City Of Heroes

Why isn’t City of Heroes more fun? It’s a multiplayer superhero game, and yet somehow it’s boring. This is coming from a girl who regularly meets up with a dozen friends for an Abberrant game (for non-gamers, that means we roll dice and pretend to save the world from supervillians).

CoH has it’s great points, namely the character creation. Players can create all kinds of power combinations. And you aren’t likely to run into someone who looks just like you — all kinds of superhero costumes, from fedoras to circuitry to typical tights, are available, in more colors than Liquitex. Unfortunately, capes are a graphics nightmare, and aren’t available.

And the innocent bystanders are goofy and fun, scripted to run screaming and then come back and thank you for saving their lives.

It’s the “missions” that aren’t any fun. After the tutorial mission, you’re sent to a contact who tells you to kill X of the gang Y and return to the contact, who then tells you to kill the boss of gang Y, and so forth. Lather, rinse, repeat. There are no puzzles to solve, just increasingly difficult bad guys to fight. Of course, your superhero is leveling up, too, so there’s no actual difference, just the bragging rights of having made it through Perez Park.

And CoH is massively multi-player. Which means, for the uninitated, that your superheroes team is made up of other players. Mine is usually a conglomerate of friends, housemates, my boyfriend and his friends, but players can also pick up a team in-game quite easily. But you can’t actually talk to your team. CoH has multiple communication channels, familiar to most MUD players. You know what I mean, one channel for talking to your friends, one for your team, a local channel for all the characters standing near by, a private message system, and a broadcast channel so you can tell everyone on that server that SuperBoy596 sux!!1! Yeah. But the mostly-combat game is too fast paced for much chatter, and besides, you need your keyboard for directional control instead of messaging.

But it’s ok, since CoH isn’t actually a social MUD. There is no superhero mansion, no secret lair. Call me boring, but what’s a MUD without an in-character bar? Your characters have all kinds of cute movement scripts (like reading a newspaper, flexing and a chance to play rock, paper, scissors) but after showing your teammates what Mr. Lightning looks like doing yoga, there’s no place to use them.
One of the traditional problems with a MUD is that new characters can be killed or abused by higher lever characters. Not so with City of Heroes. A determined or horribly unlucky newbie can wander into a battle designed for higher levels, but in general there are enough low-level missions to keep you busy. And there is no PvP combat at all, although this will change with the upcoming City of Villians. The advantage of this that your fireballs and bullets will never accidentally hit a player character. The disadvantage is that your fireballs and bullets will never hit a player character, even if they’re standing in the middle of an area of effect attack. (Wait, am I complaining about realism in a superhero game?)

The sidekick option lets your low-level character go on missions with the supreme being that your even dorkier friend made when you were in class. You get an power advantage while you’re palling around with your mentor, but when he logs off or gets too far away, you return to your former state, as useless as Robin without Batman.
There’s no money in the game, and no “stuff”. I grew up on Sierra games, where Roberta Williams taught me to take everything that’s not nailed down. Plus, I like shopping! If I could get jewelry or new superhero clothes at the end of a mission, I’d be happy. (there’s a rumor of capes as a prize for reaching level 20, but I haven’t seen any yet) I realize that a fashion-focused girl isn’t exactly the target audience, but surely other players would like the option to switch between street clothes and tights? One possibility is that the developers of CoH wanted to avoid having in game items that can be traded for real world money. Think I’m making it up? Have a look on eBay for EverCrack items.

Don’t get me completely wrong, sometimes it’s fun to dress in tights and stand next to a villian spawn point. Maybe my expectations were too high, but City of Heroes just didn’t live up to my imagination. Maybe it’s a girl thing, being a superhero’s fun and all, but I’d like to shop, change my clothes, talk to other players, and go have a drink in the non-existant superheroes’ bar. On the plus side, you’ll be probably be bored of CoH before the monthly fee mounts too high.

Edit: Jan.16, 2005 As I’m playing with my blog, Stick is sitting behind me playing CoH and loving it. Capes and a change of clothing have been incorporated, but I still think I’d rather play EQII.

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