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Post City of Heroes - state of the game

September 19th, 2008, 01:23
Hmm, long time, no updates to City of Heroes information around here. Maybe I should post a bit about what it is and what it isn't. Perhaps more than a bit….

First of all, I should state right off that there isn't going to be much comparing to World of Warcraft of Everquest in here. I've been playing MMOs since Asheron's Call (or Air Warrior, if you are loose with your definitions) but I have never played either of those two games. Second of all, I'm a big fan of CoH. The game developers there seem to have the same game philosophy as I do.

Character Development

Customization is the name of the game, here. The most famous being the costume creation. I have yet to see any game, single or multiplayer, get even remotely close to the costume options available in this game. Your appearance makes absolutely no difference in the game itself so you are free to make anything you like. There are plenty of body sliders and costume options to choose from, and I really mean PLENTY! You can have up to five costumes per character by the time you hit level 40.

Customization goes deeper than that, though. While they haven't been able to give us the ability to customize how our powers look, we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to the effects of a power. As you gain levels, you get enhancement slots to put into your powers. These allow you to make your powers stronger in various ways. For instance, for a typical energy bolt power, you could make it do more damage, you could make it more accurate, you could give it a longer range, you could make it recharge faster, and so on. These customizations start out pretty small but, as you get up into the 20s, they start to make a big difference in how your powers work.

When you make your character, you also pick your archtype (class) and power sets. There are ten different archtypes (plus a couple of "epic" archtypes that can be unlocked by getting to level 50). Each archtype typically has half a dozen primary power sets and as many secondary power sets to pick from. So, for instance, a blaster archtype might decide to take ice blast as their primary powerset and electric manipulation for their secondary. These powersets can occasionally be rather similar to each other but are often very different. A Kinetic/Radiation defender does not play the same as a Empathy/Radiation defender.

Every other level (every 3rd level when you get into the 30s), you get to choose a new power. You can pick a power from your primary or secondary power set or you can pick a power from common "power pools" that any character can access starting at level 6. There you can find things like travel powers (flight, teleport, superjump, and superspeed - no, no web slinging - every try to cross open water with web slinging?), healing powers, fighting powers, stealth powers, and so on. None of these are as strong as powers contained in primary or secondary powersets but they can certainly help out.

Gameplay Overview

A typical game session, once you've set up your character and found some friends, typically revolve around missions. You and your team get some missions (up to three) from your NPC contacts. Then your team goes off to whatever zone they are in and does them. While the outdoor zones are common, missions are all instanced so it's just you and your team in there. A mission that takes 5 minutes to get to would be considered "far away," thanks to travel powers. (You're a superhero so it doesn't take long before you've learned to fly/superjump/superspeed/teleport your way to a mission.) There's also an exemplar system which is, essentially, reverse sidekicking where a high level character is brought down to the lower character's level. In that case, though, the "reverse sidekicked" character gains no experience, only influence (read: money) and prestige (read: supergroup money).

There's a big plus to aid in teaming in City of Heroes - sidekicking. Once you get to level 10 you can "sidekick" a character that's lower level than you. When you do this, that character's level is bumped up to your level minus one as long as you stay within about 200ft of your mentor. The sidekicked character tends to be a bit less powerful than a character that is "really" that level but the sidekick is certainly strong enough to make a very significant contribution to the team.

It's really hard to understate the effect of sidekicking on the game. I think all of you experienced MMO'ers have seen the problem of keeping your friends the same level before. If you go on vacation from the game for a couple of weeks, you can return and find your friends are really too strong to have you on their team anymore. Or maybe you play the game a couple of hours a week more than your friends. That's no problem at first but, after a month, you find yourself too far ahead of your friends. CoH's sidekicking system kicks this problem right in the gut. I won't say it completely solves it (sidekicks still can't get in to some level restricted areas and quests plus you can only have one sidekick/exemplar at a time) but it sure leaves the problem lying on the ground and gasping for breath.

Death penalties are always interesting in games. City of Heroes seems most fun (at least to me) when you get yourself killed about once every three hours or so. When you get defeated, you are given experience "debt." While you have debt, half the experience points earned go to paying off that debt. In nornal circumstances (and assuming you don't get yourself killed again), you can pay off that debt in about 10 minutes of play. Debt is larger if you get killed out in the common zones instead of in a mission.

I big knock against this game is the lack of map variety, and it's well deserved. Your missions will mostly take place in warehouses, delapitdated warehouses, caves, bigger caves, a fantastic underground city, an underground bunker, or a high tech area. There are lots of exceptions but that's where you find a good 70% of the missions. Seeing those same tilesets and rooms night after night can really get to you. The game designers have been adding more custom areas with every issue but they've got a long way to go.


Battles are the heart and soul of this game. The stories are fun (at least the first few times) and the customization is great, but the battles are where you are going to be spending 90% of your time.

The battles in this game are quite dynamic in teams. Your team of up to 8 players will be up against spawns that contain a few enemies for each player on your team. In the later game you do come up against some special enemies where, after clearing out their little friends, have you fighting against just one enemy for up to 10 minutes in a few cases. The vast majority of battles will be a many vs many situation, though. That means you have a lot of different targets to shoot at and a lot of decisions about who you should be attacking next.

Note this is only true for teams. If you are running solo, most of your battles will be against either three minions or a minion and a lieutenant. Over and over. Then a boss or two at the end of the mission. That does get pretty dull pretty fast.

Knockback is also something big in this game. It's an interesting two edged sword. Knocking an enemy back puts them out of action for a few seconds while they do their little ragdoll dance as they fly back and a few more seconds while they get up. Plus it's awfully fun to watch. However, if your team is trying to get all the enemies together for the blaster to hit with a big nuke, scattering enemies isn't productive. Also, launching an enemy clear into the next spawn of enemies will not please a melee character (though the ranged attackers won't mind a bit). Used correctly, knockback is a great weapon. Used incorrectly, it's a great pain.

(ooops, looks like I hit the post length limit!)
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September 19th, 2008, 01:24

Things you must unlearn

This is not just Everquest in tights and there's always some adjustment for people coming into the game from other MMOs. I think those illustrate the differences between the games pretty well.

First - forget the Tank/Healer/Nuker trinity. It's pretty difficult to make a team that isn't viable. When a team isn't viable, it's more likely a problem with player skill or teamwork than archtypes or powersets. Having a defender around that can heal you is nice, but having a force field specialist that can keep you from getting hurt in the first place works, too. Or having more offense so the enemies aren't alive for long enough to hurt you seriously. It's far better to spend 5 minutes checking each other's powersets and figuring out a strategy than spending 15 minutes trying to find a "healer."

Second - know your roleS! You have at least two, possibly more. The classic example is the case of an empathic defender that is a healer and only a healer. They expect to heal teammates that are hurt, rez teammates that fall, and that's it. Not good. Defenders have an entire powerset dedicated to attacking at range. Even their primary powerset has some excellent buffs the team can use. The only exceptions to this would be scrappers (who are pretty solidly focused on melee attacks) and possibly brutes, if the brute doesn't take taunt powers.

Third - there is (almost) no end game. This isn't one of those games where the journey to level 50 (or whatever) is just a lot of tedium to see if you are really serious about your character, the journey to level 50 IS the game. Thanks to all that customization, replayability is mighty high in this game and you start out with 12 character slots per server. Some folks, when they hit level 50, get heavy into obtaining all the best enhancements for their powers so they can eek out every last bit of power, but I think most folks put their 50s on the shelf and just bring them out for special occasions. Getting to level 50 is a fine dinner that you want to savor, not a bunch of peas and beats you want to try and feed to the dog so you can get to the cake. (You might say the cake is a lie if you're into such things, which fortunately I am not.

Fourth - system requirements are actually fairly high for a four year old game. We do get folks coming in that take note of this game coming out a few months before World of Warcraft and expect that any system that could run that game would surely do fine with City of Heroes, which is even older. Not so. The game had higher requirements than WoW when it came out and they have increased a bit since then. Adding physics was pretty cool but it does make demands on your CPU.

Fifth - dev hate doesn't go over well. It might be fashionable to pound on the developers and go on about how they ignore the player base in other games, but it doesn't fly in CoH. Some of the developers post on a daily basis and are clearly aware of player concerns. That doesn't mean they will always agree with the players but they have proved many times over that they are aware of them.

OK, that was a lot longer than I expected and I didn't even get to touch PvP or the economy/crafting! (The crafting is NOT like crafting you see in other games. You won't be building 100 Leather Belts of Worthlessness just so you can learn to build a Dagger Hilt of the So So's in this game.) In closing, I think I'll just let the game speak for itself with a video of a solo mission I did a few months ago.

P.S. The sound in my WeGame videos always seems to be about a second off whack. The game is certainly not like that.

P.P.S. You can get a free trial at
Last edited by Zloth; September 19th, 2008 at 01:31. Reason: free trial
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