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As I mentioned before, I gave NCsoft's massively multiplayer online roleplaying game "City of Heroes" (CoH) one more $15 month when they finally shipped free update Issue 18 "Shades of Gray" and paid update "Going Rogue." With my next billing date being tomorrow, I canceled it again today. I can't say that I'm terribly surprised; I was pretty much expecting to unsubscribe today. As I just unsuccessfully tried to tell them on their exit survey (their stupid web-app choked on the text, and wouldn't tell me why):

I can't believe that you spent all that time and money on the alignment system, and we waited all this long, and all there is to show for it (in any one level range) is about 10 tip missions and 1 (ONE!!!) alignment mission. It's even more unbelievable that you created a rewards table that seriously suggests that someone might grind that one alignment mission 120 times!

Praetoria itself is beautiful, but maybe too beautiful. It really calls attention to how awful the rest of the game looks. Sorry.

I may come back for a month when issue 19 ships. That's the real problem, though, isn't it? That your content has such poor replayability and your content creation tools are so labor-intensive that it takes you four to eight months to make one month's worth of content.
Say what you will about Cryptic Studios' "Star Trek Online"; I can find plenty to criticize about it myself. But you can't take this away from them: despite using the same game engine (more or less) that City of Heroes uses, STO ships a free update the size of one of CoH's "issues" every 2 months, not every 4 to 8 months. And that includes a "weekly episode" the size of a CoH task force almost every Saturday afternoon. They also have somewhat-viable player-versus-player combat for people who get bored with beating up non-player characters, for people who want the variety and ability to surprise that only a human opponent can provide; CoH wrecked their PvP ruleset beyond any hope of repair long ago.

But there's something else bothering me, although it may only be because I'm in a melancholy mood anyway: in City of Heroes, I hate what I'm supposedly fighting for.

City of Heroes gives us a glimpse, or more, of four different societies that have super-powered humans in them: Paragon City, the Rogue Isles, Axis America, and Praetorian Earth. Three of those societies, the nominal villainous societies, are worse totalitarian regimes than mankind has ever known, as supers use their powers to rule normal humans without any pretense of law, justice, freedom of expression, or even free will or free thought; the least awful of the three at least has a kind of "separation of powers" to keep the supers' most world-destructive impulses in check and a vague ideology of reward for successful governance that encourages some (but not nearly enough) of them to try to improve the lot of the humans they rule. And even then, the results aren't pretty.

But the United States of which Paragon City is literally the exemplar, the most beloved and successful city in America, thanks to the support of America's most popular and powerful superhero "the Statesman" and his personal hero team "Freedom Phalanx," is just completely indefensible to me. America's supers insisted on, and got, near total immunity from the laws; it takes really egregiously malevolent conduct, condemned by fellow supers, to get an arrest warrant (let alone an indictment) issued for a federally licensed superhero. Nor do the super heroes have much to show for their god-like power and legal immunity: the economy is a wreck, the ecosystem is a wreck, and street crime on a level that the cops can't even begin to contain is rampant. Worse, the civilian government and civilian law enforcement are, we're told in game, almost completely Mafia-controlled, at least at the local level; rival super villainous organizations' attempts to infiltrate the government, via mind control by the Council or psychic takeover by the Circle of Thorns or robotic duplicates made by Nemesis or blackmail by the Malta Group, provide more of a check on Mafia governance than a superhero-obsessed press or the handful of honest cops and politicians do.

If you play a hero in City of Heroes, if you pay your $15 a month to spend 2 to 4 hours a night, 2 to 7 nights a week play-fighting as a superhero, what noble cause are you fighting for? What vision of the future is there to motivate you? None. What makes you a hero is that you're running around like a madman, as fast as you can and all over the place, trying to keep things from getting worse. That's all you can hope for: to keep America from becoming as bad as Praetorian Earth or Axis America or the Rogue Isles.

The better I came to know the world of City of Heroes, the more depressing a game I found it to be.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
tacky_tramp
Sep. 12th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
I've always liked RPG settings where there's no clear "good guys," so the political failures of Paragon City aren't a downside for me. But I feel you on being frustrated with not making progress in a static world. I know you loathe WoW, but I wonder if you'll be interested in trying out Cataclysm, since it's implementing tech that allows you to "make progress," changing the world as you quest.
bradhicks
Sep. 12th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
You know, I don't even have to win. I just have to feel like I'm fighting for something. "Keeping things from going from bad to worse" isn't much of a motivation, or else I'd be a lot more excited about November's elections. STO has this going for it, too: the Federation has ideals worth fighting for.
ff00ff
Sep. 12th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
Thats why I like to play an ironic nazi robot who's bio says it was constructed in the 1930s but never activated until it was recently disturbed in a museum warehouse it had ended up in. It chose paragon city because it so nicely fits the robot's programmed ideals of a master race supported police state.
pope_guilty
Sep. 27th, 2010 08:56 am (UTC)
When I briefly played City of Heroes (I didn't play very long, because I couldn't find anything to do in the game that isn't "beat up a warehouse full of similar-looking dudes"), I played a demon that decided punishing sinners after they died was too lenient and came to Paragon City to get a headstart.

I'd probably kick in $10 for unlimited character creator access.
radiumhead
Sep. 13th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
This game sounds like a lot of fun to me. But I dont like online games where you gotta pay by the month. I like console games.

I bet if there were really super heroes, thats exactly what the political situation would be like.
bradhicks
Sep. 13th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
If City of Heroes weren't a lot of fun, I wouldn't have gotten to know it as well as I did; I earned the 57-month veteran badge while I was back this time. For a six year old MMO, it's an amazing piece of work, with great character classes that have only gotten better over time (especially the unique-to-CoH classes like the mastermind, stalker, dominator, and controller), and the best character creator/costume generator in the history of online roleplaying games, bar none. (Yes, I'm aware that Champions Online offers more options. But it's uglier.)

But yeah, that does imply that I've paid 57 times $15, $855 in subscription fees, over the not quite 5 years (cumulative) that I played it. Throw in more than $200 for the initial client software, two paid expansions, and a dozen or so microtransactions (extra costumes, character transfers, etc), and yeah, I'm well above $1000, closing in on maybe $1,200 that I've sunk into City of Heroes. (Not even counting the various hardware upgrades over the years.) I know that.

Add that as another upside to Star Trek Online, if you think it'll last even half as long: other than the very occasional microtransaction, my $240 one-time Lifetime Subscription (up to $300 now) is the last fee I'll ever pay to play it.

Edited at 2010-09-13 01:58 am (UTC)
wolfwings
Sep. 13th, 2010 03:17 am (UTC)
I dinged my 'Assemble the Team' vet-reward on my GR renewal, so I'm in a comparable boat to you in regards to being around since the dark-ages. I had one toon (an Empath Healer) that I nuked and re-rolled when ED came on-line.

But everything you've said in the original post, and this as well, is dead on accurate. If I didn't find so much enjoyment playing Team Fortress 2 and Minecraft, I'd likely have sunk the cash into STO by now. Hell... I've sunk around 50 hours just into Team Fortress 2 just since their Engineer Update dropped back around July 1st, the 'never have to pay for it again' aspect for that and the fairly regular (these days) content updates are the main draws that keep me coming back again and again.
bradhicks
Sep. 13th, 2010 01:13 am (UTC)
The politics of superheroes is the politics of whether or not equal rights and equal opportunity mean anything in a world of widely disparate abilities.

I am a gigantic believer in the vision of equal rights, and a staunch opponent of anything that even whiffs faintly of the obsolete, long-disproven Victorian pseudo-scientific doctrine of Social Darwinism. I really do believe that the advantages of everybody being ruled by one fair law, of everybody's voice mattering even if they have very little to contribute to society's economy or its defense, of a robust safety net as a means of not just spreading justice but staving off totalitarian revolution by starving demagogues of their True Believers has enough to be said for it, enough inescapable logic, enough historical proof that City of Heroes is nothing like what a world of superheroes would end up as.

America with superheroes might well pass through a phase uncomfortably like Primal Earth's Paragon City, or Praetorian Earth's Praetorian City ... but it wouldn't last. And from the beginning, there'd be heroes fighting for a better world, a freer one, a more just one. But in the timeline proposed by the original world-builders of City of Heroes, that can't happen, because Earth's mightiest superhero, The Statesman (or just Statesman as he's now called), started out his life as a medium-deal antiquities and art thief with no real education in American history or politics, as someone who knows the history of ancient Greece and Egypt and Babylon better than he knows his own country (and that only so he could find their artifacts to loot and know which artifacts were the most valuable). People both super and otherwise rally behind Statesman because they trust him to defend them from the 5th Column, from the Rikti, from the Praetorians, from Arachnos, from the Circle of Thorns, from Hamidon and his Devouring Earth. But he himself has only the fuzziest idea of what he's fighting for, and has never, in the entire canon of the game world's history, defined what he's fighting for other than "America." And he understands what that means even less well than your average Tea Partier does. The results are realistically predictably ugly.
justjohn
Sep. 13th, 2010 04:11 am (UTC)
Some things just don't work in some formats.
Sounds like it sucks as a concept for a game.

But on the other hand, I've been re-reading my copies of Garth Ennis' The Boys comics that have similar themes, and that is great fun.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 15th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Hey it could be worse....
...It could be Marvel Earth, which is about as badly doomed, but on top of that, the Normals are hateful, bigoted cattle who want to destroy all costumed heroes, LOVE really awful villains as long as their PR is good enough, and think solving "The Mutant Problem" with giant killer robots is a GREAT idea.
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