City of Heroes

NCSoft and Cryptic Studios have created a smooth playing, highly addictive MMORPG that is certain to be a cult hit.

To best describe the game City of Heroes, I must draw from the words of someone else. “It is quite simply an MMORPG minus the bull****”. The game is set in a megalopolis called Paragon City where you play one of the many heroes that protect it from an onslaught of thugs, gangsters, and supernatural beings. City of Heroes cuts out all of the nonsense that accompanies virtually every other MMORPG, so there is no boring level grinding, and no ridiculous item systems that would otherwise act as a ball and chain to any gameplay.

After a quick and painless installation I created my first character. Each character must have a background and an archetype. The background of a hero defines how he or she has received her super powers, but ultimately it only matters to what story line you will follow in the game. Archetypes determine the attributes of your character, regarding HP, endurance, and the nature and type of skills you have at your command. For my first character I choose a mutant blaster, homage to one of my favorite X-Men, Cyclops. After selecting your background and class, you select a primary and secondary power field, which can be independent of each other and always offers different types of abilities.

The character design screen allows you to choose from a female, male, or “huge” body type (huge is apparently always male). You may slide your height and muscular level to your preference and then move forward to the more detailed customizations. In short the character appearance process is incredibly powerful and complex. You should spend a good ten minutes making sure you are very happy with your character, and checking all of the endless options in its design. Thus far I have yet to see two heroes alike. After you have finished your appearance you fill out your I.D. card, where you can select a name, a catch phrase, and a biography of your character. Appropriately if you decide you want a smaller word like “the” at the beginning of your name, it will appear smaller to other people and above your actual name.

The tutorial is brief and will teach you everything you need to know on how to play City of Heroes. Any further information on what something does can be obtained by one of the NPC “signature” heroes, which you go to for further training upon leveling up.

The gameplay itself is simple but addictive. While there is a leveling system it in no way makes you feel weak or powerless. Most of your leveling up will take place running missions based on your story line contacts, which will keep you very busy and entertained. The missions take place for the most part, in buildings, but also sewers and hidden caves. The enemies inside will always be tuned to your level, so you will never need to worry about advancing too far into the story for your current level. Apart from missions, all sorts of enemies can be found on the streets and alleys mugging and injuring helpless citizens. Overall, the actual gameplay experience is diverse, but still similar, which is hard to explain. While you may be visiting a lot of buildings, usually you will have varying objectives within them, as well as new enemies to fight.

For the majority of the game your leveling will be done through missions. There is an entire set of missions available for a five level span, the only grinding needed is if you finish all the missions before you reach the next level echelon. Every couple of levels, until about level 30, you get one new skill, which you can select from the original two power fields you choose at character creation, or power pools sets. Power pool sets are smaller power fields that represent trademark superhero abilities such as flying, teleporting, or jumping. They are many and varying, each with its own unique purpose.

The grouping system is liberating compared to other MMORPG’s in that all members in the city sector share kills and experience, so you can all get a bunch of missions for killing different types of enemies, and have each member of the party go out searching for that enemy. The Supergroup feature, which is the games version of guilds, is quite basic but does offer the feature of a guild color set, which you can morph into anytime you want to.

The graphics in the game run incredibly smooth, as well as being asthetically pleasing. They do a good job of delivering a nice polygon count while still keeping the nostalgic superhero comic book theme. All skills are fully animated and are loaded with lighting and particle effects. The required card on the Radeon series is an 8500 (using a 9600 I can run it out of the box) or higher and not have a single hiccup. Like most MMORPGs the scenery is not loaded up with absurd fog, it merely loads up NPCs and players as they come into range. There are of coarse, as with all MMORPGs some minor graphical glitches, but nothing serious.

The sound is adequate, nothing incredibly special. Most of the sound is centered on the use of skills, and all of them are excellent. Things like footsteps and voice tracks for all of the NPC’s have been omitted for some reason. This is not unusual for an MMORPG, but it is unfortunate, considering the tremendous effort placed into the rest of the game. The game costs fifteen dollars per month, and the first month is free. This being the industry high is a turn-off for some people but I find that it is worth it.

So in short, City of Heroes is the MMORPG that breaks all of the rules. It is unlike anything else in the genre, with an appealing theme that has been executed magnificently. If you like the 15 hour level grinding and buying of a whole array of items that either rot or you have to upgrade every 4 levels, this game isn’t for you. While at heart it seems that this game is meant only for comic book fans, it is actually a great game for anyone. If you haven’t played an MMORPG, or don’t like them, you have to try to give City of Heroes a shot. While it does have some of the same technical problems that many MMORPGs face all of the time, City of Heroes ones are noticeably fewer and less severe.

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