City of Heroes: Going Rogue Review – Part 1

City of Heroes is a fairly old MMORPG at this point so you might be wondering why we’re doing a review of a game that came out in 2004. Well, the reason is unlike your traditional retail releases, MMOs are always in flux, changing and expanding over time. Recently, NCSoft and Paragon Studios released their first big expansion to City of Heroes since the stand-alone expansion City of Villains in 2005.

Along with a considerable graphics upgrade this new expansion titled City of Heroes: Going Rogue also offers players a new gameplay option – switching sides. You see before Going Rogue players had to be good guys or bad guys. Any fan of comics can tell you that approach is a little dated since popular heroes and villains in comics have been flipping back and forth since the beginning. Whether you’re a renegade hero or you want to redeem your villain the game now lets you tell your own tale.

City of Heroes: Going Rogue (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Paragon Studios
Publisher: NCsoft
Release Date: August 17, 2010
MSRP: $29.99

This review will be delivered in two parts. This first section focuses on the new player, someone who has played MMORPGs but never found the urge to strap on the spandex and fly around the world, someone looking for something non-fantasy to flirt with or someone coming in from Champions Online to its progenitor in search of content and options that game has yet to deliver.

That New Spandex Smell but a Broken in Cape

New players coming into City of Heroes with the Going Rogue expansion gain some awesome benefits. The game is well past the trials and tribulations of launch. The systems in the game are mature and aside from some new additions there are lots and lots of missions and quests to take on. Going Rogue also lets you take your pick of good vs. evil while adding the option to be a double agent working for the resistance in the new setting of Praetoria, an alternate reality tied to the game’s Paragon City in classic comic tradition.

Making a new character is one of the most enjoyable parts of playing any game. While many MMOs are satisfied with offering players a handful of customization features, City of Heroes really goes all out. The game is built around the 4-color worlds of comics and even iconic heroes change their costume over time and the game offers plenty of costume options, basic shapes and forms and even grants players the ability to customize the look and sound of their power effects. Really there is no other game out there that offers this much character customization. I still go in and spend free time making new characters just to play with the game’s costume creator features.

The Play’s the Thing

Once you’ve built your avatar and pimped out your powers the game begins. What MMO players might notice almost immediately is that City if Heroes controls a little differently than the World of Warcraft crowd has come to expect. The keyboard and mouse controls can be remapped, but the default controls will feel alien at first. Moving around, getting quests – called missions in keeping with the super-hero theme, and making contacts are pretty typical.

What City of Heroes does is translate the old “go kill 20 rabid chickens” assignments to “subdue 20 gang members” or “defeat 10 bank robbers”. Going Rogue adds another level to this by introducing the ability to pick sides. During the opening missions you are offered the ability to join the underground superhuman resistance as a mole in the authoritarian superhero-led establishment or as a spy for the man. The difference between the two options effectively changes the main quest line of your character arc. Regardless of the side you choose you’ll do many of the same missions and make the same contacts.

Being a super-hero game, City of Heroes adds another level of flexibility most MMOs do not address – after a few levels, players can learn to fly or teleport. Transport powers are even one of the choices you can make when creating your character. These new variables mean the game world is by nature a bit more open while the missions tend to be more claustrophobic than many similar games. Players can freely move between mission points but the missions themselves tend to be inside buildings or underground in sewers a lot of the time. A lot of these buildings feel incredibly similar which might lead to early visual fatigue as players earn the levels needed to venture into more varied environments.

Missions in the game are also a bit different. Since this is a modern setting, your super character can actually call up the quest givers on their super communicator and turn in without having to run, jump or fly back to the originator. I wish more games had a feature like this. There is nothing I find more boring than running back through a zone to cash in a quest and City of Heroes does a good job at keeping the action of the game moving forward.

From Sidekick to Solo

The earliest levels of City of Heroes: Going Rogue will contain hours of missions and small conflicts against named super opponents. The majority of foes fall into a few classes or look a lot alike but when the game’s story missions kick in you get a nice feel for the comic book setting.

Players collect temporary boosts to powers called enhancements. Upon gaining experience and new levels you choose new powers and augment existing abilities. Eventually though the game opens up and takes off the training wheels. Once you leave the tutorial starter zone players would do well to find friends. While you can easily solo the game, many of the more impressive instance battles or story missions are built around the concept of super groups of heroes. Players are encouraged to team up and work together to tackle major foes.

While the teamwork aspects of the game seem a natural fit with its subject matter you can also adventure with characters of a higher level and gain the benefits of being a sidekick. The sidekick system allows less experienced players to jaunt around with more powerful players, gaining experience and a slight power boost while aligned. Players can also create pacts that allow allies to gain experience for you while you’re logged off. This mechanic might sound like cheating but it really is aimed to keep peers and friends at an equal power level even if one or more is drawn away by real life.

Coming Next Issue

City of Heroes: Going Rogue is a game that eases and helps players get started. The new-player friendly ability to share experience and the sidekick system means those who make friends are likely to enjoy their visit to Paragon City and it’s world. Once you get your skylegs though City of Heroes introduces a number of interesting systems for mid to high level players including the ability to create missions for others to complete though the games architect mode. In part two of our review of Going Rogue we’ll discuss these more complex advanced system and give an idea how City of Heroes: Going Rogue has changed for lapsed players or those looking to take a break from the plethora of fantasy games on the market today.

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