Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Games (MMORPG): City of Villains

Lori & I have been playing MMORPGs -- "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games" -- for a little over a year now. Maybe we're enjoying them so much because we met in a Dungeons & Dragons group.

We'd avoided the MMORPGs for a long time. Mostly when we played computer games together, it would be locally-networked ones like Diablo/Diablo II or Dungeon Siege. We suspected that MMORPGs would be huge time sinks, and Lori wasn't too keen on being hit on by hordes of 16-year-old gamers (a not uncommon problem in online games).

We eventually gave in when one of Lori's colleagues injured his back and had to spend a couple of months away from work. He got her into City of Heroes, a super-hero RPG. We played CoH for few months, including a very fun Halloween weekend last year. It did turn into a time sink, but a managable one (especially over the winter, when Lori doesn't want to go out much anyway), and the 16-year-olds weren't too bad.

City of Heroes is a very well designed and executed game, but a little limited. Missions were of two basic types: "Go to X district and kill N bad guys of type Y" and "Go to X district and clear out a cave/warehouse/office building of bad guys of type Y and their boss". We also found that levelling your character up was very slow once you got past level 15 -- downright tedious when there's just two of you. A lot of CoH requires teams of at least four. When Lori's colleague maxed out his character at Level 50 -- we were still down around 20 -- he moved on to Everquest 2 and we followed. There, we teamed up with some friends of Lori's colleague in a guild, and played together for a few months, but eventually had to leave the game because one of the guild members started making life miserable for everyone.

So we moved to World of Warcraft. So far, this has been my favourite of the games. The game mechanics are simpler than EQ2's (especially in crafting -- making things out of material found in the game), but the game is more involving than CoH. It looks better, to my mind, as well. WoW has been criticized for the simple, cartoony character designs -- EQ2's designs are much more realistic looking -- but the animation is much better in WoW, and I think that makes all the difference. A photo-realistic rendering that moves like Mr. Roboto just isn't as convincing as a cartoon that moves naturally.

Lori & I have just passed Level 40 in WoW, the highest we've ever gotten any of our MMORPG characters (2/3 of the way to the limit), and we're still enjoying the game a lot, but we may be slowing down there soon because City of Villains is coming out next week.

While I was griping about CoH above, we did enjoy the game a lot, and probably would have enjoyed it more had we had a team to play with. (We both prefer playing with people we've known for a while, rather than any random player who happens by when we need a team.) Now that we have an established circle of gaming friends, we're thinking CoV could make the comic book adventures interesting again.

One of our WoW guildmates got us in on the beta, which finishes tomorrow, and we've had a fun couple of days playing around with it. One of the things that made CoH famous was its character design system -- it's so good at making superheroes that Marvel Comics sued over people making up heroes that look like Marvel characters. The CoV system adds a whole bunch of new elements, to the point that I was able to create the ultimate in web cliche super villainy: a Robot Ninja Pirate Zombie! Unfortunately, I couldn't work monkeys into him, but still, that's not bad!

So far the game is a lot like CoH. The original superheroes were divided into "Archtypes" (character classes), with each Archetype having a choice of Primary and Secondary powers suitable to that type. For example, "Scrappers" (think Wolverine or Batman) had things like "Claws" or "Martial Arts" for primaries and "Super Reflexes" or "Regeneration" as secondaries. Once players had gotten comfortable in the game, the various flavours of hero became known by the mix of powers they had: A Wolverine-like hero would be a Claw/Regen Scrapper; Superman would be an Invulnerability/Super Strength Tanker (tankers stand their ground and hold the bad guys' attention while the more fragile heroes take them out).

City of Villains stirs things up a bit by mixing and matching the sets available. The CoV "Brute" has access to primary sets similar to the CoH Tanker, but the secondary set choices are more like the CoH Scrappers.

For now, I'm mainly interested in the Mastermind, which lets you summon minions to do your fighting for you. My favourite so far are the robot drones, which drop out of the sky in steel packing crates when you call for them. Other choices include mercenaries, ninjas, and zombies.

Tomorrow is the big beta finale. With City of Heroes, they finished the beta with an alien invasion which set up several of the story lines for the released game. With CoV, the invasion will be by the (non-player) superheroes from CoH. I'm looking forward to watching the chaos unfold.

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