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Exploring Issue 9: Breakthrough

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A Look at Issue 9: Breakthrough

New MMORPG.com writer David Murrieta explores the recent Issue 9: Breakthrough expansion that was released for City of Heroes / City of Villains and offers his insight into the addition.

"Breakthrough", the title for City of Heroes' ninth expansion, accurately describes the purpose and idea behind what Cryptic hopes to do: cracking their own original design models, once again, in order to present the playerbase with an innovative system to add to their game. I'm referring, of course, to the hugely hyped Inventions System, which are Issue 9's main addition. It caused, ever since it was announced, a considerable number of debates among players who believed, like the developers themselves once did, that loot and crafting were definitely out of the question in a game about superheroes and crime fighting. Almost inevitably, though, Inventions happened, and after a month of the expansion's release, we're starting to see the effects.

The economy that players in followed, in general, was the first thing to be affected directly, indirectly affecting other things like slotting options and build plans. While Base Construction with Issue 6 brought some changes to the way players earned and spent their Influence, the impact enormously decreased within little time, and heroes who created a balance between playing in Supergroup Mode or not stabilized their earnings back to numbers very similar to those they were previously used to. Taking that into account, will the same happen with this new Issue?

An immediate answer is no. Supergroup Mode and its implications are all relative to a group environment, which is in many ways easier to support and whose objectives are a medium to long-term process. A character could remain in Supergroup Mode for the whole game and, as long as there were good teammates around, they would have enough support in order for the player to maximize its build. Solo players had absolutely no effect on such characters' developments, or the groups they belonged to.

Now, with the advent of Inventions, everything and everyone are thrown into a mix when entering Consignment Houses/Black Market Trucks. While the changes to the economy in Issue 6 were clearly group-oriented on a large scale and individual-oriented on a much smaller scale, the table gives a full 180 degrees turn for this Issue, focusing entirely on the single player's development, which in most cases is more of a short-term process following a long-term plan that involves changing enhancements every few levels, adding new slots, making re-specializations, and so on. The mechanics of the new features are fairly easy to learn and understand, throwing the player into a world of 'smart' auctions after a surprisingly brief Inventions tutorial. 'Smart', because the bids are actually invisible to the players, so they bid and set prices for what they personally consider a fair price. And 'surprisingly' because it's a simple, fun, and entertaining system where I expected to find something more complex and confusing. In any case, upon opening the auction window, many players will realize that their Influence is incredibly varied in its value; at low levels, Inventions are a little expensive but very well worth their price since they're close to Single Origins in terms of effectiveness, and most importantly, available at level 10 and not 25 with the added bonus that they don't wear down in time. At high levels (at around 35 or so and beyond), things change, for better or worse, depending on the players' affiliations:

  1. There are the people who periodically turn on Supergroup Mode to make both some Prestige and Influence in almost equal measure.
  2. There are those who play in Supergroup Mode occasionally and make more Influence than Prestige (translating the value of one to the other).
  3. There are those who depend entirely on a "rich uncle" kind of character which finances every other's career in the same server and consequently almost always play only on Supergroup Mode.
  4. And there are the solo players, who, even when part of a Supergroup, don't or are not required to earn any Prestige, instead making millions of Influence for their own personal use.

These archetypes, of course, have many variants, but can be described essentially in the terms used above. Each of those archetypes had a distinct type of relationship to the economy that exists in the game, and it's reflected in the kind of things they can generally afford in the Consignment Houses, at least in the higher end of the game.

  • The first group can rarely afford the rare set recipes and enhancements; the uncommon ones they can buy pretty regularly, while the common ones are better sold and replaced by Single Origins, as is the case with all groups.
  • The second group is able to buy and invent the rare sets every now and then, making the uncommon sets a standard viable solution to their slotting needs.
  • The third group depends almost entirely on Task Force and mission drops in order to get their recipes and their enhancements afterwards, maybe occasionally buying the necessary salvage from the Consignment House if those missions weren't enough.
  • The members of the fourth group are the ones who are able to buy recipes and enhancements of any kind at exorbitant prices.

As of now, these differences are what make Consignment Houses both an attraction and a detriment to some people's ways of having fun. In case it isn't enough that this new feature is accessible practically throughout the game's entirety, without the imperious time or group limitations of Task Forces and Trials, players should also feel compelled to try it out because of the obvious benefits implied, potentially and in reality (auctions and inventions respectively). There will be exceptions, of course, but generalization is needed to make the point. This will lead some players to believe that the development of some, if not most, of their characters is truncated by missing out on such a big part of the game, therefore making them participate in it.

The notion of characters being a short-term process or burst achievement plays an important role in this. Players who can't fulfill their more immediate expectations when it comes to Inventions and Consignment Houses could start feeling their competence threatened by the realization that they can have a much better slotting build, but can't afford it in a relatively small period of time. These players, then, tend to have negative reactions towards the whole construct. The new system, though, offers them and everyone else a deeper structure beyond better enhancements: it's showing character development as a true long-term process. That, in itself, is a breakthrough. Players shouldn't worry about getting the right recipes and the right enhancements quickly. Instead, they have a new and better reason to plan out the development of their characters in deeper and more creative ways.

In the long run, players will get used to this new system and adapt the management of their relations to the economy to their surging necessities. In the end though, like all good things in City of Heroes, the new system is completely optional. It's up to the player if the Consignment Houses and Inventions affect him or her.

Other features added with the new expansion include, most prominently, Statesman's Task Force and the new Hamidon Encounter which is now available to Villains in "The Abyss", a zone accessible through Grandville for levels 45 through 50.

Statesman's Task Force is, understandably, the most difficult of the Hero Task Forces. Beginning with a warm-up match against a myriad of Arachnos' best troops led by an Arch-villain, the rhythm is high-velocity and at all times pits the team against renowned Arachnos personalities, accompanied by dozens of their punch-friendly minions. Memorable moments include facing Dr. Aeon and his particularly funny cut scenes. But all of this is just a prelude to the end mission. Having to take advantage of the game's AI, the team has to charge into battle against multiple Arachnos Patrons; but that's just brushing off what's between you and your true enemy. In this case, your true enemy is none other than Lord Recluse himself. He's clearly an imposing tough guy, with an even more imposing and impressing array of tricks up his sleeve(s). The final battle is epic, intense, and well designed all around, leaving that perfect taste of satisfaction when the most hard-earned "Task Force Complete!" of your hero life flashes on your screen, giving way to a menu of selectable bounty, all of which is equally desirable for any type of character. Team coherence, cooperation, and skill are all put to the test in the most extreme but strangely familiar ways, since the feeling is that you're standing (more like sitting, I guess) before basically everything City of Heroes offered your hero in terms of action, condensed into a few great missions. All archetypes are useful, needed, and by the end even liked by those who didn't like some in the first place! Some power sets of each archetype work better than others, though, and while this may be a letdown for many, I suggest you don't shy away from trying just because certain teams were looking only for Radiation Defenders. Instead, show them what you got!

As for the Hamidon Raid, I could only try it out with a Hero, since I have no Villain within the required levels yet. The experience has changed considerably from the Hamidon Raid of old. The word for it is now 'action', instead of the usual passive characteristic that seems to have existed ever since the first raids; no more 'phases' where only a certain archetype would fight, leaving the rest of the hundreds of players patiently waiting, dancing, and talking outside of the "Hamidon Goo" surrounding the Hamidon itself. No more inability to do anything because you didn't have a ranged attack and/or Fly or Superjump. Now everyone can participate at all times, and everyone can have an active role in the defeat of Paragon's greatest threat. The raid's structure is more complex, having to bring down three layers of multicolored Mitos in order to survive a full-out attack on the Hamidon... three times in a row. The Mitos aren't like anything you've experienced in past raids, though. Each type of them has a specific function, in better words, a specific offensive with which they help the Hamidon bring down all the heroes it can in the most terrible ways: draining endurance, blasting a large radius for tons of damage, causing fear, among other comforting effects. The Hamidon is now a true organism with an immune system which requires a concrete strategy from heroes for it to be defeated. Organization is something the raid can't lack, and while in pre-Issue 9 raids organization could be somewhat feeble, this time around it needs to be strong and firm or otherwise the end results are quite messy, potentially assimilating the whole raid into the goo. Fun, whatever the case, surely ensues.

The only downside of the new raid is having to farm Devouring Earth monsters to obtain the "Essence of Earth" inspirations, which, like the "Ambrosia" used in the Eden Trial against the Crystal Titan, protect the user against the damage dealt by the Hamidon. In the Heroes' case, it's better to do so at the 'Monster Islands' in Peregrine Island, and it can take some time of unremarkable combat against giant monsters to get enough inspirations for the raid to be able to start. The developers have stated, though, that this mechanic will probably change, for the better. Only time will tell!

In conclusion, Issue 9 is an enormous expansion, even when it may not seem like it by just looking at the official page's description of its features. It is indeed a breakthrough; in that it reformulates the way that players look at their characters and whatever plans they had for them. If the game seemed shallow in the general critic's opinion, this breakthrough should make him or her hesitate because, as of now, it has one of the deepest character creator utilities in MMO's, and I'm not talking only about costumes. It is also a breakthrough because it finally adds some more well-deserved "end-game" content to both Heroes and Villains; and although their duration as new attractions might not be long, they certainly add to the rest of a very good game which has increasingly become larger and larger, which in this case, fortunately, also means better and better.

Article by:
David Murrieta, MMORPG.com


Guest Writer