City of Heroes, January 2011

The vaguely humanoid yellow light source standing over the unconscious Nazis is Sun’s Bright Hand, my “Incarnate” in City of Heroes.

I still play City of Heroes regularly, but I don’t write much about it anymore. This is basically because I am a bit ashamed of playing computer games at my age and my current aspiration. It is a bit like people who watch porn don’t usually blog about it, and people who pick their nose don’t usually blog about it, and people who don’t wash their hands after going to the loo don’t blog about it… OK, that may be stretching it, since they are probably not aware of being abnormal and shameful. But then, neither was I.

In any case, City of Heroes is probably still the “goodest” of the big online games. By that I don’t mean the best, although that could quite possibly also be true. I mean the one with most goodness as opposed to evil. Last year the game added the possibility for heroes to gradually turn into vigilantes and then into villains, but at the same time a corresponding option was given to villains, and this seems to have become more popular than the opposite. I especially notice many masterminds having come to the side of justice lately.

Technically, the game has added a new level of high-resolution graphics for those who have expensive video cards in their computers.  I don’t use this, so cannot really comment on it. The new Praetorian zones are quite shiny, and there is a project for shinying up older zones over the next year. It is not a priority for me, of course.  The graphics have been pretty realistic from the start, apart from the characters of course.

The gameplay has improved steadily, especially after NCSoft bought the game from Cryptic Studios.  A unique feature is “Mission Architect”, which lets players create their own missions (quests) and story arcs (series of quests) and share them with everyone. This unleashed a torrent of creativity. Unfortunately, some of this creativity went into designing missions that gave more reward for less work than ordinary gameplay, much more in the beginning. For this reason, Mission Architect has been repeatedly nerfed (made weaker), and now gives approximately 75% of the experience points and influence (the currency of the game) compared to ordinary gameplay. But for those who have seen it all in the game, there are hundreds if not thousands of new stories to play through. There are also missions that are either easier or harder than usual.

One seemingly small change to the game is that you can now select the color of all ordinary powers. This may not sound like much, but many superhero fans made their own heroes in childhood and have very specific ideas of how they look.  For instance you can now create the equivalent of the Green Lantern corps.  (You are of course not allowed to actually reproduce copyrighted characters. What I mean is that you can have your own superhero group based on a particular color, with matching uniforms and powers.)

The game took a new direction with the release of the Going Rogue expansion pack. This was the one that made it possible to change moral alignment, but it did much more. It introduced a third game world, but it also unlocked the Incarnate system, which is where the game is headed now.

In the original lore of the game, there were only two incarnates: Statesman and the villain Recluse.  Having been infused with the power formerly used by the “gods” of Olympos, their powers were greater than other superhumans. But that is now about to change, as the same power is very slowly becoming available to other heroes as well.  (The regular reader of my blog will probably understand my interest in this “divinization” from a symbolic point of view.)

While unlocking the Incarnate potential does require the Going Rogue expansion pack, that is only the beginning of the beginning.  There is a series of quests one must go through in order to actually unlock the first Incarnate slot and begin earning Incarnate shards.  This is a kind of salvage which is earned by completing level 50 missions and occasionally just randomly given from defeating level 50+ villains.  (50 is the highest level in this game, and there is no plan to change this.) New incarnate abilities are added to the game with each new “issue”, an upgrade of the game with new features approximately three times a year. At the current speed, it will take numerous years to introduce all the Incarnate abilities, and the time between each new issue can be used to complete the requirements for actually using that new ability.

In other words, the demi-divinization of heroes is a process that takes several years of real time.  Surpassing their previous boundaries is a slow process, almost unnoticeable, and you cannot become a master of everything, certainly not at once. You have to decide how you want to develop: Will you shore up your weaknesses, or make your strengths even stronger?

While this is the major current of the game, there are also smaller events. For instance, from around midwinter and out January there is a Winter Event, and from around Valentine’s Day onward there is Spring Fling. This weekend is one of the few Double XP weekends in the year, when casual gamers come online in droves to get double experience points and influence.  At random intervals, but usually several times a day, there are also zone events that only appear in one part of the city and only lasts for about half an hour:  Rikti (alien) invasion, Zombie invasion, or Supernatural invasions. When these happen, heroes band together with whoever the find to fend off the attack. Being defeated during such an invasion does not lead to experience debt.

So there is basically always something going on in City of Heroes.  But then again, there is always something going on in real life as well, so there is only so much I can experience of this game.  Your real life may vary, in which case you may want to give it a try.  There are free trial accounts to be had at their website.

I honestly have no idea how long I will be playing it myself.  So many things in my life just gradually fall away over the years, and I suppose if I live long enough, this is going to fall by the wayside too. But as of January 2011, I still play CoH every week. Coming from me, that is a kind of recommendation.

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