City of Heroes is coming back! Maybe! Sort of!
All right, so the jury’s still out on whether you’ll get to play the game as you used to – and that could be a literal statement, since there are probably going to be some legal proceedings that determine whether you do or not. My money’s on “Yes, NCSoft will come to some sort of agreement that lets people play again,” but, as one of the prospective new server hosts put it, things are moving “at the speed of legal.”
I’ve got no interest in playing on fly-by-night, could-be-shut-down-tomorrow servers, but if it does come back, I’ll hop in and … I dunno, play around for a bit?
I played City of Heroes solidly for about seven months, from June 2004 to January 2005. I came back a few times in the intervening years, either to subscribe for a month or for a free weekend here and there, but probably hadn’t touched it at all for at least three years when it went free-to-play in 2011. I logged in and it felt … slow. Like, glacially slow. My main game at the times was The Lord of the Rings Online, and while that game doesn’t exactly boast of ultra-fast-moving action combat, it felt like the hare compared to City of Heroes’ tortoise.
Speaking of which, LotRO has some big plans for this year, as well, with a new raid and a new zone, the Vales of Anduin, coming in 2019. Like CoH, I stopped playing LotRO full time some years ago (mid-2012) and have occasionally hopped back in, sometimes for weeks at a time, but haven’t done anything serious. I didn’t go back for the Mordor expansion and don’t see myself jumping back in to try this new content either.
Guild Wars 2 has gotten to that point with me at well, as I’m going on about a year since I played that game seriously. All the “Welcome Back Weeks” haven’t gotten me to re-log, though I probably will before the next story chapter goes live, just so I can unlock it for free. Probably.
All this isn’t to lament my choices of MMORPGs or to demean any of the above-listed games. They’re all still the favorites of some people, and if you’re still playing and enjoying them (well, maybe not CoH), good for you. I just don’t know if I can really go back to a game after so long away, no matter what they try and entice me, whether it be new content, free stuff, or, in the case of CoH, simply existing.
There are two main reasons I identify for this: One, MMORPGs tend to have a lot going on for you to keep track of, with new stuff added on a regular basis. I remember when I was playing one regularly, how I’d grouse and pout if more than three months went by in GW2 without a new content drop. “There’s nothing to do!”
Now, if I’ve been away for a year, a three-month update schedule means three new things that have been added, and I feel the need to catch up with. With a different game, I might need to get into an expansion, deal with a new level cap, grind for a new tier of gear, oh, and maybe deal with a mechanics revamp, or look into that new class, or … ugh, lemme just play another game of Warships or Overwatch.
Reason number two is, well, Warships and Overwatch. Well, not those games specifically, but all the other online (and offline) games out there that I could play instead. I know, it’s not news that there are a bajillion games to play on Steam and elsewhere … but there are, with new stuff added every day. I can play the creaky, years-old MMO or something new and shiny, or at least newer and shinier.
I think it comes down to momentum. When you’re playing, you’re logging in every day, or nearly so, enjoying the game but also dealing with all the minor annoyances, whether it’s to do with the game or the community or whatever. That game is the norm, and other games, even other activities in general, just feel different. It’s 8 p.m. and time to log in; that’s just how your day is.
When you finally do step away – “it’s just for a little while, I’ll be back” – that momentum vanishes. The game is no longer part of your daily routine. You don’t need to log in. Those minor annoyances are roadblocks now – “I could play, but then I’ll have to deal with that.” Maybe you even forget a little bit about how to play, especially if an update changes some aspect of the game. After too long away, it becomes the “different” one. Getting back in is now a chore. Where once you had to force yourself to log off, now you have to force yourself to log in.
Maybe this also explains why there are still people playing EverQuest after 20 years. They know that if they quit now, even for a little while, they’ll never go back. Also, hope everyone has fun in WoW Classic!
One other thing that MMORPGs used to have going for them was the communities. Log in, say “hi” to your friends or guild mates, and do epic adventures together. Sure, you can say that the lack of necessity for group content nowadays makes in-game communities less important, but I think the rise of social media has also made the community aspect less valuable. I could log into a game and interact with my guild – including (ugh) “that guy,” because every guild has one (or more) – or I can just hang out on Twitter or Facebook or Discord or whatever and hang out with my MMO buds in a more convenient fashion – maybe while playing a game that I like better.
To put it another way, you have to love the game, and mostly the game alone, to log in these days. Loving the community is secondary. And creaky as an older MMORPG can be, with its older graphics engines, dated gameplay, years of features-patched-upon-features, that can be difficult. From a pure gameplay standpoint, there are usually better options out there. Maybe that’s why people keep pinning their hopes on whatever new thing comes along, no matter how many red flags it has. If it’s newer, it has to be better, right?
Can you go home again, to an MMO that you’ve been away from for years, one you used to call home? Or does the passage of time make that sort of re-investment impossible, especially when there are so many other new ways to entertain yourself? City of Heroes isn’t new, but, since most of us have been away from it for six-plus years, maybe it will feel new. It’s tough to say whether I’ll have any interest in it beyond nostalgia value; I’m very certain it won’t draw me back and be an everyday obsession for me like it was in 2004.