Into the Gray: A Hands-On Preview of City of Heroes: Going Rogue

Posted Wed, Jul 28, 2010 by Ethec

While City of Heroes: Going Rogue offers a little something to new players and veterans alike, the new story is centered on the new levels 1-20 experience. Lead Systems Designer Matt “Positron” Miller explained: “We’re positioning Going Rogue as a new entry level game as well as an expansion. We want brand new players who’ve never played City of Heroes before to feel welcome.” And, unlike most comic book games offering a choice between good or evil, Going Rogue lets you work your way into that choice over the first 20 levels.  As a Praetorian (rather than a Hero or Villain) you haven’t yet  chosen a side, therefore you can choose from all ten of the available archetypes (five traditionally heroic archetypes and five villainous ones – details here:).

I picked a blaster with one of the new power sets, the dual pistols, to see if I couldn’t get some John Woo mojo flowing.  Making a point of the care that went into creating even the minor parts of this expansion, Matt explained that one of the game’s artists was particularly proud that when each pistol is fired, the receiver comes back, the shell is ejected, and a new cartridge is loaded. That may not sound impressive until you realize that your character seems to come from the Warsaw Pact school of ammo discipline and is literally firing off probably hundreds of rounds a minute.

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I spent a few minutes doing one of my favorite things to do in any City of Heroes experience – hitting “Random Appearance” a few thousand times – and opted not to go with a character with one of the new animated tails. As I went along, Matt explained the concept of Praetoria.  “We have this alternate dimension, this alternate earth, called Praetoria. When you first start the game, if you’ve never made another character, we force you to start as Praetorian, because that’s our best new player content; that’s our best foot forward.” As a nice little touch, character creation ended with a citizens’ registration card listing all my vitals, so (I’m guessing) access to the bars around Praetoria becomes that much easier.

In the tutorial zone, I was presented with a choice – should I take the basic or veteran tutorial?  “Do I want the full-on text of how to play the game, or just the highlights?” Matt explained, noting that those who are comfortable with MMORPGs are probably safe taking the veteran tutorial.  Most dialogue trees also offer an (Optional) branch, which grants players a little more story. Showing that these dialogue choices are optional is a nice compromise between fast play and a rich story – players who want the full story can select to read the (optional) dialogue, others can simply breeze past it. Going Rogue also features a new hot tips system in the form of red exclamation points on the side of the screen that can be read (or dismissed) at your leisure. These tips came in quite handy, though, as I was able to take advantage of the new, faster sprint skill that Paragon Studios added in Going Rogue.

As we moved to our first mission contact, Matt explained the two factions and some of the subfactions of Praetoria. The two main factions are the Loyalists and the Resistance. The Loyalists are those firmly devoted to Emperor Cole  and appreciative of all he has done to keep Praetoria peaceful and safe since the Hamidon Wars. That peace has come at a severe price, and as Cole has essentially turned Praetoria into a police state of truly fascist proportions, a budding resistance led by Calvin Scott.

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Within the Loyalists, NPCs are split between the Powers Division and the Responsibilities Division. “One’s kind of good, the other’s kind of bad,” Matt explained. “Those in the Powers Division, like Reece (your first contact), is all about the celebrity and glory of being an authority figure. ‘I just saved that school, put me on camera.’ The Responsibilities division is more like, ‘It’s all about saving the school.’ Even within each side, there are shades of gray. That’s really what this expansion’s all about – the moral choices, the shades of gray.” This was my first hint that things were going to get a little morally clouded in Going Rogue.

Reece assigned me to infiltrate the Resistance, at which I could have told him where exactly he could infiltrate (Matt noted that though players progress toward decision points regardless of dialogue choices – there’s not a lot of true mission branching, in other words – but specific dialogue choices are noted and may come back to haunt players in later conversations).  Instead, I toed the line and zoned into the Resistance hideout.

Before I go further, I’d be remiss not to mention of the quality of City of Heroes’s graphics since Issue 16: Dark Mirror’s graphical enhancements hit the servers. Reflections, shadows, and overall image quality have improved tremendously and, I think, are above par compared any MMORPG a quarter of CoH’s age. Paragon has even looked after the smallest of details: watch the Nova Praetoria skyline long enough at night, for example, and you’ll see the lighted rooms in the skyscrapers turn off and on.

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Down in the tunnels, we came across a reprogrammed Clockwork soldier that was badly in need of repair. While I opted to repair it, I was presented with a choice to have him move ahead and possibly aid me (pro-Resistance) or report to the surface and, unknown to it, be recaptured by the Praetoria PD (pro-Loyalist). Not wanting to blow my cover in either case, I chose the latter option.  In the sewers, the Resistance was fighting the Ghouls  (the creepy sewer dwellers that make up one of five plus NPC enemy factions in Going Rogue).

It was here that Matt pointed out one of the two nice new UI innovations in Going Rogue: a text dialogue that continues at the top of the screen as you move away from an NPC (so you can read as you run) and a yellow border that appears around NPCs that are attackable, but won’t attack you. These two features alone show the sort of maturity of this grand statesman of comic book MMOs, as well as the care that its devs have put into this expansion.

We eventually found our contact, Wrencher, subdued by two PPD officers. One of the officers recognized me as being sent from the Powers Division and assumed I wanted to take credit for the capture. I then was presented with a very clear choice, join the Resistance and cap these two officers (who would be the only witnesses to my treachery) or continue on with the Loyalists.  This won’t be the only time you’re presented with a Resistance vs. Loyalist choice – Matt explained that we’d have over 11 times to chose, and there’s no penalty to changing your mind aside from the fact that consistently making the same choice would result in a more solid storyline.

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