero-villain conflicts don't play out all that well in terms of game mechanics.
For one thing, in comics, usually there's one mastermind facing down either one hero or a legion of heroes. Second, the whole medium is built on more drama than good sense. Villains orate, beat the hero down to the point that he or she should be dead or non-functional, and then later get beaten around again. In a good superhero story, the final conflict is as much a battle of wills and ideas as an actual battle.
PvP doesn't really capture that. It's a battle of strategy and carefully marking advantages. And it doesn't help that the game's more theatrical powers lend themselves not to satisfying showdowns but rather to horrible and twinkish behavior. (A tip of the hat to Twixt, who did journeyman service to making a game not fun for anyone involved.)
So there were changes and balance passes and a playerbase that by and large did not care that much about PvP. The game hadn't been built with PvP in mind from the start, so just as with Final Fantasy XI, it never felt like a natural fit to the state of the engine. Eventually, the developers just quietly left PvP as an option without much real support.
Between the audience and the balance issues, the nefarious plot to provide the game with a vibrant PvP side was foiled. And it didn't help that one of the other components to the PvP engine was...
The idea of bases seems airtight. What's Batman without the Batcave? The Avengers without the Avengers Mansion? The Savage Dragon without the police station? Empowered without her remarkably large apartment that she apparently doesn't need to pay rent for due to her perpetual unemployment? The Legion of Doom without a conspicuous skull-shaped base? In typical Paragon Studios fashion, of course, the base engine is beyond just detailed. Energy costs, power systems, layout -- everything is carefully managed and paid for in Prestige. So you don't even have to drop any of your character's hard-earned, ambiguously defined money on it!
Well, except for the fact that you do. The only way to earn Prestige is to turn off your ability to earn more money, which alone was kind of a poor way of implementing the system. Given the choice between earning a character benefit and helping the team, you're relying a lot on selflessness... unless, of course, enhancing your team's base has a tangible effect.
Unfortunately, the fact is that most of the base functions were minor conveniences or defenses against base raids. Teleportation is nice, but really, if you can't figure out a dozen ways to get between zones quickly, you're too low-level for it to matter. Having an alternate medical center means... well, it really means nothing, since you still get the same penalties for death. You can get alternate storage access, but still nothing that you couldn't get through other means.
The big unique feature were base raids. And unfortunately, those were tied into the PvP side of things, which meant that they were essentially marketing an accessory to a feature that didn't have a lot of enthusiasts to begin with. Add to that the whole prestige system, and bases have also died a slow and quiet death. The development team has said that it's looking for interesting things to do with the system, which is essentially an admission that until someone has a brainstorm, the system isn't going to be doing much of anything soon.
This cannot be -- I am invincible!
All of this isn't to say that the expansion was bad, naturally. But it's worth remembering that like any good villain, it didn't succeed at everything. Its schemes lie still on the servers, until they reawaken... and then, then we'll see the genius.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments, or you can send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, seriously, doing a villain spotlight.
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. He's also fully aware that the studio behind the game wasn't Paragon Studios at the time the expansion launched, but the sentence flowed better that way, so please consider that before you post comments or send letters informing anyone of the error.