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City of Villains Review

No more spandex and goody two-shoes acts of heroism. Dig out the barbed wire, tattoos and wooden legs. The time of the villains has come.

When City of Heroes was first released in 2004 it was pretty clear that the universe filled with superheroes was only halfway done. Just as Star Wars wouldn’t be the same without the Sith Lords, no life of a hero can be complete without some super villains to fight. With City of Villains Cryptic and NCsoft’s online RPG becomes a much more complete experience.

Remember: This is a old video game and this review is based on when first time it was released.

The two games can be played on their own but are also linked to each other through the player’s background story and missions that take players into enemy territory. And then there are the shared PvP zones where super villains and heroes fight for dominance. You don’t need to own City of Heroes to play City of Villains though, since the latter represents a peculiar mix of add-on and successor.

Even a villain has to start somewhere

City of Heroes became famous for its encompassing costume generator and City of Villains is even bigger in this aspect. All the options from City of Heroes are intact and there has been added a multitude of new options – somehow it’s just more fun to create a mean bad-ass super villain than some boy scout of a hero. Though it’s possible to auto-generate costumes a lot of players put a lot of effort into creating unique villains/heroes with thorough background stories for obvious reasons. The developers at Cryptic have hit the villain theme spot on. Among other things you have the opportunity of creating monsters and the selection of chains, leather and masks far surpasses any SM-shop you can think of.

City of Villains has five new archetypes (the equivalent of races in other RPGs) with respective primary and secondary abilities, clearly illustrating that the developer has had good time to learn from its experiences. The five different types of characters must be played using different strategies and they generally feel less dependent on one another which corresponds well with the individualistic life of a super villain. The five archetypes are:

Brute: A close combat tank who gets stronger the more he/she fights. Your own attacks as well as those of your enemies increase your fury which enables you to do more damage (think of The Hulk). This is the type of super villain that is best suited for playing alone.

Corruptor: Very similar to the blaster-type from City of Heroes, but its secondary group of powers contains mostly buffs and debuffs.

Dominator: This type is a mix between the Controller and the Defender from City of Heroes. The Dominator gets the Controller ability to control and hold enemies and he also gets the Defender’s secondary ability of attacking. The Dominator is best played with groups.

Master Mind: The most unique type of the game and very popular among players. As a Master Mind you get your own obedient minions that you control in battle. Simply put; it’s great fun.

Stalker: The focus with this type is stealth and ambushes. Stalkers are very challenging to play but are capable of doing tremendous amounts of damage with some very dirty attacks.

Rogue Isles is no place for a holiday

As opposed to City of Heroes, City of Villains doesn’t take place in a metropolis but on Rogue Isles; a group of islands way out in the Atlantic Ocean ruled by Lord Recluse. As a rookie villain your first task is to break out of the huge prison in Paragon City and prove that you’ve got what it takes.

Upon completing the first couple of missions an Arachnos (the organization of Recluse) pilot will fly you to Mercy Island which will be your first destination on your way to becoming the ultimate super villain.

City of Villains is mostly based on instanced missions – missions that you have for yourself that is. But you can also hunt various low-life criminals on the islands for experience points. The missions are far more dynamic than in City of Heroes unexpected things happen more often than not. It is also you who are the active part and it’s most often you who have to kidnap that scientist for devious purposes as opposed to City of Heroes where you had to rescue his butt. There have been obvious design upgrades and missions are no longer far from each other, saving you a lot of tedious travel time. Furthermore, a good deal of the missions are shorter which speeds up gameplay considerably.

A lot of effort clearly went into creating interesting stories for the players to be part of. You’ll be rewarded with summary of your exploits if you complete a series of missions tied together in one story. The badges from City of Heroes are also present here and are still the source of much fun – you’ll meet certain contacts from time to time who will not even bother to talk to you until you have earned a certain medal. The biggest news are the newspaper missions, however. You’ll have access to these once you reach the Port Oakland zone when you are around level six or seven. By shifting through the pages of a newspaper you’ll find pointers to all sorts of missions that never seem to run out.

Just like coming home

It’s currently possible to reach level 40 in City of Villains and experienced players should be able to reach this level fairly quickly. The game is definitely one of the easiest RPGs to get into as a newbie, and if you’re already familiar with City of Heroes this game will fit like a glove.

A lot of the concepts from City of Heroes are also present here. It is once again possible to attain a cape for your costume when you reach level 20. But as opposed to previously where you just had to beat up some small time crooks, you now have to go all the way to Paragon City and kick the butt of a hero.

The gameplay in City of Villains calls for a different approach when playing in groups. Whereas the heroes complement each other perfectly the villains are individualists and that fact requires that you use some good offensive tactics rather than supporting your allies. There are also no characters than can attack on their own without putting themselves in serious jeopardy.

City of Villains also adds a number of new enemies. Among the heroes’ ranks we find the Longbow group for instance that often stick their nose into the affairs on Rogue Isles. And among the villains there is a never ending supply of new opponents. You’ll face everything from human snakes, monsters made of garbage and angry mine workers (throwing dynamite). Unfortunately the first five levels are way too uniform. You get the same contacts and missions every time you start up a new character and this gets kind of boring. The developer has promised to add more beginning missions in the future though.

New PvP options

It would be a sin to have a superhero and super villain game without options for the two factions to clash with each other so PvP (Player vs. Player) has been a central focus for the developers at Cryptic. Besides the regular battles in the arena as we know them from City of Heroes you can also fight for the opportunity to use soldiers from the various factions by defeating enough of them. That way you can command the Lost Bosses and fight the soldiers of your opponent.

While this certainly befits the concept of being a super villain, I don’t understand Cryptic’s decision to make this an option in City of Heroes as well, so that you can run gladiator fights. It just doesn’t fit in with being a hero.

Three PvP zones where the two games can duke it out currently exist that are very different from each other. In Bloody Bay heroes and villains fight and compete to gather six meteorite fragments which will, when combined, grant a temporary ability to summon a mean pet. This is the most entertaining of the three PvP zones in my opinion. Siren’s Call is a larger scale operation where the Arachnos try to invade Paragon City from the seaside and villains, heroes and NPCs clash in epic battles. And finally there’s Warburg where the game is totally free. It’s everyone for themselves but you can attempt to complete the special mission that culminates in the launch of a nuclear missile.

Bases R’ Us

City of Heroes was criticised for being too shallow and focusing only on combat. There was no looting, crafting or skills, but City of Villains makes up for two of these drawbacks. As a new thing it’s now possible to create a base for your super group and you need to pay for it with prestige points that are attained alongside your experience points and your infamy (the ingame currency).

You can either buy new items or craft them yourself. You can install anything from mini hospitals to mission computers that will grant you access to special super group missions but the ultimate goal is to acquire some Items of Power. They can give the entire group permanent bonuses such as an XP bonus for instance, and they also open op for the last type of PvP – Base Raids. Here, another group will attack your base and the object is to fend them off or else you’ll lose an Item of Power.

Building a base is tremendously expensive and therefore it’s a good idea to point out some architects in your group that’ll ensure that your hard earned prestige points aren’t wasted.

Base building, crafting and base raids make City of Villains (and City of Heroes which have had these features added in the latest update) a much deeper game and make for a more competitive approach to super groups.

New graphics

City of Villains comes with some major graphics updates among which is a cool focus effect that makes objects close to you stand out sharply while those in the background are blurred. Water effects are also much better looking than before – for instance there are distortion effects on your legs when you’re standing in water. Although the game obviously doesn’t match the latest FPS games, City of Villains is definitely one of the finest looking MMOs on the market. Ragdoll effects have also been added and they make for some amusing situations when you whack your opponents. The only downside is that you still can’t change the graphic effects for your abilities and some clipping problems still occur.

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