A View from Atlas Park: Comments on City of Villains Beta

Ack, I know – I’m late. I had technical difficulties getting this column up before, so I doubt any of it will be new info to those who have been reading others’ opinions on City of Villains. However, since the lack of an original thought has never stopped me commenting before, below is my overall impression of the CoV beta.


The Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) surrounding the City of Villains beta test was dropped a week ago to coincide with the Fileplanet subscriber stress test. It was dropped for obvious reasons – well, because those Fileplanet subscribers wouldn’t be able to keep their mouths shut – which means a whole lot of CoV info has come into the public domain.

I’ve been in the CoV beta for a while now (second wave or third wave, I think) and have had some time to look at what CoV offers. But I’d hardly consider myself to be the expert on it for two reasons – 1) the testing times were completely out of whack with my local time zone, meaning I was at work during most of the testing times and likely asleep during others (because, when you have a young child, staying up to 5am isn’t as fun as it used to be), and 2) lag was so bad I probably spent more time staring at “Lost Connection to Mapserver” as being a bad guy. However, I had some time to tinker and got to enjoy the opportunity to play with some new toys.

The Good:

First off, the costume creation system is still fun, especially with the new evil-inspired outfits that are available. As seen in the beta, expect at launch to see a lot of characters with skulls wrapped in barbed wire running about. It’ll be the look of the season, much like ninjas were when CoH launched. (Also, these barb wired skull people will all be called “Dark Vengence” or “Dark Daze” or something else with ‘Dark’ in the title, so be quick onto the servers if your entire villain persona is based about being ‘Dark’ or else you will lose the name.)

Secondly, the new Archetypes do play differently, although my experience with them was incredibly limited. The Mastermind AT, which is the most original addition to the ATs, is proabably the one that has me the most interested. Since I solo a lot, the ability to create and control my own “team” holds a lot of appeal. Although I’d like to be able to customise my pets a bit more (perhaps you can – as I said, my experience is limited) it was fun to be able to pull ninjas up from the earth to do my bidding. (The other types – Zombies, Mercenaries and Robots – just aren’t as interesting to me, but your mileage may vary.)

Thirdly, the little bits of the Rogue Isles I’ve seen look good, with lessons having being learnt in CoH area design that obviously have been applied to CoV.

Finally, the cut-scenes in missions do quite a bit to make things feel more connected, rather than just a series of empty objectives that you need to meet. One of the strengths of CoH is the storylines that lurk behind some of the missions, but that does require a lot of reading and I’m sure some players find it very dry. The cut-scenes help add a bit more feeling to the missions and some life to those storylines. (That said, some players complained about having to watch the same cut-scenes over and over as they started new characters, so expect to see a “Skip cutscene” button added at some point in future.

The So-What?:

CoV has a different (faster, stronger, better than before) engine under the hood to CoH, meaning it looks better and allows more options, like rag-doll physics. In theory, anyway – unless you are running a high-end system, you probably won’t see too many differences between CoH and CoV.

Which makes it a bit of a so-what proposition for me. Sure, rag-doll physics is a nice thing to boast about, but it wasn’t a change that players were really clamouring for or would improve the play experience. It is something that would have taken a lot of development time – time which, as CoV approaches release, has grown awfully short. Given the feedback on the boards, I’m sure that most players would have preferred to see a large number of new powersets, villainous zones and costume options rather than an improvement to a gaming engine that really didn’t need fixing.

I’m sure this change allows the devs more options than we are aware of, but (as with all back-end systems) it’s hard to get too excited about it if we only see the barest of changes on the surface.

The Bad:

A while back I wrote this column about CoV and what issues will likely see complaints raised. Although I hedged my bets by looking at how things would work in a number of situations, I’m happy to say that my faith in human nature has been rewarded by seeing complaints about new, villains-only powersets, villain codes of honour and the lack of a different playstyle to CoH have raised their heads.

In short, there are a few villain-only powersets, but not as many as current CoH players wanted. Since there has been limited PvP between heroes and villains, it would be difficult to say if the new powers are actually better than the old, or if villains are balanced against heroes, but I’m very confident that when these battles start to take place, a lot of dev time is going to be spent altering how the CoV powersets operate. Especially since one CoV AT – Stalker with its Hide inherent power – seems almost perfectly set up for those who love to gank their opponents. Because nothing is more fun than losing a lot of health to something you can’t see…

Villainous codes of hours were also an issue, with players complaining of kill-stealing, other players being rude to them, rude / tasteless villain names* and unwanted PvP in those zones that allowed it. This is a bed of Cryptic’s making – you can’t tell players to be villains, then expect them to play nice. Expect to see lots of posts from banned players or players who are leaving because they can’t be villainous enough.

CoV doesn’t really have any different playstyle options to CoH, which means if you liked CoH, you’ll probably like CoV (and if you didn’t like CoH, well, CoV might not work out for you). Sure, there are new mission options and things that shake things up a bit, but nothing that is from out of left-field in game terms.

My big issues with the CoV beta were lag and lack of promised features. The lag (which originated mostly from server stability issue) was terrible. This is a big reason why the new game engine gets a “so-what” from me – it seems to have sent Cryptic all the way back to square one in terms of creating a fun, playable game. If CoV had been based on the existing CoH engine, it may not have looked as good, but it would have been more stable. For an online game that is about to launch, stability is a big thing.

As for the lack of promised features… well, the big addition to CoV was the ability to construct your own base. This feature hasn’t been in beta too long, which means testing on it hasn’t been as extensive as perhaps it should have been. Expect to see a lot of bugs pop up at launch with this feature. Also on this topic, there are a limited number of new powersets, CoV doesn’t have the same number of zones as CoH at launch… blah, blah, blah. It feels a bit like the launch date was fixed (barring any game-breaking bugs, of course) at Halloween a long time ago, instead of choosing to launch when would have been best for the game.

I know, I know – all MMOGs at launch could have done with an extra month. For me, the question I ask is, “will the CoV launch be at least on par with the CoH launch (which, to be fair, was one of the best in MMOG history to date)?”, and I can’t honestly answer “Yes”. It is a bit sad to me that Cryptic (who may be under pressure from NCSoft to get the game out before Christmas) has gone from “we’ll release it when it is ready” as they were with CoH to “it’s coming out on Halloween and we’ll release lots of things later” as it appears to be with CoV.

[P]However…

I’ll be buying CoV anyway, and it’ll be the Collector’s Edition at that. From time to time I’ll be popping into the Rogue Isles after launch to see if the situation has been remedied (which I’m sure it will be, given time), waiting for the various patches and new Issues to fix things up.

If someone who never played CoH, or had left CoH at some point before, asked me if they should get CoV, I’d tell them yes, they should. But that they should wait a month or so to let other CoV players deal with the problems arising from launch first.

* This is coming from someone who named his Stalker “The Abortionist”. But then, I was being a villain after all!

[p] – UnSub [email protected] 27 October 2005

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