Into the Super-Verse: So what can Homecoming do with City of Heroes’ Incarnates?


Last week I talked about the major issues that City of Heroes Incarnate system introduced to the game, and the fact of the matter is that those issues all predate Homecoming and SCORE before it, never mind the six-week-old license. In fact, the biggest change made to Incarnates since Homecoming has just been to make them slightly more accessible, which is a good thing but also sort of… I don’t want to say irrelevant, but it doesn’t really count as a major philosophical change.

The reason for this is pretty straightforward when you think about it. Incarnates were not a universally beloved system, and they only really twist a few dials in terms of how the game is structured. There’s a lot to talk about in terms of what the game could have or should have done, but the reality is that we live in the here and now with the Incarnate system already in the game. So what can the volunteer developers working on the game now actually do to make this system work, much less expand it? That’s a complicated concept. But it is, I think, one worth examining.

First of all, I think one of the things that should be considered is whether or not the Incarnate system can be completed.

Incarnates were not actually finished by the time the game shut down. Four more slots were planned before the game shut down but were not actually implemented: Genesis, Mind, Vitae, and Omega. We have some vague idea of what Genesis was going to be, but nothing for the other three. This is relevant because if this cannot actually be finished up, then there’s space to change what’s already there because, y’know, the developers can just do that now if they want to. There are no laws or anything.

Next on the priority list, though, is actually making Incarnates matter. Because right now they sort of don’t.

I don’t mean that they’re totally useless, but as it stands Incarnates matter most in a handful of Trials and can be used as long as you’re still near the level cap. That isn’t ideal. Yes, one of the big things that happens when you get synced down to lower levels is that you lose some of your powers, but that loss is almost always kept proportional. Your Enhancements are less powerful than when you’re at max level, and you lose the set bonuses for the highest sets, but you still are a lot stronger than you were on-level.


As it stands, I think the obvious solution might be the most straightforward and correct one: Just make Incarnate powers always active.

This might seem as if it’s really inflating power levels when you sync down to help a lower-level ally, but it also has the impact of letting you feel like the time you spent advancing and improving your Incarnate powers actually has a larger impact. You’re not going to get the level shift at lower levels; if you’re at level 23, you’re still level 23, but you also have potentially a big boost to your stats from even just your first Alpha Slot power. That communicates the idea that this is a permanent power boost.

The fact that it’s easier to get materials so long as your target is on-level definitely helps matters. But giving players just… more stuff to do in general without feeling “and now I don’t keep my Incarnate powers” makes this sort of progression more meaningful. And it allows the question of “why am I doing this on this one character” to have an answer – because that one character actually is still meaningfully advancing for quite a while.

Basically, as the game adds more story arcs to play, more content for players to explore, and even more zones, having more stuff to do while still retaining that power makes the power feel better.

Let’s say that finishing the system is a non-starter and the balance changes I just suggested are pretty easy to roll out. Hypothetically, we’d have a pretty solid foundation for moving forward with Incarnates. But we’d still have some of the same basic problems with regard to the powers not all working. Some of them are click powers added to your arsenal, and some of them are passive buffs. What do we do about that?

If you want my opinion, assuming we’ve come thus far and the developers want to keep working on this weird endgame progression system instead of something else, I’d say that the next step is to lean into the spirit of CoH and make these slots a lot more flexible than they currently are.

Maybe you really like the Lore pets as an option. Maybe you really like Judgment’s AoE click power. Maybe you really hate the powers that serve as meta-enhancements. But I think part of the nature of Incarnates as a concept is that they affect everyone a little differently, and I feel like being able to slot in multiple things that work slightly differently feels very appropriately superheroic when you’re at this power level.

Also, more robots.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that these things should be wildly different sorts of powers and you should be able to turn your Judgment slot into, say, a new pet power. But what if instead of choosing a new click AoE, you gained a new ability that caused an AoE effect proc when you attacked? Adjust the rate and damage well enough and it’s functionally similar, but it lets you twist how you want your character to be perceived.

Or maybe you don’t really like how the Alpha slot is just a universal enhancement that bypasses Diversification. That’s all right; what if instead it became a buff power that had a big impact, a notable cooldown, but no longer had any enhancement effects tied to it? What would that do to playstyles and the general disposition?

To be entirely clear, this would be a large-scale project that takes a great deal of work, and I cannot say with absolute certainty that it would be worth it. I’m not saying that what I’m proposing here fixes the Incarnate system, but that’s also because what I’m looking at here are solutions that address some of the problems and hopefully makes things better on a whole.

Because just like I said last week that I understand what the original Paragon developers were trying to do with the Incarnate System to begin with, I also understand that the Homecoming team now doesn’t really have the freedom to go back to zero. This is the system that is in the game at this point, whether you like it or not. And with a volunteer team doing the best it can, there are certain limitations on adding new stuff or radically redoing mechanics.

It’s all stuff done with an eye toward making the game the best it can be now and moving forward, and while the game is unlikely to ever be a true commercial game with a business model ever again, I think the half-finished endgame system within it does need to be understood and looked at. It could be better, it has issues, and it isn’t what I would have gone with. But it’s here now, so let’s see if the current team can touch on some of those.

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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