City of Heroes

City of Heroes

Written by Charles Husemann on 6/3/2004 for PC  
More On: City of Heroes
City of Heroes is the latest Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) from NC Soft. The game takes place in Paragon City which is recovering after an alien invasion by the Rikti savaged the city. The invasion ripped the city up into several distinct zones and decimated the city’s hero population. It’s your job to create a hero and help to restore order to the city.

This is not your typical MMORPG though, as there’s nary an orc or elf in the game (there are a few trolls though). When enemies are defeated, you don’t get gold. Instead, players receive enhancements (permanent improvement to powers), inspirations (temporary power boosts), and Influence (currency which you can use to purchase inspirations and enhancements. There’s a cheap joke here about politicians and peddling influence but I’ll be good). Another significant difference is that there is no player vs. player combat so the game has a slightly safer feel to it (you only have to worry about being killed by the bad guys and not your fellow super heroes).

What’s really special about the game is the character creation system. You select from one of five origins (natural, science, mutation, magic, technology), one of five archetypes (Blaster, Controller, Defender, Scrapper, and Tanker), and your start set of powers. Once you have that out of the way, the real fun begins as you determine the look and feel of your hero. You can select from a wide variety of faces, costumes, and color-schemes and you could literally spend hours just working out the perfect hero. After you’ve got your hero configured, it’s off to the training level. The training level will take you about twenty to thirty minutes and provide you with a good overview of the game. The only problem is that you have to go through it for every character you create and it gets a bit old after the first few times you do it. Once you’ve completed the training mission, it’s on to Paragon City to fight crime.

Paragon City is probably not one of the best places to live. Despite all of the heroes in the city, citizens still have to deal with gangs, zombies, satanic cults, evil robots, and aliens. It’s up to you to defend the citizens from these evil forces and restore order. There are two primary ways to go about this. The first is the easiest which is just to wander the streets and look for the bad guys. The second is to find contacts in the city to get missions from. Missions can be as easy as taking something to someone across the city or eliminating a specified number of bad guys to having to clear out an infestation of evil doers in order to reclaim an item or stop an evil plot in progress. Missions from one contact will sometimes be strung together to form a story arc which is where the real meat of the game is. The arcs are what help bring the world of Paragon City to life.

As you accomplish missions for your contacts, your relationships with them will grow and you’ll get better and better missions. Once you’ve got a good relationship with them, you’ll be able to call them on the cell phone instead of traveling across zones to talk to them in person. This makes it much easier to get new missions and contact them when you’ve completed a mission.The game allows you to go it hero solo but if you really want to get the most out of it you can team with other super heroes to combat evil. The trick to effective team play is to make sure you have the right mix of archetypes. You’ll want representatives of each class to ensure you’re team’s survival. You’ll need Tankers and Scrappers to get in and mix it up point blank while Blasters stand off and pick off bad guys from a distance. The team Defender is there to help keep the team alive by healing and resurrecting team members and helping to weaken the enemies. Controllers also stand off strengthening teammates and weakening enemies. You can have up to eight people on one team so you’ll have more than one archetype per team. Like most online experiences you’ll have good and bad situations but I seemed to luck out and was on some good teams for the most part. It seems like the higher the level of the players the lower the douche factor tended to be. The only real negative experience I had was people stealing kills which is a bit frustrating but not too big of a deal (this just reduces the amount of experience you get for defeating a group of minions). Personally, I liked doing the drive by healing of people involved in fights. It just seems like the super-hero thing to do.

City of Heroes is very easy on the eyes and the folks at Cryptic have done a nice job creating a comic book world to explore. Communication is done via comic book style speech balloons and the game even supports comic-style thought balloons. Each of the areas has a distinct look and feel and even sub-areas of the map will vary from location to location. This is further enhanced by changes in the music to indicate that you’ve entered a new part of town. Action occurs above and below ground, as you’ll take on villains in the caves and sewers beneath the city. Villains also tend to hide out in buildings and warehouses and while these aren’t the most interesting of settings they get the job done. There is some repetition in some of the areas but it is not too bad (certainly not any worse than Diablo players are used to).

The best part about fighting in groups is that you get a chance to check out all of the cool powers available in the game. The designers have done a great job of creating some very creative powers. You’ve got everything from flying skulls to laser bolts and all the stuff in between. I was involved in a fight and I actually saw a pool table appear out of mid-air and flung at a group of enemies. Bad guys also have some impressive powers (you know you might be in trouble when a bad guy starts throwing giants rocks at you). Half the fun of getting a new power is seeing the cool effect it has when you use it on an enemy.

The user interface is almost perfect. Everything is laid out in a clean fashion and almost everything can be accessed with a click of the button on screen or a hotkey. There is a lot of information to display at times but you can toggle things on and off easily. City of Heroes has a decent macro system as well so you can create your own custom bindings.The sounds in the game are also rock solid which is good since you’ll be hearing a lot of them over and over again (especially the ones for your powers). There’s enough variety that you won’t get too bored and after a while you can actually tell which power a user is using just by the sounds. In game music is also well done and as I mentioned before each subsection of the city has it’s own distinct music that gives you a feeling of what to expect.

The gameplay does get a bit repetitive at times. For the most part, all you really do in the game is to take down bad guys of varying levels. You do this in the context of a mission or just fighting crime in general, alone or with a team. While this may not necessarily sound like a lot of fun, it’s the execution of the concept that really makes the game fun to play. You have to manage your health and endurance (when you use a power you expend endurance and while endurance re-charges after a while you can quickly deplete your endurance and be left defenseless against a group of evil doers) and if you play in a team setting you have to know what your role is to best serve your team. The game is so easy to get into and play that it’s hard to really get bummed out by some of the repetition.

Player death is handled well. This is important since you die a lot early on (at least I did). There is no penalty until you reach level five after that instead of losing experience points players take on experience debt. When you eliminate a villain, instead of gaining all of the experience, you will receive half of it and the other half pays off debt. This is a nice way to allow people to continue progressing to the next level while still paying some penalty for being defeated.

The developers have also done a marvelous job of adding cool little touches to the game. In some of the missions, the bad guys will actually call you by name or your name will be part of the clues. In one mission, I found out that it was actually a trap since the bad guys felt that I was a threat to them. Is that something really to implement or do? Not really, but it helps suck you into the game. The citizens of Paragon City are also a nice touch. You can talk to them and sometimes they’ll tell you about your latest victory or give you some statistic about the game such as the number of heroes in that part of the city or the number of times you’ve used a power today. If you rescue one of them from a mugging or ritual, they will come up and thank you, sometimes providing you with an inspiration or additional influence. The final kicker for me was that every month, you will get a comic book sent to you (if you live in the US) that provides information on the major plot lines in the city. The comic book also features some fan fiction, and if you’re lucky your, character might even be featured in the book. It’s kind of cheesy but it really does draw you that much further into the game.The game isn’t perfect and as is the case with most software there are a few bugs. Currently, there is a problem with some of the task missions where players may waste several hours of gaming only to come up empty and there’s a second mission bug where users using the call the contact feature may not end up completing the mission correctly. I’ve also experienced a few oddities while in Paragon City. In some cases, NPC’s wandering the city will actually bump into my hero and move him while he’s in the middle of a fight. You certainly wouldn’t expect to see that but it’s not exactly a huge bug (unless they were to push you off a bridge or something). There is also the occasional problem where enemies appear to skate towards you instead of walking but it’s not too big of a problem.

I was able to run the game at 1600 X 1200 with little slow downs on my system (2.6 gHz Pentium 4 overclocked to 3.0 gHz, with 1 GB of RAM and a Radeon 9800 Pro) with all of the detail cranked up. I would get a short pause every time I turned the map on and off but that was the only real quirk I experienced on a regular basis.

Not content to leave the world alone, NC Soft and Cryptic will be releasing a free content package later this month. The new content will add new zones and villains to the city as well as allowing users to tweak their heroes. There’s also a rumor that capes may be added but nothing definite. This is a nice sign as the game is barely a few months old.

This was my first experience with a MMORPG and it was a pretty good one. The game is very accessible and despite some of the repetitive nature of the game I had a lot of fun playing it both solo and with groups of other players.
A fun MMORPG that everyone can get into and enjoy. The game is repetitive in parts but NC Soft and Cryptic have created a wonderful world for gamers to explore and play in.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom. I was a Microsoft Xbox MVP from 2009 to 2014
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