Into the Super-Verse: What City of Heroes needs now is not more endgame content


One of the key discussion points about the City of Heroes revival revolves around what the perception of the game is going to be. We haven’t really reckoned with that just yet. As MOP’s Bree and I excitedly watch the game’s servers light up with truly absurd player counts [4200 concurrent on a Wednesday night, what?! -Bree], right now we’re still in the salad days of gamers (including me) being all like the game is really back and not yet totally reckoning what that means for what we will actually do with the game. CoH is back! And it’s not going away again, and it’s not skirting the edges of legality. So now what?

People who have read my writing on this game for ages know that I’ve never been shy about voicing my opinion about the decisions made, sometimes very negative ones when the game was being run by people at Paragon Studios. That’s not going to change now. And so I want to start by throwing down my hat, so to speak, and saying that of all the things the game really needs right now… more endgame content and more aggressive endgame balancing are perhaps the least pressing.

If you are a CoH veteran, it’s easy to feel otherwise. Leveling in this game is not hard or difficult; a character I have played a decent amount over the course of less than a week went from level 1 to level 34 with millions of inf pretty smoothly. And among the things I’ve been praising the game for have been tweaks to balance and how they’ve impacted the game. Good stuff! So why am I sitting here saying that this is not actually important for the future development of the game? Have I lost my mind? Am I just dumb?

Possibly, but the thing that you have to understand about CoH – and that I think the people who brought the game back in the first place are at least somewhat aware of – is that CoH is not like most any other MMORPG in the industry. It has never been adept at endgame.

Over the years you have probably seen me write many, many times about how the best games don’t properly have an “endgame,” just a continuing set of the same activities that you were doing before. CoH is not the only such example, but it’s a strong contender. What do you do at level 50? You run missions and do story arcs. How is that different from what you did before? Well, now you have your full kit. Have fun!

I did a thing!

A number of the changes that have been made to the game over the year have thus been based around fixing that central problem, and many of them have been very good ones. Homecoming at this point lets you really have your full powerset kit assembled by the time you’re in the 30s, and you don’t have to futz around with spending power slots on Fitness or waste time waiting for your last few powers. This is a good thing.

However, this version of the game also does have the Incarnate system from live sitting there. Obviously, then, the HC team is focused on the game’s balance, on making sure that all the powersets can contribute evenly and so forth… but in my mind, at least, that’s a focus on the wrong thing. One of the best parts of CoH is that the game is mostly fine to play if you suck.

Some of my praise, for example, has gone to how the team worked on and rebalanced the Dual Blades powerset. Dual Blades has always been a cool set in concept that didn’t quite work in practice because of how its combos worked; if you missed one strike, your combo died, which meant that the whole combo-based gameplay didn’t really work, and certainly wasn’t competitive compared to sets that didn’t have that component. Homecoming’s big change is just that the combo persists even if the attack misses. It’s not a straight numbers buff.

And that’s enough. I don’t want CoH to be a game without misses, because the fact that the game sees a lot more missing and deflecting than other MMOs is part of its charm. The fact that Dual Blades is not the top of the heap when it comes to dealing damage doesn’t bother me, because I did not select this powerset to do crazy damage but for thematic satiation.

This is one of the fun things about the game. While there is space to min-max and choose the best possible archetypes and damage stats, most of the game’s players do not care about that, nor should we. If the game’s next powerset is Barnyard Minions for Masterminds, I am not going to be tilted about whether or not Barnyard Minions are the best power set or the worst. I am going to be rolling up a character named US Acres or Old MacDonald or Farmer Orwell or something far worse (it can always get worse). Because the game, broadly, does not care.

Oh my.

There are, I am aware, parts of the Incarnate system that were never fully implemented. But if you ask me about what I want, it’s not the next tier of Incarnates; it’s the Utility Belt and Gadgetry power pools that weren’t fully implemented but teased another set of travel powers and different theming. Do I need another set of travel powers? No, but the pools attached to them offer some exciting thematic options. That’s fun.

If powers are too strong or too weak, they can always be adjusted. I worry that in a game now being developed by fans of the game who want to simultaneously preserve the game’s feel and introduce new stuff, there will be a reluctance to take big swings and take chances. There’s an impetus to not let things be overpowered or do weird new things (apart from what was already implemented over those first six years into the code Homecoming is now built on). And to a certain extent this makes sense; you don’t want to design a powerset that utterly dominates the game as a whole. Plus, anything they do must be approved by NCsoft itself now.

But I also think a key is to recognize that CoH is not really a game served well by an endgame focus or a perfect balance focus. Making fun new sets is endlessly more important than making any new sets, and there are archetypes that still need work and improvement. (Controllers have never worked well solo, and they are in a hard place in the game as a whole; they could use some more love, even with my avowed loathing of Controllers and all they represent.) We don’t need the game to be at its best once you hit 50 and beyond, especially because at this point the game could be better about introducing new players to this title we all loved.

What has always been awesome about CoH is that it has been a game not about rushing to the endgame but about welcoming players into this awesome game. The endgame is there if you want something to do on your capped character, not The Real Game you’ve been waiting to reach. It can be easy to lose sight of that if you’ve been neck-deep in the game for years, but it’s important to say right from the start that I hope the developers keep a fixed eye on what the game is best at and can actually deliver, not just what is the most obvious next step for enfranchised fans.

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.
Previous articleBaldur’s Gate 3 boss pushes back against the industry’s renewed ambition over games subscription models
Next articleBlizzard’s maintenance-moded Heroes of the Storm is getting another patch – with hero buffs

No posts to display

oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments