City Of Heroes – Super Fun, or [Some Other Lame Pun Here]?

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It looks like it might well be MMO season here at the Thoughtshake, what with our new contributor ‘thenotsoninja’ giving us a series of posts on his experiences within EVE Online, and now this post about my own feelings about the superhero MMO City of Heroes. Unlike thenotsoninja, however, I’ll be taking a critical view of the game rather than detailing exactly what happened.

First off, City of Heroes is the only MMO that has interested me enough to buy the full thing. This was, I admit, primarily for the awesome character creator and the recent addition of something called ‘Architect’ which apparently allowed players to create their own missions – something I saw as an innovative way to avoid the grind that I had encountered before in other MMOs. However, the game has just about managed to keep me interested enough to see it through this far – just under a month – while still playing fairly regularly.

The character creator first, then. According to a variety of sources, the character creator in City of Heroes was unlike any other MMO currently available. It allowed for unprecedented freedom in creating a character which was uniquely yours. True to it’s word, this was pretty much what I found upon entering the game. There are a vast amount of options you can go through to create your character, and at the end of it you will definitely have something more unique than, say World of Warcraft (which seems to me that you can only have about 12 variations of a character in total).

My first problem with the game wasn’t really with the game at all, but rather myself. I can happily tinker away in a character creator for hours, but when I come away I always feel like I could have improved upon the design somehow. As a result, in City of Heroes, I found myself constantly restarting the entire game with a new superhero every time the last one reached about level 5. This continued until I forced myself to just ignore the nagging feeling that there was a better superhero for me out there somewhere, and settled on Peacekeeper 9000 – a giant, red, super-strong and robotic-suited guy who while lacking in ranged attacks pretty much ruled the battlefield in close combat.

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As of the time I’m writing, I have only reached level 11 with this character – partially because I kept restarting with new characters, but mostly because I was taking things slow and looking around the world a lot. For those who don’t know a lot about City of Heroes, the game takes place in a giant sprawling city where crime and violence is rife. While there’s not a lot of life in this world, it’s relatively comparable to any other MMO I can think of, and it’s really only the GTAs of the world that are showing it up. However, for all the freedom and openness of the world, the game still manages to include the biggest flaw any MMO can bring to the table – lack of variety. While the city itself is fairly diverse, and there are plenty of different enemies, you pretty much tackle them all the same way and can judge them all depending on their level.

This brings in perhaps my major quibble with the game – it never really makes you feel like a superhero. Giving the enemies levels does perhaps make it easier to guage whether you should try to tackle them, and how much XP you’ll gain if you do, but it undermines the feeling I was hoping to get from the experience. For example, I feel that the normal human thugs and whatnot should all be an easy kill for a superhero, but City of Heroes clearly disagrees. Instead of what should clearly be an easy kill (given I’m super strong and twice the height of them) depends entirely on their level – in some cases you come across humans a couple of levels higher than you, but that look exactly the same as the level 1 or 2 enemies you come across at the beginning. As a result, you get less of a feeling that you’re a superhero, but more of a feeling that you’re just a twat in a costume running round pretending to fight crime. Yes, perhaps at the very beginning humans should present a challenge to the player – otherwise what point is there in having them – but once you reach level 5 or so they should pretty much be a background noise.

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In fact, City of Heroes seems to take a great number of methods in order to make you feel like you’re less of a superhero than your appearance might suggest. For one thing, until you reach level 8, you can’t choose to have any super power which aids you in travelling. That is, until level 8 you have to lumber around on the streets like everyone else, the retarded costume that seemed like a good idea moments ago now the only thing singling you out from the civilians. Even when you reach level 8 you still can’t really get any major new powers – you have to wait till level 14 for that – but instead you can choose to be able to hover incredibly slowly from place to place, feeling more like you’re on an invisible golf buggy than using awesome superpowers.

Despite all this, City of Heroes is still something I’m playing regularly and possibly even getting enjoyment out of. Once you start reaching areas outside of the starting area, you’ll begin finding enemies that look like they should present you with a challenge, so the feeling of being a hero is restored somewhat. On top of that, the Architect feature is apparently very good, although I’ve not gotten round to trying it just yet. As shallow as it sounds, probably the only reason I’m sticking with this MMO rather than any other is the fact that you’re a superhero in it, which is something I heartily approve of. That and the character creator is simply awesome.

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