New City of Heroes features revealed

NCsoft and Cryptic Studios say more updates are on the horizon for its superhero-themed massively multiplayer game.

GameSpot recently had the opportunity to visit with publisher NCsoft for an upcoming look at the next planned content additions for its massively multiplayer game City of Heroes. The game, which was launched in April of 2004, lets players take on the role of an up-and-coming superhero in a crime-ridden metropolis. NCsoft and Cryptic Studios plan to continually supplement the game with a series of free downloadable patch updates that add more content, as well as with a retail expansion pack, City of Villains, which is planned for release some time next year.

The next update, known as "update 2," will add, among other things, flowing capes that players will be able to add to their characters once they reach level 20. They'll also be able to add permanent visual effects, such as a glowing aura, to their characters starting at level 30. The new update will also include extra content for players of different experience levels, including two all-new areas: the Hollows, a fairly low-level zone for characters between levels 5 to 15, and the Shadowshard, an interdimensional anomaly intended for characters of levels 40 to 50. The update will also add an all-new "badge" system to the game that will award players special badges for completing certain missions for task forces (the game's persistent character groups, equivalent to "guilds" in other online games), including bonus additions like accolades (which are specific combinations of badges) that can grant additional powers to characters of all levels, even those at the lofty level of 50.

The updates will consist of new zones that will be sizable and will offer content in the form of new quests, new instanced missions, and new gameplay features. The Shadowshard region will be especially huge and will consist of four separate subzones. Both new areas will feature new monsters to fight. The Shadowshard region actually exists in a nether realm where landmasses float in space and where they are connected by energy signatures--launch pads that send characters flying to the next island (flying characters will have an easier time of getting around, but they will also encounter flying enemies).

Other future plans for the game include "reverse sidekicking," essentially the converse of City of Heroes' innovative "sidekicking" feature that helped even out disparate character levels. Reverse sidekicking will let higher-level characters temporarily reduce their own character levels to adventure productively with low-level characters, which Cryptic hopes will be particularly attractive given the additional low-level content planned for this and other updates.

Other improvements and additions in future updates include a new cross-server chat system, which will let players chat with other players even on different game servers, and a new "trial" quest that will grant players the ability to "re-spec" their characters three times by emptying out whatever enhancements they've spent on their existing powers. Players won't actually be able to choose completely different powers as a result of a design decision. According to Cryptic's Jack Emmert, allowing players to swap too many of their powers would result in players feeling less attached to their characters--that is, they'd seem more like a video game object with a bunch of variables, and less like actual characters that have been developed over time.

Emmert also explained that updates will include the planned "update 3," currently scheduled for December. Update 3 will include the game's "out-of-combat" system, a new type of gameplay beyond exploration or combat. Emmert would not give out any other details.

Other planned updates for the future include epic archetypes, which will be a new subprofession that players will be able to assume at level 50, plus a possible addition of at least two new sets of powers, including a sonic-based power and an archery-based power. Player-versus-player combat will likely be added sometime in the first half of next year, after update 3, in the form of hero-versus-hero arena combat, but actual hero-versus-villain combat will become available in the City of Villains expansion, which is currently planned for release in the second half of next year.

For now, update 2 will be added to the game's test server in the coming days, and it is projected for full launch toward the end of this month. Consult our previous coverage for more information on City of Heroes.

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