Perfect Ten: The City of Heroes basic Archetypes ranked
So it’s just about that time again – we’re remembering when City of Heroes launched and when it said goodbye. Which is a bit of a sad time, y’know? I loved that game. I still do. Is it my favorite game ever? Heck no, but the fact is that it was a good game, and I wish it were still around. I could, of course, just rewrite my last column when I was talking all about that game for this year… but that’s not how I do things.
No, this year I want to go a different route. At the time it closed down, the game had 10 normal archetypes, which were and were not classes; they were most cleanly classes rather than anything else, but a given archetype contained more variability than your average class in most MMOs. Yet leaving aside the epic Archetypes, we’ve got just the right number for this list format. So while we all know Crab Spiders would be at the first-place spot if we included those… out of the original basic archetypes, how do those rank up, worst to best?
Thus, that’s what we’re doing this year. Which archetypes were the most original, fun, and nifty, and which ones were the most boring? Which means this time we’re starting at 10, because I like countdowns.
Sorry, dudes, but someone has to be in last place. And this is a pretty easy sell, because Stalkers are the least thematically appropriate archetype of the lot. They’re not exactly bad, but they’re focused around a stealth-based backstabby format that was pretty clearly massaged into the game to answer a question nobody asked, and pretty much all of their superhero concepts mapped pretty quickly to Scrappers without needing a separate option. Plus, you know, they had serious mechanical issues all the way down.
Of course, it’s saying that I still played and enjoyed Stalkers, so being “worst” in this case is still pretty good.
Where Stalkers lose out because they’re not very fitting for the genre, Controllers lose out from a combination of mechanical issues and the fact that there’s a strictly better option out there. Everything Controllers did well was something that another class did significantly better. Not that they weren’t a cool idea, but the team didn’t really stick the landing… and they got the whole thing much better, on balance, when they headed to the Rogue Isles.
So… perhaps oddly, perhaps not, from here on out most of the entries are all kind of in the winner’s circle. I mean, Blasters are winding up pretty low on the list overall, but they’re not bad. They’re a little bit worse than their functional replacement which winds up higher on the list, but their biggest “issue” was just the typical Mage Problem, where there’s a certain contingent of player that latches onto the Big Group Damage Numbers Class early on and never really moves on. Later, of course, they’d lose that niche, but that would take a while.
Anyhow, Blasters. They’re fine, they occupy a niche, but they don’t occupy that niche quite as well as some other classes. It’s all good.
Why am I ranking Defenders higher than Blasters? Well, because Defenders were a pretty clear picture of the design philosophy behind City of Heroes, and if you wanted to explain how the game worked using only one Archetype, you… well, you have some really weird thematic restrictions, but you could do worse than Defenders.
The thing about Defenders is that they really drive on the idea that your goal isn’t necessarily to just heal people, but to help your party. Sometimes that means direct heals, but a lot of tricks to boost defenses and reduce incoming damage can do the same trick. It meant that group content by its very nature was going to be a bit less structured, but it also encouraged forming odd ad-hoc parties without too much worry about roles.
It also meant arrows.
All of the controlling goodness of a Controller, but given both a mechanical and thematic upgrade. The sort of characters that Dominators were meant to replicate usually felt a bit more true to comics than the ones you could fit under Controllers, and Dominators had a much clearer picture of how to actually work alone without the pseudo-pets-but-not-really of Controllers. I always did like these guys.
Then again, it’s probably clear that I liked a lot of villainous archetypes. The designers had more practice for making these things work here.
They’re tankers, they’re tankers, they’re big, they’re heavy, they’re wood! They’re tankers, they’re tankers, they’re better than bad, they’re good! And that about sums that up.
Don’t get me wrong; Tankers were pretty cool, but they had a bit of a heavy lean on “do less but be harder to kill” up front. Did it make sense? Yes. Was it as neat as it could have been? Not so much. They’re very functional, but a touch on the bland side.
Oh, this is what I like to see. Corruptors neatly fill the slots of both Blasters and Defenders, and the result is an archetype that I really just plain liked out of the gate. I don’t know if I’d say it’s more fitting for the genre than the individual archetypes before, but boy, they were fun to play. Thematic differences are something I can overlook from time to time.
Ah, big smacky tanks-and-beatsticks in one package. The biggest problem Brutes had was that they were based off of a rather one-dimensional archetype for supervillains; that’s easy to overlook, however, in light of the sheer kinetic thrust they provided for the actual game. Brutes encouraged aggression mechanically, which is always tricky, and as a result they fed upon the idea of just plunging forward without a slice of regard for your overall safety.
It’s kind of odd I didn’t play more of them when I liked them so much. Who knows why?
There’s a lot of neat stuff going on when it comes to Scrappers, I think. They’re pretty hearty, but not able to quite stand up to a sustained beatdown; they’re aggressive, but they can hang back when needed; they’re self-sufficient, but only to a point. It’s weird, but they actually feel like the hybrid between Tankers, Brutes, and Stalkers, a midpoint between aggression, durability, and damage. They are, unsurprisingly, the archetype I tended to play most frequently, for better or for worse.
In fact, I bet a lot of people expected that they’d be my top pick. But no; they’re probably my favorite to play, but they’re not the best example of what the game could offer.
It’s been years since City of Villains came out, but I still think that Masterminds are perhaps the best example of capitalizing on the sheer niftiness of what this game was capable of doing. The idea alone was so clever that I can’t help but love it. You could basically turn the game halfway to being a strategy title as you juggled your various minions, but you also had plenty of things to do on your own to keep managing things.
Seriously, it’s hard if not impossible to think of a more perfect match to the game’s themes and mechanics. Masterminds are still astonishing, and I can kind of understand why they don’t show up more often simply because it’s hard to pick another setting where the theme and the mechanics match this well. It’s almost uncanny. I never liked playing one all that much, but I think they’re a good example of how imaginative, fun, and neat this game could be.