City of Heroes
Best. Character creation system. Ever. It's more important an issue than you might think. Sure, everyone wants a good-looking superhero image and the wealth of options available to you in City Of Heroes puts every other MMOG to shame. But it's more important than just deciding the visual impact you'll make (be it expertly crafted famous hero knock-offs - Wolferine, Daredeevil, The Incredible 'Ulk, etc. - or well thought through originals like my own Doctor Gravitus). It's important because it shows that NCsoft have taken this concept seriously.
This could so easily have been Everquest in spandex. A traditional, bog-standard, MMORPG in superhero clothing All the usual basic character types, the familiar rat-killing level grinding, the same basic detached combat, the same XP to reward ratios. And while, yes, underneath all the primary colours and knockabout fun, all cliches are present and correct, you're generally so busy having a stress-free blast that you barely notice.
City Of Heroes is deceptive like that. Initially you're playing the superhero game of your dreams. The moment that first bolt of lightning shoots from your eyeballs into the gullet of ' a ne'er-do-well, or when your razor claws slide from betwixt your fingernails with a satisfying 'snickt', or when you see your first higher-powered hero suddenly leap into the sky and gracefully tell gravity to get stuffed as they continue to rise higher and higher, the moment you play witness any of those seminal superhero moments, you're left grinning from ear to ear and confidently proclaiming that City Of Heroes is the finest game ever to be coded.
And boy how you proclaim it. You proclaim it to anyone and everyone. You proclaim the hell out of it. It's impossible to keep your tales of derring-do to yourself. Your mighty battles are recounted in the most exacting detail to anyone that will listen. It's a glorious world where every prospect pleases and only man is vile. Men and annoying, buzzy robot things called Sprockets. And aliens. Mustn't forget the aliens. But then, a month or two after starting, something I like to call the NCsoft Factor hits and things start to go wrong.
Anyone who's had experience of either this or NCsoft's other MMOG-m-waitmg - Lineage II - will probably have noticed the same thing. This isn't a company that particularly specialises in the 'deep' MMO experience. Lineage II we'll cover next month, but much like that land of swords, sorcery and skimpy clothing, City Of Heroes plays its best hand early on and as a result finds itself lacking when the whist game of life reaches its later rubbers.
Levels one through 12 are exhilarating. New powers open up almost every other day, from simple laser eye blasts to the seriously warped likes of Propel, in which a dimensional portal is opened and a random object is sucked through and hurled towards your enemy (anything from fire hydrants to old sofas). Each bad guy encounter and instanced mission is ripped straight from the pages of Marvel, with thugs, villains, zombie armies and aliens all waiting for healthy doses of justice from Spineder-Man And His Amazing Friends (sic).
Liberty For All
In fact it'll take you about two weeks (at an hour or two per day) to get to a level that seems reasonably impressive, at which point one or two piranhas of doubt start to nibble at the paddling toes of contentment in the tropical sea resort of playability.
Suddenly you're blithely ignoring all the petty crimes happening all around you as the protagonists are too low a level for you to bother with - something that breaks the immersive qualities that being a superheroic defender of the weak and innocent was bestowing upon you until now. The comic book heroes of our youth would happily stop any mugger, help any cat in a tree and aid any old woman to cross a road, however powerful their muscles and shiny their cape. No deed too small for they.
For you however, resplendent in your level 15 finery, the crime-ridden streets are just really, really inconvenient. That woman screaming for rescue from a terrifying gang with lasciviousness on their minds will just have to fend for herself. You're far too important to be foiling such low-level crimes like that. Hold fast, fair damsel, a less experienced hero will be along shortly to protect you.
Worse still, should you opt to clean the streets Batman-style of all crime, you'll be shouted at by the lower-level heroes for 'XP stealing'. It seems the class barriers in hero-world are alive and well. OK. a certain gaming licence has to be taken. But there are worse issues than this. Repetition rears its head like an ugly old man rising for the fifth toilet trip that night. Early on you start to realise that COH is little more than a blastathon. leaving little scope for characterisation or social development.
Crime Never Sleeps
Superteams can be formed and high-level characters can add prefixes to their sobriquets or gain access to capes, but there's none of the socialising depth seen in most MMOs. Just log in, fight a bit, level up, log out. A more literal case of 'Wham! Bam! Thank you ma'am' we've yet to see in gaming.
That's the moment when the clichdd MMO mechanics surface like a stricken submarine of limitation in the ocean of possibility and the emperor realises the people are pointing at his hairy crown jewels rather than his imaginary new threads. And it's the point when most COH players decide to go back to the drawing board and create a new character. That's the dilemma you see. Heroes is all about its early game. Character creation is excellence itself and experimenting with the hundreds of power set combinations is rather thrilling.
But for the game to retain an audience beyond its free subscription month (and for NCsoft to start seeing real profits), it needs to have a worthwhile sense of direction added. Something for the fledgling heroes to be aiming at in the months after pulling on their tights for the first time. Certainly, the game deserves to succeed, as it's obvious Cryptic Studios wants to take the concept of a superhero MMOG seriously. But until it does expand, City Of Heroes is merely the best start of a game we've ever seen.
Download City of Heroes
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
What Goes Through the minds e creators of your favourite games? This month, we sit down and go through the super-powered MMO of choice with Cryptic Studios' creative director, Jack 'Statesman' Emmert..
"The superhero theme wasn't my idea to begin with. Rick Dakan, one of our founders and Michael Lewis, our original investor, thought MMOs were great and they thought it'd be natural to do a superhero game. Good ideas are nearly always the most obvious, but when trying to market the game nearly every publisher turned us down. We only found two takers, one of which was NCsoft."
"We planned the costume creation tool from the start - we had guys working on that from day one. No two heroes look the same and that was what we aimed for. We were extremely aware of copyright issues - I know a lot about comics - and there are things that I specifically made sure weren't in there. You'll notice there are no web patterns or spider insignias; those are things I didn't allow. Typically, there's no big 'S', there are no bat symbols: we deliberately avoided them."
"I took a look at characters from comic-books, novels and movies, and wrote down their capabilities. I ended up with several hundred and so I started looking for categories such as what role they fill, what they do and how they act Once I'd figured out the categories, the archetypes began to fall into place. There are two archetypes which are extremely common: one is the speedster and the other is the guy with wings. We decided to make super-speed a travel power instead of making it an archetype in itself, and we decided to allow r everyone to fly".
"We'll never reach the point at which we've added enough powers. There are a list which I feel are a part of the comic-book universe, and I want to cover them. Off the top of my head there are shields, magnetism, pistols and staffs, various underwater abilities, pets and so on. There are powers which wouldn't work in the game: shrinking and growing for example, they just wouldn't make any sense. Shrinking would be another form of invisibility and growing is impossible as you wouldn't be able to move around, but those are staples of comics that we had no way of recreating. We'd like to add new powers with the expansions we do; every four or five months we plan to add two or three new sets."
"The sidekick feature was implemented pretty early; I was particularly frustrated with my inability to venture with my higher-level friends because they played more than I did. It just seemed natural; a good, innovative idea at the time. The players definitely use it more than I thought they would, and they abuse it more than I thought they would too, which leads to some unforeseen realities. The fact that other games like Dark Age Of Camelot have adopted the sidekick system was a huge compliment."
"The problem with having vehicles is that, let's " * say you have a car, what would you do with it? You'd want to drive, but our zones aren't that big. If there were 50 people with cars, they'd be running into each other all the time. You'd have to design the entire game just to be able to use cars, and that would be a significant effort which I'm not really sure is needed in the game. I'd like to do them, but we're not ready to think about it at the moment."
"Comic-hooks always focus on a single city. Batman has Gotham City, Superman has Metropolis, The Flash has Central City and so on. Superheroes are tied to their urban environment, so setting COH in a single-city world made sense."
City Of Villains
"The more points you earn throughout COV, the more things you can get for your base, things like teleporters and hospitals - no torture devices though! We couldn't get past the ratings boards with those. We didn't find the ratings restrictive though, as I had no interest in creating a game where you can randomly kill people; as long as you don't have that, you can avoid the 'mature' rating. You can't go and kill some man in the street; it just isn't the game I wanted to make. There are many other fun games which allow you to do that and that's great, but I wanted to create comic-book villains which are in comics today and were in comics 20 years ago."
For Anyone who's not a dab hand with a blade, the MMOG scene could be accused of stagnation. There are only so many leather jerkins a lad can take, before he begins to long for the touch of, well, more clingy garments. If that sounds familiar, then book your passage to Paragon City, the sprawling metropolis in Cryptic Studios' City Of Heroes. Populated by an astounding array of men (and women) in tights, we may finally have an antidote to 'EverCrack'.
The problem with doing superheroes is that with the wrong approach, they come off more camp than a Boy George lookalike contest. But Cryptic has managed to strike the right note - minus playable supervillains - and its love for unrealistic powers shines through.
To make your spandex dreams a reality, COH features a character creation system thorough enough to please Stan Lee. Particular attention has been paid to the most important facet of justice -costumes. The complete line of fins, flares, half-masks, bionic arms and micro-managed colour schemes is enough to make a sidekick-in-waiting out of anyone. Capes and robes are out, though, because they unduly tax the rendering engine.
Typically, when a publisher proffers 'thousands' of customisation options, it might as well be promising to halt that receding hairline as well. But I wandered around Paragon City for hours, and never saw a pair of lookalike do-gooders. Not once. Military, mutant, magical or historical, the options make the game much more inviting and actually (gasp!) could lead to role-playing.
Feel My Justice
But a flashy adventuring kit is merely the beginning. The power sets allow for far more character possibilities than your typical warrior/mage/thief triumvirate. There are five major character types (see 'Justice Be My Destiny', right), and for each class, you have a choice of several primary and secondary power sets, with nine tiers of abilities apiece. Factor in developing latent abilities and enhancements to tweak each power and the potential combinations are mind-boggling.
If that seems like too many possibilities to narrow down, Cryptic apparently agrees. Unlike many stingy MMOGs, COH provides slots for six crime fighters per account, so there's room to experiment. Enhancements, which can be purchased with fame or found in combat, not only refine your abilities, but can be combined in mystic ways to further complicate the process of becoming a badass. While roaming the streets of Paragon, dazzling displays of power will catch your eye as your peers go to work, which in turn become a huge incentive to press on yourself.
The primary concession to the typical MMOG structure is the mission system, which works much like any other. Newbies are treated to a collection of contacts, from which is built a network of key personalities holding the keys to a story. Without supervillains per se, Cryptic relies on an interconnected set of gangs, aliens and large beasts to act as antagonists. Quests worthy of a 12-issue hardcover graphic novel series are well and good, but the streets also offer plenty of head-cracking opportunities between plots.
As any emerging developer should, Cryptic has cobbled together a unique game engine, humbly naming it... The Cryptic engine. But when your first effort pumps out polygons like this one does, humility isn't really an issue. All that time spent pressing your tights won't be in vain, because every detail is on display, right down to the codpiece. Even without super-vision, scuffles taking place a block away can be plainly seen, and enough NPC pedestrians travel the streets that you could mistake Paragon for Vice City. The skylines and day/night cycle effects also look sharp, creating a monolithic urban landscape.
I'll Protect You, Chum!
Superteams are an integral part of City Of Heroes, and there are a few options for for team-hungry charact part of the interface, hittinn a rorfain the budding leader. Sending a call for hungry characters is a basic and after hitting a certain level, you can register supergroups with the higher-ups in City Hall, opening up benefits and technology.
Several mission objectives require dedicated teamwork, but in the early stages players may be wary of committing to the full-time work of team adventuring. In that case, the Sidekick function is a key feature. High-level characters can draw newbies into a Batman/Robin-type relationship, without even requiring them to wear little green pants. As long as the sidekick stays within a set distance of their buddy, they get a significant stat and power boost, which makes tough battles possible for even very new players. It's a brilliant idea that opens the game up while staying true to the basic inspiration.
In the past month, I've spent more than my fair share of evenings digging into the beta test, with all the disconnections, database burps and map server issues that entails. Despite a million of the usual beta testing frustrations, I still get excited about coming back to City Of Heroes. Even unfinished, it looks great and has a lot of small touches that really make the premise come alive. I've never been so keen on wearing spandex in my life.
Justice Be My Destiny
The Five Character Archetypes Correspond Vaguely To Role-Playing Classics, But They've L Got Their Own Unique Qualities Too
The Blaster is your basic long-range powerhouse, with nowt but tissue paper protection up close. The Controller and Defender are both weaklings, but while the Controller can restrain and manipulate foes from afar, the Defender heals (buffs) friends while debuffiny the enemy. Like the name says, the Scrapper the most dangerous hand-to-hand fighter, but is limited by a total lack of distance tactics. Then there's the Tanker - a hulking mountain of muscle, with a propensity to dish out damage matched by the ability to take it The choice is yours.
Issue 4: Colosseum
Six Months is a long time in the life of a hero. Since we first scuffed our boots of justice on the criminal backside of Paragon City, the game has seen four major content upgrades, is preparing to unveil the City Of Villains expansion and has launched to much acclaim and fanfare across the continent of Europe. And it's been sued to the high heavens by Marvel Comics because people couldn't resist creating their own versions of established, recognisable, copyrighted superheroes. At the time of writing the case is yet to be decided (potential penalties for NCsoft could be anything from a hefty fine to a complete shut-down of the game - the combined powers of Corporate Lawyer Man and Captain Attorney appear to be the strongest of all). However, the judge in charge recently threw out six of the 11 charges Marvel brought against the game, bringing hope to gamers everywhere.
Point is, things are afoot in City Of Heroes and the game has moved on significantly since our initial review. Now, with Issue 4 opening the first stages of player-versus-player combat, it seems as good a time as any to revisit the game and see what's happening.
Issue 4: Colosseum is a tentative toe in the water for PvP, ahead of City Of Villains' full-on cannonball-dive into the deep end in a few months' time. Regular visitors to the Galaxy City, Talos Island and Peregrine Island areas of the game will have previously seen some fevered construction activity taking place in-game. With Issue 4 fully downloaded and installed, the work has now been revealed as brand-spanking-new duelling arenas, allowing heroes to take each other on in consensual tournament-style gladiatorial combat.
It's a cool, well implemented system that provides scope for everything from one-on-one duels to multiplayer battle royales and giant, 150-player supergroup battles'. However, such huge numbers place a big drain on CPUs and are only recommended if you have a supercomputer or two handy to draw power from. The in-game ranking system (working along similar lines to that used in chess - you start with 1,500 points and have your score raised or lowered by a scaling amount depending on the rank of your opponent, and whether you win) provides you with an incentive, although not as much as that of wagering influence points on the outcome.
The ranking system is complemented by a decent handicap procedure too, meaning players of higher levels can pair off against lower-level chums, temporarily reducing their stats for the duration of the bout to even things out. Finally, it's topped off with boxing-style weight categories - welter, feather, light, etc - to provide plenty of routes in for players to explore. The set-up is simple, yet comprehensive. Each arena contains plenty of terminals in which you can view or set up matches. Options range from the number of players, to restricting the use of certain powers (teleports, flying etc) to how quickly your endurance levels recharge. Matches can be scheduled for specific times, letting you sign up, then wander off for a spot of extra villain-thwacking until the appointed hour arrives (a warning notice pops up letting you teleport instantly to the arena at the given time).
Non-participating heroes can view the action (as can heroes who have exhausted all their respawns (mid-match) by inhabiting tiny camera drones, flitting about the arena floor spying on the action. In a nice touch, a these cameras can be destroyed if they prove especially annoying.
Does it work though? Emphatically, yes. Duelling with super-powers is, forgive the pun, a blast. Certain abilities are tweaked to provide balance in the arena, which results in ultra-competitive matches. Noone feels undervalued, including the oft-maligned Controllers who come into their own here, and the combat is fast-moving, spectacular and raises the whole City Of Heroes experience exponentially.
Another Issue 4 enhancement that makes things better is the revamped character creation tool. Already one of the best out there, you now get to choose from a wealth of new clothing options (mostly anime-inspired in advance of the upcoming Asian launch), as well as make specific changes to your alter-ego's physical appearance - nose length, face shape, arm width and so on. And yes, you can also adjust female chest sizes. We know you were thinking about it.
No We Weren't
Meanwhile, the rest of City Of Heroes has been tightened up significantly since our last review. More in the way of rewards for persevering (capes, costume changes, new character types to unlock and so on) and a more focused back-story. There's still a lot of repetition involved, but the main criticism we had previously has been well addressed since launch and consequently COH is much better for it.
It could still be better, and chances are City Of Villains will help further, but right now it's definitely earning its reputation as the populist MMOG that isn't World Of Warcraft.
In a world of near-Gods I am a fleet footed fighter of the foul. I can't fly, jets of flames don't shoot out of my eyes and bullets would really sting if they hit me - but man can I kick. They call me the Crimson Foot. Welcome to the City of Heroes, a massively multiplayer role-playing game based in a world of good versus evil and player versus non-player. I put off writing this review for nearly a week because I try not to return to a game once I've reviewed it and I really love this game. Not only has NCSoft tapped a genre that fulfills childhood fantasy, they've done it in a way that is breath-taking to behold and quite a bit of fun to play.
You start the game be creating your own super hero. First you choose where you're hero's powers come from; is the hero a mutant, a master of the arcane or technology or perhaps just really well-trained in fighting. Next you decide what type of character you're going to have. You can choose to be a slow, brawler, a defensive character, a master of distance attacks, or a well-rounded hero. Next you pick your body type; male, female or a gender neutral huge. Finally you get to design the look of your character, something that entails selecting from literally millions of options to shape everything from the hair style to the wardrobe.
The game itself uses a pretty straight forward click to move and attack system. You start with two super abilities that recharge after each use. You can also just slug a bad guy. The game is fairly open ended, allowing you to wander the city streets looking to save the random non-player characters who get hassled by baddies or take on missions and beat up on groups of super villains. You can enhance your abilities with the occasional enhancements you find after battles and when you level up you're given a chance to learn more and better skills.
The graphics are pretty impressive, though I did notice some clipping issues. The sound offers enough ambient noise and battle sounds to add to the game.
One of the cool elements of the game is that you can create or join super groups pretty much on the fly, teaming up with friends to take out the evil-doer trash. I was a bit disappointed to learn that you can't play a super villain, something that on some level is understandable, but in the long run seems like a short cut that shouldn't have been taken. I completely support the idea of limiting player-killers and griefers, but there has got to be better ways to do it.
The other bummer in the game is that you can't revert to some sort of secret identity. What good is being a super-powered being if you can't disguise yourself as a nerdy newspaper reporter in your time off? City of Heroes is one of the best massively multiplayer online games I've played to date. Maybe it's the new topic, maybe it's the oodles of women in tights, but I love this city even at $15 a month.