Save the Day…or Destroy it: City of Heroes Under the Radar Review
This game was reviewed on PC
If the current MMORPG scene was a romantic comedy, City of Heroes would be the cute, quirky best friend who faithfully waits on the sidelines while the protagonist chased after the more attractive but ultimately flawed love interest. The game isn’t perfect by any means, and there’s more emphasis on the ‘multiplayer’ aspect of a MMO than other offerings on the market. If, however, you can persevere through the issues of this game, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best online experiences out there.
City of Heroes is a superhero game with an astounding variety of classes, powers, abilities, and skills that allow you to make nearly any flavour of character. After the game was launched, two expansions were added: City of Villains and Going Rogue. Both expansions add new dimensions to the core game: City of Villains allows you to play a villain under the service of the dastardly Arachnos, and Going Rogue introduces the parallel dimension of Praetoria.
City of Heroes and City of Villains are free to play. However, certain features such as power-sets, armour pieces, character slots, and aesthetic changes to spells are behind a pay wall. Generally the prices charged for these things are fairly reasonable, and the player can simply pull out his/her credit card if he/she sees something that catches his/her fancy. If he or she would prefer not to pay for things piecemeal and instead thinks that he/she has a future with this game, then the player can sign up for a VIP subscription of fifteen dollars a month which provides access to the vast amount of pay-walled features, a large amount of in-game points that will pay for what isn’t unlocked by the subscription, and VIP tokens. VIP tokens can be spent in a tree to unlock rare aesthetic pieces. VIP status also allows the player access to Going Rogue. Through the VIP system, City of Heroes rewards the players substantially for the money they spend, making impulse purchases easy and satisfying.
Character creation is a mini-game unto itself. You can choose nearly any humanoid body type you please. There are no loot drops or grinding for that piece of armour you want; you are free to choose your character’s look in obsessive detail. Certain pieces of gear can’t be obtained initially and the player must either pay money or achieve in-game goals. With the City of Heroes character creation system, I have made a mighty paladin, a robot butler, a demon-summoning necromancer, a pyrokinetic with a Napoleon complex, a bow-wielding military agent, and an alien warrior. There are very few character concepts that can’t be translated to the City of Heroes character creator, and such a robust system is a rarity among other MMO games.
Once you’ve created your character, you immediately need to make a choice: are you a noble Hero or a twisted Villain? The very first choice in the game makes the difference between the options starkly clear: you come across a fallen hero. Do you help him or drain his powers? This choice sets the tone for the rest of the content. On the Hero side of content, you really do feel like a superhero. Instead of killing ten wolves for Farmer John, you immediately set to work saving civilians, stopping doomsday cults, fighting crime and soothing a distressed populace.
Playing the Villain is just as impressive and epic-feeling, though not as kind; the player sets bombs, sabotages the police, robs banks and betrays their allies. There are smaller choices you can make along the way: do you want to take missions from the scientist trying to harness a plague for the purposes of evil, or the fast-talking scumbag looking to rob a bank? When a Hero takes down a cop who has gone down the path of good intentions into evil do you end their reign of terror right then and there with your weapon, or do you send them to a mental asylum for mental rehabilitation?
The Going Rogue content has even more choices. Although there’s nothing like The Old Republic’s cutscenes and conversation trees, you do have much more freedom than in the Hero/Villain content. In this world, the moral schism is Loyalist/Resistance. Emperor Cole is keeping a great evil at bay with an Orwellian police state. Do you put trust in the authorities and work to keep society going as it is – or do you decide that the ends don’t justify the means and join the Resistance to stop Cole’s fascist government? Either way, there are opportunities to swap between factions, be a double agent for your side of choice and work to bring down the other faction from the inside, and establish a character. The ‘Role Playing Game’ part of the MMORPG acronym shines in the Praetorian content.
With the Hero, Villain, and Praetoria content, there’s already hours of enjoyment available. City of Heroes goes even further; for example, there’s a time travelling system that allows you to experience old content or old quests that you miss. In addition, the game offers the ability to create your own quests and share them with other players, complete with a rating system. The amount of time that you can sink into City of Heroes is nigh infinite.
When it comes to actually playing the game, City of Heroes begins to falter. The game is several years old, and the content is where its age shows the most. Animations are clunky, the skill bars are an absolute mess compared to any other MMO, and there are only a handful of icons to represent every skill in the game. The combat in City of Heroes can be frustrating at times, and the power system is so vast and complex that new players may likely be overwhelmed and confused. There are entire zones which are outdated and useless, and long questlines that are pointlessly difficult, punishing, or near impossible and therefore desperately need to be pruned. There are experience jumps where you end up missing chunks of content or story due to levelling so quickly, and the players will often be confused as to who they are fighting, what their goals are, and why they’re even a threat.
The solution to a new player’s dilemma is simple: play with friends. I would go so far as to say that playing with at least a couple of friends is mandatory to get the full enjoyment out of City of Heroes. The party system is where City of Heroes shines. When you join a party, the leader will set the course for the group and the other players will be matched up according to his or her experience. This works both ways: a high level friend can help his new buddy with starting content and will be levelled down so he won’t drain experience à la World of Warcraft. A high level character scaling down will have skills and abilities locked off to make him equal to the level of content he is facing; a low level character will have the power of his available skills dramatically increased for the same effect. The leader of the party can set the quest for the group and, no matter what your level, class, advancement in or knowledge of the game, you have a goal to achieve with your friends that will be an appropriate challenge.
City of Heroes lacks the polish, shine, and bloom of many of the new, attractive MMORPGs on the market. The game has definite flaws in combat and levelling, the pay-wall system that can be frustrating if you’re insistent on refusing to pay a cent, and the powers system is so vast as to be terrifying to actually use. When you consider its good qualities, though, it’s definitely worth the attempt. So if you have a couple of friends and you’re interested in playing out some superhero fantasies, what do you have to lose? And with the vast amount of content, you have quite a bit of gain. City of Heroes is a low risk, high reward proposition – a perfect option for any player.
Final score: 4.25/5.0
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