Simple, immediate gratification... but little long-lasting draw.
City of Heroes is foremost applauded for its expansive character creation options. I find this laughable, since an admittedly impressive array of character dressings that have no impact on play really isn't something that I feel should weigh in when discussing the strengths of character variety. The actual abilities that define what your character does more limited, but no worse that selections available in most other MMOs. You can fight close or fight at range, you can pour out damage like a firehose or absorb it like a sponge, you can harass your foes with limitations and effects or you can support your friends with buffs and healing. The actual choices of Origin or the different superficial coverings like what energy type you use or whether you wield a katana or battle axe really don't mean anything worthwhile. Like the costumes, they're mostly for pretty but at least have some effect on gameplay in different situations.
Now, not to be all negative about it, I think there is an upside. Someone who is as interested in playing their character as they are in pressing buttons has an awesome tool at their disposal and I believe that this attracts a certain calibre of player that is (at least a small) cut above your average "Gimme kewl powerz so I can win!!" MMO junkie. These kinds of people are generally friendlier and easier to share a server with, so the environment is a lot more comfortable.
The play itself is very simple and easy to get into. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just going out and doing good deeds. If you aren't on a mission then you aren't accomplishing much of anything. Sin though it may be to admit, I actually like having the option to go out and just do some grinding from time to time. You can't really do that in CoH, it's just not worth the time. So you get stuck into quickly repetitive missions from the word Go.
Furthermore, the developers of CoH apparently went to the school of design that says increased difficulty means simultaneously increasing every aspect of enemies. You quickly find yourself outgunned, outnumbered, and outlevelled by baddies... any one of which is challenging. Especially when entering a building on a mission, it is easy to get in over your head.
So then you get stuck in one of my greatest pet peeves... the obligatory group. I'm generally anti-social, I like to play my games alone or with close friends. I don't want to HAVE to group up with a snotty kid who plays all the time and this is his ninth character and I didn't take the right build and I should follow him because he knows the best way to do this and.... BLAARGH!!
I don't want to HAVE to group to progress in a game. I will accept a slightly slower but still steady progression, that's fine, but give me that option. CoH doesn't do that. Or, at least, it didn't. Maybe it does now.
Still, it is not un-fun. When I had my close friends in a Supergroup and didn't have to call on annoying strangers to fulfill the unavoidable grouping, we spent exciting hours uncovering plots and putting the BAM! WHACK! or POW! to the badguys. I miss flying around the city in my black armor or walking the streets dressed exactly like I do in real life. It was an easy game not to take too seriously.
Which is likely its downfall. If you don't take something serious then it is easy to drift away from and forget.
I see regular mail, still, proclaiming a free weekend event or such. The next time one pops up, I may just dig out my disks and take a look around again. And I never did take a look at City of Villains...