Latest in Gaming

Image credit:

A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Why there are no more Epic Archetypes in City of Heroes

Eliot Lefebvre

My weekend plans went cross-eyed, as they often do, but as a result I found myself looking through some old notes for future columns on City of Heroes. There were a lot of notes I took early on when I was first writing columns, some of which I wound up using and some of which wound up being discarded, but one particular idea jumped out at me: a column about potential future Epic Archetypes.

Specifically, I was looking back over and noting how a lot of the archetypes I listed wouldn't actually work at all.

I've gone on record as having been a big fan of EATs right from the beginning, as they're meant to be classes that break up the regular structure of the game's classes. That strikes me as laudable. But even disregarding the technical aspects of the epics that makes them more complex to develop and balance, I think there are some noteworthy basic problems with them on a conceptual level. We may very well never get another one just because the game has been structured to make them almost a design mistake that's never been corrected.

Also, Kheldians can't accessorize to save their squid-like lives.The first EATs had a few masters to serve, and I'm convinced that one of those masters was a need to show people that hitting level 50 was worthwhile. That's been something that City of Heroes has always struggled with: providing a motivation for players to aim for max level instead of whatever level gets sufficiently boring. The two heroic archetypes were unlockable at the time, of course, so there was at least some reward, albeit a reward that arguably was most helpful to players who were inclined to create dozens of alts and thereby never hit max level in the first place... but that's another discussion.

EATs have also always been defined, in part, by their focus on group play. And this is one of the main bugbears of the concept: the fact that EATs fly in the face of what City of Heroes has long been designed around. For years, one of the game's real strengths has been that you can play the game however you want with any character. Your Controller can work in a party as a support character or solo with pets, holds, and careful maneuvering. The game is a little bit harder in that event, but it's not hopeless by any means.

EATs break that right away. Kheldians especially rely on having other characters around to boost their effectiveness, but even Widows and Soldiers have some issues with working outside of a group. They're designed to have a strong buff-bot element to them. Even if it's passive, the element remains.

Aside from breaking that central principle, EATs also run into another issue due to their group-focused nature: They've got less space for design. They need a mechanic that makes them prefer to group when possible, but they also have to avoid treading on ground that other archetypes do since they're not supposed to be strictly better than the alternative. This results in very limited sets of abilities and options, even with cheats like the multiple forms of the Kheldians. You just can't have the diversity of primary or secondary sets that you find in, well, every other archetype.

I can play a dozen different Scrappers with a dozen different play experiences. I can play only one Warshade because any subsequent Warshades will have the exact same set of abilities as the first one. There's room for a little variation, but only the slightest bit, and it certainly doesn't feel satisfying because the EATs need a very specific cocktail of abilities to feel appropriately epic without being overpowered, resulting in a setup that's neat the first time and pretty much rote the second tome.

Spiders, on the other hand, can accessorize quite well.The other major problem is that EATs need something to hook onto, some sort of story or explanation for why these characters are uniquely powerful or important. And as it stands, we're in short supply for further "unique" groups. Soldiers and Widows were a neat idea -- play as one of the mooks -- but it can't be done again. Kheldians added something entirely new to the game's backstory, but again, it can't really be done a second time without seeming like a patch job. That leaves working within the existing lore but still creating something unique.

And the game itself works against this. How many character concepts can you not create already? It's not like you can make a robotic EAT and have it feel unique, since there are about two dozen ways to do the same thing with an existing archetype. The same goes for most of the other obvious concepts. Making a "be a Hellion" EAT just feels like another mook EAT, making something more unique feels like a kludge, and making something broader feels like copying a concept that already works just find within the context of the game as it stands.

Am I saying that the existing EATs should be removed from the game? Certainly not. But I do wonder whether there are really many areas to add in another EAT without feeling like it's treading over old ground. The only obvious addition would be a Rikti, and even that would run the risk of feeling predictable. It would need to sport some truly unique mechanics, some very diverse power setups...

And that would make it a nightmare to balance properly against all of the other archetypes.

In the end, there's a good reason we haven't seen more of the EATs. I like the ones we have, don't get me wrong, but after two years, I'm not convinced that they're really a net advantage for the game as a whole. They're neat, but maybe they're just meant to be unique.

Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to Next week, I'm going to take a look at an issue that every superhero book goes through at one point or another: power creep.

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.

From around the web

ear iconeye icontext filevr