With the NDA lifted, lets talk about City of Heroes.
First off, to see lots about the game, go to the official site at http://www.coh.com. If you want to look at the powers and plan a character offline, get the tool at http://coh.blacklistguild.com/.
Now… on to my thoughts…
The Character Creator: There are literally millions of costumes you can create here. And unless you are trying to make a costume similar to a well known comic character or are going for something very simple (white tights with a red star on the chest) its unlikely that you’ll see someone in the same suit (similar, possibly, but not identical). The only issues I have with character creation are things like: Not being able to make a full “skeletal” robot (they have the arms, but no legs to match); no capes, trenchcoats, jackets, or robes (they do have tails, but they are fairly rigid – this is all due to the choice of doing the game in OpenGL instead of Direct3D); and no “colored” hair (your hair is all one color, you can’t have a stripe or otherwise altered hair).
Its been hinted at that there will be some way to alter your appearance later in the game, at a cost of influence, or something, but for now, expect your costume to be static after creation.
Gameplay: You are a hero, you defeat bad guys. In that, read, there is no PvP. Everything in CoH, for now, is PvE (player versus environment). You can run out in the street and fight thugs, you can get missions to find stolen objects or break up some bad guy’s sinister plan.
In the game, you can either go solo, or you can group with up to 7 other people at once. Street events tend to be doable with 1-3 people fairly easily, though some city zones and some encounters require more firepower than a hero can do alone. Missions do tailor to the group going in though, so if you go in solo the mission will be “easier” than if you go in with 7 other people, although you may finish faster with a group than you could solo. Neither grouping nor soloing is clearly more efficient in City of Heroes, although, like any game, a good soloer is always better than a bad group.
The game tailors well to time restrictions as well. If you want to just pop in and fight for 20-30 minutes, you can. If you want to spend all day doing missions and task forces, you can do that too.
Archtypes and Powers: In the game there are serveral archtypes to choose from: Blaster, Controller, Defender, Scrapper, and Tanker. Blasters are primarily range damage, Controllers are range with mainly healing and hold powers (snares, roots, mezzes), Defenders are buffers/debuffers with ranger, Scrappers are melee damage, and Tankers are melee damage absorbers.
Within each archtype, there are primary and secondary power sets. With each of those lies nuance for the archtype. For example, a Force Field Defender buffs and shields his group, while a Dark Miasma Defender debuffs the bad guys, both are defenders but both are played very differently.
There are also Power Pools that are available to all archtypes. These are things like Flight, Superspeed, Leadership, Medicine, etc. Essentially, they allow you to have a travel power and/or augment your archtype with a skill you are missing.
Every even level (2, 4, 6, … ) you will get a new power.
Items and Equipment: The costume you create in the beginning is how you will always look. Throughout the game the items you get will be Inspirations and Enhancements.
Inspirations are temporary buffs or instant effects. Healing, Endurance recovery, defence, accuracy, damage, resistances… even a revive (more on this later).
Enhancements are what make your powers better, and allow avenues for making yours different from someone else in the same powerset. Each power lists the enhancements it can take: more damage, more range, reduce cost, more defence, more debuffing, etc.. and each power starts with one enhancement slot. Every odd level (3, 5, 7, … ) you get more slots to put on the powers you choose. There are three kinds of enhancements: Generic, Dual Origin, Single Origin. Think of them as 10%, 25%, 40%, while those numbers may not be correct, it helps to visualize what they help you do. As with any math in games, going larger is easier than going smaller. If you slot 5 Single Origin damage increasers into a power, you will increase the damage by 200%. Increasers are calculated at x + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) + (x * .4) = 3x. However, reducers are limited in that they cannot cross 0. So if you slot 5 Single Origin refresh time reducers, you will not get x – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) – (x * .4) = -x. It has not been determined at this time if you simply cap at a certain point, or if its dimishing returns: (((((x * .6) * .6) * .6) * .6) * .6) = .07776x.
Enhancements also have a level. If you are level 10, only enhancements level 7 through 13 will function for you. Anything 14+ you can’t slot in, and anything 6- will be “red” and not providing any benefit. As you adventure though, you can either get new enhancements (through drop or from a store), or you can combine enhancements to keep them up. A level 6 + a level 6 = a level 6+. 6+ is effectively level 7. If you then combine a level 6+ and a level 7, you get a 7+ (8). But, if you combine a level 6+ with another 6, you get a 6++, which is also effectively 8, but cannot be combined further.
Death: City of Heroes is not modern comics. Frank Miller doesn’t live here. This is the Golden Age, and no one dies. When you defeat a foe, he’s carted off to prison (not shown, the body just fades away). This is visually indicated by the fact that his health and enduance are never empty, just reduced to a minimal amount and he falls to the floor.
Heroes aren’t defeated either. They go to the hospital, or they can be revived on the spot through a number of powers or an awaken inspiration.
The penalty for defeat in CoH is an experience debt. When you are defeated, you earn a debt equal to approximately 10% of the current level’s total exp (last I heard they were talking about knocking this to 5%, as well as levelling it off so that at high levels, the debt isn’t astronomical). If your level takes 2000 exp to complete from start to finish, a defeat earns you 200 debt. Your max debt is half your current level (some say equal to the level, but I’ve never earned enough debt to test that out), so 1000 in this example. While you have debt, half the exp you earn will go to debt, and half to regular exp. So in reality, you never “lose” exp, you simply level at half speed until you work off the debt.
In practice, I found that I rarely cared about my debt, although it did prevent me from trying something stupid more than once or twice. When I lost a mission fight, I would try again, but if I lost twice, I would go find something else to do until I either came up with a new strategy or levelled.
Missions: This is were most of the game is at. You can go earn exp on the streets, but inside a mission, you don’t have to search for the bad guys. You also earn experience for completing the mission in addition to anything you earn fighting.
Missions tailor themselves to the player a bit, as well as to the group. The larger your group, the more foes… to a point. Every mission has an intended level as well, so if you get a mission at level 6, then don’t do it and go back to it at level 12, the guys inside will still be level 6. The same is true all the way up, but the missions scale a bit (at level 10 I got a mission and all the foes were level 10, I didn’t finish it, I came back later at level 11, and all the foes were level 11… when I went back at 14, they were still level 11).
Some missions are “busy work”. “Go clean up the streets!”, “Go Patrol!”, etc… other missions are part of a story, “Find the missing scientist.” followed by “The scientist is safe, but they have his plans, get them back.” followed by “The plans are in our hands, but these clues indicate the 5th Column are up to something big, find out what it is.” etc… Its worth it to read the story, unless you just don’t care and want to level to 40 (the current max) as soon as you can.
Overall and Final Thoughts:
I’ve played EverQuest for almost 5 years, and while it may partially be wanting to seek something new, City of Heroes just seems to be a fantastic game. In the 5 months I’ve been beta testing, the replayability of it just soars past EQ. No camps, easy to get groups or solo, custimization of the character both look and powers, the flexibility of gameplay to time investment… Is it a perfect game? No. But its really quite well done.
So far, I’ve found no archtype that I couldn’t solo or group well with once I learned its strengths and weaknesses. Every problem I have with the game at this point is purely cosmetic:
– I’d love to see capes, jackets, robes…
– I’d love to see player housing, or at the least, more “public” housing, bars, bowling alleys, gyms, etc…
– I’d love to see an arena or “danger room” where I can play against other players in a controlled area. I’m not a huge fan of open PvP, but sometimes playing against other people is fun because they can be unpredictable in ways AI can’t.
Some people want to see crafting, but I don’t. I don’t see a need for it other than to cater to people who like combining stuff into other stuff to sell or trade, and there are plenty of games with crafting out there already.
My final thoughts on this game… I love it. I’m definately going to buy it. I don’t know if its going to push EverQuest completely off my PC, but it will definately give me something to do when there is nothing to raid and no one to group with.