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City of Heroes is a very interesting case study from a MMOG-watcher's point of view. For a long while it looked bogged down in development and a lot of people (me included) suspected that it would never make it out the door. When it finally reached beta, the news that was making it out past the NDA did not look promising at all: no PvP, no player villians, no in-game economy, no real "virtual world" complexity. And yet despite all our misgivings, the general consensus amongst the gamers I know is that City of Heroes is more fun right out of the box than any other MMOG we've tried, due to some very smart design decisions and compromises from Cryptic Studios, and if you haven't been grouping and interacting with other players, you haven't seen some of these yet.

To run down some of the best points of the game design:

- at level 2, when you enter the game after the tutorial, you already have a selection of powers to be effective in combat without going through the "naked and powerless" phase that most online games like to start you in. You also have immediate goals: you're bootstrapped with an NPC contact and some quests to begin, or you can just start patrolling the streets looking for bad guys.

- also, right from level 2, there is some variety in how you can advance: you can patrol, or you can go into a more dangerous "dungeon" area (the city sewers), or you can get indoor missions that spawn in instanced, private zones that only you and your group can enter. The instanced missions insure that there's never any problem with all the best spots being camped by groups of players, as the system can spawn as many instances as are required. There are several different tilesets and floor plans available for these missions (dingy warehouse, brightly lit office, grimy sewers, underground caves) and more become available as you level up (secret Nazi lair, high-tech laboratory).

- travelling across the zones may be a little tedious at first but the so-called "travel powers" (flying, teleportation, super-speed) were designed to be quickly accessible at relatively low level. if you join a group that's about to start a mission on the other side of the zone, it's likely someone in that group can teleport you straight there - even at level 6. By level 12 you can be leaping tall buildings with a single bound (I highly recommend Super Jumping).

- the five character archetypes were well balanced so that all can contribute but none are essential, avoiding a problem that many other games have where a nearly-full group can be stymied and unable to adventure because they're short a healer, or spellcaster. The powers complement each other nicely in groups, and there's no one "must-have" combination. Grouping in CoH is very fun. (You're wrong about the "tweaking potential" - the boards are full of long debates about the best min/max combinations of what powers to take at what level and what enhancements to add to them for maximum effect)

- Cryptic's best innovation to the genre: the "sidekicking" system. Suppose your friends have all been playing for days and are up to level 15 while you've been playing casually and are only at level 8. This is a common MMOG dilemma and usually means that your friends go on without being able to carry you as a liability to the party. Not in CoH: one of your level 15 friends invites you to be his "sidekick", Robin to his Batman. Now as long as you stay within range of your mentor, you fight at level 14 and can join your friends without risking the entire group. Every MMOG should implement this!

- Cryptic's NPC AI deserves a special mention. The bad guys in CoH fight more intelligently than in any game I've played. Try to outsmart the system and pick off some baddies in an alley from the top of a building: they'll run around to the other side, find a fire escape, climb up and beat the stuffing out of you. The higher you go, the more complex their behaviour gets: they'll start healing one another, resurrecting the fallen, teleporting in and out of range... even if the basic gameplay stays the same, the new challenges help to keep the game fresh.

- accounts get 8 character slots on each server. Being able to create lots of different characters adds a lot of replayability.

Below the good implementation, however, the game remains, as you say, a traditional MUD-type MMOG. Defeat mobs, get experience, level up to fight more difficult mobs. Where CoH differs from games like, say, EverQuest and DAoC is that they've eliminated the nasty "you must level up to level X before the fun really starts" that many in those games complained about. What kind of long-term player base it will be able to hold remains to be seen (anecdotal evidence suggests that most players will be ready to move on after 2-3 months). One telling point: though I already know some people who bought CoH, played and cancelled, I don't know anyone who regrets buying the game, or who quit in disgust - and I know plenty of those from other MMOGs.

Random notes: an expansion that will also add PvP combat, "City of Villians" has been announced but won't be ready until next year. The ability to modify your costume after character creation was always planned but not implemented in time for release, it's due to be patched in "soon". And for some "wit and insight", try this: http://redirx.com/?g3i5


That hyperlink to ncsoft.com is wrong, well to the wrong NCSoft company. NCSoft is based in Texas.


My friends and I have been playing CoH since it came out, and we're certainly not ready to stop yet. That patch with the costume tweaking will make things extremely fun. You also get the ability to form/join a Super Group (unlocking different sets of missions which were broken; not sure if they're up yet). When you're in a Super Group, you can make an alternate costume so you can all match, sort of like the blue and yellow spandex for the X-Men.

The travel powers make things much nicer. I'm teleporting around like there's no tomorrow, and everyone sings the praises of flight.

I understand your point about the lack of destructable terrain, but I'd rather have an online game that works smoothly than a game where I can bump crates but the game crashes every half minute. In other words, I don't ask all games to be all things.


I tend to despised most MMORPG's. The levelling by killing bunnies, the waiting six hours for an item to drop, and the inability to be useful at a low level when mixed with a high level group makes it hard for me to maintain an interest level.

However, after playing CoH for three weeks, I just can't stop. First, I like that you're not a weakling when you start. Then, as you gain levels, you build a hero perfectly matched to your liking. And you don't get nickeled and dimed a la FFXI if you want multiple heroes. I have one of each character type, and love being able to play based on the mood I'm in.

The constant smash and bash can get old, but then you just form a good group and take on missions. It's wide open as to how to play it.

Hans Selye

The true scientist never loses the faculty of amazement. It is the essence of his being.


Playing this alot, tons of fun, plenty of 'pick up and play' potential.

I think its a casual gamers dream come true for MMORPG's to be honest and anyone who expects it to be anything other than what it says on the 'tin' will be sorely dissapointed.

Play this straight for 8hours + and you WILL be bored hehe

But play it regularly and sensibly (we play games are we ever sensible! :P) and you'll love it :)

Cut above all the other MMORPG's out there imho.


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