February 10th, 2006


City of Villains 14-Day Free Trial

From now through February 22nd, they're giving each City of Villains subscriber one activation code for a 14-day free trial. If you're not already a City of Heroes subscriber, you do have to give them a valid credit card number to activate it, but nothing will be charged without you specifically telling them to. If you do nothing, then 14 days after you activate it, the account just goes inactive. At the end of the 14 days, or for that matter at any time, you can then buy City of Villains (many stores now have it marked down, since it came out back in October, or you can get it through the web site). I've got one, and the first person to ask for it who thinks that they might well end up buying it can have it. There's no obligation, but I've got a pretty strong personal incentive to give it to someone who's going to buy the game.

You see, the Valentine's Day event, like a fair amount of the game's back story, is Greek-god themed. (Even most of the villains agree with the heroes that it would be a really bad idea to let the ultimate evil in our world, Lord Recluse, get his hands on an entire cauldron of water from the Well of the Furies and the Girdle of Aphrodite; heroes and villains have to team up together to stop him.) Because of that, and just as a gift for the holiday, they're giving anybody who logs into City of Heroes or City of Villains an extra, limited-time costume option: a toga. Unless they repeat it again next year (which wouldn't surprise me), if you want to do a Hellenic or Hellenic Reconstructionist or ancient Roman or Roman Reconstructionist hero or villain, it's pretty nearly mandatory. But the special feature related to the free trial accounts is that if you use my activation code, and then end up buying the game any time between now and March 22nd, we both get the other two parts of the costume: a laurel wreath under hats and Roman-style tied sandals under boots. And I really, really want that laurel wreath.

To use any of the activation codes, what you do is go to the promo instructions on their web page and follow the instructions there to set up an account and "add" the code to your account. Then click the link they point you to, and it'll download a tiny little installer to your hard disk. Run that installer and it will download and install the game. It's about a two gigabyte download, so it'll take a while; at cable modem speeds, I think it took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half when I did it last.

I will warn you that it's a system hog. It really wants to run on at least a 2 gigahertz Pentium or AMD, it will not run reliably below 512 megabytes of RAM and it really prefers a gigabyte, and frame rates will suck unless you're running an nVidia 6800 or later graphics card. It will run over dialup, but I don't recommend it. It can run below those settings. I've got a 2 gigahertz Celeron, 512 Mb of RAM, and a slightly overclocked nVidia 5500. I run it at medium character resolution, low environment resolution, normal view length for environment, very low view length for high-resolution character views, and it's playable, but only just barely. In team play, just when things get wooly and I really need to see what's going on, it sometimes drops as low as one frame per second. (I need a new computer anyway, though.)

If you don't remember why I think this game is the greatest thing since sliced stupid people on toast, my review of it was on October 30th and 31st. Since I wrote that review, they've fixed a ton of bugs, and already added a fair amount of new content and (even more importantly) fixed several of the contacts, several whole story arcs that weren't available at launch time. They also created a relatively easy to get to roleplaying and socializing cease fire zone, DJ Zero's own "pocket dimension" night club, with teleporters all over both City of Heroes and City of Villains, and both the club itself and the roleplaying I've seen there have both been just amazing. (Tip: Virtue is the semi-official server for role-players. Power gamers are on Triumph, and people who prefer to play the game solo most of the time are mostly on Protector.)

They also adjusted the difficulty of quite a few missions that absolutely could not be soloed before. Now, if the mission has one of their Signature Heroes or Arch Villains that you have to fight, if you take in a team of about five people, you're in for a pretty good, pretty long, pretty hard fight that gives insane rewards. If you go in solo, at either of the two lowest difficulty levels, they scale that character down to something that can be beaten solo ... but only if you're very, very careful and pretty darned good at the game. Since my villain group, the Aeon University Cheerleaders, is still pretty small, and since I play at weird hours, while I prefer teams for the higher level and tougher missions, I can't always find one; this change made it possible for me to keep powering my way through some of the more interesting storylines that were pretty much off-limits or otherwise frustrating for me. (Why does this matter? Because City of Villains, like City of Heroes, is almost all about the story lines. There's one holy heck of a lot going on in that gaming world, and it is revealed to you as clues that you learn one at a time from the people who hire you for jobs, and even more clues that are part of the NPC dialog and found object descriptions inside the missions. The deeper in you go, the more secrets you discover.)

By the way, any of my readers are quite welcome to join the Aeon University Cheerleading Squad; simply follow these costume instructions to create a uniform like the ones in these illustrations from the web page that's under construction, to create any class of character on the Virtue server, then shoot a /tell to me at address @InfamousBrad. I'm really looking forward to the idea of taking cheerleaders into the PvP zones to kick hero backsides, then celebrating by dancing on the stages at Pocket D, and really could use more people who think it'd be fun to pretend to be college cheerleaders at a university (which really does exist in the storyline and in game, you can see it in the town of New Haven on Cap au Diable, complete with historical plaque) whose president is the greatest mad scientist of our time.

If you're completely new to City of Heroes/Villains and want to know what character class (we call them Archetypes) to pick, here's my advice:
  • Masterminds: They may be the easiest to play because they get powerful fast, especially if you pick Robotics or Mercenaries for your primary power and Force Fields for your defense. But you have to get used to the idea of fighting by giving orders to your minions and then supporting them instead of doing all your own fighting; if that'll throw you or doesn't sound fun, don't play a Mastermind.
  • Brutes: Almost as easy, especially if you take Invulnerability for your defense, and it will make you very, very popular. But it does get a trifle repetitive. If you liked playing a Scrapper in City of Heroes, this is for you.
  • Corrupters: They take a little getting used to, because like Dominators, while they solo fairly well about a quarter of their most useful defenses only work on other people on their teams, not on them. Matching sets work especially well and have the lowest learning curve, like Ice/Cold, Fire/Thermal, Energy/Kinetic, Radiation/Radiation, Dark/Dark (which is a hoot), Assault Rifle/Traps, and Sonic/Sonic.
  • Dominators: Most corrupters have some way to slow down or briefly stop a target, then wail on them hard. If you'd rather stop the target hard, and then wail on them for a while, that's a dominator. Plant/Psi or Plant/Thorns are the strongest and most fun combinations. Grav/Energy is the compromise set, about halfway between a true Dominator and a true Corrupter. Everything else works pretty well, too. But if you try to solo with a Dominator, you better have iron guts, because you have jack for defenses other than raw holding power and raw damage output, so you pretty much have to play hell-bent for leather.
  • Stalkers: Stalkers are a lot of fun, not least of which because they're the best explorers; you can go basically anywhere in total safety. But fighting with them is a little tricky, and requires that you learn a specialized rhythm of hit and run away, come back and hit and run away, and so forth. If you don't have the patience for that, and not everybody does, then don't play a stalker. But if you do, then there's no fun in the world like it, because nobody sees more of the game than a stalker does. All of the attack powers are pretty good and a matter of taste, but energy is the Flavor of the Month; on defense, none of the others beats Ninjitsu.
How much can you explore in two weeks? If you team up with more experienced players (who often start new characters down at your level) when you can and take their tactical advice, you can easily hit level 6 to 8 in at most two or three evenings of playing two hours at a sitting. When you get to that point, you'll have unlocked quite a few of the cooler starting powers and moved on to Port Oakes where the really interesting storylines start, in at most two or three evenings of playing two hours at a sitting. Play it five or six times in that two week period, and you can get your first full-speed travel power (at level 14), flight or invisibility or super-jump or teleportation or super-speed, and be in Cap au Diable running some of the best storylines in the whole game, and enjoying what are easily the funniest NPC staged scenes in the whole game. By the time you've played it for more than six or seven evenings, you'll know whether you're going to enjoy it the rest of the way or not.