Mark Sachs (ksleet) wrote,
Mark Sachs

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Listen to me, coppertop...

In my few minutes of "spare" time recently I picked up City of Villains, the sequel/fancy add-on to the MMO City of Heroes. I have a few thoughts about it which I shall put behind the cut. There's also a drawing there if you like those.

1. City of Villains itself doesn't break any new ground, but it is an impressive development and refinement of the basic CoH concept. There are more interesting bits of mission scripting, which include mini-cutscenes, rescuing hostages and leading them out, acquiring NPC allies, and so on. There are elaborate player vs. player zones where you can battle against player-controlled heroes wandering in from CoH. The Rogue Isles, where the game takes place, are much more visually detailed than Paragon City (the setting of CoH), although this does come at a cost in CPU power. Villain archetypes have more tactically complex combinations of powers. The contacts you get missions from are now more interesting and creative, with some of them "hidden" or requiring special conditions to be met before they'll talk to you. And of course CoV has THE RADIO.


The idea that your villain character is so mentally unbalanced that he or she is eagerly committing acts of mayhem on the orders of a voice on the radio that no one else can hear... I love that.

2. More generally, CoV is a graphic demonstration of what I consider to be Cryptic's major skill as MMO developers: their iterative design process. Cryptic has a habit of adding features in a small and carefully limited area of the game, tweaking and polishing them and shaking the bugs out while there are still only minor consequences to deal with (and there will only be a minor uproar from the small segment of the player base it affects) and then using these now-robust features to support much larger additions to the game later on. The PvP zones are an excellent example: they started as simple arenas where player heroes could fight in deathmatch battles, powers and abilities were tuned and tweaked over a period of time, new game modes were developed, and now enormous villain-vs.-hero fights in entire zones are a major part of the game -- and by and large they work and are fairly balanced. Because of this, CoH/CoV has had more free content added to it since launch than any other MMO and it all is that much more stable, polished, and usable.

3. However, at the end of the day City of Villains -- and I want to emphasize this is not Cryptic's fault, those guys did a fabulous job -- also demonstrates the ultimate sterility of standard MMO gameplay. For all the cool costumes, flashy powers, pretty graphics, and comic-book story arcs, at the end of the day all you're doing is strolling up to some enemy "mob" and holding down the attack button. If their hit points go to 0 before yours do, you win. Go to the next mob. Repeat fifty zillion billion times until you reach maximum level (DING WOOT GRATZ!) and then wonder what the heck you've been doing with your life. This is not a game! At best, this is a simulation of a game. You can play City of Villains -- or World of Warcraft or Everquest 2 or whichever -- and because they are such amazing simulations you can get a good mental picture of what playing a game would be like. You may actually fool yourself into thinking you're playing a game and even having fun, for a while.

But you won't really be.


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Fig. 2. Whoa.
Tags: games
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