Ten reasons why not

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

Hahaha. No.

#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.

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  1. Azzura says:

    #10 I think people that come back are coming back as free – thus no inventions for them – SO’s only, so no market like there use to be. I use to play the buy low sell high on weekends too! So much money to be had! Shhhhh.

    #8 I have a steno pad for each game I play with notes scribbled – for CoH I made a spreadsheet for all the badge unlocks for invention creation and would tick off a box if I made one at the level. UO I had spreadsheets for seed cross pollination. EvE …well EvE is all spreadsheet (blueprints, materials needed for the blueprints with linked cost of ores) Even had a spreadsheet for all the books in Skyrim as I collected them!

    #7 Totally agree – needing to farm in an architect team is not what you want people to do… I didn’t do it until 47 to hit 50. It depends on your class too. Mastermind is quite simple to solo so you can do missions set on very high difficultly for extra XP, while others are not easy at all.

    #6 PvP was ok – if you ran in with a guild team…but yeah – not a great PvPer.

    #3 As soon as Villains launched – I was nothing but villains. I only have ONE of my original Heroes left cause I wanted to keep making new alts! Now….I don’t think I want to ever make another alt there….I had to have made 20-30 toons there with my son.

    #2 I jumped right into the Mission Architect and made what I thought was a great story, using all the little intricate trigger systems and fully dialoged my multi-part story. No one ran it…at all! it got buried under the farms and people that had 50 friends vote on their crappy missions that had no descriptions of life to their NPCs. BAHHHH!

    #1 I usually play CoH about 2 months every 16 months or so. Ive payed for almost 2 years off and on. Have had a max level toon…which is now unusable due to the F2P limits, so I stripped my IOs off a lower level and bought SOs and did some playing. I didn’t have enough fun to keep going though.


    • Bree says:

      You know, you might be right about the market thing — I honestly have no idea how many players are VIP vs Premium vs Free. If most people are free/premium now, that would explain it.

      lol at the UO gardening thing too — I so totally have a chart like that! *hangs head in shame* My notebook for SWG was insane too. These games are startling good for math and organization skills.

      And yay, another redsider! I do play both, but when I go blue, it’s often because there aren’t many people redside. :( I tried queueing yesterday for several trials on my redside girls and nothing, while blueside, trials were popping like mad. Ug.

      I have a guildie who is MA-obsessed. He won one of the official contests a year or so ago too, so one of his arcs is highlighted. It gets plays. None of his others does, and he gets so frustrated by the whole thing. Someday I’ll get around to making an arc, but I’m kinda glad I haven’t subjected myself to the rejection. The worst is the groups of organized downvoters who screw with any arc that might look like it’s taking off in popularity.

      I’m really sorry Freedom isn’t doing it for you. :( I had the same trouble, really — without their IOs, my existing characters are pretty useless. And so much of the new (and best) content is new that I feel I have to sub to get my money’s worth. I hope it can win you over again, for all the complaints we have about it!

      Thanks for dropping me a line! :D

  2. MolleaFauss says:

    Hi bree, was directed here by the link on your article on massively.
    I don’t agree with all your points.
    * economy: I remember back before Freedom launch that prices on the market were simply outrageous. At that time I had been away from the game for around a year/year and a half, but prices on the most rare and important recipes were simply mad (> 200M), while mad were also some prices on salvage, but that allowed for quickly hoarding gold (and this is generally the reason why the rarest and most important recipes were priced so high). Problem is that money flows much in the game thanks to the abundance of MA farmers, so it’s generally “normal” that prices get high on rare items and low on abundant items. Nonetheless, last I checked, prices didn’t seem so much different from last time I checked (just before f2p launch).
    * enhancement: I agree partially. Vanilla IO build don’t require so much planning and number crunching. IO sets on the other side, yes. Point is that this is absolutely a part of the fun in the game. Nonetheless I agree that the IO planning is quite complicated and a more streamlined IO set system would be a better idea for COH2 (if it ever will see the light). And still I cannot understand why the same Paragon Studios doesn’t officially endorse a program such as MIDS. About farming that’s inevitable in all the games, that’s a simple and effective mechanic that forces player to pay the sub… Only point is that if farming is too hard some may run away (as I did with lotro).
    * OCD: nah that’s the fun part!
    * Experience curve: still true, but luckily the new sidekicking system, some reviews of the old story arcs and some bonuses here and there have shortened really much the levelling time.
    * PVP. I feel your pain. As an old scholl pvper back in the pre-I13 days, I can say one thing that has never been emphasized enough: some of these changes WERE NEEDED. Lolmelee, /nrg blaster only, thermal shields stacking, overhealings, 46 seconds mez, useless powers … those absurdities ALL deserved a pass and a balance, but as per n. 5, it seems that Paragon Studios started the revision and then simply forgot about it…
    * n.5: agree. Whirlwind maybe? :D Really, CO nearly reworked all its powers in less than a year, although remaining a game with short longevity and its fair share of problems, but that demonstrates that the effort is something feasible.
    * INCARNATES: can’t comment, I didn’t tried enough of that. Got my first alpha power (core) quite easily and with few TF runs. But I agree that the system – sadly – divides the playerbase between the endgame people and the levelling people. Sadly this is the result of the “can I haz endgame” campaign…
    * Villains: agree.
    * Mission Architect: agree. But imho *excessive* farming is the problem. For example, I am not so happy in levelling again all my way up to 50 (see point #6) and a bit of farming (be it with television mission, peregrine island mission ow MA missions) becomes handy. Shortening experience curve and (maybe) capping experience/infamy gained per day in MA may be a good combo to ease these two things.
    * F2P: agree. Free accounts are way too limited (understand the reason: block gold spammers) compared to other games (Lotro, Champions, …) mainly for the team and chat capabilities. Regarding content, well, it’s inevitable that Paragon Studios had to find some way to put some hindrances so that people would pay money for the game, I don’t find the limitation so heavy, safe for the aforementioned social capabilities. My personal sour taste in the conversion is more the IO licence. Regarding Alignment swap, that’s strange as I seems to be in your same situation and just swapped my blaster from red to blue side. Have you filed a ticket?

    • Bree says:

      I think with the economy thing it’s all about what you’re shopping for (and when). For the things I was used to buying and selling to make my steady income (basic salvage), the market crashed not long after the F2P announcement and never recovered. I don’t really see why MA farming would have caused the sudden drop, though — MA farming was around before then too!

      I admit to being snarky with the PvP thing. I haven’t even bothered since, oh, back when CoV launched, but from everything I’ve read from serious PvPers in my guild and on the forums, it sounds like it’s still really bad, totally neglected, etc.

      lol, whirlwind. :D The thing about all the terribad skills (and neglected power sets) is that they always feel like a TRAP lying in wait for newbie players. Haha, suckers, we got you to take a horrible skill! I hate that. Paul (my husband) seems to be a MAGNET for bad sets. I couldn’t talk him out of a grav/energy dominator, for example, and even after all the fixes, it’s still pretty weak. I understand the desire to see power sets be different from each other, but I think that difference shouldn’t just be some sets suck/some don’t. I really hope that the recent revamps show a better approach to the game design — it’s probably one reason to thank Freedom.

      Instead of nerfing farming in MA, I’d rather see Paragon sell advanced characters or heck give advanced characters to VIPs with multiple capped toons or even just speed up leveling a whole bunch more. It’d reduce some of the inf pouring into the game while letting people who want to just try high-level characters do so. It’s a touchy subject, but it’s worked in other games (WoW, DAOC, UO, etc.).

      I’m with you on the IO license — it annoys me so much! I’m a few tokens away from getting the permanent license, but I really feel that is a system that should not be locked behind a paywall to the degree it is. And thanks for the heads up on the alignment system — either I’m wrong or I’m bugged!

      Many thanks for the post! :)

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