One of the nice things that GW2 does is something that CoH did years ago. In essence, your first abilities aren't the placeholders for better tricks further on down the line; they're your core competencies. Your later tricks are the more situational skills. There's never a need to train up a new rank of one ability or another. So we're ahead of the curve right there.
What really brings out the uniqueness of GW2 in this regard is the fact that combinations generate unique gameplay options. On my Thief, for instance, I get one set of thiefly skills if I have a pistol in my main hand and a dagger in my offhand, but I get a different set of skills if I swap those weapons around or if I have two pistols, and so on and so forth. With a sword in one hand and a dagger in my other, I don't have the same skillset as a Warrior with a mainhand sword, even though those could conceivably be the same thing.
Your abilities in CoH work in a vaccuum. They synergize, but there are no special tricks available to a Water/Electric Blaster because of those two abilities in tandem. But what if there were? What if you had the option of picking up a couple of powers unique to a given combination -- or even just variants on existing powers with a slight alteration in effect? This would be a lot of work for the programming team, but it could also be a real treat for players to keep a given power set from always feeling the same.
Do good in the area
When I wrote an MMO Blender column on a superheroic game, I noted that we don't really have superheroic games rewarding us for behaving like superheroes. I spend a lot of time smashing villains, but I spend very little time rescuing people from peril or helping others around me. Conversely, I spend very little time as a villain causing mayhem for mayhem's sake.
GW2 has a perfect implementation of this, one that I wish I'd more fully grasped when I wrote that column. In any given area, there are NPCs who require assistance with various tasks. Some of these tasks include killing things, but other tasks are fairly mundane, like picking up junk in the area or reducing the local pest population. As you perform each task, you get more points toward completing that NPC's tasks.
This could work so easily in CoH that it's not even funny. Imagine an officer trying to keep up security in part of Talos Island. You can stomp Freakshow and Warriors to help, but you can also repair damage to storefronts, get rid of litter, rescue cats from trees, and so on. Give people incentive to keep milling around outside instead of darting to the next door mission and then hitting that cell phone button. The best part is that I think the game already has most of the mechanics in place to make this sort of thing work (I'm just guessing; I'm not on the programming team).
Trait is enough
A core weakness in CoH is character differentiation. Two characters with the same archetype and powers will pretty much be identical; a Fire/Devices Blaster isn't going to play differently from another Fire/Devices Blaster. There are a few alternate powers to select here and there, maybe a slight difference in slotting, but you don't really need multiple characters with the same powers.
Traits are a quick and easy way to change that. They allow you to have a little bit of a bonus and still allow you to choose your specialization while also tailoring your character to a given sort of playstyle. They're lightweight enough that they can be added into the framework of a game without a great deal of complexity, something that makes them ideal for inserting variety into CoH's character specializations.
While Enhancements currently take the spot for being the game's main form of specialization, I think adding a more inherent development path could really help the game as a whole. It would give players a more visible sign of specialization, and it would allow for easier differentiation of playstyles, as each archetype would logically get a unique set of traits. Best of all, it would give players a path to specialization not specifically reflected by the Incarnate system, which isn't everyone's cup of tea. (Endgame progression is nice; alternative progression is nicer.)
Do I actually expect all of these things to show up in CoH? No, not likely. But they'd all fit in nicely, and they'd certainly help shake up the design of the game as it stands. Or, you know, they could fit into the framework of a sequel from the beginning.
Feel free to leave your own feelings or suggestions in the comments or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, back to the barrier to entry topic that I had originally planned for this week.
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.