COH/GW2: End of an Era, Start of a New

This post is going to annoy folks who are still in pain and angry about City of Heroes’ closing down, and would much prefer everyone to boycott NCsoft and all its products.

I’m really sorry for stomping all over your hope – I too would much prefer if CoH always remained around as an Ol’ Reliable backup for me to return back to – but let’s face it, if rescue efforts fail, people will be dispersing to the four winds.

Some will be hurt too much to ever attempt playing an MMO again and will fall out of the MMO player pool. Some will make their way to Champions Online or DCUO, because the superhero setting or an intricate character creator (in CO’s case) is what they most prioritize. Some will drift to The Secret World by virtue of its modern day setting and nonaffliation with anything Cryptic or NCsoft (Just be careful, Funcom also has its own notoriety. *wry grin*) Some may go to SWTOR for the stories, cutscenes or familiar Star Wars setting, a Jedi is pretty much like a superhero, isn’t it? Some may find themselves visiting panda country and returning to or trying out WoW for the first time as the big gorilla on the block revs up to launch their latest expansion (by Nov 30, it should already be in place.)

And some will be headed to the next big thing, the at-present still newest MMO launch, MMO version 3.0 or whatever you call it, Guild Wars 2.

Yes, even if it’s still being published by NCsoft.

We all very know NCsoft’s reputation by now. Can you name all the games in their stable NCsoft has cut? I see Tabula Rasa mentioned frequently, Auto-Assault an afterthought on most sites. I’ll tell you that I also gave Exteel and Dungeon Runners a try in their times too.

To be honest, I expect Guild Wars 1 to wind down in a year or two, assuming GW2 continues to thrive, possibly with a big marketing push to say, “Last chance to get your HoM rewards!”

There is no way GW1 can end just yet, when GW2 is making news headlines and there’s still the prequel/sequel continuity there, so unfortunately, CoH had to bite the dust. (If I’m not mistaken, they also televise GW1 PvP tournament matches in Korea, so they have to wait until all the e-sports teams migrate over to GW2 and find it solid and balanced enough to compete on.) I bet they’re waiting to see if GW2 interest will get a few more box buyers of GW1, curious to see how it all began. If sales pick up, it may last a little longer. If it doesn’t, well, NCsoft is really good at wielding an axe.

With all fairness to them, they’re good businessmen, exceedingly ruthless, but focused on the bottom line. None of the games they cut were exceedingly good. I still think Auto Assault had potential to be a fair and middling game if they weren’t so fixated on a sub model, but in all honesty, when you got out of that car and walked around the town a bit, it was the most horrific thing in the world. The only bit I liked of Tabula Rasa was fighting for control points and getting kill streaks, which was ripped right out of any standard FPS. The rest was a carbon copy WoW quest clone. Exteel was a tiny robot FPS-y game with very little reason to spend NCsoft coin on, and Dungeon Runners, while funny, was a Diablo clone that would be completely overshadowed by Torchlight and Diablo 3 by now, if not cut.

(City of Heroes though, -was- exceedingly good. Stress on the past tense, alas. There is a reason while the game lasted so long, and even why NCsoft stepped in to -save- the game from Cryptic when Champions Online came out. Never forget, it could have been gone much sooner. NCsoft pumped enough money into the team to build up Paragon Studios, give them a chance to work on Going Rogue and Freedom. Presumably it was a gamble, and it presumably they were looking for a decent payoff that never really came. GR was not as successful as hoped, Freedom kept the game running, just about, but an objective observer uncolored by nostalgic memories of CoH would have to predict that entropy was going to catch up with this MMO sooner, rather than later.

The news, of course, dropped like a bombshell and it’s awful, but we all did get 3 month’s notice of the studio’s eventual closing. It’s not like everyone went to work, got kicked out on the curb the same day and the servers just got turned off in 24 hours. It could have been handled a little better, PR-wise, SWG closed with 5-6 month’s notice and had a solid plan and schedule on how subscribers would be treated, closing day events, etc, if I’m not mistaken, I didn’t pay attention to the news much then.)

The trick is, as Aardwulf suggests, not to get too attached.

To any one game. Which, as you can see from the variety I cover in my sidebar, I explore a great many of them, so I have a backup or two or three standing by to break the fall.

And I take plenty of screenshots, and try to document my stories and fun experiences,  knowing that nothing will last forever.

If it’s your first, it’s going to hurt, and hurt bad. I know. My first ever MUD took me ages to get over, I had a good 3-4 year run with it, and I clung to it for a good 4-5 years more than I should have, to the detriment of my happiness and mental health. I ended up attaching to City of Heroes to get over the MUD and ultimately realized the era of text gaming was moving past the general Zeitgeist, so to speak. There are still holdouts for text MUDs, and some good communities of a couple hundred or so in various places, I wish them well and hope they’ll keep the banner flying proud and high for a while more yet, but y’know, numbers, 100,000-200,000 is on the shaky side of what a small triple A MMO needs to operate with in contrast.

When an era ends, it may just be in one’s best interest to move on and try something new. It might just open your eyes that there’s a really big wide world of gaming out there.

I too am more than a little dismayed that the hammer of judgement has come down on City of Heroes and said its time is up.

But objectively, if we look at the game as is, free from any nostalgia or memories that color it, it’s a game that has brushed up against the limits of its technology and its engine more than once.

That the devs at Paragon Studios have managed to hack into it, pretty much rewriting stuff from scratch, and give us things like choosing difficulty scaling, power customization with all colors of the rainbow, a build-your-own superhero base creator, a mission architect editor, a graphic engine upgrade that gave us the likes of the zones in Going Rogue, First and Night Wards (and OMG, real-looking trees) is a credit to their passion and dedication and hard work.

Statue of Atlas, 2004
Atlas Park carpark, 2004 (Have fun contrasting with the featured image in 2012 at the top of the post)

But today, as I logged in to screenshot all my characters from the character creation screen, I bumped into an issue that I realized meant that I would never again quite be able to fully enjoy playing City of Heroes, even if the servers were left on to the end of time.

It’s a long meandering story, so sit tight (or skim read at will):

Y’see, I dropped to Premium membership sometime back in July after the Summer Event and I’d gotten all the mileage out of Incarnate raids I wanted. Before the bitter ones scream at me for not supporting the game with a constant subscription, I’ll dangle a six year veteran badge (I lost a year or two protesting the stupid raids), a 33 reward token badge and I think my actual reward token count is 39 because I bought some points and managed to get some of the Celestial, Fire and Ice and Mecha armor pieces I wanted.

I’ve paid my dues, thank you.

Because of where I sit in the reward tier, I lost very little privileges dropping down to Premium when not actively playing the game, though of course, I appreciated being able to log in any character I wanted, the signature story arcs and morality missions and new zones open to me when I did pay a month’s sub to actively play the game.

I’m under the impression that subs have been deactivated for the time being, but I didn’t bother trying to see. I can log in two characters per server, and about 9 on my main server on Virtue (a couple free slots and I bought a few slots, I think), and that’s plenty for me for now.

What I did check was the Paragon Store, to see that I had 830 points left over still.

Gee, those better not go to waste.

It’s enough to buy a powerset with, and after some deliberation, I picked up Street Justice. It’s melee, and I like melee. Despite the new and shiny of Nature Affinity and Water Blast and all that, I was a lot more curious to sample the set that was made more punch-y and less kick-y than Martial Arts.

I also realized that despite unlocking all three components of Mecha Armor with reward tokens, I never got around to actually making a Mecha Armored character, so that had to be rectified.

And I greatly enjoyed the I22 stalker changes, so a stalker he would be. And Elec Armor seemed a good bet for being decent out of the box and just in SOs (since I certainly am not wasting time fooling around with Invention builds any more, sheesh. Funny how an impending game’s end changes your priorities around to focus on what you really enjoy and away from what you’re just putting up with in the hope that things will get better later, eh?)

Then I decided that since the game was ending, and my goal was to get up to at least 35 or so to try out all of the powers, screw morality and taking my time, let’s abuse the hell out of what the game provides.

Like many CoH players, I’ve sneered at those who keep repeating the trial Death From Below ad nauseam in order to level quickly, as it doesn’t show new players the much richer aspects of the game and storyline. Using ‘lfg dfb’ to level all the way to 50 may help you rush to max level quickly, but is entirely missing the point. Of the whole game. It may even help you burn out faster.

Well, like that’s a concern to me now. The game’s flame is flickering off, whether I like it or not. Maybe it’ll even help me move on from the game by over-dosing on xp. And I really don’t have much time to spend on playing CoH per se, I would much rather spend more time later flying around, screenshot zones and work on demoediting for posterity.

So I decided I’d see how far and fast I could get with just Looking For Trial, dfb all the way baby, at least until I hit Drowning In Blood level range, which is a trial I actually haven’t done.

There’s really nothing difficult about the lowbie trial DFB. Throw 8 players at it, assuming you have one brave fool to absorb the alpha which may or may not kill them at such low levels, and the rest of the team’s damage will very quickly eliminate the entire spawn.

However, I did notice that I was having a couple problems fighting. A lot more of the team were killing more than me and I found myself standing around like a fool, more often not, or finally managing to queue up an attack to have someone else’s ranged blast wipe up the mob before I could fire mine.

WTF was going on?

Some observation and analysis of what I was doing later suggested the couple points:

  • I was trying to start attacks a little too far from the mob and standing out of melee range. So, absolutely nothing was happening.

Guild Wars 2 has gotten its hooks into me. Sword range is 150, and greatsword range is 130, scepter range is 600 iirc. I’m no longer used to approaching so close to the mob that I could kiss it in order to trigger an attack.

And it took me a while to figure out that nothing was happening because the combat offers no feedback. In GW2, your sword attacks still go off, you just don’t hit the mob if you’re out of range. In theory, CoH is supposed to fire off an ‘out of range’ message when this happens, but it wasn’t. I’m not sure why, maybe too many players’ attacks going off at once.

  • Having to press 2-3 times to begin winding up a hidden Assassin’s Strike was a pain.

This is a classic CoH issue, when you want to AS something, you can’t just stand in range, hit the AS button once and wait for it to go off. Sometimes the first button press doesn’t work. Why? I don’t know why, it just is. So after a while, all stalkers get used to spamming the AS button in quick succession when you really want to AS something and one of those presses will eventually send the message across and start your AS animation. Except I’m out of the habit and it was a minor annoyance to return to doing that.

  • Even after doing everything perfectly and your attack fires and you go through the animation, you may miss.

Because all combat is based on a dice roll. Because lowbie accuracy sucks, in the standard vein of MMOs that give you all the skills of a peasant janitor at the beginning of the game so that you can “work” your way to achieving unbelievable cosmic power by the endgame. Because you need to slot accuracies, preferably DOs or SOs in order to start approaching reliable hit rates, and when you’re running a trial repeatedly with no time to break and slot the stuff, you don’t have ’em. (Nor do real lowbies have the money for this stuff unless they play the auction house, most are alts fueled by the first sugar daddy main to reach the wealthy levels. I would get around to mailing myself the cash later.)

You know what? It’s bloody frustrating to see the animation wind up, and the “miss” floating on top of the mob’s head. Followed by someone’s else blast (that didn’t miss, thanks to the vagaries of the RNG) knocking them into a bloody heap before you even got a chance to hit them. Some hero I feel like.

  • Every single attack that you fire roots you while the animation finishes playing.

I just came from one of the most mobile, stress-on-positioning games ever. It was beyond aggravating to keep pressing the A and D keys and realizing that they wouldn’t work and you were stuck in that position until you finished hitting something (that maybe wouldn’t hit, see above.)

Despite the beautiful animations of punching and winding up to hit things, overall combat felt extremely stilted and interspersed with a lot of start/stop pauses. I’ve never felt this way in CoH before. I’ve tried WoW, whose combat I readily admitted was smoother and more polished than CoH or LOTRO, but I adapted equally well to all their combat quirks and didn’t find it a problem moving from game to game. It only goes to demonstrate how incredibly fluid and polished GW2 combat must be, that by comparison, I’m now finding CoH combat (something I used to always like for being fast, furious and full of fire and fury and VFX) lacking.

Either that, or there’s something severely wrong with the Street Justice powerset. Or Titan Weapons where I also ran into a bit of this problem (but I always assumed TW was meant to be slow and clunky.) I’ll try out my smoothest level 50 dual blades incarnated stalker later and see.

  • I was a lot faster noticing and getting out of the green stuff.

Despite CoH’s best efforts to keep me rooted in one place, when fighting the two Hydra Heads, I noticed that I was much more observant of dangerous green effects forming around me, or at my feet, and would quickly stop attacking and haul booty elsewhere. GW2 training in effect, no doubt. I must actually be looking at my character more and what’s happening on screen around him.

  • The UI? It stinks.

Okay, part of this is obviously my fault, since I arranged the CoH UI around, moved trays here and there to suit me, etc. And much of it is still a holdover from when I needed all this overlay of information, especially while doing Incarnate raids.

But wow, how badly is my view of the actual world blocked?

I need five power trays open to hold all the powers I’m likely to end up collecting – three for the main powers and most commonly fired veteran/temp powers, two for the teleports, periodic buffs, bonus things like clear the fog of war from a map, self-revive, etc.

I need inspiration trays open so that I can quickly eat a consumable in an emergency. I need a minimap open to tell where my teammates went in a mission. I need a chat window open to see my teammates talking and communicating. I need the enhancement bar open so that I can see what drops mid mission and delete unnecessary ones to free up slots.

Strictly speaking, I don’t need the big wide global chat tab at the bottom of the screen, but I used to have it there when I was deep into playing and needed access to five global chat channels at once to overhear general server chat and catch up on badge calls, giant monster calls, TF calls, etc. And in theory, I can probably shrink the chat window and teammate bars more – except I’ll have problems reading the text and the buff icons – I can compress the buff icons and/or ignore them, yes, but I’m used to having them there so that I can read the situation better – knowing who is buffed and by what lets one have an idea of who is likely to lead into a spawn  (and still survive), who still needs buffing, etc.

And I don’t even have the combat monitor on, which I’d be more inclined to turn on for mid to high level characters where I need to monitor the exact level of their defenses and resistances, regeneration or recharge rates at any given moment.

This is a beta weekend screenshot, where my UI is already pretty stretched, max sized minimap, obscured background chat window (on Live, I’ve made both smaller). Alas, I forgot to take any partied up shots in a dungeon, so I don’t have the party/team UI, but it goes in a vertical row on the left.

Welp, what can I say?

Both UIs serve their purpose, and fulfill their function, so neither is broken per se, but one blocks the view and is a lot more obtrusive than the other. One has a much better aesthetic than the other.

Four DFBs later, I was at level 14, the group broke up and it was way past time for me to make my way to a DO store to slot up or whiff and miss even more while doing little to no damage whatsoever.

I got there, having a little bit of fun street sweeping by myself along the way (I still love doing that, no one snatching the mobs from me or anything) and faced with the necessity of logging out, switching characters, typing in a mail to send influence to myself, logging out again, switching characters, picking up the influence and figuring out what to buy and slot, and maybe burn a veteran respec because I was sure I made cruddy choices in the haste of rushing through a DFB…

I just logged out instead.

And logged into GW2.

What Do You Get When You Cross an MMO With…?

…an FPS?

Planetside. Global Agenda. Firefall. APB. Dozens more upcoming and probably hundreds of free ones I don’t even know about.

…an RTS?

Age of Empires Online. A bunch more free-to-play browser types that I will just cop out and link to Massively’s MMORTS tags instead of naming them all.

… an ARG?

The Secret World, probably, or at least their advertising/marketing portion.

…a racing game?

Need for Speed World, Test Drive Unlimited 2, iRacing, whatever.

… puzzles?

Puzzle Pirates.

… Zelda?

Spiral Knights.


Realm of the Mad God.

…platforming and Final Fantasy?

This is not a chocobo.
Cloud Strife wishes he had this sword.
Walked through a portal and ended up in Tomb Raider.
Cats and chandeliers? Bad combination. Just ask Youtube.

Unfortunately I don’t have any more jumping puzzle screenshots. Funny that, considering how many I just did over the last weekend – trying to get a skill point from one of the Ascalonian ruins, a mini-dungeon (Font of Rhand) from the Diessa Plateau where you had to run and jump to pull a chain, and I didn’t even try to go for any of the Achievement ones.

(By the way, yes, I am well aware that Maple Story is more of a 2D platformer, and that TERA and Aion also have honking big swords. Just making light fun of things because seriously, how many more praise posts can one person read about Guild Wars 2?

That’s where I’ve vanished to in the last few days if anyone was wondering. Beta Weekends don’t come around every day. Now sifting through screenshots to stave off withdrawal.)