City of Heroes takes your lifelong dream of being a superhero and compresses it into the Massively Multi-Player Role-playing Game (MMORPG) format used, with some variation, in games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: Galaxies. City of Heroes is both better and worse than these games, but one thing is for sure; if you are a comic book geek you won’t be disappointed . . . at least for the next three months.
CoH puts you in the middle of the aptly-named Paragon City. Comic book historians should be able to appreciate the detail of the world CoH creates. The setting isn’t Golden Age, Silver Age or Modern Age, but as the game developers describe, a Platinum Age. Still, comic book fans will be able to notice bits and pieces from each of those respective ages. The game sets itself up after an “Infinite Crisis” styled event has devastated much of the city. However, Paragon City now resembles Gotham’s “No Man’s Land”, with the city cornered off into sections, and major villain factions still holding some of the city under siege. This is where you come in, as a new hero trying to end the turmoil engulfing Paragon City.
Players won’t have trouble standing out in Paragon City. The customization system in place lets players choose from a variety of costume options to create a superhero. From capes to crystals, you’ll probably find it all in the character creation stage. Although CoH has a customization process that can rival most games, it is a bit limited in certain areas. It is considerably hard to create an physically displeasing superhero, as most of the faces seem cut from the chiseled visages of the classic comic book characters. These customization flaws, however, are just nit-picking compared to the amount of creativity CoH truly grants.
CoH also includes many options to choose your hero’s power. The game allows you to choose your power’s Origin, which determines how you advance your powers as well as what type of foes you’ll be facing off with, as well as your hero’s Archetype, which will determine the nature of your powers. Advancing through even levels, you’ll gain a new power, while on odd-numbered levels, you will expand upon your pre-existing powers. The stakes raise every level, making it more and more time-consuming to reach the next level.
The enemies of CoH are the bane and glory of the game. Unlike Star Wars: Galaxies, you won’t start off in Paragon City battling wombats and rabbits. Instead, you’ll be faced with garden-variety thugs, mystical cabals, undead servants, Nazi aggressors and robotics menaces, just to name a few. The enemies are visually delightful, always keeping you on your toes.
There is a small case of familiarity, however, within some of the factions. One of your first foes will be Dr. Vazilok, a creepy surgeon who sews together Frankenstien-esque zombies. Twenty levels later, you’ll be faced with the enigmatic Banished Pantheon who would have been a little more enigmatic were not their minions (surprise!) more zombies. There are also several cases in which an enemy of ungodly power will appear in a lower-level area, wiping out any hero who crosses its path with one or two hits.
However, its not just the villains that make the game, but also the setting. Paragon City is filled with large statues adorning the great superheroes of the past, and each section of the city has a specific flavor. Atlas Park, one of the game’s starting point, offers a bright and cheerful setting, while King’s Row gives a more gritty, urban setting. Perez Park pays homage to the classic comic book artist George Perez by filling the screen with mobs upon mobs of villains.
There’s also zones like Dark Astoria, a foggy hazard zone that seems all too quiet. The mist is so bad you often can’t see five feet in front of you, and zombies wander the street muttering “Kill. Kill”. In certain areas of Dark Astoria, you might spy what appears to be streams of bystanders going about their day, but if you approach closer, the seemingly normal figures disappear back into the mists. Creepy atmospheric effects like this make such settings extremely fun to play.
The arrival of the stand-alone “City of Villains”, an entirely separate game which allows players to be, well, bad guys, has also injected elements of bases and player-vs.-player into the mix. In zones like “Siren’s Call”, heroes can enter into a war zone competing to achieve a variety of objectives against their adversaries. The thrill of fighting an enemy who isn’t a drone is sufficient to add a couple weeks attention span to this game.
In addition, the updates keep coming. The latest update included a zone entitled “Recluse’s Victory”, a kind of Bizzaro zone of Paragon City where players command heavy artillery and giant mechanized robots in the fight against opposing supervillains.
The only beef is that many of these features are aimed at higher-level players. It can takes weeks or even months, depending on one’s own playing schedule, to hit these levels. Sometimes it feels the programmers of CoH are teasing the gamers by holding their treats several inches above their heads.
Ultimately, City of Heroes is a fresh hit for comic book fans, but like most MMORPG’s, the experience is what you make it. If you find the right niche of like-minded gamers to share the experience with, you’ll fit right in, but if you find yourself playing solo all the time, the $15 per month price tag can ran a bit sour after a while. At certain points, you almost feel too overwhelmed to continue. Couple this with the tedious nature of missions, which can be frustrating and time-consuming at all the wrong times. I’ve played City of Heroes for the past several month. It has virtually consumed a year of gaming, but unless something drastic change, I doubt it will consume another year.
Heroes or Zeroes?: A City of Heroes Game Review