Into the Super-Verse: Early SOs pose a perplexing problem in City of Heroes Homecoming

I need to start taking my own shots here.

Last week, I talked a bit about how to gear yourself up in City of Heroes. Just yesterday, Bree gave an example for how to make money so you can fund yourself in doing so (and it ain’t remotely hard). All good stuff. But today, I want to talk about something else that we sort of need to discuss that has happened within the rebooted servers, and that’s allowing SOs to be sold right from the start of the game, via a patch that went in all the way back in November of 2020.

Here’s the thing: That decision had complex and multifaceted consequences for the game as a whole because there is a linked assumption implied by this exact arrangement. So I want to unpack exactly what we see going on here and what it might imply. This will require at least one big assumption, though, so it’s possible that all of this might not exactly play out as suspected; we’ll have to wait and see. But the speculation and implication are still worth considering.

As it stands right now, players of CoH are no longer forced to just buy TOs at low levels and wait until DOs become available in the teens. Previously, this was a whole thing; for a very long time players only had cheap and largely useless TOs available during the early levels, then DOs became available, then finally SOs showed up. There wasn’t really a sense of being able to afford SOs at level 1; they simply did not exist. Full stop. (I’m setting aside low-level IOs here for now.)

It’s clear that the developers working on balance now didn’t really like the original arrangement, and to be clear, there are good reasons to agree with them – namely, that TOs are functionally worthless.

Now, Bree and I have both talked about how at least in theory, TOs make sense. When you’re first starting the game, it’s good to have cheap Enhancements that you will replace (several times) so you can make wrong choices and learn they’re bad ideas without a real hit to your character. They quite literally train a newbie in how to use Enhancements. Maybe you’re a Controller who saw a primary power dealing damage and slotted Damage instead of Hold Duration, and that’s usually a bad call, but at least at that point it isn’t going to ruin your life for long. Move on, right?

The problem is that TOs are too ineffective. A 10% increase in damage means that a power that used to deal 30 damage now deals 33. You aren’t going to notice that; it’s too small an increase. Instead of getting a sense of good and bad choices, you get a sense of “well, that was a waste of time” and mostly learn Enhancements suck. (It’s not going to make a huge difference to your play, either, as the early game is balanced with the assumption that you’re not slotted efficiently.)


Obviously this starts being less the case with DOs and mid-level IOs. And this was both deliberate and carefully arranged in the original game. IOs cost more to make up-front, but you will be able to use them for longer than DOs, which have the edge in power but run out when you can first buy them. Same goes for SOs for a while. IOs win out at the very end, but not to an egregious extent. (If you’re curious about the relevant power scales, the Homecoming wiki has a pair of useful charts comparing the power of all of these types of enhancements over time, marking the points when you ought to switch up for maximum effect.)

Making SOs available from the start – literally, right from the vendor near Ms Liberty in Atlas Park – leads me to believe that eventually, the costs on SOs are going to drop closer to what TOs used to be. It really looks like the devs are aiming to flatten the dropped/bought enhancement system. And that sounds, at first blush, like a good change! Now you can start off with Enhancements that actually, like… do something! That’s good! That’s useful! And you don’t have to futz around with the game’s crafting system, so that’s also good!

Except it would create a problem because (discounting the costs) suddenly crafting would go from being useful at lower levels to being completely worthless until, oh, right around level 40. And with that change come a whole lot of knock-on effects.

I’ve noted that the “upgrade all enhancement” button is pretty expensive and kitting yourself out at lower levels adds up quick. That is significant. But if you reduce those prices to a tenth of what they currently are, you have no real reason to bother with a lot of lower-level crafting. IOs go from being a useful alternative choice with long-term viability but not as much power to being just the objectively wrong choice most of the time. It makes lower-level crafting and salvage wholly worthless. It really breaks a bunch of the game.

That doesn’t mean it comes from a place of anything other than reasonable expectations. Seriously, TOs did not actually accomplish their job. The problem is that this system is also a problem if the change is made… and if it’s not made, then it’s way too expensive to pick up initial Enhancements and you’ve really traded one problem for another. Neither one is ideal.

Can this be avoided? I certainly think so, but it will mean that some work needs to be done other than just making SOs cheaper. Which, even if it is in the works, is something that I think the developers are aware of; otherwise I assume the costs would have been decreased at the same time as SOs and DOs were made wildly more prevalent in the game. (As we understand it, the main reason for pulling TOs off newbie vendors was to avoid misleading newbies into using the “upgrade” button on TOs well past mathematical sense. But of course, that choice had knock-on effects of its own.)


The first, easiest, and most obvious option is to rebalance around DOs as the baseline rather than SOs. This will still make the lowest-level IOs basically useless, but considering how fast it is to get to level 20, that’s not a major change anyhow. People who don’t want to bother at all with crafting still have a viable path forward; people who are willing to put in a little more legwork can endure longer. But that’s not a great solution on a whole, and I think it seems unlikely.

If we’re all going to be slotting SOs, the next option is to power up IOs even at lower levels. If you push level 10 IOs up to the strength of level 20 IOs now and rebalance the gradations of power to be similar, you do at least still keep them useful, although it also does make the lower game a bit easier than it already is and makes them less relevant along the way. It’s still not great, but it can work.

My last obvious idea is to change IOs to work slightly differently by adding extra secondary effects (similar to the proc-based set chances) or by making it possible at lower levels to slot them onto “phantom” slots you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Those both might require some extra programming work, but if IOs offered dual-slot benefits even at a lower level or somehow added more power than you could normally expect, it’s all right if they’re a bit more expensive. Optional, but still desirable.

Obviously, at this point it’s unknown where we’re going to go. Balancing this game is always going to be tricky simply because so much of the game is built around everything remaining permanently relevant and you both need to consider the endgame situation as well as leveling all the way down the line. I don’t pretend that there’s One Weird Trick that will work to solve 100% of the issues with Enhancements, and the fact that IOs were already a later addition to add a crafting system to a game mid-lifespan is clear in so many parts of their nature.

But I do think that the game’s developers need to consider it (and they no doubt are), because now the game has official status again. It has places to go. Whether or not it will live up to all of its potential or not remains to be seen, but I am hopeful, even if I do have questions.

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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