By Todd Allen
As the massively multiplayer online RPG wave continues to drench us with titles in the coming years, those that provide truly unique experiences will become few and far between. Had your fill of high fantasy and science fiction? City of Heroes is shaping up to grab a hold of that little kid inside that always wanted to have x-ray vision or jump large buildings with a single bound. Gamers will be thrust into the role of a superhero entrusted with the protection of beloved Paragon City and its citizens. Time to drag that spandex out of the closet.
Players start by undergoing a unique character creation sequence. First you must choose your origin. This may range from mutation, to robotic enhancement, to magical powers. You then choose a character archetype, or class. This basically determines whether you'll be a ranged, melee or hybrid type of hero. The skills you are able to employ are tied to the archetype you choose to follow. After all the paperwork is done prepare to waste at least an hour crafting your hero's costume. Thanks to a truly robust set of character creation options, City of Heroes pushes the boundaries of uniqueness to new levels.
Skills are the backbone of City of Heroes. Since there isn't much equipment to speak of, the developers have packed much of the customization players are looking for in the skill system. Each skill you gain with experience comes with certain "slots" you can fill with points. Slots may range from damage, to duration, to range, and beyond. Using these slots heroes can tweak a skill so it can further fit their needs. So even though two guys are flinging the same basic fireball, appearance is the only thing their missiles have in common. Certain skills will be open to all classes once they reach a certain level. The most notable of these is the power of flight. Leaping huge buildings in one bound is definitely going to be quite a status symbol.
Paragon City, the backdrop for City of Heroes, is divided up into large zones. Interestingly, there were load times in between zones, which seems like something developers are trying to get away from. The load times are very minimal, though. Heroes will have to test their strength under the city streets as well. I was able to take a quick tour of one of the sewers under Paragon City, which housed some pretty tough customers.
An underlying story will help pull these elements together for a very comically convincing experience. Players are asked to help defend Paragon City as it rebuilds in the wake of a devastating alien invasion. Heroes will be able to undertake all sorts of missions involving the protection of innocents. Something very cool that the game employs is a system of personal enemies for each hero. What this means is that as your hero progresses and foils the designs of villains he or she will attract the special hatred of a certain fiend. This villain will become your hero's archenemy. Though they may fight other heroes, your archenemy will always seek you out in a crowd. This makes for some epic conflicts through time as you and your nemesis gain power.
Interestingly enough there will be no player vs. player conflict in City of Heroes. I was told that the real point of the game is for players to band together on a more positive note, to become real "protectors." At this point if you were hoping to become a super villain then you'll just have to settle for saying mean things to your in-game neighbors. At first I was a bit disappointed to hear this bit of news, but when you think about it the game will provide a load of villains (including your personal nemesis) for you to tackle and the level of customization City of Heroes offers elbows that disappointment right out of the picture.
With the slew of online RPG's hitting the market this year and next, finding your niche can prove problematic. The load of customization City of Heroes is offering plus the unique comic book angle is sure to garner a cult following. The guys at the booth were very tightlipped about a release date, but the comic book based on the game they were handing out suggested that we can expect this high flying title sometime before the end of the year.