Nov 20 05
"This city would fall apart without heroes like you," I'm told by a grateful citizen after giving a gang of bad guys a taste of my high voltage lightning bolt. As much as I'd like to believe him, I sense he's exaggerating, but it's always nice to be appreciated. City of Heroes (CoH) is a MMORPG with a superhero theme, letting you live out some of your most outrageous superhero fantasies. It launched in April of 2004, and they have just released the fifth content addition for the game.
Like most RPGs, you create a character, battle with hostile forces, and build up your powers. On top of being a refreshing change from elves and dragons, they've also forgone some of the more tedious aspects of MMORPGs and concentrated on combat. Let's take a look at how it all comes together.
Graphics and Interface
For a game that is now more than a year old, the graphics are still good. There have been a lot of visually stunning PC games released recently that CoH can't quite live up to, but the character models get the job done and the cityscape is convincing enough. Superpower effects like fireballs and knockdown punches have plenty of impact.
Paragon City is divided into zones demarked by large, impassable force fields. Within a zone you can move about very freely, including flight if you decide to train that ability. Although falling hurts a little, it's not nearly as bad as it would be if you weren't a superhero, which is fitting. You are given a basic skill that enables you to move around the city at decent speed, and there is a subway system for traveling longer distances.
The interface is almost everything it should be, and follows most 3D RPG conventions. The mini-map is exceptionally functional and has all the navigational aids you could ask for.
When building your superhero, you choose from 5 Origins and 5 Archetypes. Origins give your character a little background, accounting for whether your hero was the result of exposure to radiation, a mysterious insect bite, or a failed scientific experiment. Your Archetype could be considered your class, and has a greater impact on gameplay than your Origin. For example, Blasters are ranged specialists, Defenders can heal, and Tankers can endure a lot of damage.
If there is one part of this game that they've truly nailed, it's character creation. You can get lost in all the options you have for tweaking your characters appearance. Sliders allow you to resize various body parts, there are a wide range of components to choose from, and the color options really let you perfect your look. It's almost impossible to resist making numerous characters in CoH simply because character creation is so much fun in itself.
As well as giving you the flexibility to build that wacky superhero you always dreamt about, you'll also run into an astounding variety of superheroes in Paragon City. Characters are so unique that it's interesting just seeing what other people have come up with. Costume contests have become a popular activity in Liberty Square.
Perhaps the only drawback is that your appearance doesn't change much once you're in the game. Unlike most games of this kind, there is no equipment in CoH that affects your look. The developers recognize how much people enjoy this aspect of the game, however, so they have provided additional costume slots for your hero to play with. You can even perfect your Clark Kent-like alter ego.
CoH has dispensed with most of the character statistics, such as strength, dexterity, and intelligence, typically associated with RPGs. The powers available to your character are determined largely by your class and your level.
There is plenty of room to tweak your power set to your play style with this system. It is going through some growing pains due to the introduction of PvP, and more changes will likely be needed to make it work with the upcoming City of Villians release.
Along with enhancements there are inspirations, which have a lot in common with potions, providing you with a quick dose of health, energy, or temporary bonuses to certain abilities.
Criminals in Paragon City refuse to listen to reason, so as you would expect, it's necessary to use brute force to put things right. Combat is almost always a big part of these games, but in CoH it's nearly the only part. Fortunately, although it consists mostly of running around and hitting your superpower buttons, it's a good system with solid group dynamics.