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City of Heroes
review
archive
game: City of Heroes
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: NCSoft
platform:
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Aug 25th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Aug 25th, 2004


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By Chris Galbraith

When I first installed this game, it took nearly a week for NCSOFT to solve a number of big problems with their e-mail notification services. I was really quite annoyed, and had a bad taste in my mouth before I even began playing the game. When you register, you have to give them a valid email address that they will then send a verification code to - without this code, you can't play the game. At the time I tried to start, the server was not sending out codes with no apparent explanation. Tech support informed me that they were aware of the problem, but they didn't do much beyond that. Needless to say, I was a little peeved. Luckily this game is so great it completely overshadowed this early experience.

Before I begin extolling the great features of CoH, let me tell you a bit about my MMORPG experiences, which are a bit limited, but vast within these limits. Does that make any sense? Back in the Stone Age when our choices were limited to Everquest or even Ultima Online, I found the idea of buying a $50 game and then paying an additional $10-15 monthly to be anathema to my frugal gaming lifestyle. So I was a bit resistant. However, when Final Fantasy XI was released, I realized that no matter how hard I would try, I would eventually fall prey to its siren's song. This game sucked me in like that giant maid robot in Space Balls. I mean I studied it when I wasn't playing, talked to my buddies about camping/leveling techniques; talked to my linkshell outside of the game - it was out of control. And then I got busy with work and stopped playing for two weeks. Two became three. Three became four. I then realized that I didn't miss or need FF XI anymore. It was a sad, but healthy moment. In the end, I had spent over 7.5 days of total game time. That isn't 7.5 game days, but rather 180 real hours of my life. I had to stop.

So you are wondering here, Why the hell should I care about this? Fine, fine, you impatient ingrates, I am going to tell you why City of Heroes can satisfy your MMORPG needs without destroying your life/job/relationship. If I had to pick a MMORPG to play for the rest of my foreseeable future, it would be CoH. It is a finely honed and refined gaming experience. If I want to log on and play for 45 minutes, I can do this - and I can actually get something completed in-game. This could never happen in Final Fantasy. You can also marathon for hours on end, not get bored, and do numerous quests and accomplish a lot in game.

City of Heroes does a lot of things well. Your first example of this is the character creation. There have to be - realistically - at least 1,000,000,000 different combinations for your character. It is unbelievable the depth that you can go into. I have made three characters on three separate servers and they look completely different. You can have quite a few characters total, as there are 11 servers and room for about 10 characters per server. NCSOFT has also been very frequent with content updates (such as the added ability to put capes on your hero!). Before you create your hero, you will have to pick an origin (mutant, magic, or science, for example) and specialty (blaster, defender, scrapper, tank). My guy was a magic creature who was also a scrapper. These two features will give you the possibilities for your superpowers (major and minor sets). As you progress in levels, you will open up new powers and powersets for your character to use (such as flying or jumping like the Hulk). It is a simple concept and easy to understand, but offers a lot of versatility and complexity for players. You also have the ability to create a mini-background story for your character that people can read when they click on you in-game.

Gameplay is pretty straightforward. You run around in one of the many areas, check for bad guys, and then punch/shoot/blast/stomp all over them. The controls are your basic WASD for movement and the mouse/mouse buttons for interactions, and your superpower activation is linked to the 1-0 number keys. There are multiple windows on the screen (such as map, chat, mission objectives, powers) but they do not clutter the display at all and fit nicely into the overall presentation.

You gain experience by fighting enemies of various levels. To check their levels relative to yours, you simply click on them and check the color of their names. If it is red or purple, you better not draw aggro from them because you will get smoked quickly. Orange and yellow are challenging and should only be fought if they are alone. Any other color you should be able to handle solo with little to no difficulty. If you do get killed by a group of baddies, you will be teleported from wherever you were to one of the hospitals in the zones. You will gain full health, but you will also incur experience debt. I died numerous times while attempting to take down a boss and only incurred about 500 exp debt. You can get the experience back quickly by fighting some lesser enemies, and then you will be back on your ways to gaining levels.

When you do get enough experience to reach the next level, you will have to go to one of the local trainers. He or she will grant you your next security level and also, depending on the level, more superpowers, the ability to use more enhancements for existing powers, or the ability to access new powersets. It is an easy to understand system that allows you to plan out your character in advance. Enhancements are modifiers that you find after defeating enemies. You can add them onto your existing powers to reduce stamina drains, increase damage, or increase defense. There are a lot of these things and you can join them to create bonus modifiers as well. You will also receive Inspirations from enemies. These items are single use items that boost damage, luck, defense, or reduce fatigue. Don't be afraid to use these often as enemies drop them all the time. While you can run around and just smash bad guys all the time, it behooves you to create contacts with NPC characters in the city. These characters will give you missions that you can choose to undertake. The more missions you do for an NPC the better your relationship will be with him or her. These NPCs also have stores from which you can buy Enhancements and Inspirations. The better your relationship, the better the items you can buy. You don't really have money in City of Heroes, but you do gain Influence each time you defeat an enemy or save a citizen. This Influence can then be spent at the various stores. When you get to higher levels, you can join with other players to form groups so you can gallivant around beating up higher level enemies for more experience, or even take on missions together. CoH offers the very cool option to form superhero teams later on that will give your group matching costumes. Teaming up is pretty easy in this game, and you will get invites after you reach levels 7-9. Teaming up is not totally necessary however, as it is in other MMORPGs, and I think that is part of the beauty of the game. Perhaps my favorite little touch in City of Heroes is that when you talk to other characters, the dialog pops up next to a characters head in a voice bubble, just like in the comics. Little touches like this make City of Heroes a memorable game. Graphically, City of Heroes is very nice and looks good at many resolutions. I am running an AMD 2700XP with an ATI 9000 All-In Wonder Pro. I was running the game at the highest resolution with all the goodies (I did however have to upgrade my drivers to the most current versions). There were some issues though. Occasionally I would get a lot of corrupted textures on the screen. The roads and buildings often had this happen, but when I would go to a sub-menu screen away from the main screen, it would occasionally fix itself. It didn't slow the game down at all, but it does mar the experience some. Overall I think that this is a wonderful game that plays into most people's inner fantasy of being a superhero. It is an easy game to grasp and fun to play. I really appreciate the fact that you do not have to sacrifice your personal or professional life to accomplish anything in the game. It is fun to play for 20 minutes or 15 hours. I could see some people becoming disenchanted with the beat em up aspect of the game, as it could become repetitive, but I think the overall joy the game brings to a player is refreshing and will overshadow the repetitiveness. NCSOFT is very fast with updates. There are almost always new areas to explore and new game tweaks to smooth out trouble spots. Perhaps the best news is the expansion pack that will be available commercially soon - City of Villains. This will allow players to create super villains to battle all the do-gooders who are currently running around beating up the undesirables in the world. This should also add PvP capability to the game - something that is lacking currently. I think this is a fun and fresh interpretation of the MMORPG genre and I hope it inspires other developers to reinvent future ideas for these games.