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

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.

While City
of Heroes: Going Rogue
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 style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue
as a new entry level game as well as an expansion. We want brand new
players who’ve never played style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes
before to feel welcome.” And, unlike most comic book games
offering a choice between good or evil, style="font-style: italic;">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 – href=""
target="_blank">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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alt="city of heroes : going rogue dual pistols"

I spent a few minutes doing one of my favorite things to do in any style="font-style: italic;">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. style="font-style: italic;">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

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 href=""
target="_blank">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 href=""
target="_blank">Calvin Scott.

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alt="city of heroes : going rogue dual pistols"

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 style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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

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alt="city of heroes : going rogue demon summoning"

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 style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue).

It was here that Matt pointed out one of the two nice new UI
innovations in style="font-style: italic;">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.

I chose the Resistance and took out the two policemen.  Calvin
Scott, the Resistance leader, appeared, and immediately understood that
I’d be the perfect mole,  since I could say that I
took down Wrencher and no one would be the wiser.  Matt
explained how this pans out: “What I love about some of our
new missions is that, now that I have [Calvin Scott] on my contacts
list, I can get a Loyalist mission to go to a police precinct, then
once I’m inside, you can call up Calvin Scott who’s
got an alternate mission objective for you while you’re in
that map. So you can gather clues and information for both sides and
play that sort of spy character, which I love.”

I asked Matt what would happen if I’d chosen to side with the
Loyalists instead. Whereas I took down the cops by rolling Resistance,
I’d have to take down Wrencher if I chose Loyalists, and
instead of Calvin Scott I’d have another policeman as my
ending contact for the mission. Then a few contacts down the line,
you’ll get a decision that’s really morally
borderline, and you’ll again have to decide whether you want
to stick with the Loyalists or go Resistance.

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alt="city of heroes : going rogue dual pistols"

But don’t expect the Resistance choice to always be the
“good” choice, or the Loyalist choice to always be
the “evil” one.  “The water
supply of Praetoria has mind-altering agents to pacify the people, and
they recommend that you drink seven glasses a day. (laughter) So the
Resistance has a mission to blow up the water treatment plant, and
you’re like, “That’s a no-brainer, I have
to go do that.”  The drawback is that this is the
only source of potable water in all of Praetoria, and people are going
to be sick and die for months because there’s not enough
water.  That’s the kind of decisions we want to put
in the hands of players – how would you react in this
situation? And it’s not always cut and dry.”

With my lot thrown in for the Resistance this time around, I zoned out
and met up with Loyalist contact Marauder, who was pleased with my work
in taking down Wrencher. I brought up the Clockwork I’d sent
topside for recapture, and he explained that Reece said that he
recaptured the Clockwork.  “Now you’re
like, man, I’ve got a rivalry already. We play with that
rivalry – if you stick with the Powers division, you and
Reece go toe to toe over and over.”

That was the end of the basic demo, but just the beginning of style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue.
“Once you get out of Praetoria (or if you have an existing
character over level 20), we have the style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue
system.  The style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue
system revolves around getting tip drops after you defeat enemies. You
get a tip and it’s the location of a drug lab with a crime
lord living in it. So now you have two choices: the heroic choice is to
go in and destroy the drug lab and arrest the crime lord. The vigilante
choice is to destroy the drug lab and kill the crime lord –
you’re judge, jury, and executioner as a vigilante.

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alt="city of heroes : going rogue dual pistols"

Matt continued: “ You run that mission and you’d
get a hero point or a vigilante point. When you get ten of these points
and you’ve run enough of these missions, we offer you a
morality mission. This includes one of those big, heavy moral choices
that you need to make. Are you truly a vigilante? If so, you can chose
to become a Vigilante at the end of the mission. As a Vigilante, you
can visit the Rogue Isles, you can team up with villains that are
there, you can do the newspaper missions that are there, you
can’t get new contacts yet because you’re not truly
a villain, but you’ll get those tip drops that now have a
villainous bent to them. So you can do ten of those, get another
morality mission, and become a villain if you want to.  So
it’s not an overnight thing; it’s going to take
some effort to turn your hero into a villain (or vice versa), because
we wanted you to feel like your character was falling from grace or
find redemption.”

So is a vigilante or rogue a valid, long term way to play?
“We want to encourage all styles of gameplay. If you play a
vigilante or rogue, you have access to both sides, you can play with
all your friends, you can get badges you couldn’t normally
get.  But if you want to stay a hero, you can run that
morality mission and say you’re staying a hero, and
we’ll give you a hero merit.  That’s a new
form of currency with which you can buy the very rare drops, the purple
drops, in a place that only heroes and only villains can go to, called
the Loyalty Lounges.”

But does a merit or token system cheapen the value of some of these
rare drops, which had required something of a grind to attain before?
“The time / reward ratio is consistent,” Matt
explained. “But the merit system is more in the
player’s favor because now you can choose exactly what you
want to buy, rather than relying on random drops.”

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alt="city of heroes : going rogue"

Finally, the Incarnates system had been scheduled to go live with style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue,
but Paragon Studios decided to pull it out of the expansion and save it
for a future Issue. “We got a lot of feedback from the
players that, ‘Yea, this is really fun and I can earn some
really cool powers for my guys and get some cool stuff, but I want more
to do with it.” And yea, you’re absolutely right,
you should have something more to do with it. We want to make sure that
when we’re ready to release the Incarnates system,
there’s more to do with it as opposed to get the power and
have it sit around.”

18: Shades of Gray
, which is
the free-to-subscribers portion of the expansion, will come out on the
same day and date, and will include the tip drops and accompanying
missions (sans the morality missions).  If you buy style="font-style: italic;">Going Rogue
later, you’ll likely have 10 points saved up to switch
alignments or gain merit points. Issue 18 will also include the
Cathedral of Pain, a level 50 raid that was horribly broken in its
first incarnation. Now it’s been fixed and added to the Issue
free to all players. At this time, Matt noted that the hero and villain
auctionhouses and basic currency will be unified in Issue 18 to
accommodate players who wish to switch back and forth between the
alignments, i.e. most or all of you.

Hero, Villain, Vigilante or Rogue, your choice will soon be at hand. style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes: Going
Rogue will be hitting store
shelves in just three weeks on August 17th. Our sincerest thanks to
Matt Miller, NC Soft, and the Paragon Studios team for letting us get
our grubby hands on style="font-style: italic;">City of Heroes: Going
Rogue at San Diego
Comic-Con  2010.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our City of Villains Game Page.

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