I created a new custom character (custom as in powerset) and leveled her up to level 9. A few things from where they were 3 years ago. The game makes the story much more about what YOU are doing. New cutscenes help strengthen that concept.
The Qular invasion intro is much leaner. The positive is that they also bridge the gap between invasion and helping out the city much cleaner and have it make more sense than before. Overall that starting storyline is simply better than it was at launch.
Pre-level 10, the game is very much like the CO of old. You get your powers and what not, but the introduction to gear is done in the powerhouse, with a gift of 3 pieces of primary gear. Even unlocking things with the token system is a better choice (you earn tokens as random drop or as quest rewards).
Tokens allow you to purchase costume pieces, unique travel powers (that can NOT be bought) and gear (if none of the costumes/travel powers interest you). I tried doing a quick search (no more than 30 seconds invested) and I was unable to find images of what the costumes look like. This means that its more of a gamble than the C-store purchase, but I don't believe these are available anywhere else.
Powers also reinforce being used within a single set or origin set (there are crossovers with the elements for example). I built a wind/lightning hybrid, where the idea is that the wind is a natural power and the lightning comes from a special powersuit they have. I ended up picking up a powerform that enhances both crushing (wind) and electric damage, which is great considering the combination I have going.
Coming at 10 is something I experienced with my other character, which is customizing his powers based on what their superstats are. This makes for interesting choices on both the stat level and the role level. You can still customize your powers with things that are particularly good for tanking (it generates more threat), but I wish that ability would change based on your role instead (so that it would do less threat if you were in an offensive position).
But the main issue with the game for many people is how much of it is behind a pay wall. To this point I can agree with the fact that the best parts of the character creator (custom build, travel powers, costume pieces) are not available for free. Despite that, the majority of costumes are free, and there are plenty of travel powers that are free.
I see it like this, you can play the game for free, and if you get to the point where you feel you are having fun and want to invest more in the character, then you are able to do so. Playing the game to completion is not only possible without paying, the only reason to pay is because you feel that the game is something you want.
For those who are now used to this model, getting a custom build for a silver account will cost $50 (this will be a permanent unlock of allowing custom build choices only), most travel powers cost a bit over $5 (becomes available for every character), and most powersets cost about $12 (powersets also are for every character).
I'll be going back and building a character using a powerset to talk more about that and powers in general in the next installment.