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City of Villains

Date: February 14, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

There’s very few games that allow you to be the bad guy, let alone an MMO! NCsoft is back again with a stand alone sequel to their popular City of Heroes game, and we are here to determine whether it’s worth the monthly fee!



Introduction

To say that there is a shortage of games in the MMORPG market would be an incredible understatement. In fact, the market is so packed full, that many recent titles have ended up backing out before a release due to the fact that chance of survival is slim. To be successful in the market, a game needs to be FUN. Of course, proper marketing helps also ;)

NC Soft is not new to MMO’s, and have provided gamers with a great selection for the past few years. Lineage 1 & 2 have had over 5 Million subscribers at a single time, thanks to their hardcore fan base in Korea. Other hit games include Guild Wars and City of Heroes, and they have even more on the way.

Contrary to what some may believe, City of Villains is not a direct sequel to Heroes. In fact, it’s an extension and brings the two together in more ways than you can believe. For those who have not heard or play CoH before; You are basically a superhero out to save the world with your friends. In CoV, it’s the exact opposite. You create your ultimate villain and go have some destructive fun!

Character Creation

Of course, this is not your run-of-the-mill MMORPG, but the base schematics are similar. As with any online RPG game, you first create a new character of your choice and level him/her up to become the ultimate villain you have dreamed to be. Let’s first touch on the character creation though, which is by far one of the most impressive in any MMO game. You first choose between a Brute, Stalker, Mastermind, Dominator or Corruptor. Once you are through with that, you must choose your primary origin such as Science, Magic, Technology and more. Then you must choose your starting powers, and you really can’t go wrong here since you have the ability to increase their effectiveness as you progress.

That’s not the cool part of the creation process though. You must now choose the build of your villain, whether you prefer him to be fat or slim, wimpy or muscular. You have the ability to adjust the size of your legs, arms, head… everything! Get your head out of the gutter! Now you can create a costume for your villain, and this could easily drain an hour or more of your time if you are picky. There are so many combinations, that it’s simply mind boggling. Truth is, simply hitting the ‘random’ button will end up spewing something out to your liking, and that’s exactly what I did. Once I found a character I liked, I just altered the colors to my liking.


First entry into the World

Upon first entering into the world, you find yourself inside of a prison. Oh great, now being in prison is a game! I had to go help out a fellow prison mate, because no doubt he deserves lots of help after his devilish deeds. He told me to go grab something out of a cabinet and return it to him, because apparently criminals are also extremely lazy. After running few more small errands, I wound up outside in a very blue world. I should mention, if you have played CoH before, you know exactly what to expect… it’s just a new area with a fresh coat of paint. You will already understand the game from the get-go.

After yet a few more errands around here, you will finally end up boarding an airship to get you to Cap au Diable. I have to admit, this is very early on in the game, and the environments have already impressed me. The world is full of eye candy and a blast to explore. Now that I have landed in Cap au Diable, the fun really starts. I had to speak to Kalinda in order to proceed with a few quests to prove my worthiness, all of which could be performed solo. Your success may depend on your class and origin, however.

The fighting in the game is all real-time as you’d expect; You are able to throw a punch or a flame while the other villainous baddie’s beat on you. Although your villain is quite capable of running around at a fairly quick speed, I found trying to evade the baddie’s was not very possible. I had numerous instances where I had to run away from a battle and thought, “Oh, I will just jump up this incredibly large rock… they’ll never follow me up here.” How naive was I! If you can get to a certain area in the game, chances are good that the mobs can as well, so your only choice is to continue running until they lay off.

One thing I wasn’t too impressed with was the fact that when you hit a mob, it doesn’t even feel as though you did any damage even if you did. The problem I found was, that it was never immediately clear if you did any damage or not. Above the baddie’s head will be the -20 health or Miss!, but it wasn’t exactly *that* clear, and is hard to keep up to when you are battling more than one foe at the same time. Overall though, fighting was hardly boring, and the mobs have very cool techniques that they will use to take you down that makes you keen to keep on your toes and pay attention.

Back to Cap au Diable. This is an old town as you’d expect, and even though it looks very inviting… it’s not! There are numerous ‘baddie’s’ around that can take you out rather quickly, most being in larger groups. Chances are you will want to find a friend to help hunt around, but I managed to solo without many issues; I just had to be very careful. After I finally proved my worthiness, I wound up on Mercy Island. Here’s where I continued a few more quests for a dude named Mongoose. This city has been overrun by snakes and it was my duty to take them out! In the end, I went through at least 5 quests that involved taking snakes out. 4 were set in an incredibly similar dungeon, while one took place in a casino. Even after seeing the same looking dungeon over and over, it didn’t get immediately boring because not much time is spent in there.

One thing I actually did like about questing, is that I leveled while doing so. I may have gone into a quest needing 90% of my level, and come out of it needing 10%. The early levels in this game are really sped up if you just focus on the quests, because time flies without you barely noticing it.

I made my character level 10, and at this time I really found that progress was taking off. By this time, I had some great skills and could even hover! I found my way into a supportive clan and things were going great. What about later on in the game though? It’s pretty difficult to know just how great a game will be after a few days of playing, but let’s face it, we buy these games in hopes that we will be playing for months or even years.


Interview with Friggin’ Taser

I had the pleasure of interviewing Friggin’ Taser, who has played both CoH and CoV since before they were publicly released. He has not one, but three level 50 Heroes and a level 40 villain, so I guess you could say he enjoys the game quite a fair bit! Being a happy player of the game, we find out exactly why he loves the game, and gives us great info on what we should expect from the game as a whole.

Techgage: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Friggin’ Taser! The first question I would like to throw at you would be, “Why do you personally enjoy CoV?”

Friggin’ Taser: I like playing City of Villains because it’s an expansion of the City of Heroes universe, which stands as one of the only alternatives in the MMO market for people like me that can’t stand sword and dragons-type stuff. Basically, it’s another 40 (soon to be 50) levels of content to a game I already loved.

Techgage: Besides the fact that it’s a non-traditional MMORPG, is there any other reason that CoH/CoV drew you in?

Friggin’ Taser: Originally I was very hesitant about CoH/CoV because of its MMO nature. Up to that point I was pretty much a strict console player, mainly Ratchet and Clank games, GTA 3, and Tony Hawk. But the superhero aspect drew me in. I grew up on X-Men comics. I graduated high school and started college living off Deadpool comics. So the chance to make my own hero and send him out there to fight crime with other people’s creations appealed to me as not only a comic book fan but hopefully a future comic book writer, too.

Techgage: One thing many players worry about when purchasing an MMO game, is how hardcore the leveling ‘grind’ will be. What is your view on the grind in CoV, if there is one at all?

Friggin’ Taser: I have to be honest here. In City of Heroes, things can get a little grindy. But in City of Villains, things have greatly approved. Story arcs are no longer 15-16 missions deep full of “kill X in Y part of town” missions or delivery missions. Missions themselves are smaller and more compact. The overall narrative is set-up in such a way that, even though you are leveling at almost twice the speed of CoH, you seem to retain about twice as much of the storyline and feel like you truly accomplished something. Leveling tends to just happen as you do regular missions, definitely.

But there are risks to leveling. Most contacts give not one but two story arcs and you unlock contacts by doing “newspaper missions” for a broker and then pulling a heist, so it is, at times, easy to level so fast that you miss your chance with some contacts. To the same extent, if you die on purpose a lot to stay in debt to slow your leveling down, you just might overdo it and end up 1-2 levels away from new contacts with no missions left to do other than newspaper and PvP zone ones, which are infinite in CoV.

Techgage: I have come to believe that being in debt was a bad thing in CoV, since you only earn 50% of your gained XP for some time. Is there a specific reason why players would choose to remain in debt?

Friggin’ Taser: Debt does not weaken your character in any respects. It merely slows your leveling down. So, if you have say 1500 points of debt, when you defeat an enemy that usually gives 150 points of XP, you’ll get 75 points of XP and 75 points of debt relief. You are not weakened or physically slowed down at all by debt. You maintain your current attacks and everything. And, if you reverse sidekick (called malefactoring in CoV) when teaming, you’ll actually earn total debt relief so you can go back to earning XP faster.

Very early on with my first City of Villains character, I developed a silly goal in my mind: to attempt to do every story arc with one character. The debt helped me do all the content for a set amount of levels without outleveling it. In CoV, there are also some contacts that only give you missions after you earn a certain badge. One said badge was for 1 million infamy points. Keeping myself in debt let me earn that amount of infamy just in time to do the missions at the level they were intended. I don’t see anyway a player can do all the story arcs and contacts of City of Villains with only 1 villain without intentionally getting debt. Which is actually great for replay value.


Interview continued

Techgage: Ahh, so this may be one of the few times when people could rightfully complain about a game having too much content! Ok, when I was playing the game, I was earning lots of cash. I quickly realized though, that I didn’t really have anything to buy with it. Is there a real economy in this game?

Friggin’ Taser: CoH/CoV are designed to a fault to avoid the trappings of a “Player-based” economy. There is a really well defined in-game economy based mainly around buying enhancements to enhance your powers. Essentially, everything a player would ever need to enhance themselves is available for a price via the game’s Quartermasters. The early days of City of Heroes featured people attempting to make a player-based economy, but all it really amounted to was higher level players fleecing lower level players for in-game influence.

Techgage: Do you find that the lack of an economy takes away from any of the gameplay though?

Friggin’ Taser: Not at all. It actually leads to a pretty comic book-y set-up. A normal player probably won’t be rolling in enough influence/infamy to fully stock himself with brand new enhancements until level 30, around the time when really start to come into your own as a hero/villain. Before then, there are times where you might be in a bind for that new enhancement you just have to have, so you still have that aspect to work towards.

Techgage: On the topic of character enhancements, what are your views on character progression? Do you find that it takes a while to get where you want to be, and does it give you a real sense of accomplishment once you get there?

Friggin’ Taser: City of Villains handles character progression pretty well. The first 10 levels are pretty dedicated to you repaying Arachnos for breaking you out of jail by being their lackey. Around level 10, you start to become your own villain, reeking havoc across Cap au Diable’s Aeon City, which screams Metropolis. At level 10, you are on the level of a Toad or a Turner D Century, a villain but not an unstoppable one. Then you progression through down and dirty mafia levels in your 20s. The 30s are actually a strange mix. There’s two zones for this level: Saint Martial gives you the dark and gritty villain missions, stuff a Bullseye-like character would do. Nerva gives you the more standard supervillain stuff along with a slew of Heroes to defeat.

Techgage: I am one of the oddballs who loves MMO games, but also loves the ability to solo. That being said, is this a game that a lone player could jump in and play, or is soloability just not an option here?

Friggin’ Taser: I think the devs are making great strides in making sure solo players always have the option to fight on solo. Not everything in CoH/CoV can be solo’d, but with newspaper missions and PvP zone missions, there’s at least a never ending well of missions that should be cake for the solo villain.

Techgage: Well that being said, my earlier levels in the game seemed a tad boring due to the fact that the quests were identical. Do quests in general get more interesting as time goes by?

Friggin’ Taser: They sure do. By around level 6, you start getting full story arcs dealing with multiple villain and hero groups.

Techgage: After being a player with both CoH and CoV for so long, is there anything in the game you’d change if you had the power?

Friggin’ Taser: If I were in control of City of Heroes/City of Villains, I’d add a few pet idea zones of my own (Specifically a winter themed zone for heroes). But the main thing I’d bring to the table would be a personal nemesis system. Something where, at the beginning of the game, you run into a character on the other side of the tracks. And, throughout the game, you continue to bump into and fight each other. Something similar is in Pokemon, but I think CoH/CoV was made for it. Supposedly this is in the works, but there’s no telling when it’ll hit the game.

Thanks a bunch to Friggin’ Taser for a great interview, I had a blast chatting to you about the game. Shout out to his supergroup Carl and Sons on the Pinnacle server!


Conclusions

It’s hard to not enjoy this game if you at all enjoy super heroes or super villains. I have no idea what gave NCsoft the idea to develop such a game, but CoH took off right away and became immensely popular despite it being completely different than other MMO’s out there. CoV took all the good stuff from CoH, spun them around, and spit out another hit.

One thing I really liked about the game is that there is no shortage of players… ever. Regardless of where you are in the game, chances are you will see someone near. I even had a group invite while I was flying way above the city! No doubt, it’s a very popular game. One thing I immediately noticed though, is that despite being villains, the community has many friendly and helpful people. Within three days of playing, I had four separate people at random times come to my rescue before I was owned by some mob. Instead of killing the mob, they simply healed me so that I could finish him off and get the experience. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal for someone to jump to someone’s rescue, but I have played my share of MMO’s and have never seen a community so helpful. The only other game I have seen like this is Asheron’s Call.

I enjoyed the fact that soloing is a possibility. If you learn your skills well and distribute enhancements properly, you can handle larger groups without too much of a problem. If your character is equipped with the Rest skill, then you could hunt continuously and level fairly quickly if you are careful. If you like to group with friends, then things are even more efficient, and leveling is a lot quicker than solo. It’s also quite easy to get in a group if you are looking for one. All you really have to do is push F9 and it will broadcast that you are looking for a hunting group and it usually doesn’t take too long to get in one.

From a technological standpoint, this game looks absolutely amazing. The graphics are extremely clean and crisp, and it chalk full of eye candy. If you are running a high resolution and increase all the graphics to max, you are in for a serious treat. Walking through the first city, I would easily compare the graphics to that of Half-Life 2.. almost. Another impressive feature is that the game supports the AGEIA PhysX PPU add-in card, so you are good to go when that card hits retail. The audio is equally impressive. Each area you explore has it’s own custom music, and the voices and sounds of NPC’s really helps add to the games theme.

I only have a few complaints about the game. The first would be the lack of a real loot system. You pick up enhancements and inspirations, but they don’t actually stay with you for long and it doesn’t really give a sense of accomplishment with those. In many other MMO’s, I have become accustomed to picking up items I can wear or equip later on, even if it’s just for cosmetics sake. Collecting loot items is something that I find enjoyable, but this game technically leaves you with nothing. As Friggin’ Taser mentioned in the interview, the way the game is designed doesn’t really allow actual loot, because the game is more skill orientated than item oriented, which can actually be considered a good thing.

One thing I would have loved to see, are more spots in the cities for solo’ers. Sure you can survive no problem hunting groups of mobs that are slightly lower level than you, but then the enhancements you acquire from them are lower level, which means your skills will never be up to sync with your level if you plan to solo often. I would have liked to see areas with single higher level mobs spaced out enough that a solo’er could survive and still earn decent XP and enhancements.

Overall though, if you are a fan of super heroes and super villains, you’d be hard pressed to not enjoy this game. While the lack of a real loot system somewhat bothers me, chances are it will not bother you, especially if you are new to the MMO world. The game allows you to create your perfect villain to your exact specifications and go have fun killing other villains and corrupted policemen. What else could you want really?!

After it’s all said and done, I am awarding the game an 8 out of 10. One thing I’d also love to see in the future are free trials that anyone with a credit card could acquire. That way there would be no real need for a review like this, as you could see for yourself whether you’d enjoy the game or not. This is not only a practice I’d like to see NCsoft do, but every MMO developer. SoE already offers free trials with their games, and it’s a great example to set. The monthly fee for the game is $14.95US, and the retail copy of the game hovers around $30US and includes a free month of playtime.

If you wish to tell me that I am wrong or make any other comments on the review, feel free to post in our related thread! You do not need to register in order to post in our content threads.

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