Paragon Studios senior producer Jesse Caceres and the game's art lead, David Nakayama, told me that the alignment change is a natural evolution from all of the other customization choices they've given to players in the past. "One of our strengths is the character creation system," says Caceres, "and with the Mission Architect, players could custom create and craft their own stories, create their own villain groups. We want to give players more options, so with this expansion, we're giving them the freedom to change their alignments from Hero to Villain" (and vice versa).
I didn't get to play through an entire transformation -- the whole process takes a series of at least ten quests, and it's designed to be undertaken as you level your character up through the game's 50 levels. As you play through the game, you start to find "tip" items, which lead you on to special quests ("missions," in the CoH parlance). These missions play out like your standard MMO affairs, with some goal to accomplish, but they also have an edge to them, something that makes you start wondering whether you're really on the right side or not.
"Players wanted a journey where they could fall from grace from a hero to a villain, and go on the road to redemption from a villain to a hero."- Jesse Caceres
The one I played had my hero chasing down a bad guy working for a group called The Resistance, and once cornered, the troublemaker tried to convince me that an NPC named Emperor Cole was not actually the benevolent leader he appeared to be. As we fought, he suggested that Cole was lying, that I was on the wrong side, and that Cole was actually a monster. I returned to my quest giver and shared my concerns, but he dismissed them -- of course Cole was benevolent. Anyone who thought otherwise was crazy, he said, and sent me on the next quest.
As the missions stack up, the idea is that you'll start to rethink your alignment. "Players wanted a journey where they could fall from grace from a hero to a villain, and go on the road to redemption from a villain to a hero," Caceres told me. "And what we're doing with Going Rogue is providing that memorable journey so that it really sticks." After around ten different tip missions, you'll be offered a "morality mission," and that's where it gets interesting: at the end of the mission, you'll have a very clear-cut choice to make about a certain action (either joining or fighting another NPC, for example), and that choice will have a permanent effect on your alignment.
So what's the reward for switching? There are a few different levels -- characters can stay or go full Villain or Hero, or Heroes can go partially bad and become Vigilantes, with Villains who dabble in good becoming Rogues. Going partway to a side actually opens up all of the content for that side, so Vigilantes and Rogues can play both Hero and Villain quests and storylines in the game, as well as chat with and join up with other players of those factions. But there are also special rewards for staying full Hero or Villain, so there are bonuses no matter which way you choose.
The expansion seemed like an interesting addition to the game, although it's mostly solo content -- while there are some new zones to play, I didn't hear too much about new things to do with friends. In the future, Caceres says that NCSoft will continue updating Going Rogue with content, and the next big item on the checklist is adding to the endgame with "the Incarnate system," where "players can make really significant changes to their character." Players have complained in the past about a lack of progress after level 50, so Paragon is "expanding it out and making the endgame meaningful."
Going Rogue doesn't seem like the kind of expansion that really drives new players into the game, but current and past City of Heroes and Villains players will probably want to give it a look and maybe switch sides to take characters through the quests of the opposite alignment. Going Rogue will be available in a few weeks on August 17.