A “proud nail” is one that sticks out and snags things on an otherwise smooth surface. The D&D designers use the term to discuss game design elements that stick out and catch your game. D&D 3E’s grappling rules are one of the best examples. In City of Heroes, we have the Carnival of Shadows, perhaps the most ill-conceived faction in the game.
At first blush, hey, evil carnies, cool. The look is great, with harlequined ladies and men welded into their helmets. They are the big psychic group, with some of the more challenging bosses in the game. Interesting visuals and unique abilities: excellent. On the villain side, they have their own section of Saint Martial, and Vivacious Verandi is one of the most entertaining contacts in the game.
Now step back a moment: evil carnies? You have been fighting gangs of thugs, their ninja masters, alien invaders, body-stealing mages, global conspiracies, and finally you reach the end game of … evil carnies? Is this the issue when Howard the Duck teams up with the Fantasic Four to fight Galactus?
The occasional silly mission is fine, and maybe an entire contact full of it in the mid-levels, when there are many options and your character is more like Speedball than the Silver Surfer. You do not set 20% of your late game content as evil carnies. The introduction of additional late game content has eased that, but two of the core ten level 40 to 50 hero contacts have carnies and more carnies. The non-carnie (or not-100%-carnie) missions are offset by carnie infection of other contacts, such as a war that includes heroic carnies from another dimension.
The carnies are the big psychic group. Did I mention that “20% of the late game content” thing? Psychic damage is CoX’s standard Achilles’ heel. Most of the defensive sets offer little or no protection against psychic attacks. Offsetting that, psychic attacks are rare. Until you get into the late game, where you have psychic carnies, psychic aliens, psychic robots, and evil versions of the psychic heroes with their evil psychic minions.
I should not exaggerate this. None of the minions have psychic attacks, nor do all lieutenants. They have hammers, swords, and glowing rings. This leaves the bosses and the Illusionist lieutenants blasting you with psychic damage. That must be a fun shock on the Tanker’s first visit: tank the hordes of enemies as usual, then the boss shows up and cuts through your defenses like a warm knife through your eye.
Those Illusionists are the main offenders in terms of powers. They are Illusion Controllers, so they like to open with Blind (hold) and Flash (AE hold). The Master Illusionist bosses do that, and then they summon three Illusionist lieutenants who help stack those holds, in case you have status protection, and two other pets, one of which also has a hold. Sleep, immobilize, and knockback are mixed in there, along with their friends who have a chance to disorient. But we are not to the problem yet. Oh no.
Illusionists (and Master Illusionists) can phase out. For the non-CoXers, that means becoming insubstantial, unable to be affected. They can still attack while phased out. They can phase out while under crowd control. Contemplate that one a moment: an enemy who can lock you down while invulnerable, and if you lock them down, they might phase out until it wears off (and then lock you down). As bosses, Master Illusionists require two holds to freeze, and would you care to guess how often they will phase out in the time between your first and second holds?
The other bosses got a really neat power last year, one that takes away your health regeneration and endurance recovery. That shuts down a character rather well, although you can pop inspirations to counter it. Even playing a Regeneration Stalker at the time they got that power, I cannot put it on par with the Illusionists. The Strongman lieutenants got a nice debuff at the same time, and every carnie has a chance to drain end upon defeat. I classify these as tough but fair, especially since the single target debuffs encourage teaming.
Before we leave the Illusionists alone, can I mention that the Carnival of Shadows badge (“Illusionist”) is tied to the Illusionists? Better yet, it requires defeating the Illusionists that the Master Illusionists summon, not the normal lieutenants. 500 of them. That means fighting more than 100 Master Illusionists and making sure that every one summons its full complement of pets. This badge is required for one of the costume pieces and a hero-side accolade that is easily available before level 30 on the villain side.
Finally, there are the Carnival of Shadows story arcs. The first one is the big offender. First, the contact is in Founder’s Falls, a zone that has no carnies. She is worried about a faction that cannot get to her, which I guess explains why she goes to them. Second, the arc includes two “defeat 45 carnies” missions. There is only one zone that has carnies, and there are not enough low-40s carnie spawn points to get 45. This requires knowing which spawn points have a chance of spawning carnies, doing laps around the zone so that things have a chance to respawn, and hoping that no one goes AFK near one of the spawn points or else it will not respawn. (I once had someone AFK in the perfect spot to block four.) You can now get police scanner missions full of carnies, but those did not exist originally and they are unavailable if you are using the new Ouroboros flashback system.
How do we fix this?
- Add more content in the 40 to 50 range. The Rikti War Zone helped in a way that the Shadow Shard did not, but more options means less feeling of being stuck with carnies. The flavor is not bad, but it does not merit such a large fraction of the original late game content.
- I have cited my distaste for crowd control before: making the player stand still and do nothing is not a good thing. There are counters, it encourages teaming, rewards certain builds, etc., but those are only “rewards” in the sense that they remove the penalty of making players passively watch themselves lose unless they bring the right counters. If you run out of purple candy, buy more on your way back from the hospital. That is not fun, and it should be minimized.
- Enemies that can attack you while you cannot attack back should be rare and interesting, not every third mob. This is part of what makes Diabolique such a hated archvillain, and again you have players standing around waiting for their turn to fight.
- 500 summoned Illusionists for the badge? No. 200 Illusionists of any kind or 50 Master Illusionists? Better.
- Change the hunt missions. Do not send players to hunt more of something than exists, relying on the respawn. Either set the number lower or send the players to do something else.
And now I have written the word “carnies” too many times, so I will leave you. Jester costumes, available now at Icon!