A View from Atlas Park: Issue 9 or Inventions and You

Issue 9 – entitled “Breakthrough” due to its major feature being all about inventing stuff – went live more or less today. It marked a number of changes for CoH/V and how it has dealt with Issues (as opposed to dealing with issues, which is always a problem). The launch also came pretty close to the third anniversary of CoH’s official launch date, which is 28 April if memory serves correctly. As such, I9 comes with some pretty big baggage and some pretty big expectations.

I haven’t looked at I9 yet. When the beta of it was out, I had an invitation, but didn’t take it up. When it was on Test, I didn’t log in to take a look either. Quite simply, from an overall viewpoint beta testing the new issue was a great idea, but I’m paying to play CoH/V and I’m not interested in re-doing content when it went live. Right now I’m applying the patches containing I9 to my machine, so it’s still going to be about 4 minutes before I can log in. As such, a lot of what I’m writing here is still my completely baseless opinion, but since when has THAT stopped me?

I9 is probably the biggest issue to hit CoH/V in a long time – probably since I5 or I6, which contained all the rebalancing in-game changes (i.e. Global Defence, Enhancement Diversification) that are still talked about today. It’s probably even bigger than those. What I9 has done is re-write everything you know about enhancement slotting.

ED did that as well, sure, but that was a simple adjustment – you just had to remember that slotting with more than three of any Single Origin enhancement type (give or take) wasn’t going to be worth your time. Players moved from five- and six-slotting to three- and four-slotting. Simple. I9, however, gives players so many options for slotting powers, both in terms of how many slots to put into a power and then what to put into those slots, it isn’t funny.

Previously undesirable powers, that might have gotten one or two slots (if they were picked at all) suddenly become part of player considerations again due to what they can slot and what bonuses IO and IO sets may bestow on them. Scrapulous and iakona (and others) already have some guides up that can be used to think this through, but it is a huge change to the way that people think about slotting characters. It is going to take a while for most people to think through the alternatives that now exist.

As a side note, those very alternatives are going to be confusing for a lot of people. I believe that guides about how to (say) build a defensive Blaster or to build a regen Tank are going to be the way people cope with it, since the IO system is quite daunting to fully understand from a casual player’s point of view.

As with pretty much every design decision, players suffering from alt-itis are the most screwed by this change, since they will have 12 or more characters they will likely want to retrofit with IOs. They do have a small advantage in that they will be able to collect for more than one character, so any IO drops they get will be useful to them, but they still have a huge road before them. (And on this point – hardcore players who have myriad alts are not going to be feeding any IO components into the economy – they will be saving them for their characters or for their SGs. As such, I see it as possibly taking a while for IO trading to really build up momentum.)

By virtue of IOs being linked to character lvls, a lvl 1 has an easier time under the IO system than a current lvl 50, since that lvl 1 will have a full ‘life’ in which to find, buy, use and adapt to IOs. A lvl 50 is left a bit behind, trying to find the right content to get what they want or, more likely, paying for it from the Consignment Houses.

Yes, I know that IOs aren’t ‘essential’ to play CoH/V effectively. But that’s today. As more and more players start to adapt to IOs and potentially min / max their characters with abilities that make them incredibly tough to defeat, I can see the devs being left with three options: 1) nerf IOs, or 2) build more damaging villain groups, or 3) develop enemy powers that neutralise IOs. None of these options are going to make players happy. Some IO tweaking will go on, certainly, but unless everyone gets IOs in near equal measure, those players who are IO-less are going to find the game a lot tougher in future in most cases.

Of longer term interest to me is how IOs will impact on the CoH/V community. CoH/V has always had loot in the form of enhancements, but it was readily available loot, with only the Hamidon Origin enhancements being considered rare (and even then you knew exactly when and where to find them). With I9, CoH/V suddenly has rare loot that is randomly dropped. When you combine ‘rare’ and ‘random’ with ‘online games’, you tend to get a host of problems. At the heart of it is the fact (and I’m stealing this idea from someone who phrased it a lot better, but sadly the forum clean-ups have eaten that post) that rare loot makes players selfish. We want it. We get jealous when we see others get it. We use other players to get it and, once we have got what we wanted, we disgard those players. Sure, players are selfish for XP and leveling up, but XP is common and equally distributed, so teams are balanced by mutual self-interest. Start adding rare and random rewards to the mix and a player’s self-interest is much less likely to match up with their teammates.

My (small) fear is that IOs could start to drive wedges into the community. Certain missions will likely be farmed for specific recipes or salvage, leaving players who want to play with PUGs with less options about what missions are available. Player selfishness in getting their desired reward may see teams (or even SGs / VGs) break up as jealous raises its head or players rip-off other players. Suddenly it may become less about “doing it for the team / experience / fun” than “doing it for the IO”, which is where people will end up grinding out CoH/V content in order to get that reward.

I may be wrong and I think that the CoH/V community is strong enough to withstand a lot of things. However, the constant ‘plink plink’ of wanting to get that full IO set may see players engaging in behaviour they never would have before and may lead to others seeing CoH/V as less fun and more of a grind (which, given that the largest complaint about CoH/V is that it is a grind, may not exactly be where the devs wanted to lead CoH/V with I9). Throw in Consignment Houses, where players will PvP financially to get what they want

Despite all I’ve said above, I do view I9 positively. Inventions is a very interesting idea and I can’t wait to start breaking my main Blaster out of his current role and into giving him some new abilities thanks to IOs. But getting there is going to take me quite a bit of time and influence, and I’m not sure if a casual player such as myself will have the ability to reach my perceived IO goals (perceived because I don’t really know what IOs I want yet, just a vague idea of what I want my character to do) in a reasonable timeframe.

I9 does contain more than just IOs – there is the new Statesman Task Force, new Hamidon encounters and other bits and pieces – but it is the Invention System that is the core of it and the part that is going to have the longest lasting impact. Hopefully that impact will be mostly positive and lead to players finding new ways to enjoy their time playing, instead of resenting others for getting the drops they want.

[i] – UnSub [@UnknownSubject] unsub {at} warcry {dot} com 3 May 2007[i]

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