A View from Atlas Park: City of Villains, or City of Complaints?

I haven’t written a column for about a month, which is mostly my fault, but time flies when you’re busy.

The big event since the last column was the launch of the City of Villains main site, complete with incredibly limited information about what CoV will contain. Although slightly frustrating, this lack of information is probably for the best – the second a dev announces something, it is taken as gospel and if it doesn’t appear or changes, devs get accused of “lying”. Although I doubt the devs really get their kicks out of announcing features that don’t exist, it’s probably for the best that player expectations are managed as much as possible.

Which leads to a lot of speculation about what will be in CoV. Will the devs have learnt about the missteps of CoH and take the necessary measures to avoid them? Will CoV be “better” than CoH? Exactly what effects will the Rogue Isles (which will unfortunately be called the “Rouge Isles” by a lot of people, prompting imagery of bad guys with lots of eyeliner) have on Paragon City? Apart from some answers on PVP, CoV information is thin on the ground.

To be honest, the first thing I see coming out of the player base as more CoV information is released is complaints. These complaints will be driven by poorly worded statements (eg: “You will need to have CoV if you wish to build player bases” may not be 100% true), speculation, justified concerns and player irrationality. But there are features that will raise points of contention between dedicated CoH players and those players who are actively looking forward to CoV.

Some of these features are:

  • New, villains-only powersets: Nothing is going to make the CoH player base scream louder than seeing a set of new powers enter the CoH universe, only for them to be unavailable to player heroes. Yet in order to make CoV attractive to long-term CoH players, access to new fiendish powersets has got to be a given.

    One issue at play here is the time aspect. By now, a lot of players have gone through and played out the powersets they liked. For them to enter CoV, only to find the same powersets waiting for them, would be a big killer of their interest in the game. Experienced CoH players will being looking to see what novelties CoV holds for them and one of these will have to be new powers. “I’ve played 50 lvls using Storm Summoning already; why the heck am I going to do it again?”, they’ll ask loudly on the forums.

    But the complaints will be matched on the other side if CoV has exclusive powers by CoH players who 1) won’t be able to get the new powersets and 2) will be fighting players who can get them. Since everyone knows that new = better, villains-only powersets will also attract a lot of complaints about being too powerful and unbalanced. In some cases, they will be, but this may not be officially discovered for some time. Until then, I expect to see a lot of forum conflict over the unfairness that villains are the only ones who can get certain powers.

    The best way for CoH to deflect some of this criticism is to release some new powersets of its own – Dual Pistols*, for example. The recent talk of Issue #5 is that it includes Archery and Sonics. Perhaps this issue will be held off until October, by which time CoV’s expected release will be right around the corner… but we’ll see.

    The above also applies for any exclusive content that CoV gets that CoH is excluded from.

  • Villain codes of honour: Creating a PVP-featured game and letting everyone know they are a villain is a lot like telling all the bad kids at your school that there’s a party at your house with free beer while your parents are away. You shouldn’t be surprised when the place gets trashed.

    Which isn’t an insult towards PVP players. Some of them are very nice. However, there also appear to be a huge number of the maladjusted out there who just love to beat your butt in PVP by any means necessary and then mock you for it. Giving them the title “Villain” is only going to compound this problem because almost any complaint can be answered with “… because I’m a villain.”

    “I didn’t play fair because I’m a villain.”

    “I ganged up on you to steal your Item of Power because I am a villain, as are my friends.”

    “I’m rude, obnoxious, racist, sexist, [insert your -ist of choice here] because I’m a villain.”

    “I’m a villain” is the perfect excuse to justify any anti-social behaviour. What’s more, players who use this excuse are correct. They are villains. They should be able to act in a villainous manner. For Cryptic to then place any kind of restrictive code of conduct / code of honour requirements for villains to conform to would be completely disingenuous. Sure, you can argue that some villains follow a strict code of honour, but these are generally in the minority. Most villains are fueled by greed and / or anger – motivations that tend to lack social graces. Trying to make bad guys conform to the ‘right’ standards of behaviour would rob CoV of the possibility that being a villain holds.

    This isn’t to say Cryptic won’t enforce terms of service issues where there are violations. They want people to keep playing CoV / CoH and true villains would probably drive away a lot of business. But for every time someone steps over the line and gets their knuckles rapped for it, expect to hear that what they did shouldn’t have been punished because “… I’m a villain.”

  • A different playstyle to CoH: This is such a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation that it’s just not funny. The major criticism leveled against CoH is its repetitiveness – you fight bad guys at lvl 1, you fight bad guys at lvl 50. Sure, they are different looking bag guys, but all you do is fight fight fight. For some people this is too much of a grind to be interesting, so they leave, often posting a combo thread of “goodbye / this game sux / off to WoW / back when CoV comes” on the forums. But its going to be hard for CoV to really be different to CoH in terms of what the player can do.

    Of course, there will be PVP involved. But PVP is one of those things that is different for everyone, even amongst those who actively seek it. Some players enjoy PVP only if they win (and let’s face it – no-one wants to lose all the time). And it’s unlikely that PVP is going to change the core of the CoH / CoV game. Players are still going to have to fight AI constructs to gain XP so they will be strong enough to fight in PVP situations. Unless a player can exclusively level their character from lvl 1 – 50 through PVP only (which you can’t – PVP will start at lvl 15 in CoV) then players will still have to fight AI mobs in CoV, though this time they will the good guys and the worse guys.

    Because of this, a lot of complaints are going to appear that CoV is just like CoH. And if a player didn’t like CoH, I don’t think they are going to live CoV either. Which makes sense (at least to me) but isn’t going to stop people complaining about it.

As more information comes to light and CoV gets closer to release, these complaints are likely to become more numerous, more detailed and more specific. It will be interesting how they get resolved, but I expect that a lot of people will be unhappy about the solution, regardless of how fair it really is.

On a vaguely related note, I enjoyed the E3 CoV video (available at the City of Villains site) but from the official evidence presented in both this and last year’s video, the heroes of Paragon City are pansies. In the first one they get beaten up by ordinary Freakshow members, in this one they get taken down pretty quickly by their villainous equivalents. It’d be nice to see some footage of the major Paragon City heroes being effective at their job and actually stopping the villains, instead of being thrown around like ragdolls. Who knows… maybe they are saving that for the next Cryptic product – City of Citizens – where players get to take on the role of ordinary Paragon City citizens. Won’t that be fun?

*I figure if I mention it enough, Dual Pistols will appear as a powerset sometime before my 50th birthday.

– UnSub [email protected] 14/6/05

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