City of Heroes didn't exist. The masses of hero fans cried out in anticipation of a new game but found nothing. All there was to be found was a deafening silence and three other games that scratched similar itches but didn't quite manage to hit the same heights.
But we've talked about that as much as it can be discussed, and quite frankly I'm more interested in the now. We've got three titles that are still duking it out, trying to find their voices, and so forth. And then we have the header of Plan Z, which covers several different projects but at the same time serves as an interesting look at the community as a whole.
So in the wake of a quiet December, let's look back at 2013 for the major titles and for the hopefuls. It was a year in which quite a bit happened, not all of it good, but it was still one that might have a big impact on the future of the superhero MMO field.
Champions Online: Still there, still unloved
Let me tell you a story about a game. When it was first released, it earned some early praise from people about very novel approaches, but it also had some serious and glaring issues. The net result was that players abandoned the game in droves, prompting a severe cutback on development staff and new content slowing to a crawl before vanishing entirely.
Am I talking about Warhammer Online or Champions Online? The answer is it doesn't really matter. The point remains the same; CO is undergoing the slow bleed that WAR spent about four years moving through. All that keeps it from suffering the same fate is the fact that Cryptic owns the IP and thus has no licensing agreements to worry about.
Some efforts were made to keep CO moving forward this year, but none of them seemed to be terribly vigorous. There were rumbles of events being the big new content, but those petered out fairly quickly. Instead, players were left with... pretty much nothing. I suppose the seasonal events went live; that's something.
Certainly I don't want the game to die. But as it stands, it's not so much dying as doing nothing and just sitting around and idling. I'd like to see something actually done with the game.
DC Universe Online: As you do
Talking about DC Universe Online makes for a sharp contrast with Champions Online. The latter launched and then sort of drifted off, but DCUO has been doing its thing for almost three years now, and it's kept chugging along with a pretty reliable and functional formula the whole time. New DLC packs every so often that are free to subscribers, updates that everyone gets to enjoy, a terrible server structure that really should never have been approved...
Well, that last one isn't exactly a compliment, but the point is that it works. The game does all right for itself. Its ultimate goal seems to be to give people a reason to come back every couple of months rather than to be someone's main game all of the time, and it's a style that works well in that context.
The main reason I bring up the server structure is that the game is still adhering to its rather bizarre split between consoles and PCs when it had the opportunity to move beyond that in light of the PlayStation 4 launch, but even that seems like a minor thing. I doubt the game will move many consoles, but there are a lot of people who can still pick up the game and give it a shot. The new DLC this past year was big and interesting, the graphical updates were brought in, and the game is still going strong into year three. That's great.
Marvel Heroes: Doing better than you might think
No one will exactly be stunned to learn that I had low hopes for Marvel Heroes post-launch. It delivered a product that felt remarkably stripped compared to similar products already available, ultimately serving up an experience that would satisfy neither those who wanted a superhero MMO nor those who wanted another Diablo-style game. I still think all of that is true, but two important pieces of data provide a counterpoint.
First of all, there's the fact that the game is still going with no sign of stopping, which is not something companies usually do when a game fails to make money. Second, there's the reality that the design team clearly spent the year moving into overdrive.
The amount of content added to the game this year has not been unprecedented, but it seems that Gazillion has made a dedicated effort to improve the game from launch rather than simply dropping the mic and walking away. Whether or not you like the very premise of the game, it's been seeing a lot of big updates.
Yes, there have been some missteps. But the game brought out a whole new gameplay method that basically welds a MOBA to its existing gameplay, capitalized nicely on this year's latest superheroic film, and kept bringing out new characters at a decent clip. So it seems the game's prospects are quite a bit brighter than my hopes.
Plan Z: What comes next?
City of Titans has had a successful Kickstarter. Heroes & Villains, aside from putting a Beach Boys song in my head every single time I see the title, is still in development. Valiance Online has made a pre-pre-alpha client available, which seems a bit closer to a proof-of-concept than a game prototype, but that's neither here nor there.
The community continues to be divided over which of these three games will actually be completed with any shot at commercial success, and I myself am reluctant to say that any of them is going to hit that marker simply because, as I've mentioned before, this is not all that easy. If I had to choose, I'd say City of Titans has the edge overall, but that comes along with community upheaval and a few sideways glances.
This was our first year without City of Heroes, and the Plan Z replacements are still all just dreams. Potentially well-funded dreams, but dreams. So let's see what 2014 brings.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next month, you know the drill -- it's roundup time again. Bat-times and bat-channels remain unchanged.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre spent years in City of Heroes before the world-shattering event that destroyed his home world. But he remains as intrepid as ever, traveling to other superheroic games and dispensing his unique brand of justice... or lack thereof.
A Mild-Mannered Reporter: 2013 in review for superheroes
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