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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Too many choices

Eliot Lefebvre

We've gotten a lot of new powersets in City of Heroes ever since the game went free-to-play. This is something that I've talked about before: There's rather uncomfortable cycle during which a new set is released full of bugs, but it gets played for a month before the next set comes out and you stop thinking about the old one. And that's definitely a potential problem, but with the release of the new Water Blast set, I'm thinking that there's a much more coherent one in mind.

Specifically, I'm thinking for the first time that maybe there's something to the old issue of being locked into a power set after character creation.

Don't get me wrong -- I don't think Water Blast is overpowered or underpowered. It actually looks like it makes better use of a new mechanic than did the last big ranged set. But we now have an absolute surfeit of options for playing a Blaster, and as the game gets more and more endgame-heavy, I'm starting to wonder how long it will be before players get tired. We're seeing a different sort of power creep here: We just have too many choices for a new character.

I can only think of a handful of powers I'd rather see added to the game.  Llap-goch is at the top of the list.This is something I first noticed when Staff Fighting was released. Let it be known that I absolutely adore anything that lets me smack people with a pole. I think staves are a very cool weapon type that's tragically underused more or less everywhere, most often featured as a caster-style cane rather than an elegant and versatile weapon. (You can blame Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you want.) But even though I bought the set the second it was released, I had a really hard time deciding on a character to actually use it.

Over the past several months, I'd already had a lot of reason to make new melee characters. Now I was stuck with yet another new set, and I couldn't help but ask whether I even wanted to level another character up when I still hadn't finished leveling some of my pre-existing characters.

City of Heroes is definitely better about encouraging you to play alts than many other games. There are no mounts to earn, no major purchases to make, no huge and awful quest chains that you're locked into for some important upgrade. But especially once you get used to characters above level 22 or so, the lower levels start to get very painful. You have a long stretch where you're short on useful powers, and while letting you pick an earlier travel power helps, it doesn't totally alleviate the sense of "oh, no, not this stretch again."

This is only exacerbated by the fact that the easily chain-run radio missions don't unlock until 10, leaving you to languish in the starter area first. And yes, the starter zones are worlds better than they used to be, but they're still stuck very much in the tutorial mode. Experienced players already know all of this stuff, but we still have to take it note by note.

It's further exacerbated by the fact that the Incarnate system is a cruel one-character mistress. You can argue that the endgame hasn't been out long enough to merit a big reduction on the requirements, but I would argue that the thought of reaching 50 and then starting the Incarnate path from the ground up again might make some players want to gouge their own eyes out, especially if all you really want to do is have your character use an assault rifle rather than a pair of pistols.

There's no real way to just try a new powerset in CoH. You need to hit the mid-20s to have a reasonably coherent idea of how the set will play, and that's a lot of time just to determine whether you like something or not. And even though I've long defended CoH's system of no "full" respecs, with the huge rush of powersets we're seeing, it's suddenly more important for us to give something a shot without waiting two dozen levels.

At first I wasn't sure if I liked this set, but now that I'm this far into leveling I'm sure I freaking hate it.Plus, this problem is just going to keep going. Radiation Armor is coming, and that looks like a lot of fun, but it means another melee character to top the ones already in place. And there are more sets on the way, until finally playing the game becomes some strange precautionary tale in which you never want to make a new character -- you just keep waiting until another new set comes out that more closely matches what you want your character to do. If you like having your character setup just right, the game is now encouraging you to not play until the designers reveal their plans for the next six months.

All right, that's an extreme example, but when a new set comes out, you want it to be exciting. You want to think "yay, Water Blast," not "yay, I can play this set when Water Healing comes out in three months." And giving us less information about what's coming around the bend isn't the answer.

So what is the answer? I think that having cash shop tokens allowing you to change a primary or secondary powerset might be the way to go in the future. Even if it's just in the first month of a new set's release and specifically tied to that set so that you can grab and use the new set out of the gate instead of rolling a completely new character every time.

Of course, that leads to the primaru problem that originally prevented allowing re-selection of powers (flavors of the month and the like), the secondary problem that you might not like the new set after all, and the tertiary problem of having a cash shop item designed to fix a problem that the cash shop itself is arguably responsible for in the first place. But something does need to be done because we're running out of patience to do certain things over again just so we can blast enemies with water this time.

But maybe it's just me. And if so, please, let me know in the comments down below or via mail to Meanwhile, our next installment will talk about the unique factional segregation in the game and how it both works for and against the game in the long run.

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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