MMO Showdown – City of Heroes

Welcome to the MMO Showdown!

MMO games have cast a great big hole in our gaming knowledge for quite a while. We have always been reluctant to get involved with them because of the sheer amount of time they require. There were always other things we’d rather be playing. However, our ignorance has ingrained in us a very prejudiced view, one that we suspect is widely held among non-MMO players. ‘MMOs are boring, MMOs are too slow, all it is is kill quests, item gathering, stat-gazing and crafting – and all those things are boring, boring boring.’ But we will not be slaves to those opinions! Striking out into the wilderness to drag back the battered carcass of the Truth, Man vs Horse is engineering an MMO showdown. We’ll play three of the most popular MMOs of recent years, and pass unto them definitive judgement. Find links to our other trials below.

World of Warcraft

Eve Online

The Concludening

As much as we are slaves to the Truth, we are also slaves to poverty. So we tried free trials for each of the games, and, aware of the slowburn nature of many muhmorpurguhs we gave each a solid Sunday of play, about 6 or 7 hours. First up was superhero sim City of Heroes. How did it fare? Read on, good reader…

Minutes after signing up for the free trial, which required a ridiculous number of codes and some considerable copying and pasting of said codes into small white boxes on three different windows, we were in. What kind of superhero would we create? Would it be a technological genius whose powers stemmed from his amazing inventions, someone who dabbled in radiation and got lucky, or simply someone who happened to know a bit of magic?

Dante went au natural, choosing incredible physical prowess and ninja reflexes. I chose technology, which brought energy mastery, and the ability to start fires with my mind.

Then we were greeted by the character creator, and then it became steadily apparent that City of Heroes was going to take a more involved approach to its avatar creation than most MMOs. With its body moulding tool and sheer number of parts City of Heroes offers almost complete customisation of your character. The choice on offer is so huge we spent our first hour exclusively tinkering with it. I came out of the other end with something akin to a red and gold megaman, except with awesome shades and the aforementioned ability to burn people with his mind. Dante made a dour and menacing ninja. The game then asked Dante to customise his katana, and I heard him, off to my right, actually cackling to himself.

Into the world itself, and we were greated by an incredibly dull tutorial sequence that seemed to validate all of our prejudices towards the MMO genre. Kill X number of muggers, speak to another policeman, go kill X number of muggers in different location. Next policeman, kill X number of muggers in this building. Sigh.

However, things were about to take a turn for the better. Soon enough we had levelled up! We had to visit Ms. Liberty in Paragon city to gain new skills. Before we knew it we were in the game proper. We stood before a colossal statue of Atlas bearing the earth on his back. Around his legs buzzed other heroes, not just NPC’s, but actual people. Some were fat and some were thin, some wore capes, and others had giant brains, or claws instead of hands. We walked up to Ms. Liberty and got some new skills, as I navigated the menus a hero in a smoking jacket and a cape flew past, his legs alight with superspeed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that no two avatars look alike in City of Heroes. I explored the plaza, and hopped onto a pillar, but was suddenly stopped dead as I found myself confronted by a tiny two-foot tall ninja, standing perfectly still with arms crossed, the straggling ties of his ninja mask blowing in the breeze in a way that screamed cool, but was sublimely undermined by his stature. As I stared the ninja slowly faded out of existence, and I was left wondering if I had just hallucinated the whole thing. As I came to learn, your hero remains in the world for 30 seconds after you have logged out, and it’s common practice to strike a dramatic pose before doing so.

After we had admired the scenery for a while we set off to actively begin questing, and ran into a familiar difficulty. We were unable to group because we were playing with a trial account. I expect to be denied certain aspets of the game on a trial version, but joining groups is a fundamental part of the mass social interactions that MMOs thrive on. The trial wouldn’t be a very good representation of the real experience. Fortunately a kindly stranger – a monstrous figure made of ice, with horns coming out of his head – recruited us, and soon we were cruising around the city, destroying evildoers by the bucketload. We got chatting, and he told us about his Super Group, and mentioned – pause to fry a determined but ill-fated mugger – that we would be welcome to join if we ever decided to play regularly. We levelled a few times and with much heartwarming banter our new friend left for greater things. But though he had left, Dante and I were still grouped.

Thanks to this strike of fortune we were able to go about for a while together. We wandered into some of the rougher neighbourhoods and battered some slightly harder muggers. By the time I had reached level 6 I had gained the ability to fly. I say fly, it was more float, and then glide in your chosen direction very slowly. I attached some ‘glide slightly faster’ powerups to get me up to speed and proceeded to rain fiery death down upon my enemies.

The satisfaction was immense.

It’s worth mentioning that the quests themselves were never especially interesting, all being variations on clearing an area to gain a reward, but the sense of progress made the experience worthwhile. The powers that you get are satisfying and the level of customisation involved with your character makes you feel that bit more attached to him. As you become more powerful the citizens of Liberty City will comment as you pass, hailing you as a hero, or ‘that guy who saved my brother’s life’. It’s good to see the world responding to your deeds, and makes you feel a bit more responsible for the safety of the citizens.

We had a great time with City of Heroes, and would be tempted to get a subscription and pile more time into it. The servers for the game are unfortunately extremely quiet these days, a shadow of its former self, so instead we’ll be waiting eagerly Champions Online, by the same developer. It’s looking like a flashier and improved version of City of Heroes. That could be the game that finally turns us into regular MMO-ers. City of Heroes is certainly an impressive start.

Ludo out.


16 Responses to “MMO Showdown – City of Heroes”

  1. 1 Mike
    September 19, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    A year or so back, I played this game for a little while (full version) with my friend who actually paid for it, a concept I still can’t quite understand when attached to online gaming. I created and played with a variety of characters and, although it’s an interesting concept with good design, I thought it could use something more. I can say that I did enjoy flying and/or, apparently, surfing around the environments, but I found that I still would prefer to be playing something along the lines of Freedom Force. Not that that’s a particularly great insult to CoH, as Freedom Force (both games) is immense, and it’s not that I have anything against MMOs as a whole, but I think it’s possibly to do with my attachment to a game taken up mostly by expectation for a story. In this element MMOs are clearly lacking, and I think that’s why I just can’t reach an agreement with them.

  2. 2 Ludo
    September 19, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    The lack of story in MMO games is a valid barrier I think. There’s rarely a motivation for the levelling and number-crunching beyond impressing your friends, or just a bred-in urge to be more powerful, ingrained by days and days of Diablo 2 at an early age.

    In the next installment we take a look at Eve Online. A game that has given rise to some fantastic stories born from the interactions between the players. Eve’s a bit different though, you can’t really string a few thug-killing quests into an interesting narrative.

  3. 3 Mike
    September 19, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I presumed one of the games would be EVE online. I’ve heard good things about it from friends, though haven’t played it myself. Apparently it has a good trial as well.

  4. 4 Aliasi
    September 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I have to say, CoH-wise, there IS a moderately engaging set of stories. The main trouble is the initial setup of a contact in City Hall/Freedom Corps is fairly generic and boring – contrast this to even the Hollows, a low-level hazard zone added not long after the initial release, and recently revamped. You start by helping out a cop, progress to assisting a gang informant (taking out a superpowered gang leader in the process on a unique map with sliding ice sculptures everywhere), and – if you follow it all the way to the end – stopping a mystical group from awakening Things That Should Not Be. And all of this before you’ve even earned your cape!

    This is one reason, aside from simple boredom, sewer teams are so popular at lower levels – a team in the sewers can clear it out and have each member at level 7 or 8 in an hour or two.

  5. 5 Arathain
    September 22, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I’ll second the above comment about the story writing. Some of it is really good, but much of the early stuff is a bit generic. City of Villains is pretty decent from early on, and some of the later contacts story arcs are just brilliant fun.

  6. 6 spdd
    September 22, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    hey guys you didnt elaborate about the combat mechanics. that would be interesting to know – if the combat itself is any fun

  7. 7 Erydanus
    September 22, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    The low levels of the game are a bit bland, they’re really little more than an extended tutorial. After you’ve made a character or two, those first levels are such “old hat” you won’t be sticking around in the low level zones. There are interesting storylines and more unique missions, but that content is higher level, but not amazingly so. Things really start to get interesting about level 15.

    Contrary to the poster above that said a team that goes into the sewers can get to level 7 in an hour or two, my experience is more like level 2 to 5 in fifteen minutes and then move on to the next tier of zones.

    As to the extreme restrictions on the trial accounts, they are a recent response to a rash of really spammy and intrusive gold farmers. The idea was that if someone invited some friends, they’d still be able to group with them. It’s just to prevent gold farmers from forming their own teams and grinding out loot to sell for real money.

  8. 8 Dave
    September 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Ludo, you should try playing on the Freedom server for CoH. That’s the most heavily populated one by a pretty big margin. Some servers are ghost towns. Freedom & Virtue are the 2 biggest. Freedom is noticeably the largest though. On the weekend it’s usually saturated with people.

  9. 9 Dante
    September 23, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Would that we could Dave. But we’re English, and thus only have access to the European servers.

  10. September 23, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    “But we’re English, and thus only have access to the European servers.”

    Actually, I’m in a great SG on the Virtue server, and we have two players in our supergroup from England, and another who moved to Asia this year and is currently logging on to the Virtue Server from China.

    I agree that the low-level story lines may seem a little slow, but you must remember that players level through those surprisingly quickly, and move on to not only more expanded powerset options, but more complex story-arcs.

    The one thing you only briefly touched on is the very thing that makes this game the most fascinating for me, and that’s the terrific interaction with other players. For some, the challenge and fun is in the mystery of what the next team will be like. For others, it’s finding like-minded players to group with frequently. If you invest the time in learning and playing CoH and CoV, it’s “Supervillain” counterpart, I think you’d find it offers a whole world not only of ‘game-content’, but player interaction – ranging from general teaming to actual player RP story creation.

    I for one am loving it! 🙂

  11. 11 jwalker
    September 25, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    A note about the Champions Online hype: it is being run by Jack Emmert. When playing City of Heroes, find everything you think is wrong. Jack Emmert did it. He literally attempted to drive the game into the ground before he summarily jumped ship. He changed every single mechanic and kept everything vague because he thought it should be that way. It has only changed when he left and had his grubby hands in Champions Online.

    Now, everything positive in Champions Online that they’re currently screaming about? It is coming to City of Heroes in due time. Custom missions are coming along with the ability to create villains especially for those missions. You also will be able to script your own events for them. They have also recently opened up most of the data that Emmert demanded be spirited away.

    They are also talking about powerset customization in CO. Problem? I have it from a source at NCSoft that they are looking into that with City of Heroes! In fact, it is heavily suggested that many of the new developers (gained AFTER Emmert’s departure) are working on that system. Jack Emmert purposely gimped City of Heroes then ran off to work on Champions Online. Thankfully, the developers at NC have correctly handled the situation AND improved the game dramatically since he bailed. They’re planning amazing new features in CoH that Emmert said he could never, ever get done.

  12. 12 Misha B
    January 31, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Coming into this a little late Dante, but as Nyght said, you can play on the US servers, you just need a US code.

    The friend who got me into CoH/V plays with a group of people from England, Wales, and Scotland. I regularly play with that group, and with Austrailians as well.

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