Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 17, 2005
City of Villains Review

This weekend I was among thousands of players stress testing the City of Villains beta. And as the NDA now has been lifted, it is time for a review. City of Villains is a curious mixture between a stand-alone game, and an expansion set for City of Heroes. You don't need CoH to play CoV, but certain features are only accessible if you own both. And the monthly fee is the same $14.95 whether you play CoH, CoV, or both.

The main part of City of Villains is a slightly improved version of an evil-flavored City of Heroes. You create a new character, a supervillain, and start leveling from level 1 in a new city, Rogue Isles. All the zones are new, looking like darker, dirtier versions of the zones in Paragon City. The tutorial has you breaking out of prison, and from there you follow the trail of missions given to you by your contacts. Most of these missions lead you into instanced dungeons, which are created randomly from building blocks of one of several tile sets. There are both new tile sets and all the tile sets already available from City of Heroes, so with the number of sets about doubled, the missions are slightly less repetitive.

The whole quest system is pretty much identical to the one of CoH, with the small addition of a newspaper, which allows you to chose between three mission objectives. Rarely you are asked to rob a bank or a casino, most missions only differ in flavor text from the City of Heroes missions. You "kidnap" the guy at the end of the instance, instead of liberating him, or you "steal" the drugs instead of destroying them. And like in CoH, you only have a very limited number of contacts, forcing you into a nearly linear story progression. There is no way to skip or abandon a mission, if you get stuck with a too difficult mission you can only solve the problem by leveling up in the city zones, or by getting somebody of higher level to help you. Grouping with people of equal level doesn't help you much, as the number of mobs in the instances simply scales up with the number of people in the group.

The highlight of City of Villains is the character creation, which has even more different options of costume creation than the already rich City of Heroes. Besides all sorts of clothing items you can now also have monstrous body parts. CoV offers 5 new character classes, of which 4 are variations of CoH classes. The 5th class, the Mastermind, introduces the first pet class into the game, giving you the choice between ninjas, mercenaries, zombies, or robots to fight for you. I played a Mastermind to level 12 in the beta weekend, and found him to be very powerful. I chose ninjas as primary power, and dark as secondary, which gave me a debuff which healed me and the ninjas standing close to me every couple of seconds, so my pets only very rarely got killed. At level 6 the first ninja summoning spell produces 2 ninjas instead of 1, and at level 12 I got a second spell, which allowed me to summon an additional ninja of a more powerful type. So at level 12 I already had 3 pets fighting for me, which made most missions rather easy.

The only other class I tried was the Brute, which was depressingly similar to the Tanker I used to play in CoH. The Tanker has defense as primary power and melee as secondary, while the Brute has melee as primary power and defense a secondary. The melee power sets of the Brute are different from those of the Tanker, but the defense power sets are identical. The other three classes are the Stalker, which is a kind of Scrapper, the Dominator, which is a kind of Controller, and the Corruptor, which is similar to the Blaster. Each of the new classes offers some new power sets and abilities, but except for the Mastermind there isn't anything radically different from City of Heroes.

What is new in City of Villains is PvP. Unfortunately there was no way to test PvP during the beta, so I can't say much about it. The only thing that was already available was building bases. A base is a kind of guild headquarter, to which all guild members can contribute. Whenever you fight in supergroup mode, you earn prestige points for your guild. These prestige points can then be spent by the guildmaster to construct rooms in the base, with the ultimate purpose of creating all the rooms and infrastructure necessary to hold an item of power, which gives a bonus to all guild members. But once your base is big enough for that, it can also be attacked by players of the opposing faction, heroes can attack villain bases, and villains can attack hero bases. There is a sort of raid calendar built into the game, so the attackers won't find the base undefended. So the PvP will take place in the bases, between good and evil guilds. I wonder how balanced that will be, especially since leveling in CoV/CoH is relatively slow, and the heroes have 18 month of advance over the villains.

There is now also a kind of crafting system. While you kill mobs in supergroup mode, you can now earn salvage items. These can be transformed in the bases workshop into components, from which new items for the base can be created. This offers another possibility for the guild members to contribute to the base. On the one side having a big project for all guild members to participate to is a very good idea, as it binds the guild closer together. On the other side base building is not a straight-forward process, mistakes can easily be made, and lots of prestige points can be wasted. In the default setting only the guildmaster can edit the base, but he can give that right to other ranks in the guild. But however you set it up, one guy can waste prestige points earned by other people. You might want to contribute to get some defense guns installed, and then whoever edits the base buys decorative items for the base instead, or vice versa. It's a sort of multiplayer The Sims house building game, which will require a lot of planning and organization in each guild to get it right.

All in all City of Villains is a good game. If you haven't played City of Heroes yet, you should pick up a copy of CoV, it offers some improvements over the original. Especially the bigger number of tile sets for instances is essential. On the other extreme are the fans of City of Heroes, which will definitely want to pick this one up. Unfortunately I fall squarely between these two groups. Last year I got bored by the pseudo-linear mission system in repetitive instances of City of Heroes after only a few months. And City of Villains mainly offers more of the same, so I am not going to buy this. City of Villains is what you would expect from an expansion set: Additional content and improvements. But if you didn't like the original all that much, the expansion will not change that.
Surely its difficult to "review" something in only a weekend of beta testing? What about the higher level content? Are there more map sets and mission types later on? (personally I doubt theres much different from CoH of course :P ). Level 12 isn't really that far into the game, your barely out of the newbie level zone (1-10, where you get no debt on death). The games still being pretty easy on you then, so I doubt you'll get a true idea on how a particular class will play at later levels (I've noticed that playing a pet class in any MMOG tends to be good for soloing though. Trick would be to see how a Stalker or Brute manages at level 35+ :P ).

I would personally label my weekend exploits in the CoV BETA as "First Impressions". But regardless I agree on your assessment that if you didnt like CoH, you wont like CoV. But if you enjoyed CoH, theres plenty of more enjoyment to be had in CoV, and you should be looking to try it out on release :)

I played a Stalker exclusively on Saturday afternoon and evening, teamed with a mate who was playing a mastermind. They made a good pair. The Mastermind (Mercenary type) seemed to act much like 3 mini Assualt Rifle Blasters, whilst the stalker did seem "similar" to a Scrapper, but with some extreme differences. For one, the Stalker didn't seem able to dish out the same kind of raw damage as a scrapper, and also seemed more vunerable to damage in return. However, it's ability to stealth, even in the midst of combat, and to backstab and one shot any minion up to orange "con" made up for any shortcomings. But 9 levels isn't really enough to do a class justice, not until you;ve got a power slotted with enhancements properly do you know its real usefullness ;)

I love the game. I think the combat in CoH beats anything WoW or EQ2 can offer in shear pace. I'd like to see a Fantasy type MMOG with the same kind of combat. CoH/V does of course suffer from lack of variety, but I what it does, it does very well indeed. And hopefully now CoV is almost on us, they can turn their attention to more varied content, and build upon what is a very solid foundation :)
I didn't want to label it "first impressions", as there probably won't be any second ones. :)

Okay, I only had a weekend of CoV, but I can certainly make some extrapolations from the few months I played CoH. If you look at the reviews of games in the average print magazine, many of them are obviously the result of only a few hours of gameplay. You may need hundreds of hours to exactly pinpoint the balance between the different classes, but to decide whether you like a game or not, a weekend should be sufficient.

You are right in saying that the main difference between CoH/CoV and EQ2/WoW is the pace of combat. Which is probably one reason why CoV didn't click with me, I prefer the slower pace. I'm afraid of a future where the fact that the technical possibilities for faster games are growing condemns us all to play twitchy MMORPGs. I already lost strategy games to that phenomenon, where turn-based games in which you had to think were replaced by fast click-fest RTS games.
I'm with you on RTS games. I used to enjoy Age of Empires...and then I played it Multiplayer and realised it was all about speed of clicking, and using one particular build plan that essentially gave you a mathematical advantage. Horrible evolution in RTS. I play them single player now in "easy" modes :P

I dont personally subscribe CoH as "twitch gaming" though. Mostly as skills are still on timers, and you can only fire as fast as your skills allow. Thats a great leveller between the dextrous and arthritic. Yeah, its faster pace, but its not really twitch imho. I don't think you need fear that all MMOGs will be as fast as CoH/V - there will be plenty of variety out there :)
I feel a bit dissapointed, I was really hoping you were gonna give this a big thumbs up.

I think i will still buy it as my friends are as well but the hype has gone :(
Sorry, I can only give it a small thumbs up. ;) But I'm not claiming to be clairvoyant: I have no idea how much *you* will like this game, I only know that it isn't the game for me.

City of Heroes sold reasonably well, but had one of the steepest declines in subscriber numbers on record on Sir Bruce's My personal guess is that CoV will perform in a similar fashion. It is a good game for a couple of months, but doesn't have all the "virtual world" ingredients that make people play a MMORPG for years.
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