City of Heroes Review
It's a refreshingly focused online role-playing experience, and is an entertaining, polished game that, unlike so many others, manages to deliver on the underlying promise of an excellent concept.
City of Heroes is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game...but don't hold that against it. If you've tried one of these types of games lately, then you know they can be clunky, hard to get into, slow-paced, and prohibitively time-consuming. You're also probably accustomed to how they start you off as some pathetic wimp who literally can't walk and chew gum at the same time and must spend hours swinging at snakes and rats before he or she gains any reasonable amount of proficiency as an adventurer. But City of Heroes isn't like this. It lets you create your own unique superhero who starts off strong and grows much stronger as he or she keeps taking down Paragon City's ruthless criminal element. The game is attractive and accessible and features big, fast-paced battles. Above all, it succeeds at bucking most of the genre's bad trends, and this is an amazing accomplishment. Yet, City of Heroes is so streamlined that it actually feels rather stripped-down in some respects; admittedly, there's really not much more to the game beyond battling lots and lots of packs of computer-controlled bad guys. So it might not have what it takes to keep you glued to your PC for the next five years (especially not at $15 a month after the first 30 days), but for a while, it sure is fun.
The best thing about City of Heroes is that it genuinely offers the thrill of discovery--something that is fundamentally uncommon in gaming, since most games are closely modeled on established genres. Actually, much of this thrill may be derived from the game's elaborate, extremely entertaining character-creation process, which allows you to craft a convincing replica of any of the most famous (and not-so-famous) superheroes in the Marvel and DC canon. As well, there's a good chance you can rip off the look of your favorite video game character or Hollywood action hero. However, you can always come up with something completely off-the-wall and original, if you'd prefer.
There are tons of different face masks, outfits, body types, little frills, and colors to choose from, and the consequence is that most all the player characters running around in City of Heroes look truly unique. After a while, you'll learn to pick out the discrete elements that make up each character. For instance, you can make a cigar-chomping cowboy with huge, robotic arms and medieval armored leggings, but you might see some less-ridiculous characters running around sharing some of the same details or body parts. And while you can make everything from huge, sinister-looking robots to slinky gals in hot pants, it must be noted that the difference between any two characters sometimes tends to be only skin-deep (or skin-equivalent-deep). Furthermore, there's a shocking omission: There are no capes. You'll see guys that look just like Superman and Batman running around, capeless. That's just wrong.
Even though it doesn't affect gameplay, choosing your appearance is very important, because once you settle on it, it's not going to change during the course of your character's existence (for the time being, anyway). That's actually one of the problems with the game. In most online RPGs, a character's experience is readily apparent, at-a-glance, due to the elaborateness of his or her armor or weapons or something similar. In City of Heroes, you'll be able to discern higher-level heroes by their abilities to fly, teleport, superjump, and so on, but all heroes are created equal-looking.
The most important decision you make when creating your character is your choice of superhero archetype, of which there are five. There's the blaster, a ranged specialist; the tanker, an extremely hardy melee fighter; the scrapper, a fast and powerful close-range combatant; the defender, who provides healing and support; and the controller, who provides crowd control and support. Within these five archetypes, there are a variety of distinctive options. As a result, you'll choose one respective option from a variety of primary and secondary skill paths. So, for example, you can be a blaster who specializes in assault rifles and fire spells, a scrapper who specializes in broadswords and regenerative skills, or a controller who specializes in gravitational forces and radiation. All in all, you'll be able to use this open-ended system to create a wide variety of interesting, multitalented characters whose powers are either plausible within the context of a superhero game or are just utterly absurd--which is cool too.
The character combinations are extensive and fun to experiment with, but they are limited. And, once you settle on your starting choices, you're stuck with them. Indeed, as you gain experience levels from fighting and are prompted to choose new skills or are prompted to choose different abilities to enhance, you'd better make your choices count, because there's no going back after you make them. Fortunately, there aren't many "wrong" choices to be made here. All the archetypes are desirable in groups (blasters are especially common in the game, though), and there are clear, concise descriptions available for all the skills in the game, so you can plan your character out in advance to avoid those skills that don't sound compatible with your playing style. Invariably, you'll get "class envy" and will want to try out a completely different character from the one you've been playing, but that's where a lot of the fun in City of Heroes comes from.