Launching today is my first entry in Massively’s newest opinion column, called Why I Play, in which we tell you… well, why we play certain games, as it says on the tin. I chose City of Heroes first, since it’s one of those mid-2000s games that’s had some staying power but is far from being the new shiny, and hey, I still love it.
Such a column is positive by design — you don’t generally focus on negatives when you’re explaining why you stay loyal to a niche title. But that doesn’t mean there are no negatives, and I don’t intend to let City of Heroes off the hook. There are certainly things about the game that irritate me and drive me into the arms of other games for months at a time. So here are 10 reasons I don’t play City of Heroes… when I’m not playing City of Heroes:
#10 – The economy
What the heck happened? Prior to the game’s move to F2P, I made a killing on the consignment hall. It was relatively simple to buy up cheap materials during the week and sell them on the weekends for profit. After F2P, the market for basically everything but the rarest IOs and recipes completely collapsed. It can’t have been the influx of freeps; they’re denied access to the market unless they’re longtime subbers. Even before the market collapsed, though, most recipes weren’t worth the effort to auction away. That continues to be a problem, especially for newcomers to the game.
#9 – Enhancements
The enhancement system is still rough. While I cheer the “hardcore-optional” invention system, you need a third-party program and an insane amount of number-crunching and planning to come up with a decent IO build. Oh yeah, and a whole ton of money, which is much harder to get now unless you’re already wealthy or willing to farm. A lot. There’s no middle ground between dead-simple and insanely complex, and remember, this is the entirety of the gear system. Eliot, my CoH columnist at Massively, thinks the Enhancement system should be the first thing to go come City of Heroes 2. I don’t entirely disagree, although I think the problem is really the invention enhancement systems and the mind-numbing complexity and farming it brought with it.
#8 – OCD
Oh how the game feeds into my OCD. I have a One Note notebook with a chart that catalogues all of my character names, origins, archetypes, power sets, levels, money, unlocked day jobs, merits, open contacts, costume status, and other minutiae. That notebook is accompanied by several others with character concepts and build ideas and so forth. Keeping that record is simultaneously a ton of fun and a serious burden, and I CAN’T STOP. If I stop, I’ll lose track of my zillion characters and get that nagging feeling that I really should log out and make sure the chart is up to date, which ruins gameplay for me. Evil, evil alt-happy game!
#7 – Experience curve
Leveling still takes too long, especially for folks who don’t or can’t play in big steamrolly groups. I know it’s been tweaked several times, but it needs much more. Around level 35, it just takes too long for non-hardcores to progress without resorting to lame farms. Paragon: Your game works best when it’s not about endgames or long grinds to 50. It’s about alts. Embrace it.
#6 – PvP
#5 – The cottage rule
For a long time, the cottage rule dominated CoH’s design — you know, that whole “we can’t fix broken powers to not suck because then the five
dummies roleplayers who insist on using crappy skills will be sad” thing. That’s resulted in so many power sets’ having been broken and unusable for a long time. Ever so slowly, Paragon has been defying that rule and fixing catastrophically terribad sets like Gravity Control (a la yesterday’s Issue 22 patch). Yes! Good! Do more of that! And faster! And while you’re at it, quit making certain enemy groups and bits of content completely impossible for some classes! I’m sick to death of getting owned on my Dominator by purple-triangle bosses. In the devs’ efforts to make sure bosses aren’t trivialized, they’ve instead trivialized me.
#4 – Incarnate system
When the Incarnate system was first announced, I was excited. Woot, new content for CoH! But when it launched, it changed the tone of the game. It had been about joyful alting for almost seven years; suddenly, it was about tedious level-50 enforced-grouping and grinding and maximized builds. It was certainly possible to continue on as we had before, deliberately ignoring the Incarnate content. I did. Paragon made that easy when it locked the system behind the VIP paywall and the grouping system. But it lurked there like a shadow over the game, sapping away its charm. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was no longer the type of player for whom the game’s new content was being designed. Would I continue to be neglected? Paragon has recently changed its tune, and the next patch will deliver a solo path for Incarnate content, but it’s still endgame content, and it’s an even bigger grind for casuals, and it worries me. I like CoH for its fantastic midgame; any shift to the endgame disrupts that balance.
#3 – Villains
The Rogue Isles has always seemed like an afterthought and has had relatively few updates and additions since City of Villains launched in 2005. Add-ons to Paragon City are opened up for Villains, or content is made co-op, or Paragon just shrugs and says “alignment swap to blueside.” I’ve probably logged more hours on Villains than Heroes. They rock. I’d like to see them get some love on the whole. Also, Paul would like to punch the whole of Grandville in the face. On behalf of superspeeders everywhere, I’d second that.
#2 – Mission Architect
And while we’re on the topic of neglected systems, let’s mope a bit about the Mission Architect, CoH’s player-generated content system. The MA has been the site of the ongoing war between the people-who-like-to-control-other-people’s-fun and the people-who-want-to-farm-shit-lol. For years. For every original player-created roleplaying arc in the system, there are 20 arcs that facilitate farming. That’s fine by me. I don’t mind farms. I want access both to farms and to story-arcs. But Paragon is intent on nerfing farms, and the result is unintended nerfs to genuine story arcs, nerfs that never get fixed. Meanwhile, Paragon has stripped the MA of any sort of meaningful rewards (the story is the reward, Positron told me in person at an event last year — how dreadful!) and refuses to add a rating system that doesn’t suck. What a shame for the pioneer of player-generated content systems to decay to this state.
#1 – Freedom
Last year, City of Heroes went free-to-play, and by free-to-play, I really mean free-to-try. Like LotRO, CoH really just wants you to subscribe as a VIP player, and it withholds quite a few critical gameplay elements from non-VIP players. While it’s certainly possible to play one character to 50 on the bare minimum content, using regular enhancements, never trading or chatting, and being limited to basic archetypes and classic power sets, sooner or later, VIP becomes the better option, particularly if you want access to the newest powers, zones, and story arcs. I find CoH’s cash shop to be only mildly irrirating, perhaps somewhere between LotRO’s and Champions Online’s in offensiveness. There are certainly ludicrously overpriced items, along with the Super Pack fiasco and the anger that boils up inside of me when I remember that I paid for Going Rogue only to have access to the alignment system, among other things, stripped from my Premium account. But overall, it’s still a playable F2P conversion, and more importantly, subscribers get far more now than they ever did before.
Believe it or not, I found it a bit hard to summon 10 grievances. It’s an aging A-/B+ game that could be so much more… with probably more money than its playerbase really justifies. Still, in this market of rushed and unfinished releases, I’d rather play a game like City of Heroes with its genuine character and a few age lines anyway.