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A Hero is Born
I played City of Heroes for several years (with on-and-off periods). To date it's still the only MMORPG to ever get that level of commitment from me. I liked that the combat is fast, that tactics are flexible, and that solo or pickup group play are both available with little planning. I really liked that I could have dozens of different characters that all played pretty differently.
Unfortunately, tracking each of the tiered systems for alignments, Incarnates, and other rewards left me where I didn't feel I could get value on an impromptu login and I didn't feel like maintaining a subscription just to log in, go "oh yeah, I needed that" and log off. I couldn't schedule enough time to feel I got my money's worth. So I lapsed the account after something like 60 months of subscriber time.
So now comes City of Heroes: Freedom, allowing play without subscription. Intriguing. And to be fair, two months ago I couldn't log in there at all so now anything beyond that is strictly and improvement. I'm certainly not owed anything. So today I reinstalled and here's what I experienced:
Locked Away for Crimes they Didn't Commit (or Prevent)
As expected, I found my characters locked. I have 10 usable slots waiting for me to assign, though. That's not a whole lot to a guy who used 12 slots each across 4 servers. It's not even enough for all my 50s. But certainly it enables me to pull up a few old favorites. I could see paying a little to unlock more over time. So I pick my fire/rad controller and log in.
That was a nice surprise, actually. I'd heard Controllers were a restricted AT. It turns out though that my account has enough subscriber time accrued that I have lifetime access to them. Pretty sweet.
No Interest, but Intrigued
I get a message that I have sold items on the Auction House, cash waiting for me. Even more surprising. Didn't the rule used to be they get deleted after 60 days? Just junk salvage, but it's good to have access to auction stuff. Not sure what character I parked all my influence on, though. I used to pass it back and forth via mail but I don't recall if I ever pulled it out. I kind of hope I did, lest a billion inf mail got deleted. (I didn't check my mail actually, due to system spam in it.)
My base (and I did have my own bases, at least one each on 4 servers) is locked. Not surprising, no rent paid in ages. So I go over to city hall and attempt to pay. No option. Well, there's been an update lag before. Let me relog ... nope. Am I the ... yeah, I'm the SG leader. OK so apparently you have to be a subscriber to pay rent. You must pay for the privilege of paying.
I want to be understanding, but as a long-time player I have numerous valuable enhancements in my base storage. And apparently I have no way of getting to them without subscribing. (Or trusting / making use of someone who does.) That's a bit of a let-down. I could live without my teleporters but storage is important, and even if I could live without using it again I want the stuff that's there.
Speaking of enhancements, about this time my toggles drop. That's weird because I was just standing there, not fighting. It turns out Invention Enhancements don't work. Every build I have on every character is pretty much IO'd out one way or another, and they simply don't work. It turns out I don't strictly speaking have to subscribe, though. For $2 a month I can get an Invention License turning them all back on. Much cheaper than $15, I could see doing that. But actually I have a better option due to my experience. My subscription history makes me very very close to permanent Invention unlock. (If I spent $15 I'd get that feature as a bonus to whatever I actually spent the $15 on, like character slots.)
So that's nice for me, with 5 years back history. If I was, say, a 2-year vet who had maybe 5 IO'd characters, that option would be way way out of reach. Again the $2 monthly option really isn't bad, but playing your main character the way you remember them for free is going to be impossible for most people.
Unsurprisingly after that, I can see my Alpha Slot doesn't seem to be working. (Unlike the Invention enhancements though, I didn't get a nice red "warning" message pointing this out.) OK so how close am I to permanent Incarnate unlock? It doesn't exist. How much for the monthly Incarnate License? Oh that doesn't exist either.
So unfortunately, the only way I can make any "forward progress" (which for my experience I define as "Incarnate Levels") is to be a full-on subscriber. I could spend some money to unlock more slots, and in doing so hit the threshold where my inventions are enabled, but there's no fixed (or discounted) rate I can pay to have access to the part of the game I'd want to be playing.
Not in it for the Teacups
This, to be honest, makes subscription even less of a marginal value than it was before. Before, $15/mo made the difference between playing and not, a big difference. If I was newish, $15/mo would make the difference between 2-slot minimal play and full multi-slot characters, auctions, and IOs, a sizeable difference. But for me, $15/mo makes the difference 100% of the game and 95% of it, and I do want that 5% but ... if you couldn't sell me a big upgrade before, how do you expect to sell me a small one now?
It's like I get a letter from Six Flags saying "here, have a free ticket". And I accept the premise that the free ticket is really an incentive to go buy overpriced Churros and slushies, which I might do. But then I go and find out the free ticket doesn't include Roller Coasters, and I can buy a full-priced ticket that does. Which, yes I'm sure I can, but the free ticket isn't doing anything for me at that point, so why am I there?
So that's where I stand. I still don't feel I ever got my money's worth for Going Rogue last year since I bought that for Incarnate slots which were limited availability then and not part of the package now, but that's water under the bridge. It's nice to give me the chance to be nostalgic, but they won't be getting my microtransactions when I'm no better off than I was 6 months ago - and I wasn't playing then.
Attn: NCSoft CEO
If there was an option where I could pay $3/month for Incarnates and $0.50/month for bases, I would immediately throw $30 at them to say "give me three months and unlock 5 characters." Nobody's retiring on that cash, but it's money they're not getting now and it puts me in place to buy more. (Plus I add player volume to the servers, which is something MMOs need.) Instead, they've locked it away under a $15 fee and I just can't justify that. Maybe there are enough $15 payers under the current system that they're fine, but for me it's an opportunity missed.