Wednesday, November 30, 2005

City of Villains Review

City of Villains, developed by Cryptic Studios and published by NCsoft.
The Good: Comprehensive player creation, high end graphics, PvP
The Not So Good: Poor camera control gets annoying fast, comparatively stiff system requirements, monthly fee, can’t change input and video options
What say you? A great idea but less than spectacular execution: 6/8

The MMORPG. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Ever since game executives discovered that they could take the hard earned money of gamers every month in exchange for a glorified chat room, massively multiplayer online role playing games have thrived. Nowadays, the gaming landscape is littered by the successful (Everquest, World of Warcraft) and the downtrodden (Motor City Online, The Sims Online). Enter the stand-alone sequel/expansion to City of Heroes called City of Villains. Yes, every comic book loving nerd’s dream has come true, as you can battle crime (or create it) online in realistic environments without showing how lonely you really are. Rejoice! I’m not a huge fan of MMORPGs; I just can’t see the justification of paying a monthly fee for a game I’d most likely get tired of (I tend to play a game heavily for a couple of weeks and then forget about it, but the medication should correct that). I have had experience with one MMORPG and that’s Guild Wars, so they’ll be a lot of comparisons between this game and the other NCsoft offering, so here’s hoping you know what I’m talking about.

City of Villains features some of the best graphics and sound available for an MMORPG and most PC games in general (console games can suck it and go crash themselves). This comes at a price, however, because the system requirements are quite high compared to other MMORPGs. The game looks great, with detailed environments, nice special effects, and a variety of different characters. The sound also follows suit, populating each map with painfully realistic auditory information. I have one major problem with City of Villains: you cannot scale down the graphics. For those of us on less than spectacular computers, this is a big problem, especially when lots of characters come on screen and the game almost becomes unplayable due to lag. MMORPGs are strange like this, as they don’t follow the regular PC archetype of having a main menu and tweaking to your heart’s content. Oh well.

By far the best aspect of City of Villains is the character creation system. You can build your player by customizing their background that determines his/her/its available powers and attributes. First, the overall archetype of your character establishes their general classification, such as brute, dominator, or stalker. The origin also shapes your character, spanning mutants or magical beings. One of the biggest parts of the game is using your special powers, and some basic spells are available at the onset of the game. Of course, no supervillain would be complete without a fear-inducing costume, and City of Villains has a pretty good selection of wardrobe options. There are really no complaints arising from this aspect of the game, and it seems like the developers have worked hard at making the character creation an important part of the overall game experience. In a neat addition from the last game, you can build your super-secret bases for you and your Superfriends once you find or create a coalition of evil. This is a nice side option for the game that organized clans will appreciate and it helps to extend the longevity of the game.

Now that you’ve created your character, it’s time to wreck some havoc. The main game boils down to two aspects: completing missions or playing versus other human opponents. The missions are available by interacting with non-playable characters (or, if you’re cool, NPCs) and possibly finding some friends on which to complete the quests. There are four basic categories of quests: those tailored for your current outfit, defeating a certain number of foes, a series of heinous tasks culminating in a final test, patrolling a given area, or the all-time favorite: errand running! Yes sir, The Flash can deliver this pizza in less than 30 minutes! There is some originality in the missions to fit the overall scope of the game better, and for that the game must be commended. However, a lot of the missions can seem like repeats, and the only real motivation for completing them is to make your character more powerful or advance the overall story (if you’re interested in that). Also, the game doesn’t really get interesting for a little while, as early on you concentrate on leveling up your character and completing straightforward missions. In addition to increasing your experience, you can also earn rewards for completing missions. Enhancements, which are earned through completing missions or defeating certain enemies, are used to make your powers more powerful by increasing their effectiveness. Each enhancement covers a specific type of power (such as healing or jumping) and can be tailored to fit your character. Inspirations are one-use bonuses that you can also earn or trade to provide that extra edge in combat. Both of these things are found in other MMORPGs (called by different names, obviously) and are just a way to spice up the combat a little bit.

I had a terribly difficult time just controlling the game, and that’s just not excusable in this day and age. The default controls cannot be changed, and the camera control is just sloppy; you’ll spend most of your time adjusting the angle so you can see what exactly is attacking you. Control issues should not cause difficulty in a game, but it is a prominent part of the gaming experience in City of Villains. I just plain don’t like the way the game’s controls are set up, and I had a much more comfortable time with Guild Wars and its point and click movement. Assuming you aren’t as dense as me regarding the controls, you can engage in one of the selling points of the game: hot, sweaty player vs. player action! Unfortunetly, you need to be playing against owners of City of Heroes in order to get the full brunt of PvP (good vs. evil), as the villain vs. villain play is somewhat hokey and confined to only one area. There’s something nice about playing human opponents who have real feelings to be hurt when you bring the pain. Again, other games now do PvP (such as, surprise, Guild Wars), and it’s sometimes difficult to get a match going, but it’s one of the foci of the game, and it’s fun for the most part.

City of Villains is a great idea for a game. Making comic book heroes come alive on the computer screen and interact in a dynamic environment is a concept that will sell some games. The character creation is complete, but the rest of the game is nothing special that separates it from other MMORPGs. Guild Wars is very similar in the execution of the game, but Guild Wars is actually slightly more polished and definitely more user friendly. The controls in City of Villains are not to my liking and the stiff system requirements make my computer cry. Guild Wars is just a more polished and more enjoyable game, and after you get past the differences on the surface, they are actually very similar. Overall, Guild Wars is much more likable, and the fact that there is no monthly fee for Guild Wars adds to its desirability. City of Villains is OK, but there are other, less expensive games that provide and equal or slightly better gaming experience. Unless you really need to play with your action figures, City of Villains could probably be skipped by most computer gamers.