Friday, October 7, 2011

City of Heroes: Freedom, part 1.

Genre: MMORPG, Super Heroes
Developer: Paragon Studios/Cryptic
Publisher: NCSoft
Release year: 2004

Freebie type: F2P MMO
Paid option: Real-World Currency Market, Monthly subscription

Zolgar paid: .. I plead the 5th.
Beaten: It's an MMO
Zolgar's rating: 9.5/10
Replayability: MMO

As much as some of us may hate it, Free To Play is currently the future for MMOs. This may change when someone finally headshots World of Warcraft and/or the American economy rises out of the shitter, but until then? Free To Play it is.

As such, many games that have been Pay To Play have gone F2P, at first it was just the ones that failed to take off very well on the subscription model (DDO, Horizons and, CO, just to name a few), yet in recent years even some of the more popular ones have switched to F2P, with various models and levels of success.

There's a lot of bad business models when it comes to a F2P MMO. Super restrictive free accounts, 'unlimited trials', or systems that limit how much you can play without paying (“10 quests a day, then you pay.”)

There's some good ones, too, though. The one I find to be the best is the model which I believe Turbine pioneered (I could be wrong), and is used in many games that went from Pay to Free. It's the one City of Heroes has adopted, too.

With City of Heroes: Freedom, a player can level 2 characters from 8 different archetypes (classes) from 1 to 50 without paying a dime.

Free players have 2 character slots, and can access any of the 15 non-VIP servers. They have access to 8 out of the 10 basic archetypes (lacking Controllers and Masterminds), and have access to most of the power sets for those archetypes. As well they have access to most of the games content, including full run of both Paragon City and the Rogue Isles.

Sure, there are some things a completely free player doesn't get, but if there weren't, what incentive would they have to give Paragon Studios their money? There is, however, more than enough content to keep free players interested, and make them want to pay for a less restricted account.

When someone decides that City of Heroes is worth money, they have two options. Premium account, or VIP account.

A Premium account is any account which has purchased any number of points from the Paragon Market. Most of the restrictions are still in place, but there's a few minor upgrades, and then they use their points to buy things like character slots, archetypes, power sets, content, costume pieces and so much more. As well, they start progressing in the new Rewards System, which gives players tangible (but not game breaking) benefits based on how much money they have given Paragon Studios. Most of these benefits are things like enhanced storage and useful utility powers. For every 1200 points they purchase, they get 1 'token' which allows them to select a benefit from a level based off of how many tokens they've earned.

.. and I'll look down and whisper "no."
Or, they can go VIP.
A VIP account costs $15/month and gets access to all (current) archetypes, that is all 10 basic, and the 4 Epic Archetypes, all but a scant few power sets, all current content, free use of Mission Architect, alignment changes and, the Invention System (things which Premium players have to pay for), a monthly stipend of 400 points (worth $5) and 1 Reward Token, 12 character slots per server (and a 16th server).. and, of course, the Incarnate System, which is the endgame power advancement system that cannot currently even be purchased.

For the price of buying everything that the VIP account unlocks, you could easily pay for a VIP account for several months, and use your 400 point stipend to buy fun things like new power sets and costumes.

A nice little list breaking down the account types can be found here.

Now, I warn you.. my review of City of Heroes is a little biased.
I've been playing it for more than 6 years, my main account has all but one upgrade, collectors editions of all 3 games, etc. and, I have 2 accounts. Suffice it to say I like City of Heroes just a wee bit, and have probably given them more money than I spent on my truck.

One of the things which has kept me in City of Heroes for so long is the character creator, while it's not perfect, it is the best one I have ever seen. The main weaknesses are a limitation of 2 colors per item, and the inability to do an asymmetrical character.

With just the base costume pieces, you can do almost anything you can imagine, and it only gets better the more costume packs you get.. there are still a few things that are really hard to pull off right (like I've had a very hard time finding a way to replicate the Repo Man from Repo: The Genetic Opera). Honestly, I could try to describe the character creation, but it wouldn't work very well. Simply put it's color selection, item selection and sliding scales. I would have a screenshot of the creator for you, but, well.. something hates me and I can't get a screenshot.

Slightly dated, to be sure.. but let's be honest.. City of Heroes is a 7 year old game, they've managed to improve the creator over the years, but it's reaching it's limits without a total system overhaul.

The other thing you have with City of Heroes, is character options, far too many options some might say.

As a free account you have access to:
  • Go. Hunt. Kill Skuls.
    Brute: Melee damage, very 'balls to the wall' in play style. They have good HP, good defenses, and low base damage, but improve in damage the longer they're in combat. A good brute never stops moving until the mission is over, or he's dead.. and a good brute doesn't die!
  • Tank: Should be pretty obvious, damage soak. The best personal defense in the game, and a very good Taunt, paired with a passive AoE taunt in all of their attack makes Tankers best suited for the role of keeping enemies off the 'squishies'. Their damage is weak though.
  • Scrapper: Very much akin to a Brute, Scrappers are a rather fast-paced melee class usually, though they can benefit from careful tactical playing and pausing to 'catch your breath' so to speak. Scrappers have very good damage, and a chance to critical hit for double damage, and their defenses are decent, but not quite as good as a Brute.
  • Stalker: the last of the Melee archetypes, Stalkers could also be called 'ninja' or 'assassin' or other such things, and likely would in other such games. Stalkers do better damage than Scrappers, but have even lower defenses, they also all have a Stealth ability and will crit (double damage) from Stealth. Stalkers also get a special attack that deals obscene damage if done from Stealth.
    Unfortunately though, the game tends to be stacked against Stalkers, especially in teams. In solo, you can do well with a stalker with patience, and a willingness to run away. In teams a stalker is often relegated to the role of a scrapper, which is.. not ideal with most stalker builds.
  • Blaster: Blasters are primarily a long-range class, and do, IIRC, the best base damage in the game. Their secondary set usually gives them a mixture of control and melee attacks. Blasters tend to have one major weakness: they piss a lot of things off, and have no raw defenses on their own aside from limited control. Although, blasters are the only characters who can continue to attack even when mez'd.
  • Dominator: Crowd control is a Dominator' primary focus, with an assortment of holds, immobilizes, and other forms of mez attacks, and a pet for some extra damage later on. Their secondary is a mix of melee and ranged attacks. A well build Dominator is a force to be reckoned with, sacrificing a true melee archetype's self defenses for crowd control, which serves to make them just as survivable against most foes as a tank, but dealing far better damage.
  • Defender: In other games this might be called a “cleric” or the like, or even worse a “healer”. Defenders however, are not healers. Defenders are the only dedicated support archetype though. Their primary powers are usually buffs or debuffs, sometimes dispersed with a heal or two as well, entirely focused on one thing: keeping the team alive. Their secondaries are ranged attacks, usually fairly low damage output. When solo, Defenders do get a damage boost however.
  • Corruptor: Reverse Defenders. They share many of the same primary power sets as Blasters, and many of their secondaries are the same as Defender primaries. If a Defender is focused on supporting the team, and attacks when they have the time, a Corruptor is usually more akin to dealing damage, and supporting the team.. if it's convenient, which leads to Corruptors usually favoring aggressive secondaries that debuff and debilitate foes. Corruptors have a base damage lower than Blasters (but higher than Defenders), and have a chance to do double damage that increases as their foe takes more damage.

In addition, you can purchase two more archtypes, and four Epic Archetypes, or VIP players get access to them for free:

  • Controller: Sharing many of the simae primaries as a dominator, a controller is also heavily focused on crowd control, however instead of attacks for their secondary they get support sets like a Defender's primaries. This leads to a very useful, and powerful, character when teaming, although without a good build controllers suffer solo.
  • Mastermind: Who hasn't wanted to stand back and send an army of robots to deal with their foes? Or maybe zombies? Or street thugs? Do you want to team, even when you're solo? Then a mastermind is your archetype! Their primary is a mix of summons (Minion, Lieutenant and, Boss grade ones), and ranged attacks, while their secondary is party support, making them forces to be reckoned with while solo, and outright murderous in teams.
    (side note: All Mastermind teams are fun and insane.)

Bloody hell, they let Furries play this game?!
I would cover the Epic Archetypes, but .. well, they're kinda confusing to go over, and you won't have access to them until you reach level 20 anyways, so you can get someone else to explain them to you. Just be prepared for a lot of “Kheldian's suck!” Information on Epic Archetypes, as well as the most up-to-date information on the above listed archetypes and their power sets can be found here.

Now, I know.. you're thinking “8 archetypes free, 14 if I pay.. that's not a lot of options!”

Well! Every archetype has multiple primary and secondary power set options, for example a Brute has 120 potential combinations for a completely free player, with payment you can get that to 140 right now. Dominators are on the low end of the spectrum with 42 options for free players, and while I could try to list all of the power sets for all of the archetypes.. I would be here for far too many hours, especially since, on top of those numbers there are:
Power pools, generic powers for your hero or villain, such as flight, super speed, limited heal, things like that, with 9 options, each character can take up to four pools which gives a hell of a lot more options per character.

Then if that wasn't enough, there's also Ancillary/Patron pools which unlock at level 35, and add another dimension of power to your character, usually these add something that your archetype doesn't usually have the ability to do, most archetypes have between 8 and 10 options for their Ancillary pool.

Finally, if you have a VIP account you also have Incarnate abilities. There are currently 5 incarnate slots available, 4 of which can get 4 power trees (the 5th can get 16 trees), each tree has two 'final' options.

Then, because of individual power selection and personal choices on enhancements no two characters will be identical unless they are following a specific build guide.
So a Dark Melee/Shield Brute, with the Speed, Leaping, Leadership and Fighting power pools and Mu Mastery Patron will not be identical to another one of the same set choices.

For the last time I am not the Green Arrow, Lantern or Hornet!
So yes, even free players have so many choices that if you tried to play every single option in the game, you would never make it. Even if you tried to play every primary/secondary combination, you'd be hard pressed to make it. If you want to then think about going VIP and spending a bit of money on additional powers? It gets to a point where you can sit there staring at the creator for an hour trying to pin down a concept for what exactly your going to play.

This alone, I consider reason enough to get a VIP account, 12 slots per server and 16 servers available, instead of 2 slots total.

That concludes Part 1! Next up we'll cover the mechanics and content of the game!

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