Review: City of Villains (PC)
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Release Date: 10/31/05
The MMORPG market has exploded in the past few years. Games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest paved the way for a multitude of online games. Now it seems that a new one is coming out every month. From successful games like World of Warcraft to the short lived Earth and Beyond, MMORPGs are definitely here to stay.
While most MMORPGs seem content to focus on fantasy settings, or occasionally science fiction, a new game came out last April that was completely different. City of Heroes. CoH offered gamers something new… the chance to create a super hero character and wander the streets of Paragon City fighting crime. But as any fan of comics will tell you, it’s the villains in comic books that tend to really stand out.
And now we have City of Villains, which not only allows you to create a villain, but also allows you to create hidden lairs and engage in player versus player combat with the heroes of Paragon City. But just how good is being bad?
As with most MMORPGs, the storyline tends to be dependant on what kind of character you create. The overall story is that a legion of Arachnos soldiers are ordered by Lord Recluse to break into the prison where you are being held. In the ensuing chaos you manage to escape, and are flown to the Rogue Isles where Arachnos’ main base is.
Upon arriving you are greeted by an Arachnos agent who tells you that Lord Recluse ordered the attack because he believes that a number of the villains being held there have great potential, and that you could be one of them. From then on you are given a series of tests to prove your worth, and eventually let out into the world to improve your powers. But you are always under the watchful eye of Lord Recluse and his minions.
It’s a fun little story, and it certainly helps you to get absorbed into the game early on, but after the first few levels the focus of the story tends to wane and you are left on your own. However, as you progress, you’ll encounter other small storylines and subplots that will drive your missions forward. In the end, how you decide to play the game will largely determine what story elements you encounter, but the developers have created plenty of enjoyable plotlines to explore.
Story Score: 6/10
If you’ve ever played City of Heroes, then you know almost exactly what to expect here. While the games graphics certainly aren’t dated, they also aren’t of the quality that we have come to expect from games such as Half-Life 2 or Doom 3. On the other hand, when dealing with an MMORPG, too many high quality graphics can lead to some serious slowdown issues with your computer (I’m looking at you, EverQuest 2).
However, even without super high quality graphics, the game looks fantastic. Poly counts on the main character models are fairly high, and textures are absolutely amazing. Adding to this is the incredibly variety of options you get for your characters appearance. There are thousands upon thousands of possible costume combinations to play with, and that’s before deciding on a color scheme!
NPCs aren’t quite as varied, with only the main characters, such as Arachnos agents and super villains, showing some real individuality. You’ll encounter the same gang members, the same giant snakes, and the same drug addicted crazies over and over again. However, within each set of opponents is a fairly good variety of appearances, especially when you get to higher levels and being to encounter some bosses.
Cityscapes, caves, warehouses, office buildings, and other locales all look great, although these locations can sometimes suffer from repetitive textures. In larger areas it’s not hard to get turned around because all the walls begin to look the same. Especially in tight zones like the caves or sewers. Still, the in game map can quickly put you back on track should you ever become disoriented.
Overall, the developers have created a wonderful world that really comes to life on your screen, without using the highest quality graphics possible and potentially bogging down your system. And it all has a wonderful comic book appearance to it that is sure to please fans.
Graphics Score: 8/10
While not quite as good as the graphics, the sound quality is still high. Music tends to kick in whenever you enter a new area and can be anything from a dark, brooding melody to a more upbeat rock-like score. However, the music never plays for very long and you will go long periods of time, especially in missions, without hearing anything. Still, this helps to keep the music from becoming repetitive, and the little bits you do hear are quite good.
On the other hand, sound effects are very prevalent. Every power and ability has a sound associated with it, and in the heat of combat with a full group your speakers will be filled with gun blasts, lightning bolts, fire balls, gusts of wind, and other various sounds. While there is a large variety of sounds in the game, you will tend to hear the same few sounds over and over again based on what powers and abilities you have. For me, this was never annoying, but it was definitely noticeable. Still, I never found myself reaching for the mute button.
Most of the game’s sounds are in the effects, so those will be what you primarily hear. There’s no voice work and no continuous music. However, every sound you do encounter is crisp and clear, if occasionally repetitive. Fortunately this doesn’t take away too much from the overall experience of the game.
Sound Score: 7/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
There is a ton to see and do in City of Villains, and I certainly can’t touch on all of them, or else you’d be sitting here reading 20 pages of nothing but control and gameplay. Instead I’ll just touch on the main aspects of the game.
The default controls use the standard WASD keys for movement, and then the mouse for targeting and selection of powers and abilities or menu options. Pretty much every key can be remapped to whatever control you would like, and there are a ton of hot buttons that can be setup. However, for the starting villain with no previous experience, the default controls are more than adequate. My only complaint with them is that you can’t hold down the right mouse button to strafe, which can make peering around corners a little tricky. Otherwise everything else is perfectly fine as it is, and you’ll more than likely be making small tweaks as you learn more about how to play your character and what your abilities are.
Upon installing the game, creating an account, and starting it up for the first time, you’ll be taken to the server select screen, where you can pick your new home and create a character. When you choose to create a new character, you may be asked to create a hero or a villain if you also have City of Heroes installed. Otherwise, it will take you straight to the villain creation. Next up you will be able to choose an archetype (your character class, basically) and then what the origin of your powers is (mutation, technology, etc.).
Your choice of origin doesn’t really affect your character until later in the game, however, depending on what archetype you chose, you will be able to select a set of primary powers and a set of secondary powers. The number of options here are incredibly, and there are hundreds of possible combinations. Pretty much anything you can imagine a comic book character doing can be found here, from shooting balls of fire or ice to controlling plants or gravity to summoning ninjas or zombies to your aid. There are almost too many choices, as I found myself creating six or seven characters and then not being able to decide which one I wanted to play more!
Anyway, once you’ve picked your characters starting powers, you can now create an appearance and give them a name. I mentioned above how many options you have for your character’s appearance, and you could literally spend hours tweaking every aspect from your hairstyle to your shoes. This is hands down the most robust character creation system that I have ever encountered, and is almost a game in and of itself! By the time you actually get around to entering the game you could have all ready spent hours just figuring out how you want your character to look. And for those less patient folks, you can hit the Random button and pick a character that way, or at least have less to tweak.
Once you have finally created a character and entered the game, you’ll be allowed to work your way through the tutorial. This consists of the aforementioned prison break where you will be given quick instructions on moving around, combat, talking to contacts, accepting missions, finding instances, and a few other rudimentary skills. Once the tutorial is completed you’ll be whisked off to the Rogue Islands and allowed to start making a name for yourself.
When you start off, you’ll be given missions directly from your contact. These can involve anything from taking down a few wandering thugs to a full out assault on a major boss in a base. After a while, you’ll also be able to scan the local newspapers for mission ideas. See that a large shipment of bonds is headed for the local bank? Go rob it! A scientist has created a new weapon? Go steal it! Someone was running their mouth and called you out? Go lay the smack down on his punk ass! The sheer number of mission options is pretty impressive, and really helps to break up some of the monotony associated with online games; mainly, grinding for experience. The grind is much more enjoyable when you are actually given goals to accomplish and can see both short term and long term results from your efforts, unlike some other games where grinding for hours at a time will only get you 10 more hit points and a new spell that allows you to summon a banana.
As you adventure, you’ll pick up both Inspirations and Enhancements. Inspirations act like potions. They can be quick heals or damage enhancements or other things that you can use during combat. Enhancements are basically power ups for your abilities. Each ability has a number of power slots that can be increased as you gain levels. Placing an appropriate enhancement in one of these slots will allow you to do higher damage, have a greater accuracy, use less energy, or any number of other possibilities depending on the power. Enhancements and Inspirations can also be bought at various vendors, but instead of money you use Infamy points. Infamy points are gained for each enemy defeated and each mission completed and can be used like money.
While solo play is certainly an acceptable way to spend your time, the game takes on a whole new level of enjoyment when you can get together with a few friends and run missions together. Not to mention you’ll have an increased chance of survival. And if you meet a good group of people, you can even form or join a super villain group (basically a guild). These groups allow you to both easily find friends to adventure with and take on bigger and more impressive opponents at higher levels where a single group might not be enough.
Speaking of higher levels, if you play long enough a variety of other options will become open to you. For starters, you will be allowed to choose another power set, which eventually will allow you to have super speed, flight, teleportation, or other fun powers. You will also be allowed to equip your character with a cape. Further along you will be able to create your own base or lair and fill it full of diabolical traps and gadgets to fend off invading heroes. There is also consensual player versus player combat between heroes and villains, large-scale raids, and all kinds of other goodies awaiting you if you take the time to level up your character.
Overall, CoV is full of fantastic gameplay with some pretty good default controls and plenty of customizability. There are a ton of other aspects to the game that I could talk about, but I think I did a pretty good job of covering the most major. The bottom line is that there is a ton to do here, and all of it is a blast.
Control and Gameplay Score: 9/10
Umm… hello!? McFly!? It’s an MMORPG! These games live and die based on their replayability. And I’m happy to say that CoV has a ton of replayability.
Almost every aspect of CoV is geared towards being able to play it over and over again from multiple angles. There are hundreds of power and ability combinations, thousands of costume options, tons of missions to run, and several very large zones to explore.
Combine this with the social aspects of the game including grouping, raiding, creating super villain groups, and engaging in PVP combat, and you have easily one of the most replayable games in existence right now.
The only thing going against this game is the same trap that many other MMORPGs can fall into. Mainly that they can become to repetitive if the developers aren’t careful. At its core, City of Villains is a game where you beat an enemy, gain some experience, choose some new powers, rinse and repeat. Fortunately there are enough different ways to go about this that boredom shouldn’t set in for quite a long time, but it’s always a possibility. Still, the developers have a proven track record with City of Heroes of constantly changing and updating the game, so hopefully this should never be an issue for you.
Replayability Score: 9/10
For the most part, the game progresses at a nice easy pace. Early missions are very simple and pose almost no threat, whereas missions at higher levels may require a group to complete, and even then might take quite a bit of effort.
However, if at any point you feel like the game is too hard or too easy, you can choose to change your reputation at a special NPC. You start off with the lowest reputation, and can increase it for a small fee. If you do, enemies in missions may be a little more numerous, or higher level, and you may be more likely to encounter bosses. Make sure you let your team mates know if you do change your reputation level, as they might not be prepared for a higher level encounter too early.
Even with the various Enhancements and Inspirations you can find, they never seem to imbalance your powers or the game in general. Missions continue to scale at a fair rate, and there will always be something challenging to do. And the chance to change your reputation and make the game more difficult is a wonderful addition.
Balance Score: 9/10
If the game is going to fall short anywhere, it’s going to be here. As I mentioned earlier, MMORPGs are almost a dime a dozen these days, and the basic framework of the game has been seen even in non-online games.
However, the concept of creating a super hero, or in this case villain, is still pretty fresh, especially in the online market. It wasn’t until City of Heroes came out that this idea was fully realized. City of Villains isn’t a sequel, but more of an expansion, even though you don’t have to have CoH to play it. As such, it is following in the same mold as CoH and adding its own twists.
In the end, it’s not the most original game in the world, but it is definitely more original than the majority of online games out there.
Originality Score: 6/10
Not only does this game have great gameplay, but it has addictive gameplay. My first session was well over six hours in length, and subsequent sessions have only been cut short due to the need to get some sleep before work in the morning. There is something truly satisfying about watching your character grown and gain more powers and abilities, and you can’t help but want to get back to the computer so you can get that next level or complete that next mission.
Still, the addictiveness is going to partially be based on how much you enjoy these types of games. While CoV does have a pretty solid structure to it, it doesn’t hold your hand and lead you along. You are responsible for choosing your own missions and finding a group to adventure with. Some people may find this a little overwhelming, or get bored quickly because there is a seeming lack of a progressive storyline.
For my own part, I’m hooked. And I think most of you will be as well.
Addictiveness Score: 8/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
At one point in time I think everyone wants to be a superhero or supervillain. I know I’ve dressed up as one for Halloween at least once. Either because of reading comics, watching movies, or just wishing you could fly, there is an appeal to being super powered that just can’t be denied, and CoV caters to this desire.
Adding to the appeal of the game is the fact that if you all ready own CoH, you don’t need to pay anything additional in regards to the monthly fee. Sure, you still need to fork out $50 for CoV, but you’re still paying the same $15 per month that you have been. It works vice versa as well, so if you get CoV, and decide to give CoH a try, it’s still only $15 per month.
I don’t think that CoV has quite the appeal of an EverQuest or a World of Warcraft, but it is still able to hold its own. And come on… who doesn’t want to try being the bad guy?
Appeal Factor Score: 7/10
As if all the in game options weren’t enough, depending on which version of City of Villains you pick up, there are a bunch of goodies waiting for you.
For $50 you get the regular version of the game. However, if you plop down $70 (I know, I know, it’s a lot of money), you get an art book, a 14 day free trial for City of Heroes for you and a friend, a game map/poster, two extra in game items, a pack of CoH trading cards, and seven limited edition HeroClix figures.
Now I’ll let you in on a little tip when it comes to the HeroClix figures. If you buy the collector’s edition, and you don’t play HeroClix (although I think you should give it a try) chances are good that you can sell the figures on eBay for more than the $20 difference between the normal game and the CE. For that matter, our own Alex Lucard might even be willing to pay you for them, seeing as how he is one of our resident HeroClix gurus. As for me? I play HeroClix, so I bought the CE and I’m keeping my figures.
As if that wasn’t enough, NCsoft has set up an entire website devoted to CoV where you can find in depth help, community forums, and updates on all the latest news and future content that you’ll be seeing. Their support section is also quite thorough, and I’ve never had any problems with the customer service reps the few times I’ve had to contact them.
When everything is said and done, City of Villains is a great game that will hopefully find a broad audience. It has solid graphics, good sound, wonderful gameplay, excellent replayability, and a fairly high addictiveness level. I definitely recommend giving it a shot.
Miscellaneous Score: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7
Final Score: 7.5 (Good)