City of Heroes Diary #2

Life and death of the superfolk.

1

My main activity in City of Heroes this week has been dying.

Which has lead to two decisions. The first is that I'm going to avoid tampering with the relatively new mission difficulty settings, which allow you to increase the challenge in terms of number and ability of your opposition from the standard "Hard-boiled" level.

(And isn't that a delightful piece of basic psychology on the part of the designers? Rather than having the bottom level be "normal" or heaven-forbid "Easy", "Weakling" or some other demeaning epithet, it's "Hard-boiled". Even if you're playing standard City of Heroes, you're still being a hero. That you can see the design ethos echo down to this smallest of decision says a lot about the purity of Cryptic's vision.)

Secondly, it's time for a Respec. Which I'll leave tantalisingly unexplained to keep you reading. Well, that's the theory anyway.

I've been dying for a number of reasons. As I said last time, I'm a Blaster. Blasters split like particularly ripe, heroic pustules on the face of pubescent Paragon City. We die easily, and quickly. You're often on the floor before the rest of the team have even had a chance to realise something has gone terribly wrong. At least at my level, this is acceptable and a trade-off for the ability to kneecap The Bads at extreme ranges. With great power comes great chance of being knocked embarrassingly on your backside.

More importantly, I'm dying because there are subtle details of the game which I'm trying - and often failing - to remember. It's been a while, and there are tricks of the trade that are slowly coming back. What's true for me is true for most of my team - when someone makes a mistake or doesn't pay attention, I tend to die. With ANDOV's hulking, resilient form, he's generally got days to rectify an error. With Warwych it's a case of "Mistake? What mi-KER-DEAD!" If anyone messes up severely, I go down. If I had slightly less faith in my comrade's ability, it'd happen less. But that'd involve me having slightly less faith in my comrades, and I quite like playing the wide-eyed-dreamer in my videogames. It makes a change from snarling at passers-by on the street and urinating on the heads of tramps for kicks.

Finally, I've been dying because I've been doing some really stupid things.

2

The best of which have involved my Energy Torrent power. This sends of funnel of force flickering... oh, enough Stan-Lee-aping alliteration. It hits a lot of bad guys, quickly, and knocks them on their backside as well as doing a little damage. Essentially, it's for temporarily immobilising groups to give you time to either run away or pummel them in their defenceless position. It also, in most cases, reminds every single one of the bad-guys that there's someone else in the group of superheroes attacking them other than ANDOV.

You see, as a Tanker, my towering chum attracts the aggression of groups. Despite the fact there are other people around, they would rather pile onto him than the more vulnerable members of the group. This is the corner stone of our group's tactics. However, this only goes so far. Do enough damage to someone and they'll realise there's more to life (or unlife - I've been hanging around Dark Astoria lots this week, so have been getting close and personal with the undead and assorted walking nightmares) than helplessly pounding on ANDOV's armoured body and run and kill the funny looking woman in red.

Most of Warwych's attacks are designed for striking one foe at a time. It doesn't really matter if this draws their attention, as her powers are quite capable of neutralising most single people's chances to strike back. However, if a mob attempts to run her down... well, she gets run down. And often before there's much time to react in any meaningful way.

Yes, there are ways of making powerful Area-attack blasters. Warwych isn't one of them. All her area attacks do against any difficultly of foes is annoy them immensely.

So using it against any difficulty of foes is... well, really stupid.

(And if you're wondering what use the power is if it just gets me killed, it's mainly for dealing with lower level groups who I can ignore a little more safely, providing an escape route when a group is pilling onto a comrade in arms or when a mob is marching towards you specifically. Which makes it doubly stupid to use when there's a chance of enraging Mr Nasty and The Nastyheads or whoever you're facing off against: because when they're charging towards you is exactly when you need Energy Torrent. And if you used it to get on their nerves, then it'll still be recharging.)

So, my survival tactics are as follows:
1) Stop firing Energy Torrent into groups.
2) Stop trying to protect the group when they fire the equivalent of Energy Torrent into groups. Run, Warwych, Run!
3) Respec my powers to something to give her a little more punch.

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And we return to the gun I placed carefully on the mantelpiece earlier in the diary. The Respec is, essentially, what City of Heroes lets you do to correct all the mistakes you made when you didn't really understand the game. After using one, you're artificially placed back at the start of character creation, and get to remake the decisions you made at every step along the way. Choose new powers. Choose to upgrade them in slightly different ways. Just choose to be the same out of a sense of misguided loyalty to the past you loved so. It's essentially elective surgery for the gaming character, allowing you to swap what you don't like for something you do. Don't be stuck with unsightly super nostril hair or the tattoo of an arch-villain displaying his posterior. You too can Respec... and go!

When, upon her return to the game, I described what a Respec was to Nitefall, the Dark/Dark Controller who takes the essential "Healer" role in our little super-team, she raised one eyebrow and asked "Isn't that cheating?"

Yes. It's cheating. And hurrah for that.

Other Massively Multiplayer games, essentially, punish you for your inexperience. City of Heroes rather asks "What's the fun in being stuck with a decision you regret?" and then allows you to step back and rethink things a little. It's also doubly kind, in that you're able to dry run your changes by transferring a copy of your character from their normal home to the experimental Test Server. Run the Respec, alter a few things, and then see how it feels. If the new cut of the super-costume feels a little baggy around the hips or tight across the improbable bust line, import them again and start anew until you find something you genuinely like and are happy playing.

However, it's not quite that easy. A Respec is a highly valued thing, and only gained under extreme duress. Namely a particularly tricky mission which you can only attempt after crossing a certain level boundary, and then not again until you climb to the next checkpoint. Which is ten levels on.

Now, you may wonder why, if I'm so rubbish, how I managed to get a Respec.

Well, firstly I'm not that rubbish. I'm just anti-posturing.

And secondly, Statesman kindly gave a free Respec to everyone as a Yuletide gift.

Mu-ha-ha-ha.

This is an publisher-sponsored feature brought to you in conjunction with NCsoft. However, this serialised diary account of City Of Heroes has been given full editorial independence.

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