October 2, 2011

Reviewing City of Heroes: Freedom -- Nostalgic trip, does it hold up?

One thing I have been sitting here and thinking about is all the games I have played. I've been wanting to do a compare and contrast, so in this case I will do City of Heroes versus Champions Online in a mild sense. I wanted to actually put DC Universe Online in the mix, but since the F2P isn't out just yet, I guess I will actually write about that later and probably put in some points in its own little article to try and give some comparisons between each of the games.

Anyways, CoH just recently went F2P. In short, the entire model is a copy and paste of the model that Cryptic developed for CO, but with a few modifications here and there, and a hell of a lot looser morals. But, that is something to cover as I go over a bit more later. Over all, they put a few things in that actually was sound, logically, but there are many other things to complain about because they basically took what should be standard services and told people tough shit, buy it.

My character using older
textures. Just taken
the day of this blog,
and the art everyone uses,
unless they buy costumes.
Now, what got me to go ahead and go back and check out 'City of' was just simple nostalgia, and honestly that is the only reason anyone could actually go back. I know many say it's just preference for this or that, but honestly, those people are going to hell for lying because as great as 'City of' was in its time, the game has not aged well, and one could even argue that it was dated before it even launched. In fact the compare and contrast is so bad that the so called Ultra Mode that 'City of' has actually makes the graphics look worse when they are turned on instead of better. Yes, I am saying it may be better to play the game with modern graphic features like occlusion, real time shadows and the like off, because 'City of' actually looks worse with the effects on.

This isn't helped by the fact that graphically, all the new stuff is a higher resolution texture slapped on the ancient, super low polygon character models. This creates some rather jarring contrasts between body and new features like new head types and such. It's almost painful to put new costume pieces on characters with these ancient character models. This is where me being spoiled by actually being able to create a realistic looking body comes in, because in CoH the body proportion distortion is just painfully obvious. Even the shortest legs are too long for the average female, and this is just my mind trying to ignore the facts that characters have mitten hands (ie no fingers) and boxed feet (no toes); two things I am definitely spoiled for, from Champions.

But I digress, you can't just rate a game on pure graphics alone, even though graphics can be a number one reason why you end up stop playing. Seriously, I can compare 'City of' graphically to Deus Ex one (yes, the first game) and graphically they would be similar in many respects, with very little to differentiate either of them. So, to cut to the end on graphics, they look like pure ass. Again, people will say it's just preference or style or what have you, but seriously no. The graphics look like ass, and ironically, compared to Champions, look more cartoony (which is hilarious since many complaints I heard from people before was Champions had cartoony graphics). So easily Champions is definitely the better game graphically. Hell even the animations tend to piss me off in 'City of' with either very sloppy animations, or animations that look half done. The female walk, the typical style male fantasy female runway walk has a jarring and rather disgusting ability to move the female spine in such a way that her lower back actually seems to be physically disconnecting from their upper chest. And the special dances (you have to buy) I don't even want to get on those on just how poorly animated they are.

Now, next on the list I would have to say the UI. There are things I would take away from this UI in a heartbeat honestly. Namely the split chat box and the ability to have more than one chat box. But after I consider that, there is actually very little else I would want. Seriously, the UI is actually slow and clunky, as typing doesn't update in real time. The game actually produces and audible beep for each character you input when typing, and it's roughly a half second from button push to actual character popping in the UI. Considering how fast I can type, I've actually had to slow down in many cases because I would actually type faster than the UI could register, which would have the downside of actually producing, what I call, the multiple window explosion syndrome, where specific bound default keys open up various windows whether you wanted them or not. Now, for slow typer's, that's not a bad thing, but for people that actually learned to type and don't hunt and peck, that's a bit of a detrimental thing.

Now what follows is controls, over all the controls are solid, albeit programmed in that kind of turn based combat system. Now some people might not understand this idea. But what it basically means that actions have to sort of follow a bit of strict rules. It's not going to be easy to explain so I might as well get into the heart of the combat system. 'City of' combat is very strictly turn based. That means it follows the ancient global cool down and everything has a certain attack period and fire time. Nothing else can happen while X is going on and any attempt to change that gets met with the system telling you to basically piss off. If you are used to games where combat is more free flowing and you can cancel an action or chain various attacks together, you are going to find this type of system painfully slow and clunky and, at many times, boring as hell.

Mother Mayhem: High
Resolution texture model
added recently. Mostly,
reserved for new NPCs or
new costume packs.
Now, onto the powers in each. Granted at first glance 'City of' actually has a ton of powers, until you actually stop being a twit and actually start reading and looking. Then you realize a lot of powers are copy and paste of each other rearranged with very little to differentiate them from one set to another. Almost all the fire melee sets are the exact same with little to change up, and might even share a few powers with the ranged fire powers. Now, 'City of' still probably has the edge in the sheer number of variety powers, however, but people always try to say the game has a ton of powers, but you can probably cut that ton in half because at least half the sets are copy and pastes.

There is variety there but a lot of the set pieces are starting to repeat themselves. On top of that, as far as the power system is set up, the entire power system is based on a system of chain attacks, IE you go down from one attack to the next to the next. In short, instead of being able to just keep attacking, you use what amounts to filler attacks while you wait for the cool down on each effect to end. I guess some people like that type of combat, but overall I find it clunky in the end. I am use to active combat that when I push a button I expect the effect to happen and if I am fighting I can actually defend myself. There are some things I liked about certain powers and such but overall system is just too damn slow and really doesn't espouse the heroic defender of justice feel that some people might be looking for when it concerns combat.

Now, here is probably going to be the clincher for a lot of people; content. Now, 'City of' has several years worth of content. And, just looking at it from the outside, that's a lot of content. However, here's the problem with the content; You go to a contact, get a mission, usually with flavor text sometimes in an attempt to be in a story, go to an instance and fight group of mobs to complete the mission or reach a specific objective. Sounds simple and basic and pretty standard. Except this is the same model used for almost every mission you enter. There is very little to differentiate one mission from another, except maybe the wallpaper, which there is painfully obvious few actual varieties of.

It's almost the same with every enemy group as well. Depending on how much "challenge" you give yourself, you fight the same group of mobs with different skins and sometimes different powers, but overall the same set up. Two groups will be at +1 level to you by default in an attempt to give added challenge to an otherwise mundane instance and early on it can be but once you hit 20 that should not even be a worry for whatever character you create.

My character from Champions
dressed similarly, with a few
extra options and not utilizing
all costume spots.
To side track myself, that brings up another point. I actually stopped in to do the tutorial for this, and to be blunt, this tutorial was obviously an afterthought or incredibly rushed. The map made me think of the Shadow Shard a couple of floating islands, but that wasn't supposed to be how it feels but that was exactly how it felt. The entire Galaxy City was wiped out (technically not since you can go to its Echo) and the entire tutorial has you doing things that you will never do in the game unless you are a subscriber and you get to endgame. In fact it has the Open Mission set up in the tutorial (that only appears in Praetoria) with a boss fight (a type you only encounter in a incarnate trial). The end result is a bunch of crap you never actually get to play with unless you subscribe which is kind of a jarring kick in the teeth of free to play accounts, in my opinion. I won't say Champions tutorial is a bed of roses, in fact I think it needs more work, but overall the tutorial in 'City of' is just one jarring rushed mess. At no point do you feel like you are in a crumbling city.

But that brings me to endgame. This, again is a sticking point because only people that pay a subscription actually get to participate in this. Endgame is alright, part of me does like how it's set up. I do like they finally added raids and there are things and objectives to earn and such along the way. But, they are set up in a way that organization is not a top priority. That's not a completely bad thing, mind you, but I can't say it's all good. On top of that, the incarnate system, if someone really wanted to, they could get the top tier in all their incarnate powers in less than a month. IE less than a subscription time. Now it takes work, and I am not completely against that, but I do feel they might have made it too easy.

But then again, that's a lot more endgame than Champions currently has. The lunacy that seems to be infecting some people there over endgame content is just hilarious, especially the people that think it would be unfair that certain content taking raids. Those are, of course, the type of people who either base their claims on hearsay or make up stories about limited time and such due to sob stories of family and three jobs and the like. To which I ask, then what the hell are you doing worry about an internet game? Regardless, hopefully Champions will be bringing an endgame and stop catering to the lowest common denominator that thinks everything needs to be soloable. Time to grow up people.

So, here comes my round-a-bout to the Paragon store. I said earlier I do like how the store was set up to do certain things like buying individual pieces for costumes instead of whole things, but then I looked deeper and further, many basic services, like a height slider cost $15 bucks to buy (a feature that was offered as part of the science costume pack expansion that gave emotes, costume pieces, costume change emotes, a power and the slider for $10). That is a ludicrous price. And the next thing that burns my bacon and made me stop caring the minute I saw it, Parago/NCSoft completely reneged on their promise to never have pay2win items in their store. And sure enough, pay2win enhancements are there.

The costs of many things are just out of whack. If you look at just costumes, you think you are getting a damn good bargain, especially when looking at costumes from CO since those come in bundles (currently). But then you add up the price for each piece (and mind you CoH doesn't even have half as many costume locations as Champions does) then costume sets start becoming more expensive. On top of that, the special powers like travel powers and such (which can't even be upgraded either) cost more than travel powers or archetypes (if you are silver) in the CO store. In the end, I just find the CoH store to be one big rip off compared to the CO store.

In the end, the only reason I've decided to even bother logging into CoH now is just to visit friends. The game play wears thin very fast after a few hours, and the store leaves an extremely bad taste in your mouth, especially when applying the newer high resolution items on the outdated, ugly, low poly, low resolution character models. Add in poor proportioning and the fact I am spoiled by a costume editor that is nearly triple the depth of CoH in choice and positioning, and freedom on what to do, from sliders to personal settings and costume spots, not to mention ass graphics and slow game play, it's hard to actually get into it seriously for any length of time. Some people will always say that will be preference, but realistically, that's just nostalgia. There are things I would want from 'City of' implemented in Champions, but in the end I prefer Champions over all, the game play is more solid and the game doesn't actually look like so much ass that you laugh at how jagged a statue looks from across the city.

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