Monday, October 11, 2010

City of Heroes: Going Rogue

Last weekend, I spent my time going back to City of Heroes (CoH). CoH is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) based on the superhero genre. For a long time, it was the sole superhero kid on the block but with Champions Online and the upcoming (if delayed) DC Online, competition is now tough for publisher NCsoft.

The game started in 2004, so it is now 6 years old. To match up with the new kids on the block, NCsoft released an expansion, City of Heroes: Going Rogue. This is only the second expansion for CoH after 2005’s City of Villains (CoV). So it is the first full expansion in 5 years for the game and NCsoft incited former players back by having a free weekend trial with the Going Rogue expansion.

Entering the game for the first time in about a year, I decided to try out the new expansion. I logged on my level 50 Mind-Master and tried to find my way to Praetoria, the new playfield of CoH. I quickly found no way of doing so and broadcast a question on how to do so.

To my shock, I found out that I can’t! To enter Praetoria, you must create a new Praetorian character because Praetoria is a level 1-20 playfield. I’m still in shock about that but okay, I created a new Praetorian character and enter Praetoria for the first time. The new playfield was excellent. Most players are of the option that Praetoria is the best 1-20 playfield in the game and I am inclined to agree.

As an alternate Earth dimension, new characters begin as neutral Praetorian which means all the classes are available. The storyline of Going Rogue is also excellent as you can decide if you want to follow the good if tyrannical Emperor Cole or the freedom-fighting if chaotic Resistance.

There are various shades of gray in the storyline with neither side wholly good or wholly evil. City of Heroes: Going Rogue also has what can be called a moral system. In CoH or CoV, heroes are heroes (in Paragon City) and villains are villains (in the Rogue Isles). In Going Rogue, players will be faced with a series of missions where they can decide their character’s morality. Heroes who act evil can become Vigilantes and Villains who act heroically can become Rogues. Vigilantes and Rogues can access both sides of the game (Paragon City and Rogue Isles) but they cannot enter the Taskforce missions which are the level-50 missions of the game.

Even after they become Vigilantes and Rogues, players will have missions where they can switch sides completely to the opposite. These missions with moral choices are pretty well-done. The missions themselves are nothing new but the moral choices available make things interesting. However, will these new choices make me go out and buy City of Heroes: Going Rogue?

The answer is No!

During the free weekend, former players can only push their new characters to the maximum of level 14. I thought that was a strange limit to impose because the level limit is at 50 but I soon found out why. At Level 20, Praetorian characters will have a final mission where they have a choice to either become a Hero or a Villain and then they will enter either Paragon City or the Rogue Isles. The Going Rogue expansion only has playfields for level 1-20 characters!

No matter how good the playfields are, there are only 4 of them. How did NCsoft okay an expansion which has nothing for characters level 21-50? The recent Age of Conan expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, has a new level 1-20 playfield and about 4-5 other playfields for level 80 characters! Compare the 2 expansion and you add to that the fact old characters can’t even enter Praetoria at all; Going Rogue strikes me as pretty weak.

Also I have to wonder how serious was NCsoft about the free weekend. I never received any email about it and if I didn’t read about it in Massively (a MMORPG website), I would have no idea there was a free weekend for former players! How was NCsoft going to incite former players with a free weekend when the players don’t even know about it?

There is also a stability problem with the game. At several times, I lost “connection to the mapserver.” At first I thought it was my internet connection but when I was in a 6 man team, I found that 3 other players in the team have the same problems. That leads me to believe the problem should be pretty widespread.

The gameplay and playfield of City of Heroes: Going Rogue is good, the new storyline is great, and the new addition of moral choices is excellent. However the expansion is faced with some problems like nothing for characters above level 20, and old characters being unable to enter Praetoria. These design choices are a pity because the gameplay and storyline of Going Rogue are good.

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