Starting out on an MMO is a bit like picking up a dictionary in a foreign language and starting at A; it’s all new, none of it makes sense, and there’s a long way to go. It’s important for developers to get the balance between the excitement and intimidation factors right at this stage, as the opening few levels are key to determining whether the player feels it is not for them, or if it’s something that they will pay around a tenner a month to play for the next year or so. Committing to playing an MMO is different to other games; the fact that I actually use the word “commitment” says an awful lot. It’s going to take regular investment of both time and money, and unlike other games others will also be reliant on your playing, so if the healer decides to take a phone call while the group is taking on a +5 boss, then he has let “real people” down. When you decide to play an MMO you are committing to one game, one group of players, and pretty much one thing to do with your spare time for a long time to come. In short, it better be good….
City of Villains (CoV henceforth) is the first ever game that is an expansion, a sequel and a brand new stand alone game in its own right, all at the same time, or at least this is what Cryptic claim. In truth, this is pure hyperbole, and while it does allow new and old players a completely “new” experience, it is effectively a full price expansion pack for City of Heroes (CoH). This is no bad thing, it adds a massive amount of content (an entire game’s worth in fact) and there is no extra monthly charge, so I would say on balance the value is good.
CoH more or less followed the standard rules of MMORPGs with its character classes, and had the tank, healer, long range damage dealer, crowd controller and an all rounder class for soloing. The class types in CoV can be divided into three categories; “Totally new”, “Remixed”, and “Nicked from World of Warcraft”. Starting with the new, the Mastermind is the pet class, and is capable of summoning many types of minions and pets. Gameplay for this type revolves around control and manipulation of the pets, and from what little I’ve seen in lvls1-10, this is a full time job. In the instructions it says that MMs are for experienced players, giving the impression they are hard to use. I think in fact it’s a case of easy to use, hard to use well. Masterminds seem to be able to use their pets to tank and damage deal for them, leaving them to do not very much at all, and can level in relative safety. However, I’ve also seen minions, blocking doorways, chasing runners and generally causing trouble. Basically, the pets need to be kept on a short leash.
Defenders have been re-jigged a bit to make Corrupters, but their role remains similar in providing defence, just with a bit more oomph on the blasts than old CoH Defenders will be used to. Controllers have had their secondary defensive powers replaced with Blasts, to become Dominators, and Scrappers and Tankers have been made into a hybrid class, the seemingly invincible Brute. Finally we have the Stalker. This is the class I have admittedly not have had much experience of, but it’s clearly been “heavily influenced” by WoW’s Rogues, and essentially it’s a stealth ‘one hit wonder’ class, that is capable of very high damage stealth attacks once every now and then.
The game itself is essentially CoH but “evil”. The truly excellent character design has been even further improved meaning you can create the custom character you’ve always dreamed of being, or for the unimaginative you can just generate one. The game format itself remains pretty much identical. Get a mission (either by visiting a contact or giving them a quick call) and then do it, either with a team or on your tod, although now instead of rescuing/bomb defusing/saving, you’re kidnapping/bomb setting/destroying, but it all amounts to pretty much the same thing. Some thought has gone into the problem in CoH that it was possible to run out of missions at certain points in the game, and this has been rectified with the newspaper that you can now find jobs in providing you are within the level limits. The world itself is split into various zones, the Rogue Isles as it were, and these can be reached by train, helicopter or ferry, although they won’t all be open initially as you will need to reach higher levels to go to the more dangerous areas.
Aside from the shift to evil it remains the same experience in principle to CoH. You gain XP by completing missions, and after receiving a set amount of XP you gain a new level. Should you die after level ten you will receive an XP debt that you have to pay off, but aside from that there is no other penalty for dying. Every time you level you can either choose a new power, or you can enhance and customise the powers you already have. There’s special rewards every ten levels such as capes and auras, and for now, like CoH when it first launched, the level cap is at 40, although no doubt this will increase to 50 to match CoH at some stage.
For players of CoH this new chapter brings a lot to the table to reignite your interest. Although much of what is promised such as PvP, Supergroup bases and such are not available until slightly higher levels, even in the first ten its clear how different the balance of the game is due to the new class types. The game no longer has a natural order. Brutes are too squishy to tank, Corruptors can’t really heal a whole team and Dominators seem to take on more aggro than they can possible handle. There are also a couple of initial balance issues that slightly concern me. The lack of an obvious tank, whilst providing an interesting challenge for other players to get around, does feel like an oversight. Whilst it is amusing to watch Stalkers and Dominators frantically run round and round in circles desperately trying to shake their aggro, I’m not convinced that it was intended for them to have to do this. Likewise, while a true healer class is not necessarily required due to the amount of other defensive powers available, you do need at least 2 Corrupters now to really feel something like the safety that an Empathy Defender would provide in CoH, and this will be interesting once the PvP kicks in. Also, a couple of the classes do seem overpowered at the moment, particularly the Masterminds who can solo on very high difficulties from a very early stage in the game. Conversely Stalkers will have a hard time levelling, particularly solo.
Still, somehow this step away from the traditional roles in an MMORPG have the effect of making it all the more fun. The reliance on knowing your role, has been superseded by the importance of invention and improvisation. Other slight changes that have been made such as increasing the XP that you generally gain and halving the amount of debt you receive in missions have increased the speed at which you level, relieving “the grind”. The graphics have been improved a little as well, and while this is good I would warn people that found their system coped happily with CoH not to assume that CoV will also be ok, as it may chug a little.
Some call CoH/CoV an MMORPG-lite, but I’ve always found that attitude both snobbish and inaccurate. CoV is not your typical MMORPG. If you are a pen and paper player, or the idea of item crafting and needing a bag that holds hundreds of trinkets you’ve found on your travels appeals to you, then this may well not be your game. But it would be wrong to assume that just because it has streamlined certain elements of the genre that it has watered it down, on the contrary it has been distilled. This is MMORPG concentrate, the pure essence of what is fun about these games, without all the fluff and padding that bump you up to a couple of thousand hours to get to the end game as opposed to maybe the hundred or so that CoV will take you. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re intimidated or just bored by the idea of most MMORPGs, and the idea of playing a fun team based action RPG online appeals to you, CoV is a unique and rewarding experience.
8 / 10