Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been - Saying Goodbye to City of Heroes

After playing City of Heroes for eight years, I have decided that it is time to hang up my cape and leave Paragon City behind. I have had some really wonderful times as a player, and leaving fills me with an ache and longing that I can't quite describe. 

City of Heroes was an impulse purchase I made in August 2004 right after I was laid off from my job. I needed to console myself with a little retail therapy, and like any geek girl, I wanted a new video game. I had been following CoH in the gaming mags (cause I was old school then), and figured that being jobless was the perfect time to get into a game that can be a time sink. 

I quickly fell in love with CoH, and in the many years I have been playing, I have never once regretted my decision to play it. I have had a lot of fun, met a lot of great people, even fell in love through it. I attended both HeroCons, have some cool CoH swag, and will miss it a great deal. 

But there are things going on in City of Heroes that make it impossible for me to continue justifying being a paying customer. 

City of Heroes has a misogyny problem
This hasn't always been the case, however. Until about a year ago, CoH was a very woman-friendly game, not only in terms of game content, but in the community. I met a lot of wonderful women while playing CoH (women with whom I still maintain friendships). We would often have all-woman teams, and most of us were respected as players, raid leaders, etc. And because CoH doesn't seem to attract the same kind of players as games like WoW, there was never a lot of sexist bullshit to deal with in chat. And the stories and signature characters had a good mix of different kinds of women. Sometimes the woman was the "strong" type who could take care of herself. Sometimes she was kidnapped. Sometimes she was the hero, and sometimes she was the villain. In short, the women in the stories where given the same roles as men, and it was a refreshing change of pace from other games that play out that tired woman-as-victim trope.  

But this all changed as the game started to feature the art of David Nakayama, who I have criticized before for his very male-gaze heavy art. Then came the first SSA "Who Will Die?" in which Paragon Studios made a big spectacle out of killing Statesman. They even had a funeral for him, complete with a eulogy by Positron. Did you know that Sister Psyche also died in that arc? And Alexis Cole, the original Ms. Liberty, the daughter of Statesman? Alexis was gunned down in cold blood. She was completely unarmed, and said absolutely nothing in her defense. Sister Psyche died "for the greater good," a move that humps that old chestnut about women being self-sacrificing ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And of course, no one cared. No funeral, no big cut scene. Just dead, gone, forgotten. In the case of Sister Psyche, it's rather a welcome relief from the treatment she had been receiving. In the case of Alexis Cole, it was very hard to watch. And it's a video game! About super heroes! They're not supposed to make you cringe that bad or make you wish you hadn't seen it or make you not want to continue the story. 

Then Dark Astoria was revamped, full of all kinds if eye rolling bullshit. There is absolutely NO positive female influence in that story arc. None. Unless you run it with a female character, but I digress. Every woman in the stories is either a hapless victim, a sacrificial lamb, or responsible for the whole fucking mess. Even when you get sent to help Lady Grey, who is hinted at being incredibly powerful, she still needs your help and the help of about three male NPCs. To take down one guy! Who I defeated by myself because the NPCs were too slow and I left them behind. 

Most recently there has been the sexualization of Penelope Yin, and the picture so infuriates me I'm not even going to share it. She's all tits and ass and impossible pose and it just pisses me off. 

There is no benefit to being a VIP member
Since the advent of City of Heroes: Freedom and the Paragon Market, there is no reason to pay to play this game. Being a VIP member gives me 400 Paragon Points a month. I figured this would cover the content of what they would put out monthly, thus keeping my subscription in line with what it had always been - all access. But no. Four hundred points won't even buy a power set. Every week, players are bombarded with new things to buy ranging from the frivolous to the much-anticipated. Before Freedom launched, there had been two paid expansions and a handful of cosmetic booster packs. They didn't come out often, and were reasonably priced for what they are. But now a power set cost 800 points, which is two months' worth of VIP time, or $30.00. Thirty dollars! For a power set! 

I am fed up with the nickle and dime show. And I have searched high and low, and have not found a single benefit to paying for a subscription. None. It gets me Incarnate content. That's it. My status as an 8 year veteran unlocks the rest that's usually gated for Premium members. Why am I paying for membership when I'm still expected to buy everything from the Paragon Market? 

Technical issues get ignored
Four years ago, people started complaining about the running problem in CoH. Enemies began to run, and run, and run, and put Forest Gump to shame. For no reason. A lot of times, all you had to do was aggro a spawn and it would run, not attack. Just run all the way out of rendering range with FULL HEALTH. I reported, numerous times, that this problem can be duplicated every single time with toggle debuffs. I was told it was working as intended. In the four years previous to this, enemies never ran. But we get told it's "working as intended." Since when? Is that an acknowledgement that a stealth change was put in that they will not address, but instead want us to believe was always there? 

Patches and issues are getting pushed to the live server with bugs. And not just any bugs, but bugs that beta testers will point out for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. Pages and pages of posts on the beta forums with no official response or acknowledgement. 

Paragon Studios used to pride itself on the quality of its product. Things were released when they were ready. Things weren't pushed out half-assed, and they actually used to listen and respond to players. Now they seem to want to just get things out, playability be damned. 

City of Heroes has terrible customer service
I have had a problem with my account FOR FOUR YEARS that I can't get resolved. At all. I don't want to discuss it here, because it's sensitive in nature, but suffice it to say, it should not still be an on-going problem. 

Getting in-game help is almost impossible these days, and most petitions are responded to with a form letter that only has nominal relevance to your problem. It's mind-boggling. 

And you know what really sucks? I still really like playing this game. I don't really want to stop (and I don't have to; my account is still active, it's just not VIP), but I can't support what I see as a really bad trend this game is taking. It is going in a direction, a bad direction, from which there is no return. The Freedom hybrid pay/free model was flawed from the start, and it just gets worse and worse. The story telling is getting really bad, and it just doesn't feel like the same, friendly, welcoming game that I used to love. 

And it's sad. City of Heroes was once a really great thing. It's a shame it had to end like this.