Note: I made this as spoiler free as possible, but there may be some things here you don't want to read if you absolutely hate spoilers of all kinds.
One of the new features of Issue 21 is that new characters in City of Heroes have a new starting experience which includes a new tutorial for Primal Earth characters and all new content in Atlas Park (for heroes) and Mercy Island (for villains).
The new tutorial centers around the destruction of Galaxy City by alien forces know as Shivans. The Shivans are pretty horrible creatures, and they used meteors to obliterate the neighborhood as older players knew it. It's a rather grim place to be.
All Primal Earth characters start here now, making it possible to have any of the basic archetypes on either side. The new tutorial does a fantastic job of introducing players to the basics of the game through the use of voice overs. Instead of expecting new players to read a wall of text, you get a man's voice doing the role playing elements of the game and a woman's voice giving you the out-of-character mechanics.
I have to say, however, that the moral choice players make as to whether or not they are a hero or a villain is kind of ham-fisted from a role playing point of view. I'm sure most people know when they're creating a character whether or not they want it to be a hero or a villain, but how it fits into the story is awkward. You're asked to make a decision based on no information and no build up. Granted, it's just the tutorial, but it's a pretty big decision, and one you can't change until level 20.
At the end of the tutorial, you're air lifted out of Galaxy but either Longbow (if you're a hero) or Arachnos (if you're a villain) and sent to your respective starting zone. Before you leave take the time to talk to everyone you can around the helicopters and enjoy seeing some of the sights (like Dr. Aeon beating the crap out of an Arachnos soldier for no reason; always makes me laugh). There are some NPCs in that area that you can talk to that you encounter later in the game. If you talk to them, they remember it and your interaction with them is a little different because of it. That's a cool new feature that was just added, and one I hope gets used more down the road.
Heroes go on to continue their adventures in Atlas Park where their first contact is the awkwardly named Matthew Habashy. During Habashy's arc, players have the opportunity to change the world around them by the use of a new tech called phasing. For example, if you run a gang out of an area, they stay out of that area. The world as you see it is forever changed by your actions. This is also cool new tech that I hope continues.
Once a player is done with Habashy they are given the choice to either help Sondra Costel or Officer Fields. Both of these contacts have interesting arcs, and each utilize the new phasing tech. Of the two Fields has the more interesting story (which is actually rather gruesome), but Costel's arc has a mission in it with a very new and interesting tech. It's like nothing else in the game. My suggestion? Make lots of alts and try them all!
Costel or Fields then sends a player on to Aaron Thiery who is the last contact in the Atlas Park story arc. Theiry's arc ties in with your previous work with the other contacts and also utilizes phasing tech. You are also given a choice at the end of the arc that gives a new player the first indication that they can be a vigilante later.
Villains continue their dastardly deeds in Mercy Island where they are given Operative Kuzmin as a contact. Kuzmin's arc, and the rest of the arcs in Mercy (just like in Atlas), using phasing technology. Once a player is done with Kuzmin's arc they are given the choice between Fire Wire or Doctor Weber. Fire Wire's arc is amusing and introduces the player to the intricacies of villainy - making alliances, lying, cheating, and making your own way. Doctor Weber's arc has a macabre sense of whimsy and left me wondering if I wanted to laugh or shudder. I enjoyed both very much for very different reasons.
Both contacts hand you off to Lt. Harris to complete the new Mercy Island experience. To be honest, I hate this arc. It comes way too close to sympathizing with rape culture for my tastes, and worse yet you can't opt out of the decision that leads you there. There is no alternative ending to this arc and it makes me very uneasy to run it. Perhaps in the future I'll write more about it, but for now I just want to say that I hate it and I'll probably never run it again.
In addition to these arcs there are extended tutorial arcs in Atlas and Mercy, three on each side. They are in the 5 - 10, 10 - 15, and 15 - 20 level ranges. Twinshot is the contact for the Atlas Park ones and Dr. Graves is the one in Mercy.
Both arcs expose players to mission tech they will experience later in the game - finding objectives, navigating maps, what to do when you get to a dead end, using enhancements, forming a super group, using branching dialogue, working as a team, etc. I think they're both fantastic additions to the game and will be very helpful to new and returning players.
Twinshot's arcs definitely have the better story of the two. I find Dr. Graves' arcs to be contrived and I do not like the limited choices for the branching dialogue. I found my character having to make a lot of decisions I felt were out of character with Dr. Graves, but I did not feel that way with Twinshot. That's not to say that the Graves arcs are not helpful. In terms of learning game play, they are just as helpful as Twinshot's. They're just not as well written.
Over all I am pleased with the Atlas and Mercy make overs (with the exception of the Lt. Harris arc), and I hope that as future zones are redone this is what we can expect more of.
In addition to the new stories, both zones got a cosmetic make over too. Go on and explore. Where you find yourself may surprise you.