Man, I hope that if you log your character out on City Hall's steps or in front of the doors to the tram, your day job is "panhandler."

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City of Heroes Issue #13

Sometimes, one eats crow.

When Issue #12 of the various free content upgrades NCSoft NorCal puts out for City of Heroes was announced, I was guardedly excited but somewhat dubious. "Midnight Hour" featured a new organization called the Midnight Club (well, new in terms of being an active part of the universe -- it had been part of the backstory from the beginning), some new cross-faction content related both to that organization and the origins of superhumanity, a new zone of content back in pseudoRome, some new costumes most characters couldn't use, and new Villain Epic Archetypes to finally balance the scales between the bad guys and the good guys, with their alien Kheldans. And some other stuff.

And I had something to say about all of it -- well, here, let me paste in the specific comments I made about the Villain Epic Archetypes back in March:

Villain Epic Archetypes: As I said above, Villains have been waiting since the introduction of Grandville and L40-50 content for an Epic Archetype to counterbalance the heroes' Kheldans (the aforementioned Peacebringers and Warshades). Now, "Epic" in the City of Heroes sense means "tied to a specific epic story," not "all powerful and grand." On the other hand, the Kheldans are pretty damn spiff. You can become an all powerful energy squid that can blast as well as any given blaster, or you can become a gigantic lobster person -- in effect a somewhat gimped pocket tanker -- and you can also develop a wide variety of personal powers. And you get your travel powers for free, and the content -- the epic story -- was all new to the game, and added whole new dimensions.

The Villain Epic Archetypes are... Blood Widows and Wolf Spiders.

Which, for those who don't play the game (and if you don't play the game, why are you still reading this far down?) are two of the minions that serve Arachnos.

Yeah. On the hero side, we have energy squid lobsterpeople with a rich, new dimension of storytelling to the game. On the villain side.... I have the mooks I've been mowing down by the truckload since the day I first started playing City of Villains. In fact, one of the sidequests in the Outbreak tutorial involves your Level 1 villain saving a hapless and clueless Wolf Spider from capture and completing the mission he bungled. And hey, now you too can be that wolf spider! Yay!

Yay.

On the one hand, the execution of these new Villain Epic Archetypes looks really cool. It's a branching system, so you can climb the ladder of Arachnos types -- you start as a Blood Widow, say, but work your way up to Fortunata Mistress or Night Widow. And Wolf Spiders can become the nasty and powerful Bane Spiders, or they can become Crab Spiders, which means will have giant eight armed crab spider backpacks. And God damn it, I want a giant eight armed crab spider backpack. And they describe it as "infiltrating" the ranks of Arachnos, which could be cool and the story could be good.

But... dude, the Villain epics are mooks. And honestly, I'm sick of Arachnos anyway. Instead of Epics that added a new dimension and story to City of Villains, we're getting additional depth and explication on the overused part of City of Villains.

But dude. Eight Armed Crab Spider Backpack. Not to mention Night Widow. And they've finally put gender equality into the ranks of Arachnos, including male Blood Widow(er)s, and female Wolf Spiders, which they highlight in the archetype specific costume choices. I'm weird -- It's not the metrosexual guys or the Goth Chick Bane Spider that looks cool to me -- it's the badass reddish female wolf spider on the end. Yeah, she's a mook in the most mooklike armor, but that armor is slick.

So, on the one hand I'm disappointed. On the other hand I'm desperately levelling my top villain to be able to play one of these upon release. So, I'm going to call this a win for CrypticNCSoft, but I hope we get some different kinds of Epic which add new story elements soon.

Yeah. They released Issue 12. I earned my Villain archetypes.

And man, do I love them. I mean, love them. And yes, I played a female Wolf Spider who leveled up to earn her Crabpack, and it is indeed awesome. The storyline for the Arachnos soldiers is solid (and has one of my favorite hooks from this game to date -- in your very first mission, your Mook wolf spider or blood widow actually hacks the computer with the list of "Destined" Supervillains and adds his name to it. They embrace the idea that you're a nobody minion who then decided to take a shot at the big leagues. The characters play well, they're fun, and the bonuses they give to teams they're on make the Kheldan squid bonuses look sad and pathetic. On the whole, they more than make up for the vague sense of disappointment that the Midnight Club itself represents.

(For the record, the Midnight Club is essentially a non-entity as of Issue #12. You have, like, one string of missions dealing with it if you're a hero, a different string if you're a villain, a chance to join the club a little later on, and a chance to have Fake Roman adventures which amount to one task force and a never ending string of "go Kill X." With a little extra time and content, it'll be cool, but apparently the only really amazing thing is the Task Force, which I have yet to actually get to go on. Since, you see, I generally solo these days, and most of my group's gotten bored with City of Heroes and plays World of Warcraft now. Not that I'm bitter.)

Regardless, Issue 12 is, on balance, very solid. Which brings us to Issue 13, which was just announced.

As a side note, it has been noticed that NCSoft NorCal pretty much gave E3 and Comic-Con to their competitors. Champions Online and DC Universe Online had playable demos and a lot of grist for the anticipation mill, while City of Heroes... well, they had costume codes for people who went to Comic-Con, but that mostly just annoyed the people who didn't, so... yeah. And this had me concerned, because they were giving all the press over to the people coming after them, and the theory is that Champions Online will actually launch before the next round of these begins. While City of Heroes is very healthy, that still seemed like a mistake.

Well, now we know know what they were doing. They were letting the newcomers make their announcements in the midst of a crowded field of video game news... and now that we're at the end of the summer and the beginning of the runup to Christmas, they've announced their next free issue. It's called "Architect." Its subtitle might as well be "screw you, Champions Online."

Champions Online promises a huge amount of character customization, plus a Nemesis system. Both of these things are awesome. Well, City of Heroes is now officially launching the Mission Architect -- the long-alluded to system of player created content for City of Heroes. With the release of issue 13, players will be able to create their own missions, their own story arcs, their own plotlines. In short, anything that a player feels is lacking from the storyline of the game... Mission Architect will let them add in. And the developers will be reviewing the content -- and apparently, if the content is good enough, it'll be put front and center -- and potentially even made canon.

Seriously. Joe Morrissey -- who does storyline development and lots of other cool things -- had a presentation at PAX which was followed by a very brief appearance online on the Training Room test server, and one of the things he alluded to was that the Corolax storyline (it's involved) that was started back at the start of City of Villains and then never touched would be opened up to players to write as part of this feature, and that the best of it would go into the game. I suspect that "Developer's Choice" missions -- the stuff that the Dev Team finds among the top content created for the game -- might here or there actually go live. Meaning that players might -- might -- get the chance to actually have lasting impact on the game.

I have to admit, I am way looking forward to this system. I'm already speccing out story arcs and the missions to develop them. This is a chance to actually gamemaster in City of Heroes, and I'm very excited for this. In particular, it's a chance to really fill out City of Villains content -- to give villains a chance to fight heroes and the police instead of other villain groups. I have a whole set of Rogue Islands Police (RIP) plots in my brain. I also have a series of story arcs I want to tell in King's Row -- including one faux Task Force, with an involved storyline for lower level characters. I will spend weeks making content for people to play. I will live in this thing.

And of course, this will all be time that I'm not actually playing my characters -- but that's okay, because there's also an offline character development system going in with Issue 13. In effect, when you log a character out, that character will then go on to a day job, which is designated by the location he's logged out in. Log him out in the hospital, and he works in the medical field. Log him out in a university and he becomes a scholar. I dearly hope there's a place we can log out our characters that will designate them "Baristas" or "convenience store workers."

The time you spent logged out in that location will then give you buffs or bonuses when you log in, dependent on the day job you've been working on. And yes, you can have "fighting crime" (for a hero) or "committing crimes" (for a villain) as your day job.

So, I'll take breaks from writing mission content to log alts in, move them to where the work I want them to do is, and log them back out. And they will happily gather buffs while I create more and more stuff for other players to do. This issue is essentially like Crack Cocaine for me. Wednesday has been duly warned that I may become a horrible shut in during this time.

There's other announcements too, like Shields (at long last) for certain archetypes and a reverse Empathy powerset for villains called Pain Domination (I'll admit, I will have a Mastermind who has this power). And there's also Yet Another Economy being implemented (a Merit system to buy the specialty stuff you had to farm certain content for before). But honestly, with "create content" and "give your offline characters something to do," they had me pretty solidly.

Hand in hand with all this is movement towards hybridizing their economic model. While they're still subscription based and your subscription fees still get the regular (if slightly slower than earlier stated) free "issues" of upgraded content and gameplay, they're also introducing more inexpensive add-ons. There is a "Booster Pack" coming that will have cyborg costume parts and a bunch of new Emotes (not unlike the Wedding Pack from earlier this year), as well as a currently unspecified "new power." And, as part of a promotion, there are game cards that let new players get the game essentially free, with a five dollar thirty day "jet pack" power that essentially means they don't need to take travel powers if they don't want to. Existing players can get the cards, get a month of time, and get the jet pack. And they're promising that for five dollars, you can get a month of the jet pack if you like.

A lot of people think that's silly -- there's lots of temporary jet packs in the game, after all, and most people take travel powers. But I don't know. For five bucks a month -- one cup of coffee for those of us who like lattes -- you can zip through Mercy Island at level two and never, ever have to think about giving your character travel powers unless they're actually part of your character concept. That's tempting, to be honest. Plus the jet pack looks pretty Flash-Gordonesque.

These small payment options give the developers extra liquid cash to hire more developers, and it shows. The issues may not be coming as fast as we'd like, but they're getting increasingly ambitious. We're getting new systems, new functions. And if a recent survey conducted by a third party company on NCSoft's behalf is to be believed, we're moving towards a flexible alignment system that not only will incorporate side-switching but the concept of neutral or shades of grey characters, and there's even some implications that the long requested, often claimed to be technically unfeasible power customization system may be coming.

I'm stoked for Issue 13. And whatever else I might think of the way NCSoft is handling things, it's clear they're not about to make way for Champions Online without a fight. And for the first time in months, that fight looks like the advantage is to City of Heroes.

Game on, man. Game on.

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I'm interested in this, too. When Champions Online was announced, and Emmert was touting what it would have that CoH/V didn't, I had to laugh. City of H/V has been the only superhero game in town for a while, and this was a challenge. So, Champions online was out to wow folks, and NCSoft and the guys had to step up their game.

Who will win?

Us, the Players.

Exactly right, Triant. The main thing we've needed is *competition* in the genre, and now we've got it. I'm pretty psyched.

You know, every time I read the 'why are you still reading this?' part, I ask myself that same question. Still, I continue reading.

Mmmmmm yes. Issue 13 is going to box my sox.

I must be the only one who read this and then thought, "How many people would make a hero similar to Kurtz's Lolbat?"

This does indeed look awesome.
The ability to write missions and storylines myself? Heh heh heh...

I do indeed have a problem with this issue.

It will come out after I am more than likely forced to quit. Though those game cards sound interesting and I shall indeed look into them.

The whole "Pain Domination" thing kind of reminds me of the evil counterpart of Bink, the Awesome Force healer. (For those who aren't old Superguy readers, Bink's power was to heal with cuteness. Her evil counterpart's power was to scare people's bodies into mending themselves. I can't help but think that Pain Domination should be kind of like that.)

Heya, if you want to run the Imp TF, just come on over to Champion server and ask. We run TFs a lot, and the Imp TF gets a good response. Just hope your character(s) on Champion Server are 35 plus :)

P.S. I am stoked about the architect mission planner. Thinking out a series of library-themed TFs/story arcs for heroside... :wicked grin:

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