Friday, September 16, 2011

welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

While I've been off in my beyond-the-screen world, being the sort of hermetic purist what does not own a cell phone, I've missed a recent cellphone development: whales.

Totally not kidding, here. It almost tempts me to procure one of the vile and evil things.

Another thing that is seriously tempting? (Which is odd, because I don't have a car, either!) The Park4U mobile phone app. You can now park your car, without being in it, just by the touchscreen on your smartphone.

Felicia Day's been spotted in the Dragon Age II expansion; suspended animation is heading to clinical trials (partially funded by the military); and here, watch some Daleks chasing a turtle.

There's some interesting historical recollection on Wonder Woman's fetish roots, and the question it brings to mind is--if a set of manacles made by a man, and secured by a man, stripped her of her strength in the old days, what did a set of manacles made by a woman, and secured by a woman do?

This is not to invite any Diana Prince/Xena crossovers, THANK you; I'm just curious.

Same-sex relationship options are coming to Star Wars, or at least, BioWare's version of the mythos.

Meanswhile, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are working together again! And Burton seems to be diligently working to turn Johnny Depp into the Invisible Man on the Dark Shadows set. Oh gods, I have deep, deep fear.

So, a few days back, City of Heroes: Freedom opened officially (for members in good standing), they had so many server problems that it took all of the first day just to patch, then to wait while all the problems were fixed.

But I've finally had enough free time to at least go in and poke about the new system (I decided to create a new character on a server I don't normally play on, to test out the new creator). And now I understand why they had so many problems getting Freedom up to speed for the release. This isn't just adding in free-to-play options to the existing game structure. The City of Heroes development team rewrote everything.

I'm not kidding--from the first (at least, if you're me and see VIP options), you have the choice of choosing character basics from the main City of Heroes pack (Hero or Villain), or the Going Rogue pack (Praetorians). You can pick any of the three basic types. There will be differences for folks who come in on the 23rd, who are restricted only to the basic archetypes, and not Masterminds, for example, but for the most part, we're good to go.

Picking out costuming was fun--I realized their Paragon Market was now working, so I picked a special diadem (the Barbarian Celtic tiara) and a special skirt (Barbarian fur, with tied sides, not buckled). I also picked out a specialty aura that ordinarily, I'd have to wait until level 30 to get. All of that cost me 220 of my 1600 granted Paragon Points in the Market. (That number is variable--longer players will get more points to start with, newer players will get less; everyone from then on gets 400 points per month of active service to spend.)

Okay, so on occasion, it's good to be a VIP. Of note: While these are boons that everyone can get, keep in mind that they are sold through the Market on a per-character basis. You will not buy a special diadem or sword or costume piece and have that for use, over and over, for all your characters. (There are inclusive costume packs that feature all the costume items of the Barbarian, for example; those clock in between 400 and 800 points, and I admit to being seriously tempted to pick up the Barbarian options entirely.)

The initial game introduction has changed, too. Before Freedom, if you were a villain, you got the villain intro; if you were a hero, you got the hero intro; and if you started as a Praetorian, there was a separate intro for that. I don't know if the Praetorian intro's changed (though I suspect it has), but for the first playable mission, you get a few pages of an online comic (not too shabbily illustrated, though the artists behind Sister Psyche clearly have been spending too much time looking at fetish shots), followed by a quick little walkthrough of the game's motifs--the go-find-this-guy mission start, the get-a-new-contact start, the group event (which, on the server I was on, turned out to be fifteen minutes of me hitting a giant monster for miniscule amounts of damage, followed by running away; on most servers, there will likely be more people to gang up on the big bad), and the alignment mission.

Personally, I think that's one of the coolest things--whether or not you pull up a pure hero or a pure villain, from that moment you can set yourself on another path, or the path of Rogue or Vigilante. I like that a lot.

And then, you're in the game. Story-wise, the initial experience is more streamlined while still introducing major story elements, and acquainting you with the game's mechanics and goals. They've made some of the kill-X-things missions feel more story-oriented, and less like grinding, and you'll be paced step by step through the first city, while you go up in levels. Leveling up to five is pretty easily done, too--I did it within two hours, and I wasn't on a search-and-destroy parameter, killing anything that breathed near me. People who are more devoted to destroying every bad guy in sight may level even faster.

My only complication: I didn't even check the map settings, because on my other characters, they're set and locked for the things I need and want to be able to find quickly. New characters don't have those settings, so, after leveling four times and not finding a trainer, I gave up and went to Cap au Diablo from Mercy Island--whereupon I had to dig out my jumpjet, because everything there could have killed my new villainess just by looking at her! When I complained about this to Miss Neome, she checked my map settings--and sure enough, nothing was set right.

Oops.

The next time I leveled, I sheepishly opened my map and found the trainer in Mercy, and everything went fine.

All in all, I give it four out of five stars: for me, the experience is too Champions-like when people start talking to me for no reason; that's a little jarring. And not having a soundtrack, moving from place to place, that irked me some, too. (Neome says that's a bug, and they're working on it. I sincerely hope so.)

But beyond that, they've managed to clean up initial missions amazingly well, installed the new code over the old nearly seamlessly, and I think new players are going to like it a great deal. All in all: they did good.

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