City of Heroes “Freedom”: Restrictions and Compromises, Ahoy!

When NCSoft’s popular MMO City of Heroes came out with its “Freedom” expansion, allowing players to get and play the game for free for the first time in game history, I was thrilled. Now some of my real-life friends who could not afford to play the game could enjoy it as well!

But there are some important caveats to the “Free” player system, which I believe more players should be aware of before they get into the game.

Free Players Can’t…

  • Send Tells (private player messages) or in-game emails
  • Receive items from other players
  • Trade items with other players through the Trade Screen
  • Receive experience in Architect Entertainment (player-created) missions
  • Make more than two characters
  • Use Invented-Origin Enhancements for their powers
  • Earn Reward Merits or Vanguard Merits
  • Use Wentworth’s (Player Auction House)
  • Play post-level 50 content
  • Build Controllers, Masterminds, Peacebringers, Warshades, Arachnos Soldiers, or Arachnos Widows
  • Create Supergroups

Why Are These Big Issues?

The loss of most of these game mechanics severely limits the player and the team or group around them–not only can you not give a Free player a spare Inspiration to help them during a mission, but the Free player is restricted in what items they can use. They can’t even sell items on Wentworth’s or trade items to other players, and those items can quickly junk up the already-limited Inventory space that Free players are given.

The inability to send Tells or Emails lowers the Free player’s ability to connect with other players; with Incarnate content disallowed, there’s not much for a Free player to do with his/her character once it gets to 50. The restrictions on receiving Merits and receiving XP in AE missions are secondary, but still annoying–didn’t the Free player play just as much to receive those benefits as a paying player?

The limit of two characters is understandable, as is the restriction on what archetypes you can build as a Free player. And I suppose I can understand why Invented-Origin Enhancements are off-limits; if they weren’t, then Free players would have complete access to all the high-level, really strong Enhancement Sets that max out characters’ healing, damage, etc. But some of these restrictions seem silly for Free players, when it restricts so much of gameplay that it’s almost too frustrating to deal with.

Light at the End of the Tunnel: Premium Status

But, if you want the Free price tag but not the Free experience, there are a couple of ways to attain the “middle” status between a Free player and a completely-paid VIP player–this type of account is known as a “Premium” account. This status gives you a little more access, but possibly without as much monetary investment.

Any time you spend any money on the game at all, whether it’s an item set, costume piece set, or a special booster pack, you’ll be upgraded to a Premium Account if you’re currently a Free player. Also, if you get a Game Card that gives you a paid month of game access time, you will also be upgraded. (Important Note: Premium Players do not get opted-in to a paying plan automatically.)

Once you are a Premium player, you can purchase access to several key options, including:

  • Full access to all communication channels available through the Chatbox
  • Holding up to 2 billion influence (in-game money) per character
  • Sending and receiving email
  • Earning Reward Merits and Vanguard Merits (you must be level 35 and have run Levantera’s missions in the Rikti War Zone to get Vanguard Merits)
  • Varying levels of access to the Architect Entertainment system:
    1. Playing solo missions in AE, but not getting any XP: 2 Reward Tokens
    2. Getting XP and rewards from AE missions: 8 Reward Tokens
    3. Making your own AE missions: 20 Reward Tokens
  • Joining Supergroups and editing Supergroup Bases
  • Getting medium and large Inspirations (temporary boosts) through regular combat
  • Trading with other players
  • Creating Invented Enhancements

However, you must pay for each of these options individually using Reward Tokens in the Paragon Rewards system, which does cost real money. You will need to pick and choose which game features you really want and which you can live without if money is very tight. Being a Premium player makes it more bearable to play for less money, but it is still restrictive (though not nearly as restrictive as the Free account). (By the way, the only way I can see to get access to Premium account status without much money investment is to ask for Game Cards as birthday and Christmas presents… LOL)

Summary

Playing City of Heroes for “free” can give you a fair experience of the game, but it does restrict players in ways that most of us wouldn’t expect or even think about. That’s why I’ve shown the drawbacks of playing for Free in this article, as well as the ability to occupy a “middle ground” between Free and VIP status. Keep this in mind, and definitely don’t judge the whole game by the Free-account experience!

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