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Issue #5 Report

Laura Genender Posted:
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Systems Designer Matthew Miller Discusses Issue #5

One of the most appealing features of MMOs — besides the draw of community and player interaction — is the fact that MMOs are constantly changing and evolving with new updates and expansions. City of Heroes has just released their fifth such update, Issue 5, which includes new skill sets, areas, missions, task forces, and enemies.

I had the pleasure of talking to Matthew Miller, Systems Designer for Cryptic Studios, about this update. This is the first update to date that includes new skill sets for the regular archetypes. This update also starts to lay the foundation for more.

Three different archetypes have access to some of the new powers; Defenders can access all of the new sets (Archery, Trick Arrow, Sonic Attack, and Sonic Resonance), Blasters have access to the damage dealing sets (Archery, Sonic Attack) and Controllers have access to the buff/debuff sets (Trick Arrow, Sonic Resonance). All of the attacks, buffs, and debuffs have new graphics; archers will use bows and arrows and sonic skills appear as circular soundwaves.

The Archery damage dealing set does what it was meant to do — it does damage, and a lot of it. Archers can open with Ranged Shot, a sniper type attack with high accuracy but a similarly high chance of being interrupted if hit. Once engaged the Archer can use Snap Shot, a skill that is quick to execute but does little damage; Aimed Shot, a skill that takes longer to perform but does more damage than Snap Shot; or many other Archery damage dealing skills. Archers also have access to a few AoE skills: Fistful of Arrows, Exploding Arrow, and Rain of Arrows. The set’s inherent secondary effect is an accuracy boost, making it easier for Archers to target stronger enemies.

Developers had some difficulty in coming up with non-damage Archery attacks, but their creativity paid off and the Trick Arrow set has some very nasty debuffs. Entangling Arrow and Ice Arrow can root (or freeze) enemies in their tracks, and if that fails, Glue Arrow can slow them down instead. Poison Gas Arrow is equipped with a capsule of impact-release poison which can deal damage over time and even choke some enemies. Acid Arrow works in a similar manner but corrodes armor instead of choking enemies. But I’ve saved the best for last: Oil Slick Arrow. This has to be one of the most creative skills in the game; the Oil Slick Arrow creates an oil slick at its target location. This slippery patch causes foes to slow down and even fall over. Ready for the cool part? This oil slick is highly flammable, and if a fire skill is used near it, it will burst into flames. According to Miller, this skill was tough to add and was the first “foray” into combo powers. And now that the groundwork is laid down, Cryptic plans to keep on adding combo skills in future issues.

The Sonic Attack set is just as lethal as the Archery damage dealing set. Skills like Shriek, Scream, and Shout deal damage and decrease your enemy’s damage resistance, making them more susceptible to future attacks. And just as the Archers have a super powerful opening attack, the Sonic users have Dreadful Wail, an extreme damage dealing skill that drains the user of all Energy but does massive amounts of damage to all enemies around the user.

The Sonic Resonance set is a mix of buffs and debuffs, a bit more balanced than the Trick Arrow set. Sonic Barriar, which shields against Smashing, Lethal and Toxic attacks and Sonic Haven, which shields against Fire, Cold, Energy and Negative attacks can be used to augment a Tanker’s skills, especially an offensive Tanker like the Fire Tank. Sonic Repulsion, a skill that repels enemies that get close to your target, is useful for protecting weaker classes like Blasters. And Disruption Shield is a great skill to use on Scrappers; the skill reduces the damage resistance of any enemies near your target.

The new skill sets were added because the developers wanted to widen the horizons of the game to include more heroic powers. While Miller couldn’t comment on when or what would be coming next, he assured me that there are more skills in the works and they will be added to upcoming issues whenever they have the time.

Along the lines of skill-related additions, Blasters have a new inherent ability that they will start out with at level 1: Defiance. The power only kicks in when Blasters start taking damage, but boy is it worth the wait. When a Blaster reatches 50% health, they will start doing +18% damage. At 40% health, their damage will increase again to +35%. So on and so forth, until at 5% health Blasters have a whopping +400% damage increase.

This makes soloing a more viable option for Blasters, who previously required a group to even attempt most missions. This also means that the strategic Blaster can monitor their health in team battles, trying to keep it under 50%. This will require a lot of trust in Tankers, Empath-type Defenders/Controllers, and a lot of minor health Influances.

Besides skills, Issue 5 brings a new area, Croatoa and new villains, the Red Caps and the Cabal. Croatoa, as Miller describes it, is a “sleepy little resort town.” The two factions, Red Caps and Cabal, are constantly fighting over the area. Also on the Cabal’s side are the Fir Bolg and on the Red Caps’ side (or at least under their control) are the Tuatha de Dannan. The new power sets are somewhat integrated into this new zone; many of the Red Caps use Archery powers, and some of the Cabal use Sonic powers.

In this new zone players can find one or two Task Forces, one of which will have a unique reward: the ability to use a Witch’s Hat, similar to the ones the Cabal wear, as part of your costume. There are a few more costume additions as well.

Miller also mentioned the addition of two new zone events: the Hellion Arson and Troll Rave. The Hellion Arson is an event held in Steel Canyon. A building is on fire, and heroes must fetch and use fire extinguishers on it or it will explode. The fire is also susceptible to ice powers. The Troll Rave is held in Skyway City, and heroes must clear out the “Super-Trolls,” trolls overdosed on Superdine, before they get out of control. These zone events are fast and fun things to do when traveling around the city areas, and creates another chance for heroes to be, well, heroes.

Lastly, Issue 5 introduces a new mission type: hostage rescues. When a hero gets to the end of a mission, sometimes they will find hostages that need to be escorted out. As the hostages and heroes make their way to the beginning of the map, villain waves will spawn at random locations on the map and start closing in on the heroes. Don’t worry too much about your hostages; most of them can’t fight back, and villains will only attack those that can defend themselves. On the rare occasion that this does happen, make sure to protect your hostage or you might have a mission failure!

Miller stressed how important it is to the Cryptic team that the missions keep changing and evolving into more interactive and interesting scenarios. “Most work is put into the missions,” said Miller, “[and we’re] constantly adding more things to do.”

As always, Issue 5 is a free update to all subscribers and can be downloaded through the game launcher. The update went live on 08/31/05. Looking at the game when it first went live versus the game today, despite the consistency of concept and title, City of Heroes is a totally different game.

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Laura Genender