Into the Super-verse: Early impressions of Valiance Online

A shell of a cyberpunk world-in-progress


When I heard that Valiance Online was going to be running an open beta this week to coincide with the PlayNYC convention, I knew I had to get in and check out what this superhero MMO had going on so far.

Valiance Online’s always seemed like it’s been trailing the other two serious City of Heroes spiritual successors — City of Titans and Ship of Heroes — and for a while there, it had gone so quiet that I wondered if its development hadn’t ceased altogether. Fortunately, the game is still being made, and it was pretty exciting to get my hands on this demo.

So what does Valiance look like, how does it handle, and what’s actually in it? Let’s take a look today.

I think we need to clear up some terminology first: Valiance can call this a beta, but from what I saw over a couple of days playing it, I’d say that the game is in an alpha or pre-alpha state at best. There’s a shell of a game here — some of which looks very pretty — but there’s not a lot of substance yet.

You start to get a sense of that on the character creation screen, which has a ton of placeholders and only a handful of options for looks, powersets, and outfits. I made the best with what was on hand, crafting a green-skinned cybercop who specialized in summoning soldiers and healing. Her headset had some great animations to suggest data flowing in and out of her field of vision.

What I’ve always felt Valiance had going for it in this weirdly crowded field of City of Heroes successors is its visual style, and this bore up in the demo. It definitely has a strong neonpunk vibe across its slightly futuristic city. It kind of felt like I was in the Miami of tomorrow, what with the palm trees and beachfront. So I think Valiance deserves some praise for injecting personality into its environment.

The interface gets another measure of praise. The flat screens didn’t blow me away, but it’s clean, attractive, and easy to use. While there wasn’t a world or zone map that I could find, the minimap did offer the intriguing option to toggle between a 2-D and 3-D top-down viewpoint.

Once I logged in, the big question became… what do I do? The game was eerily quiet, with no other players or mobs to be found. Even the chat window was disabled for the time that I was in the demo, further enforcing this sense of isolation. That’s not the kind of feeling you want when you’re in an MMO.

Without any missions or mobs jumping out at me, I decided to play tourist and slowly jog around the town to see what I could see. I was hopeful that I might actually find an enemy to fight at some point, but that certainly didn’t happen on the first day. Without any way to get XP and level up, I knew I’d be stuck with jogging instead of a cool travel power, and that gnawed at me somewhat.

Still, look at those visuals! Crosswalks and traffic lights never looked so cool.

I kept picking out landmarks to travel to, such as the Skyline Civic Center here. There were plenty of giant statues in the plaza, although I wasn’t quite sure if these were visual placeholders that are due to get more textures later or are made to look like rough polygons as an aesthetic choice.

The city area that I explored was walled in — another City of Heroes nod — but there was plenty of room to explore. Unfortunately, many of the buildings lacked textures and could even be walked straight through as if they didn’t exist. It was really a toss-up in any given area whether there was a lot of detail to look at or just the flat planes that screamed “under construction.”

I spent some time on a local beach to see if there was swimming (there was) and to make friends with the only animals I’ve seen in the game: seagulls. I did amuse myself by toggling my heal every now and then. To its credit, it looks pretty neat and further enforces the neonpunk design of the game.

On my second day, I actually found mobs! At first, I thought it was another player and ran up to happily emote at him, only to get shot in the face. That happens to me too often. So I whipped my soldier boys into action and we gave Valiance’s combat a try.

Again, it’s there, it’s functional, but it’s so far from prime time, so testers and readers and the MMO faithful really need to understand that this is not a game on the verge of release. The animations, hit reactions, and sounds were either off or not there at all. Our guns were solid fuchsia, either because of the game look or as further placeholders. But at least my small team was able to down mobs one at a time, with me healing and attacking as the situation warranted. I looted a few enhancements that I could slot and even leveled up.

And that’s pretty much where I left things because I don’t think there’s that much more to see or do right now in this brief phase of testing. There are hints of a mission system, such as a terminal that I found, but that’s it. Valiance has a genuinely pretty frame that’s still being built, but make no mistake — this one’s a while off from inviting the next generation of heroes to play for good.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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