Let’s be very honest here. We’re not living in your daddy’s game market. The consumer of the present wants what he wants, and when he wants it. Since the introduction of “carrot-stick” game design heralded by EverQuest we original patrons of the MMO genre have waited with baited breath for what we really wanted. And I mean “really.” Ground-breaking game systems, breath-taking immersion, and so much content there is no hope of experiencing it all. Does City of Heroes deliver on all, some, or none of the above? Or does it serve a different purpose? Though speculative, we can make a few off-the-hip assessments of its potential as we wait for the “big day.” Welcome to my City of Heroes Pre-Launch Evaluation Issue 1: Tales from the Deep and Dreadful…or just Issue 1.
Face it, we’re hurting. You’re wounded, I’m bleeding, and we’re all on the ropes. There is only so much more the MMO community will take before it implodes. I really have not had an experience with MMORPGs in the past four years that was truly worth sharing. Anarchy Online? Eh, it was “okay” after they managed to fix it. Dark Age of Camelot? Level Treadmill: Part Deux (with a shiny new wrapper). Star Wars Galaxies? Ouch, that stings. Horizons: EoI has made no better a dent in the jaded psyche of my constituents than any of them. The thought of a web-based log-in system still makes my face cringe. And please do not force me to even go near EverQuest. If I attempted to touch on that beast of a game it would require more patience for political correct filters than I could give. And a pony. Maybe someday the great equalizer will have its day in my court of opinion.
<nbsp><nbsp>Looking back over the years of turmoil marked by the release of EverQuest, and Ultima Online’s radical “Renaissance” change one has to ask himself, “Why am I still waiting here expecting some suit monkeys to make my dreams come true? To deliver unto me the holy grail of virtual immersion that is the digital divine MMO. I’m an idealist, go figure. But, the issue raises some real questions. Short of the revolutionary commercialization of virtual reality and the subtraction of flaccid shallow play objectives there is no project in sight that will deliver precisely what the whimsical idealist wants from his MMO; a fantastic and completely immersive world to visit. That is what you thought of when your buddy started to explain what exactly a massively multiplayer online game tries to do, wasn’t it? Fiancé? Sibling? It was the brother for me. He came home one day with a fantastic story to tell concerning where he had just spent the last couple of hours. I was about thirteen, and very new to the PC gaming market in general. I can say with full confidence that what I envisioned and what I first experienced with the MMORPG genre in Ultima Online (starting before the “Second Age” expansion pack) was in no way congruent though it was still a darn fun time. I hold even more weight in the belief that without the previously stated stipulations no MMORPG will ever fully satisfy me. Imagine your favorite fictional universe. Now replace every single character in that universe with a real human that can think, feel, and react with free-will, instead of NPCs. Dear Readers, that will be the pinnacle of the MMO experience (coupled with VR, of course).
So what does City of Heroes offer the jaded and scorned fan of the MMORPG genre? At first glance it should offer quite a fun experience. It will not be perfect, and it certainly does not satisfy all of the criteria that would make it a full and complete “pinnacle of the MMO world.” No economy. No crafting. But no hoopla either. As the designers who are bringing consumers the next generation in MMORPG gaming shift the focus away from past (failed) attempts at creating a “complete virtual world” they will be attempting to sell customers on much more simple ideas of fun. City of Heroes is about villain thwarting. City of Heroes is about taking your ideal superhero concept and translating it into a computer game where you will be able to interact and fight evil along side thousands of other unique concepts. It certainly sounds like fun. How long it can remain fun and if it actually is fun are questions I will not answer yet. If past examples of similar game models have shown us anything it is that these types of games do have a life if the developers can successful nail the equation of “fun.” See the Diablo series for reference.
For better or worse, City of Heroes is just the next growing pain as the genre refines itself toward the ultimate experience. I have a feeling that by April or May we will all be embracing the “fun.”