City of Heroes / Villains

Space Lizard
2010-08-11 13:31:51

(Originally posted in March of 2008)


Jaded. Biased. Bitter. Unpleasable. Maybe one or more of these words describes my online gaming experience. Okay, probably all of them. So when I picked up City of Heroes/Villains on recommendation of a friend, I was looking forward to something colorful, and new, and fresh, and different. And let me say...this is not a mere review. This is not even a rant. This is a god damned mental breakdown over how so many awful design choices could be cobbled together into a hideous beast that people would willingly pay money for.

So anyway, the pitch is tempting enough. Be a super hero! Create a costume, fly around, fight off thugs and mad scientologists and space aliens and sentient plants! Oh, and you don't have to worry about gimping yourself with poor equipment, and soloing is a breeze! A great casual MMO with a great community! And best of all, Sony Online Entertainment doesn't own it yet! What could possibly go wrong?

We'll skip the typical rant about the 3-gig patch that downloads after you first install it, and get right to the character creation. People seem to hail this thing as if it were the second coming of Christ if He was standing on the back of a shark who was riding a motorcycle with rocket launchers attached to the sides. The first in the "what the fuck were they thinking" series (now available on audiocasette) rears its ugly head here. There is a little green circle - actually a check box - at the far end of the palette box with the nebulous label "Copy current colors across entire body" in 8 point font. This is on by default. This is also retarded. It forcibly limits your entire body to two colors, and, unless someone tells you beforehand, you probably wouldn't know to turn it off. This option is for insecure and lazy people, which you are obviously assumed to be by the developers.

Getting past that, the actual costume creation options are fair enough, and characters tend to look pretty good, by 2004 standards. Regardless, no matter how many different "metal plate" textures you can slap on, you're left with the feeling that it's somehow still too limiting. Certain costume and body parts are mysteriously unavailable when certain others are chosen, with no indication that these other parts even exist. They could have at least shown them grayed out or something, or, hey here's an idea, realize that no one cares if this belt will clip with that pair of pants. Just open everything up, and let us deal with how good or bad it looks together. We're not toddlers. Jeeeeesus.

So after this, you're presented with the opportunity to name yourself, and to use a painfully clunky Bio entry box, if you so desire. Oh you can't insert or go back and correct things because whatever you type just ends up at the end of the box anyway, even if the cursor is in the right place, so have fun with that! You can also enter a "battle cry" which will be bound to a key, which you will end up accidentally hitting at least once in the most embarassing situaiton possible, and never again.

At this point you're allowed to enter the tutorial zone if you like, and I have to break a minute to discuss something very near and dear to me. You see, if you chose the Villain path, your tutorial is breaking out of prison. And, there are sirens. Sirens on a loud, obnoxious, never ending loop for the entire half-hour or so you spend in the tutorial zone. Sirens that will cause uncontrollable bleeding from your ears for the next three days, as well as anyone in the same room as you. Even if you're wearing headphones. Sadly, this isn't even the worst instance of poor sound design in the game. Just wait until you fight your first ghost. Oh, the ghosts.

And now we begin an actual review; the gameplay. There are design choices around every bend that can only be described as baffling. The first thing destined to piss you off is the mouse control, with inverted axes on by default. It's bass-ackward from just about every 3D non-space-combat game ever released, ever. So you get to dive into the second big intro to the game; managing your settings. You see, when you create a new character, your interface and options do not carry over. Well, some of the options do. Sometimes. We in the field call this "Interface Schizophrenia." On one hand, the profanity filter (which is hilariously sensitive; "God" is censored, for example) will stay off when you tell it to turn off, but the aforementioned mouse control will not. You'll also get to know the joy of resizing and rearranging the godawful cluttered UI and resetting the cryptic chat box filters and settings for every. Single. Character.

Nitpickery? Maybe, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. For you see, I am convinced that the developers subscribe to a mantra called "HAHA FUCK YOU" that they like to pull every chance they get. Seriously, I can describe the rest of the gameplay in this review just by proving this methodology. So I think I shall.

You say, "Hey, a simplified inventory. That sounds like a good idea." The only inventory you have to worry about is enhancements (which upgrade different aspects of your powers, such as damage and reuse time, by being "equipped" directly on to them), inspirations (temporary heals, boosts, self-revives, and buffs that you collect randomly from fallen enemies or buy from certain merchants), and salvage/recipes (for crafting enchancements and a criminally small number of "special" costume parts). All of these are dropped randomly when winning fights; there is no "looting" drama bullshit to worry about. Great, right?

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" There is one fatal flaw in this whole setup. The currency in-game is called Influence (or Infamy for villains). It's earned in typical fashion; defeating enemies, finishing missions, selling unneeded items, and given to you by other players. Wait, back up, what was that last one? Yes, that's right, not only can a completely intangible number be traded between players, but the economy for all but the highest level characters is completely fucked. There is just no way to compete when Captain Twinklestar has 50,000,000 Influence traded to him from his high level main and he wants to buy a level 10 enchancement from The Lifeless Wonder who knows he can milk these higher level alts for ridiculously exaggerated prices. It's an economic circlejerk that doesn't even use money. Oh ho HO, but what about...

You say, "There's a robust crafting system with all sorts of materials and combinations possible." Yes, you can and should craft enhancements when you get recipes that look good to you. Get used to hearing the term "IO" thrown around a lot without actually knowing what it means. Of course, none of this matters when...

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" Out of the hundreds of salvage items, approximately 12 are actually useful, and the rest are garbage that sells for less in auction than to an NPC vendor. These 12 are, of course, monstrously expensive, well out of the realm of reality for a new player. Get farming!

You say, "Well there's scalable difficulty, and this game is very solo friendly! I'll just solo a while and hope for some good drops."

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" This game is solo friendly...until about level 10. Past this point, it is entirely possible to have a class that is "gimped" solely through power choice, despite what diehard fans will say. Hope you like stunlocks, asshole! It's like this in every MMO though, really, with the basement crawling troglodytes who preach that every class can solo equally well. Guess what, skipper! Your little illusion/empathy controller is gonna be grouping until the day you die! Common sense would dictate that one would know this when choosing the powers, but that would require ignoring the mindless droning of "grouping is optional" and "solo friendly" that gets thrown around every time the game is mentioned. Alsong with the shark-Jesus character creator.

Oh, and, like any good MMO, there is a definite "flavor of the month" class. This month it's the controller with fire/kinetic powers. What will it be next month? Who knows!

You say, "The mapping system is pretty nice. There's automatic waypoints for missions, and maps for almost every zone, even the dungeons!"

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" Have to go train your level up while you're in a group after a mission? That's fine, just click the little green man on your map and you get a waypoint. Oh what's this? It disappeared after a few seconds! Well just click it again, and...oh, it's gone again! Yes, the developers apparently assume you have every single NPC in every single map in the game memorized, because while you're grouped, if anyone in your group zones in, zones out, dies, revies, or so much as sneezes, your custom waypoints are gone, baby. "Oh boo hoo just learn where they are." Oh boo hoo FUCK YOU, in a game with areas this generic, that's nigh impossible without some Rain Man-caliber perception and memorization. Really, every zone is just a boring metropolitan-America-looking commercial district, sometimes with a slight twist (LOL EARTHQUAKE or LOL HIGHWAYS come to mind) that just make navigating more difficult. Which brings me to...

You say, "Flying sure is fun though! And there are other travel powers you absolutely have to can take as well!"

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" If you take super speed over the painfully slow flying, be prepared to run in to every single tree, bench, person, rock, and molecule between here and the other side of the street, stopping to a halt every time. Oh, and you wanna try jumping over those fences? Good luck, because if you land wrong (and you will at least once), you'll be stuck on top, gliding at a brisk 3 miles per hour along the top while the mob of gangsters you just ran past are peppering your ass like a cloves on a holiday ham. It's really much less of a pain to just wait for your teammates to reach the instance, and then ask one for a teleport. You'll look like a prick but at least you'll be an alive prick.

You say, "So there are special classes you can play for getting a hero to 50! I can't wait to try one of them out, I bet they're awesome since they can fill just about any role in a group."

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" Yes, there is a super secret set of classes (well, two, and they're nearly identical except one glows blue and one glows a moderately darker shade of blue) you can unlock for getting a hero to level 50. They can shapeshift and be a tank, or a blaster, or...well, maybe something else, I don't know. The thing is, when you accept a player who is one of these classes into your team, you have a chance of being unable to complete some instances until after you log out. I'll explain. These things are aliens, and once one joins your group, there is a chance of either rival aliens or alien hunters spawning to attack your group while doing missions. These hunters are ridiculously powerful, denoted by your teammates' cries of "void! void!", and will wipe you out many a time, and in some cases, force you to take a different mission altogether where they hopefully do not appear. Not only that, but their weapons will one-shot kill your little alien buddies, so if you had one tanking and you come to them, you're boned. Not only that but anyone who teams with one of them is basically "marked" until logging out, and has a chance to spawn these guys even when the person playing the alien is out of the team. This must be where that "solo friendly" thing comes in to play, because the secret, hard-to-acquire class is actually a liability to your teams, not an asset. HAHA FUCK YOU!

You say, "Okay, I've made a hero. A friend made a villain, though. Maybe I should tell him my character's name so we can meet up in the neutral zone and see each other's outfits!"

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" This. This is...the most mindcripplingly stupid thing I've ever seen in a game. There is a option to not see chat from characters on the other alignment (Hero or Villain). And this is on by default.

Let me say that again, so it will sink in. In fact, I'll say it twice.

You are automatically blocked from talking to some other players by default.

You are automatically blocked from talking to some other players by default.

Oh, and I suppose I should mention there is no open PVP, and therefore no reason at all for this. Also, you can't even add them to your friends list. I'll leave it at that.

You say, "The gameplay is really light and easy to get in to. I don't have to worry about stats, or gear, or any of that. Even the powers are flexible in their descriptions."

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" Power descriptions are horrible, to say the least. Their damage is descriped in words rather than numbers (like "Damage: Low") and their recast time is described similarly, and not in seconds (like "Recast: Long"). This does not make the game more friendly, or easier to digest. This makes it dumb. Especially when damage is shown to TWO decimal places, AND the "hit roll" is shown with every SINGLE attack.. What is the point? How are we to determine a coorelation without numbers all around? Why not just say "Soandso shoots <a thug> for a lot of fire damage!" and be done with it? Oh right, because it's stupid.

You say, "The power system works well, and targeting is automatic, which is good for how frenetic the battles can be."

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" Let's get one thing straight. Actually, two things. When you've got a game so reliant on buffs (again with percentages to 2 decimal places...WHERE'S THE CONSISTENCY PLEASE), please, make them last for longer than one or two fights. That's a literal measurement. It takes almost 60 seconds to cast "Clear Mind" on 7 heroes in your team. It will fade in about 2 minutes. There is no way to actively boost the duration, such as with enhancements. This goes for every single target buff, so God help you if you play an Empathy type with Clear Mind and Fortitude to pass around.

But what? Did I slip up? I said casting it on 7 heroes, when the team size is 8. There is a reason for this.

You can't target yourself.

Nope. You also can't buff or heal yourself with your single-target powers. Good luck trying to time those buffs now, big guy! AND REMEMBER, IT'S SOLO FRIENDLY! HAHAHAHAHA!

The developers say "HAHA FUCK YOU!" There isn't even a positive counterpart to this. Some enemies use a "smoke bomb" attack, which temporarily blinds your entire team and cannot be avoided unless you're standing about 50 feet away. Apparently the developers have never seen a smoke bomb or even know how smoke actually works, because this shit stays on you for up to 3 minutes at a time, regardless of how far away you run. Also, it can't be cured. Also, the enemy who uses it will immediately recast it the moment it wears off on you. Blindness isn't just missing more often - it makes all NPCs completely invisible and unattackable to you, including ones in, oh, gee, other groups that you might wander in to but not be able to see? Oh, and of course, they can still attack you and you can't do jack shit about it back at them. Usually this ends up with one mob - usually one immune to most crowd control tactics and having a ton of hit points - taking upwards of 5 minutes to fight because you can only chip away in the few seconds between recastings of Smoke Bomb. This is not "tactical," nor does it require "careful planning". It's "retarded." Seriously, this one little "fuck you" is so infuriating, it's almost worth leaving the game over.

Again, I wanted to love this game, but...baffling is, honest-to-God, the only word for it.

Besides the bitching, there are in fact a few reasons to give it a go. Teams consist of 8 people, which is a good number for the idiot-to-normal ratio on the internet, so that if you're stuck with one or two idiots in your team (and believe me, it happens), you'll probably still do fine as long as either the main tank or healer(s) are capable of dressing themselves. In a full group, mobs usually come in huge groups, which is a refreshing and satisfying change of pace from the "one-at-a-time" method of other MMO games. Progressing through the power trees, while linear and prone to "HURR GIMPED" criticisms, is mostly satisying. And the community...

...well, every good MMO needs a good community. And some day, one will exist. But, for what it's worth, the community in COH is actually quite decent; at least on the "lol RPfag" server I got roped in to playing on. Of course, roleplayers on the whole are annoying and dramaleeches, and will attempt to cyber anything with two eyes and a pair of breasts. Also they have an annoying tendency to macro an AFK message over their heads while they're typing to either say "-speaks in a suchandsuch tone-" or "I'm typing, just a minute", as if anyone, anywhere, actually cares that their /tell won't be responded to for an additional six seconds. Or that they want their character to look stupid and contrived. Seriously, RPers, you do. Cut it out.

So if you hate your regular MMO's as much as I do, but want to play as a superhero, go buy Freedom Force instead. That is all.