City of WarhammerApril 20, 2008
A caveat before I launch into today’s topic: this is a Warhammer Online blog. I’m not interested in turning this into a “What Syp plays” blog so much, although there is temptation to do that while the game approaches. However, if I feel there’s some tie in with what I’m currently playing and WAR, I will mention it — hence, today’s discussion of City of (we can’t say “super”) Heroes.
So, this past weekend I realized I was just about burned out on WoW. Been to that point many times, and despite having numerous alts, great guildies and a numerically intimidating list of “to do’s” in the game, I’ve just had a hard time wanting to play it. You’ve been there — it’s when a “game” becomes a “chore”. I’ve been thrashing around looking for something else to fill up the next few months, and despite the press and reservedly positive comments about Age of Conan, I have doubts whether I’ll even try it.
I figured I might as well have fun with something that’s proven to be a blast in the past: City of Heroes. Before WoW, I played CoH non-stop for a good year or so, and just enjoyed the heck out of that game. Two aspects in particular have yet to be rivaled in any MMO to date: CoH’s character creation system, and its fast-paced exhilarating combat. It may not be a deep game at its core, but that is exactly what I needed right now: Fun, MMO-y, Proven. In short, I spent all weekend leveling up an Illusion/Kinetics Controller to 18 (my my the experience curve has gotten faster over the years) and checking out a lot of the new content (such as inventions and temporary powers) that has been added in the years since I left the game. I’m planning on sticking with it for at least a month or two, if not the whole summer, as a supplement to my WoW addiction.
However, I’m not here to just gush about the gee-golly-willikers great time I’m having at my keyboard, but to draw some lines between City of Heroes and WAR — two games that couldn’t be more fundamentally different, yet show an evolution of gameplay mechanics that appeal to both the casual and hardcore MMO player.
1. Combat – Fast, Furious, Uncomplicated
What you’ll hardly ever find in CoH is a group of superheroes standing around spending 15 minutes about how to pull and crowd control a group of baddies before ever doing it. What you do find is people knowing their roles well, and trusting each other person to do what they do best as you all launch into a pack of mobs, whether it be CC, DPS, healing, summoning or buffing. I loathe WoW’s 70ish dungeon runs simply because they’re a complex tower of precise actions and decisions, which can all come tumbling down if one person makes even the slightest mistake. Battles can be exciting, sure, but more often than not they’re a structured marching band-like formation focusing on not screwing up.
WAR will probably skew more to WoW than CoH, but from what I’ve seen the combat is a lot more loose and fancy-free, throwing people into the thick of chaos instead of giving them the option to plan and control combat before the first arrow is loosed. That gives me hope.
2. From Badges to Tomes
Before the XBox achievement system, before the Tome of Knowledge’s unlocks, there was CoH’s badge collecting system (and probably other systems prior to that as well). For the anal collectors in the game to the random person who is pleasantly surprised when the game pats them on the back for a goal met, the badge system rewards players for taking the path less traveled and for widening their game experience. Players who never went exploring before now had a reason to; players who wondered if they were going to throw up if they had to kill another Troll now had a purpose for it.
WAR’s Tome of Knowledge is a huge leap from CoH’s badges, but the surprising little thrills of badge announcements and the goals for further badges show that people genuinely respond to an arbitrary list of achievements.
3. Visual Customization
If you’ve never played City of Heroes, you’ve missed out on the best character creation system ever. And I’m not just talking about getting to mix-and-match powersets to create your own “class”, but instead the tools that the game gives you to make your character look individual, distinctive and unique. Other than obvious comic book hero clones, I’ve never seen two identical people in the game. Psychologically, it makes every player feel like they stand out from the pack, that they are able to express their identity in creative ways, and they don’t have to wait until a high level to do it. It’s there from the start.
WAR’s character creator won’t be nearly as in-depth, unfortunately, and undoubtedly similar pieces of armor and armor sets will serve to make people look more alike than they’d probably prefer. Even so, WAR recognizes the need for such distinctions, and is providing them in two ways: the trophy system and the ability to dye your armor. Trophies are objects earned and awarded through various tasks that have no function other than to “sticky” on your character in different ways (up to five trophies can be visible on your guy at once), as both a way to boast about achievements in the past and also as a way to make your Witch Hunter look saucier than the other Witch Hunter with your same gear. And although we haven’t seen much of dyes yet, the promise of their appearance in the game will help to give the player some control over mismatched armor as well as individual choice.
I’ve spent nearly 95% of my time playing CoH in groups. Soloing is boring in that game and highlight’s the title’s propensity for the grind; grouping is a blast in comparison. Everyone getting to “show off” their skills, working together to compensate for each others’ weaknesses, and enjoying a shared common goal are terrific reasons to group up. And with CoH’s ability to scale your levels up or down to fit your group’s needs, anyone can group with anyone else. It’s simply designed to make grouping as easy and attractive as possible.
Unfortunately, many MMO’s are designed in such a way that put many, many stumbling blocks between the player and the ability to group. Level gaps, travel time, tough dungeons that demand a cut above pick-up groups… the list goes on and on. MMO devs know that there is great fun to be had in grouping, but too often try to force their players into it (by, say, making a dungeon with great drops that you need, but the only way you can get them is to group) instead of tempting them into it.
WAR will not be your game if you’re the type who likes to solo 100% of the time. Yes, you can, and you’ll be able to hit the level cap, but in so doing you’ll probably make the game seem miserable and exclusive. The devs appear to be doing everything they can to tempt you to join up with others — for protection, for common goals, for great loot — through scenarios, public quests and other LFG tools. Above other fantasy MMO titles, WAR’s PvP-centric nature necessitates people banding together to truly get the most out of their game time. Not because they won’t be able to do anything otherwise (hi, Vanguard!), but because the fruits of that lovely tree are far too appealing to pass up.