City of Villains Hands-On - Villains, Powers, and the Wrong Side of Town

Is it good to be bad? We take a hands-on look at the upcoming online supervillain game from the creator of City of Heroes.

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Last year, developer Cryptic Studios and publisher NCsoft's City of Heroes helped massively multiplayer online games leap a tall building in a single bound. Previously, online role-playing games usually involved creating a fantasy character and repeatedly beating on skeletons and goblins to earn copper coins, magic swords, and the privilege of beating on larger skeletons and goblins. City of Heroes took massively multiplayer games into the realm of comic-book superheroes by letting you create your very own superpowered do-gooder, complete with superhuman abilities like flight, superspeed, and a whole host of other powerful abilities designed to let you conquer the thugs and criminals of Paragon City, the game's home area. Now, Cryptic and NCsoft are working on their next game, City of Villains, which isn't an expansion pack, but rather, is something of a stand-alone sequel to City of Heroes. You won't need the original game to play City of Villains, but you might want to consider getting both games eventually, especially if you're interested in pitting superheroes against supervillains in player-versus-player battles.

You'll be able to play as a supervillain in this upcoming sequel from the creators of City of Heroes.
You'll be able to play as a supervillain in this upcoming sequel from the creators of City of Heroes.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Like many classic comic-book villains who model themselves after their heroic counterparts, City of Villains could be thought of as, in some ways, a more evil, alternate-universe version of City of Heroes. Like the original, you'll start a new game by creating a new character from one of five different "super" origins--science, mutation, magic, technology, and natural--and from one of five different character archetypes, which are essentially the game's version of character professions. You'll also choose two types of powers, a primary and a secondary set, each of which comes in various flavors and opens up an entire line of superpowers to be gradually attained as your character grows stronger and becomes more experienced. But the new game will have all-new archetypes: the brute, the stalker, the mastermind, the dominator, and the corruptor. And, as Cryptic designer Dave "Zeb" Cook explains, "The archetypes in City of Villains will be much more focused on offense than those of City of Heroes." While some archetypes seem like more aggressive versions of heroes, others are completely new.

For instance, the brute class resembles a cross between the heroes' tanker and scrapper classes and is the villains' primary frontline fighter, using primary melee powers and secondary defensive powers. The dominator could be compared to the heroes' controller character, since this archetype uses primary control powers to disable enemies rather than attacking them directly, but it also uses offense-oriented secondary assault powers. And the corruptor could be roughly compared to the heroes' ranged-attacking blaster character, since the corruptor uses primary ranged powers but also acts as a healer for the villains, thanks to its secondary "buff" healing and aiding powers, though it also uses a "scourge" power to ruthlessly deal critical damage to enemies that have been wounded to within 20 percent of their remaining health. The stalker seems roughly comparable to the heroes' scrapper in that the class also uses melee and defensive powers but also relies on stealth and stabbing enemies in the back while hidden. Additionally, the stalker may also make exceptionally damaging scourge attacks on severely wounded enemies. The fifth and final new archetype is, however, completely different from any hero: The mastermind is the villains' pet class, and it uses primary summoning powers and secondary buff powers.

It's true that some villains share superpowers with their heroic brethren of Paragon City, including classic powers from the original City of Heroes, as well as updated powers that have been recently added to the original game (such as sonic-based powers and archery). However, the new archetypes will also have access to all-new powers, like the stalker's "assassin" skill. Regardless of whether stalkers choose to use claws, energy-based melee, martial arts, or poisonous spines, they will all eventually be able to learn an assassin power at a higher level, which lets them deliver a devastating blow while hidden. Hiding will be the first secondary power any stalker can acquire in the archetype's secondary power set.

City of Villains will introduce all-new powers.
City of Villains will introduce all-new powers.

Other examples of all-new abilities are the dominator's plant-based powers--specifically, the primary plant control power and the secondary thorny assault power. Plant control is exactly what it sounds like. Dominators can choose this line of powers to summon choking vines and roots to immobilize and strangle their enemies, as well as use miscellaneous plant-based powers, like summoning spore burst clouds that put their enemies to sleep. Thorny assault is an offensive power that lets dominators pelt their enemies with razor-sharp thorns or sprout a gigantic thorn from their own bodies to attack with at close range. But perhaps the most intriguing powers come from the mastermind's primary sets of necromancy, robotics, and ninjas. Depending on which power you choose, this character can summon aid in the form of shambling zombies, killer robots, and perhaps the most dreaded allies of all: ninjas!

Seize Them, You Fools!

Once you've chosen the archetype and powers you'll use in City of Villains, you'll then proceed to the part of the game that the original City of Heroes is perhaps most famous for: choosing your appearance. According to Cook, the final version of City of Villains should feature about a third of the original game's appearance options (including helmets, hoods, masks, tights, martial arts robes, stuffed animals, and robot arms, among others), but it will also have plenty of brand-new accoutrements specifically designed for villains. These include touches as subtle as a character with a perpetually raised eyebrow to attributes as outrageous as hoofed feet, barbed-wire or steel-chain necklaces, reptilian skin, and a set of monstrous faces that vaguely resemble grinning wolves and vampire bats.

You'll be able to create hideous-looking villains if you care to.
You'll be able to create hideous-looking villains if you care to.

After creating your character, you'll begin your adventures in the tutorial area (since the game will be a stand-alone product that Cryptic expects new players may pick up for the first time). In this case, the tutorial area will come in the form of a prison break, as your villainous character has been incarcerated. However, you've got a chance at freedom thanks to a daring raid by Arachnos, a shadowy organization based in the remote Rogue Isles. Through this tutorial mission, new players can learn how to fight, use inspirations (the game's one-use booster items, just like in City of Heroes), use enhancements (the game's permanent power-boosting items, also from City of Heroes), and discover the beginnings of the story. Apparently, the jailbreak you find yourself in, as well as other raids that occur around the same time, have been orchestrated by Arachnos, because the group is searching for a "destined one," a prophesied supervillain who will bring it ultimate power. But since the villainous outfit doesn't have the means to pinpoint exactly who the mighty chosen one is, the group has decided to free them all and let the mean streets of the Rogue Isles sort 'em out.

The Rogue Isles aren't like the colorful and bustling streets of Paragon City. While the heroes have a colorful and clean metropolis lined with rows of trees and city parks, the villains' stomping grounds are wretched hives of scum and broken-down tenements. You can expect to stroll through burned-out, half-wrecked cities, abandoned piers with ramshackle fishing boats, highly polluted industrial parks, and dingy factories with huge turning gears. Unlike the heroes' city, whose clean streets are home to hundreds of wandering citizens that occasionally get harassed by thugs, the Isles are home to several factions of criminals that are openly committing crimes, protestors that wave anti-violence signs (while amused Arachnos agents toss tear gas at them), and members of Longbow, a pesky splinter faction of heroes that, for whatever reason, wants to clean up the Isles.

After breaking out of prison and proving yourself to the Arachnos agents, you're whisked away to the Isles, where supervillain agent Kalinda gives you your first set of missions to prove yourself to Arachnos--and to remind you that in the eyes of the organization, you're expendable. Your first few missions will require you to silence traitors and kill off some of the city's vermin, like thugs that have been infected with various diseases and mutant snake men that live in caves in and around the area. Cryptic has stated that many of the missions in the game will be more "proactive" than those of the heroes, so rather than waiting for citizenry to be kidnapped before rescuing them, villains will instead neutralize "perceived" threats.

City of Villains will finally let superheroes clash with supervillains online.
City of Villains will finally let superheroes clash with supervillains online.

In addition to roaming the streets looking for trouble, villains may also visit Bloody Bay, the Isles' player-versus-player dueling zone. It is here that villains can put their powers where their mouths are by dueling with one another to earn a spot in the rankings ladder, in addition to earning bragging rights and possible special rewards later on. However, dueling in Bloody Bay won't incur any "experience debt," the condition that affects your current experience level and abilities after your villain (or hero) falls in battle. As a result, the only stakes in these battles will involve how thick your skin is to ridicule. Of course, Bloody Bay has a secondary hospital area (the area in which fallen characters are revived) that's reserved for superheroes, because City of Villains will let players that own each game square off against one another in hero-versus-villain battles, which can be entered into for bragging rights (for now, anyway). Interestingly, the Bay also contains its own built-in monsters to fight, as well as missions to undertake, such as one that requires you to capture samples from scattered meteorites (while evading radioactive ghouls at the same time). However, in this mission, you'll be vulnerable to attack from ghouls and from other players, too.

From what we've seen, City of Villains will offer more of the addictive, superpower-focused gameplay of City of Heroes, but in an all-new setting with all-new powers...and with clashes between heroes and villains to boot. Players who have always wanted to be bad, for a change, should keep an eye out for the game when it launches this October.

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