A Year Without CoH, Part 3   Leave a comment

Before taking a little bit of a break for Christmas (Merry sixth day of Christmas by the way, everyone) I’d spoken about the past and the present of City of Heroes, and what I’d lost as a writer and gamer by not having them for a year.  I spoke a bit about my characters Sastra Vidya and Captain Blastoff, what I liked about them, and what I did with them (and what I would have done with them.)  This topic should be a little bit different, though: I don’t know for a fact what the future would hold, and I have no example characters to act as a reference.  But there’s more than enough information to extrapolate.  There were trends that were being set up in City of Heroes, trends that pointed toward some very interesting things.

When City of Heroes first came out, its strength wasn’t necessarily in its stories so much as the strength was in the conflicts represented by the stories.  It was good at giving you a piece of the puzzle.  We knew that the Banished Pantheon was at war with the Circle of Thorns and that this conflict between them might be exploitable for the greater good.  We knew that there was an alternate dimension with evil versions of the game’s core heroes running the show.  We knew that everything could very easily be part of a Nemesis Plot.

City of Heroes spent most of its life building a framework.  The Rogue Isles weren’t around at first, and mayhem missions (not to mention safeguard missions) were additions to the game.  It’s sometimes hard to imagine City of Heroes without the Ouroboros time travel system that allowed players to go back in time to previous missions, for instance.  I myself only started playing during the month of the third anniversary of the game (making the Merrymaker badge my first badge in the game, ignoring things like the Pocket D VIP Membership badge and such I got for my version of the game).  This was right after Issue 9 was revealed, meaning that I never played a version of City of Heroes that didn’t have the Invention system.  Just think: a world where you couldn’t design your own power enhancements, and had to settle for whatever enemies dropped.  No wonder Hamidon-Origin enhancements gained such a fan base.  This framework was important for the last few years of gameplay when the design… shifted.

Gradually, the stories began to improve as fewer game systems were implemented.  After Issue 14, the game didn’t add many new systems of play to the core game.  In fact, when the game went free to play, the free version of the game was basically the first fourteen issues of the game with extra costumes and missions.  Unlike most allegedly free games, City of Heroes gave a fully functional game to its free players.  The missions that were behind the pay wall, in addition to those free missions that entered the game after the VIP system was introduced, had hit a weird tipping point where the stories were more than just missions for gamers to power through; they were stories to be experienced and enjoyed.

I was a big fan of the Signature Story Arcs.  A lot of people weren’t, but I loved what they were doing.  The Signature Story Arcs put the spotlight on interesting groups and characters within the game, having them interact in strange ways.  Since Issue 12 I’d felt that a certain Rularuu worshiping fellow in the Rogue Isles had a lot of potential in him, and that potential was realized in a major way.  The stories created by the overarching Praetorian conflict were lots of fun, even if you needed to be an Incarnate to experience them.  And the “regular” missions being added to the game raised lots of good stories; why don’t regular police get access to the Mediport technology that heroes get?  What sort of business do the Sky Raiders involve themselves in when they work on their big picture?

Over the last year, all signs suggested that these merely great stories were paving the way to fantastic stories.  The Praetorian war was coming to an end… but The Battalion was on the horizon.  Penelope Yin, a fan favorite character since she was introduced in Faultline, was starting to come into her potential as a hero.  And we were just on the verge of discovering exactly how dangerous Nemesis could become with access to Pandora’s Box.  In addition, the reluctant villain Scirocco was beginning to have a change of heart according to cut scenes that could be seen in the Dark Astoria storyline, and leaked videos indicate that his story arc would have been appropriately tragic for a villain with a history like his.

This kind of quality is indicative of something that’s going to get better.  The team of game designers and story writers had honed their talents and were finally at the point where they could start making stories that absolutely rocked.  The upcoming Issue 24 was expected to be the best issue yet, one that might have shifted City of Heroes from being a beloved secondary game to a game that was truly in the spotlight.  I don’t know for sure what stories and missions I’ve missed over the last year, but you can’t look at the progression we’d been seeing for the last year and say that they wouldn’t have been awesome.

That’s my biggest regret, but the other thing worth mentioning is the game play.  City of Heroes was on the cusp of releasing new costumes and powersets that would have given me even more characters.  I can’t say for sure that I would have done anything with the biological armor power set for instance, but each new power set brought new possibilities.  Also, the giant raids in the game were slowly teaching the players to use their powers in different ways; while the Lambda facility was little more than an (admittedly entertaining) assault on a military complex with a final boss who hit harder and had more defense than your typical final boss, those missions were each getting more complicated.  New play styles and new content were being developed, and while you can’t say for sure what would’ve come from that you can look at what came and see the creative teamwork goals that might have been on deck.

As a final note: I wanted that Cosmic Corsair costume set.  I love pirates and I love space operas, and that costume set was designed for people who loved them.  I had two characters who would have benefited from those costumes, and would have almost certainly made at least one character just for the purpose of wearing them all.

Anyway, that’s my last thought, for the moment, on what I’ve missed out on in the year (though it’s now closer to a year and a month) since City of Heroes shut down.  I’m not truly convinced that City of Heroes is done for good; NCSoft is maintaining their silence (in fact, their main Facebook page hasn’t been updated since October).  It’s hard to say what they’re thinking since they’re not saying anything, but it seems like they believe that City of Heroes fans will stop sending them emails, messages on their Facebook page, and messages to their Twitter feed.  They’re not wrong that we’ve gotten quieter, but they’re mistaken if they think we’ll stop entirely.  In fact, I think that if the players reorganized for another major campaign (perhaps sending masks and capes again, in the same numbers as before) they might realize that we’re not going to forget.

But the fact remains that City of Heroes, as it was, is in the past.  I do hope that it has a future, but for now we’ve got not one but two different spiritual successors in the works.  The work on them looks amazing so far, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll bring to the table.

The future is going to be different for City of Heroes players, very different.  But it’s not over yet.  Not by a longshot.


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