City of Heroes is about to do something that, unless I’m mistaken, is nearly unheard of in the world of MMOs. They are going to advance the story.
No, not just some expansion that tacks on a dozen new zones and makes an additional story you can explore, but actually taking the existing story and moving it forward. The only other game I know of that has done this is Asheron’s Call… and it makes sense once you know that some of the top guys at Cryptic were once the top guys at Turbine, makers of Asheron’s Call.
If you have been playing the game, or buy it right now and play, one of the villain groups you will fight are the 5th Column. These are a hold over from WWII, rooted in the Nazi Party but since separated into their own goals and headed by a man from another dimension, an alternate Earth when Germany won WWII. In a month or so (or less, I hope), you won’t be able to do this. In fact, if you join the test server now, you’ll find that the 5th Column are gone, and a new group, The Council, have risen up to take their place, destroying and devouring them from within. In a few months time, except for the odd plaque and the memories of older heroes, the 5th Column will vanish from the game.
One of the problems with other games on the market, is that they are, for all their lore and diversity, static. In EverQuest, if you buy an account right now and start from scratch, I can point you to quests and monster spawns that have remained unchanged for more than five years. The story in EverQuest has expanded, they’ve added new continents and worlds, alternate planes. They’ve added new lore and stories, new arcs of history and adventure, but they have remained reluctant to remove the old ones… The Paladins of Marr and the Freeport Militia are at the same tense standoff for control that they have had for five years. Wait, that’s five “real” years, but since 72 real minutes = a Norrath day, then you have 20 Norrath days per real day, which means that its been over 100 Norrath years. Beyond simple storytelling, EQ would have benefitted from adjusting its game in other ways… as time went on they developed more and more high level content, because thats where the bulk of people were, but they also took away none of the low level content, so the decreasing number of players turned into empty underpopulated zones and loss of social activity. In its beginning, people met in EQ because they were in the same places… now, until you get up to the later 50’s in level, there just simply aren’t enough people to fill the world to make for meaningful interaction between players.
This whole thing with City of Heroes gives me hope. I’ll be keeping my eye on the future of World of Warcraft to see if they follow suit, and even though I have no interest in playing EQ2, I’ll keep an eye on them to see if they have learned from their past. I’d love to see more worlds, more stories, instead of giant online gaming habitats.