Malik (9/9/04)

City of Heroes (PC - Online)

From NC Soft

I know this game has been out for a while already, but I don't think that it's by any means done selling. With an expansion (City of Villains) due out in a few months, and with some really cool new issues (their word for updates) coming in the next month, City of Heroes is far from over. 

I got this game only a month ago; so I was late to the party. After playing for about a month, I think it's safe to say that I'm ready to give you all my review. 


While CoH is an MMORPG, there is a plot, of sorts. While the game itself has only a few glimpses of the overall story, I'll start with the in game plot. 

As you start off, you are just one of several thousand recently licensed Superheroes (superheroes must be licensed to fight crime in the world that is Paragon City). However, you will start, if you choose, to take on missions for your contacts. These contacts can range from those who specialize in your specific origin (your origin is how you got your super powers...did you use technology, are you powers natural, did you have a scientific accident, etc), to reporters, to movie producers, to police who feel overworked, etc. These missions will usually involve taking care of a group of criminals and finding out why they have increased their activities in Paragon. However, this is only the basics of the story that is CoH. 

To get the bigger picture of what and why Paragon is, you have to look at the web site. On the web site, there is a history of almost every enemy subset (from the 5th Column, who are remnants of a WW2 Nazi infiltration force, to the Rikti, who are a species of inter-dimensional aliens who once invaded Paragon City in a devastating war that decimated the population and killed all but a handful of Superheroes), the major superheroes of the past, why there are currently no capes on the superheroes (the cape is seen as a representation of one of the greatest heroes of all time who died fighting the, a lack of capes is due to mourning for this fallen hero), and why the city is so divided in the aspects of the the decay and destruction in various segments of the city. This information is rather hard to find if you just jump into the game. However, if you explore the web site, you can find so much detailed information that the city will change, for you, from a typical MMO world into a thriving story that can capture your imagination better than any typical MMO has ever done before. 

Best of all, even though it is a bit crappy compared to the real commercial offerings by Marvel and DC, there is a free monthly comic that gets sent to those who own CoH accounts. The comics will show some further detail of the game in real time (sometimes, the more popular PCs will be featured in this monthly publication). So, if you're really active and involved, you could even be the next star. 

Game Play 

Now this is the meat of CoH, and there's a lot to, I'll start where anyone should, at the beginning. 

When you first start CoH, you must make an avatar. You first will pick your archetype (you superhero type) and your origin (that thing I mentioned before). The archetypes include blaster (those who fire projectiles of some sort, but have a limited defense), defender (some ranged attacks and a lot of stat buffing ability), controllers (masters of the debuff, and at high level, the summoners), scrappers (hand-to-hand solo fighting machines), and the tankers (the meat shields...they can deal a little melee damage, but they exist to take the blows so the weaker blasters can dish out the destruction). Then, you will have to pick your power sets. Each archetype has two power sets at the start; their primary and secondary. Each archetype has a specific group of primary and secondary powers to pick. For example, the blasters can pick a specific type of projectile (fire, ice, assault rifle, energy, or electricity), or the tankers pick a defensive mode (invulnerability, fire shielding, ice shielding, or stone skin), etc. Then, you pick a secondary, which will usually be a utility if you're a blaster (like "device" that includes a cloaking device, smoke bombs, etc) or maybe an offensive means for the tankers (like super strength), or a defensive mode for the melee oriented scrappers, a blaster type for the defenders (like energy blast), etc. On top of all these powers to chose from now, you will gain access to four power pools of your choice (out of around a dozen) that all archetypes have access to, once you reach level 6. These additional powers include transportation options (super speed, flights, teleporting, or super jumping, which are not fully usable until level 14), leadership abilities, fitness (quicker healing, etc), "presence" (inducing fear or provoking enemies to fight), or a good number of other powers. Each of these pools include 4 powers that you gain more access to as you gain more levels (you can't get the final power in any of these pools until level 20). Plus, each of the standard power pools for your archetype (the primary and secondary) include 9 powers that you will be able to pick from, with more available as you gain levels (not all powers are available until your reach around level 36). You will, for now, start with the first power of your secondary pool, and either the first or second power (your choice) of the primary you picked. You will gain, until you're high level, a new power every even level. 

While I'm on leveling up, I will mention the odd levels. At every level that you don't gain a power, you will gain 2 slots (for the first many levels, at least). A slot is added to a single power to allow you to add an enhancement item (think equipment). There are a wide range of enhancements that you can pick from. For example, if you have the provoke power (to make enemies attack you...drawing their agro), which has a limited range, area of effect (AoE), and duration, you can add an enhancement that will boost the range, the duration, the AoE, lower the endurance (think MP) cost, or allow the power to be used more frequently (lower the time to recharge the power). Each power begins with a single slot attached, and you must choose wisely what powers to first pick and then what ones to give slots...then, what enhancements to use in a slot (and if you change your mind on an enhancement after you equip it, you can only lose it if you replace take-backs). 

Designing you're avatar: This is probably the best and most innovative feature of CoH (not saying that the other features are poor by any means). Instead of going with the usual method of a MMO that will give you about a total of 300 different possible looks, CoH goes all out. You have the options of sex (female, male, and big male), skin color, two color's for each costume part, at least a dozen options for each type of costume part after you chose the general style of each costume part...want armored gloves, a skin tight top, a pair of cargo pants on the bottom, and some skull kick boots, and to top it all off with a mask? Then you need to pick from about 10,000 different total options for the design of each part, along with picking two colors for each part...also, did you want a symbol on your top (like a big "S", ripping off a certain hero we all know), or a belt, or some antennae, goggles, a mask, a tail, a hood? So, to put it bluntly, you will, in the end, have so many options, including the height and build of your character, that it'll be hard to ever even duplicate one of your character's exact looks onto another avatar. Plus, when it comes to those color options I mentioned, you have a total of around 160-200 color choices for costume parts and around 60-80 for skin color. Then, after you've reached a certain level requirement, once the next patch arrives, you can buy a cape of one of three styles (with or without broche), and then even an aura (want to look like you're on fire, smoldering, glowing, surrounded by a glow, gaseous? Want it on your fists, body, head, hair, eyes? Yup, you can have all that and more). This is on top of picking your primary and secondary power pool (that effect your looks in combat, like when you're swinging a giant flaming blade, or radioactive green eye-beams). Almost anything you could want is available (as long as you don't want, no Hawkman rip-offs). Even with the few parts that are missing from your costume selection options, there is so much here in comparison to other MMOs that you could never have an honest complaint. Plus, if you start to dislike your costume, you can buy and change new costumes at the Paragon City clothing store (I-con) once you hit levels 20, 30, and 40. Also, in the next patch, you will have the same sort of option to reform your power selection (or "respecting" as they will call it), so you can make your unbalanced 30th level character into a lean and efficient crime stopper. 

So, once you have your character made, named, and possibly given a background story or a battle-cry (you can make those too for anyone who desires to check out), it's time to play. The controls are pretty familiar to all of us who've played either FPS, third person action games, or other MMOs; you can strafe, turn, run forward, jump (and jumping is cool in this game, unlike most MMOs), chat, form teams, use powers, etc. The controls are by default mapped to the standard "W,A,S,D" movement plan, with your powers on the number keys, and jump on the space bar. So, it's pretty standard, and that makes it all that much easier to get into. 

As you progress, you can get some nifty abilities to help enhance your movement, like super jumping (which let's you jump buildings) or flight (no explanation is needed...seriously). Plus, you start with the option to sprint, which will let you escape most hostiles with ease. Speaking of which, if you find yourself overwhelmed by agro, it's easy and simple to make a get-away (as long as you don't wait until the very last second). Also, to help out, you'll get inspirations, which are you common use items (refill some health, endurance, boost stats, etc). You'll also come across enhancements (which are for those power slots I mentioned) and influence (money to buy more enhancements and inspirations). 

So, with all of this, battles are quick and fluid, and especially friendly when you first begin patrolling the streets of Paragon City. You will easily find yourself (or your team) taking on three to four times more enemies than your team is made of. You'll also find those first 10 levels of CoH to be quick and efficient (you'll hit level 10 in only a few hours of playing...not a few days like most MMORPGs), as long as you know your role...A blaster and a Tanker cannot trade jobs in a team...ever. 


With all of the emphasis on smooth and quick combat, the visuals have a lot of work to do to keep things looking like they should. Which is all good with the high level of effort put into the visuals. When you use a super power for the first couple of times, it will blow your mind. When you first see a fire blaster launch a fire ball, you will be stricken with awe. The first time a spine scrapper attacks and the spines shoot forth from her body (my spine scrapper is a "her" so...yeah) you will be amazed. In short, there is nothing visually that could leave one disappointed. As one of my friends kept telling me before I upgraded to my Radeon 9800, "this game is all about need a good card for this game. You can play without one, but then you're just wasting your time". While the game is amazing and fun (I mean it's the perfect game for MMO fans and MMO haters, alike), the visuals push it from a level of being a great game to being worthy of the typical MMO obsession. 


Sadly, the audio cannot do as well as the visuals. I mean the sound effects are nice and fulfill their requirements (electricity sounds like a "zapping" sound, explosions sound explosive, punches sound like punches, etc), the miscellaneous sounds are annoying. When you gain a level, it sounds like a techno explosions, when you finish a mission you get an annoying tone worth of a free cell phone ring tone, and the ambient city noises get stale and tiresome in only a couple of hours. Also, the music is a great selection of the worst porn-style music available. At least you do get new back ground music with each section and neighborhood of Paragon that you enter (which can be annoying as hell if the boundary between two sections or neighborhoods is a jagged line that you keep crossing...back and forth...). At least the sounds don't take away from the game any...but they do come close at times. 

However, the smaller touches with the audio does do a little for the game. When you defeat a cadaver (pretty much a zombie), you can hear the buzzing of flies as they pick apart the rotting corpse, or if you destroy a clockwork (a mechanized thug) you will hear a nice sizzling and explosion as the circuitry and motors goes out on the thing. 


So, this game is still growing. As I mentioned, the game has already undergone some minor tweaking with the previous patches, and the next patch is just going to push the whole game a step further. There will be new costume options (capes and auras), some new areas to explore in this already giant sized city, new villains, and some new missions...along with some repairs to some of the more broken aspects of CoH (like buggy missions). So, with the constantly growing game (with a full expansion, City of Villains, due out early next year), and with the great game play system, the almost endless character creation options, the smooth and almost action-styled engine, the sharp visuals, and wonderful visual effects...well, CoH is damned impressive. This is possibly the first MMORPG I've seen that is not only a great game for fans of the genre, but a good introduction to both MMO nebs and MMO haters. So, all I can do, despite my prior MMO hating status, is give City of Heroes a 9.0/10. I would give it a 10 if only there was a bit more in the way of plot (so, I guess 9/10 is the best I could ever give a MMO...for, consider this perfect). Damn...there goes my MMO hating days.