I remember those thronging streets. Towns where you couldn't walk a foot down the sidewalk without bumping into a collection of uber-powered folks, ready to fight crime in all its forms. I remember staring at the vast crowds gathered around Ms Liberty in Atlas Park, a sea of the brightly coloured, winged, robotic, muscular and lithe. Paragon City was a thriving metropolis.
Today, it is a ghost town. Crime runs unhindered, old ladies stuck in perpetual battles with violent thugs over their handbags, no one coming to their aid. Clockwork menaces kick their feet on rooftops, realising the futility of their existence when there's no one to zap. Circles of Thorns fizzle with impotent demonic energy. Where did all the heroes go?
City of Heroes/Villains is getting on a bit. No, the servers aren't empty, but rather the action is nearer the top end, the higher levels. It's four years old now, but in its third year you would still expect to see those starting areas, Atlas Park and Galaxy City, bulging with newbs, fitting themselves out with their first powers, showing off their explosive buffs in public areas. Returning - it's been a while since I fought crime in these streets - was a peculiarly lonely experience.
The Eleventh Hour
Four years and a month on, City of Heroes adds its twelfth expansion, Issue 12: Midnight Hour. So what's new?
The title refers to a new organisation within the game, the Midnight Squad. The city has long been under attack by an alien force known as the Rikti, who have been central characters in previous Issues. The Midnighters claim to possess secrets that could repel the invasion, offering a new collection of threaded missions for levels 10 to 50. There's also a new zone map based around this bunch, for both Heroes and Villains, called the Roman Cimeroran Peninsula, themed around the Midnighters' Ouroboros crystal that allows them to manipulate time (Issue 11 introduced the Ouroboros for its time-travelling missions). Sci-fi hokum ahoy! All perfectly fitting with City of Heroes' comic-book stylings.
For those who've hit level 50, Issue 12 also brings in a couple of new Epic Archetypes on the Villainous side. They be Wolf Spiders, and Blood Widows, which are clearly awesome names. As with previous Epics, this involves new stories and missions, and best of all, ridiculous costumes involving giant spider legs coming out of your back. This is why we play games.
There's also the smattering of tweaks you'd expect to see, mostly making things slightly more user-friendly. At last you can chop up your power trays and put them anywhere you want, along with tidying up the Contact and Chat window. Still, other windows are in desperate need of improvement, and the Missions window still refuses to be resized, maddeningly preventing you from reading the mission info without using the pop-up. More interesting is the Level Up Boost - a very welcome inclusion. Now when your reach a new level it refills your health and endurance bars (I strongly feel this would happen in real life too, if only we could level up so distinctly) as well as buffing you with every Inspiration type. It's a nice touch, making the frustration of levelling midway through a dungeon much more rewarding.
Issue 12's other new feature, which once more favours the Heroic side of things, is a collection of gaming tweaks for The Hollows (which itself first appeared with Issue 2). NPCs have been rebalanced, there's new baddies about, and a brand new contact who offers repeatable missions. But I mention this because of its description in the bumph that accompanied the new expansion, describing it as a "makeover". I first thought they'd improved the graphics in the zone, and was keen to see. But I had misunderstood.