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City of Heroes Going Rogue Review

Way back in 2004 the biggest MMORPG in the world was Final Fantasy 11, which had an unfathomable two-hundred thousand subscribers. It all sounds so quaint in the wake of World of Warcraft, yet this was the standard when City of Heroes first appeared at the end of 2004.  Six years later, City of Heroes is still around with a constant stream of updates for its loyal band of about two-hundred thousand crime fighters.  Today, Going Rogue, the first commercial expansion pack for City of Heroes in five years came out.  Online superheroes are no doubt asking “Is it worth the extra bucks for a six-year-old game”?

In short, Yes.  It does what an expansion should do; augment the existing game. No one is going to claim that City of Heroes short on content after 18 free updates, the City of Villains expansion, and a “Mission Architect” which allows players to make and share their own missions.  The new expansion is just three new zones; but what it does do is increase the quality of story-telling and world-building.
Going Rogue is set in an alternate universe, dominated by the tyrantical Emperor Cole (A twisted version of City of Heroes’ Statesman).  Early on is a mission in which characters must chose to join the Loyalists who help protect Praetoria’s status quo, or join the Resistance and try to take down Emperor Cole.  Of course there’s more to it than just white and black, each faction has sub-factions within, and there are opportunities to double-cross your initial faction.  If you do backstab your pals, it unlocks optional missions.

Although City of Heroes is set in a rich universe filled with a detailed back story, players don’t have much opportunity to learn about it due to the simple structure of the mission dialogue.  In the original game quest-givers only let players respond with a single line of dialogue, never letting players roleplay their characters beyond “Yes, I’ll go punch the bad guys”.  In Going Rogue, players now have multiple dialogue threads, which provide meaningful choices that affect both the story and the gameplay. 

Characters introduced in early missions come back repeatedly, influenced by the player’s choices, culminating in a grand finale that acknowledges everything done in the game.  Aside from adding multiple dialogue choices, players can also interacts with characters inside the missions, allowing for yet another level of story-telling. There are also some clever mission objections; being told that you’re kidnapping people so your army of zombies has something to eat makes a simple Escort Mission much more fun.  There’s also a recurring gag of propaganda boasting such warnings as “When traitors roam free, no one is safe” or “Don’t drink the Cole-Aid”.

Some missions are Single-player only; an interesting concept for an online game.  When a mission is based on major alignment decisions, you can’t bring other players along. This is fitting, since Going Rogue is essentially your character’s origin story, how you came to be a hero or villain.  This gives it a sense that it really is about you and the choices you make, like a traditional RPG.

Outside of the new zones, in the main City of Heroes game, there is a new set of missions for your old characters to do; a special quest in which you battle your evil twin- or good twin if you’re a villain, muah ha ha ha!.  There’s also new feature called Morality Missions that let you take your hero character into the villainous Rogue Isles, or bring your Villain into Paragon City with the heroes.  These missions are a lot like the new format for Praetorian missions, with longer dialogue trees and alignment options.

As for added gameplay content, you do get the three new zones suitable for characters up to 20th level.  The design is a mixture of what’s found in City of Heroes and City of Villains; everything is bright and shiny reflecting the utopian intentions of Emperor Cole, but it’s populated with creepy “Seers” and fascist cops.  The graphics are updated, designed specifically for use with the “Ultra Mode” that was added to the game recently. 

All three zones have missions for both alignment choices, so you can play through them at least twice, once as a Loyalist and once as Resistance and still get new adventures.  The optional double-cross storylines add yet another layer of replayabillity. 

Several new powersets are added, including Kinetic Melee, Demon Summoning for Masterminds, Electric Control, and the much ballyhooed Dual Pistols which gives players the unique ability to change Ammo Type, thus inflicting different kinds of damage. 

On the downside, it is short.  An avid player is likely to do everything there is to do in Praetoria over the course of a month.  Once your character leaves Praetoria at level 20, you can’t get back to finish up any loose ends. Some players will feel that this expansion is little more than a thirty- dollar fee to switch your character from hero to villain.

There’s also the classic problem that City of Heroes always had; Repetition.  Although Praetoria is populated with several new enemy types and numerous new maps, you will grow tired of shooting Ghouls in sewers, and fighting Praetorian Police in the same damned lab. No matter how shiny it is, the hundredth time you run through the same lab it will lose its luster. 

It also seems like a round-a-bout way to fix some of the design foul-ups in the original City of Heroes level design which make it frustrating for low-level characters:  If you start in Praetoria, you won’t have to run around walled fortresses in Mercy Island, or have to go to the maze-like Perez Park. (Going Rogue even has a “People’s Park”, a wide-open, easily traveled stretch of woodland; a nod to the reviled Perez Park into the first game).

The community who has been with the game since the beginning is probably already running around Praetoria, but people who are still on the fence about the expansion need to determine whether or not they value story over gameplay. For those who never tried the City of Heroes franchise, or stopped playing years ago, this is undoubtedly the perfect time to jump into the game.



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