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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Status report, last year

Eliot Lefebvre

What with one thing and another, a year has passed. At this time last year, things were very different for City of Heroes, and so I started up my usual trifecta of columns on the past year with a look back at what I said the game needed and how it's done on those fronts. So it's time for the second annual iteration because as we all know, the first annual anything doesn't really count. And if your memory is getting rusty from a year ago, by all means, take the time to refresh it.

Certainly if you had told me back then that every major superhero game would be free-to-play before the year was up, I wouldn't have believed it. But that's what's happened, and as the game has shifted, so has the market around it. That means that the game has really had to face off against its two "direct" competitors on a straight footing, and that might not have been in the game's best interests as a whole.

Ahead, like some vast predatory... er, spider...So why does this matter in a retrospective? Put simply, from my perspective last year, City of Heroes was mostly racing against itself. Champions Online had moved to free-to-play without seeing a huge upswing right away, and DC Universe Online hadn't managed to grab people out of the gate. All CoH needed to do was be better than it had been in the past because its competitors hadn't really materialized as full opponents.

That was then. In the interim, both Champions Online and DC Universe Online found their voices at the same time that City of Heroes shifted into their arena. Freedom has done some great things for the game, but it still made CoH one of three superheroic options that you can play for free -- and without a doubt, it's the one that looks and feels the most dated. That means that a lot of the things that would have really helped improve it in the old landscape didn't have as much relevance in the new one, which is the problem with predictions and forecasts as a whole.

So how many of those things that would have helped the old setup actually came to pass?

The game needs a sequel or major update

I don't think that you could argue that Freedom wasn't a major update, seeing as how it's a fundamental change to the very nature of the game. At the same time, I'm not sure it's really what I was talking about here, which was really my own fault for not being clearer. Sweeping changes to the structure are all well and good, but the sort of sweeping update I was hoping for was the sort that would make it feel like a whole new game.

Of course, I might also just be more cynical than I ought to be. Scratch that -- I am more cynical than I ought to be, and I might be letting that color my opinions here. For a lot of people, I suspect that CoH was a game that would be a lot of fun to try out when coupled with eight years of user testimonials, and the change in model means that people can now act on that. So for many players, I'm sure the game feels very new due to the fact that it is new to them. But the need for a sequel hasn't really changed. Eight years is a long time in video games, and what felt new and fresh back in 2004 is a bit more dated now. Still, I'm going to call this one as halfway there.

The presentation needs a bit of an overhaul

A large-scale overhaul to the early leveling areas, a Signature Story Arc that really keeps players engaged and has a long-term impact on the metaplot, and the ongoing Praetorian invasion? Yeah, there was a lot of work done on presentation here. The game has really played to this as a major strength, keeping the feel of a comic book story without tying it into an existing continuity. This got nailed straight to the wall.

See, if this were blue, we could reliably expect a Time Lord.  But it's not.Level streamlining is needed

This, meanwhile, did not exist. OK, we did get First Ward, but that was aimed dead at a level band where the game is doing just fine in terms of content. It's 30-50 where things really drag, and that's where we needed more streamlining. On the plus side, Night Ward looks to address some of these issues. So it's clearly being addressed, albeit not quite at the pace or priority that I think it deserves. Let's call it a measured success.

Give the tip system a second pass

This definitely didn't happen. Really, it's kind of understandable, seeing as how the alignment system from Going Rogue has sort of fallen out of the immediate consciousness after the expansion's launch. These days it's all about Praetoria's place in the lore and the like, and switching factions is just sort of a sideline. Whether or not that will change in the future remains to be seen, but I'm calling this a straightforward miss.

Rogues and vigilantes need more to do

Tying right back to the last point, this hasn't happened. If anything, with the continued introduction of co-op zones, the distinction between factions as a whole has gotten blurrier. I'm almost tempted to say that we're never going to see more for these two "transitional" alignments, although I would like to see them reduced in...

Wait, that's getting into predicting the future. Never mind; I need to save all of that for a future week. But not next week, as that's our anniversary column, which will (hopefully) just take up one column this year. Until then, you can leave feedback in the comments below or mail it along to

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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