The Daily Grind: What made City of Heroes work so well?

Although City of Heroes is not coming back (I think we all need to come to terms with that), many successors are waiting in the wings with their own vision of how a superhero MMO should be. Valiance Online, City of Titans, and Ship of Heroes all have claimed inspiration from City of Heroes and claim that they will be replicating some elements of what made that title work so well.

But what did work well about City of Heroes? Why did it succeed when Champions Online, a title modeled after it and created by the same studio, failed? Why is City of Heroes so beloved, even years after its demise?

Let’s hash it out today in the comments. Break down City of Heroes for us and see if you can’t put your finger on what made this particular MMO fly high.

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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77 Comments on "The Daily Grind: What made City of Heroes work so well?"

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Matthew Yetter

There were a great many things that the game did well but for my friends and I did one particular thing so terribly that we ultimately left. That thing was its maps. They were modular and built in such a way that EVERYTHING for any particular module was identical — right on down to the mob spawn locations. This meant that once you recognized a particular room it made zero difference what art style was in play (Circle of Thorns vs. Clockwork, for example). You knew exactly where every single enemy could be found.

Once you saw behind the curtain like that, the game became extraordinarily repetitive and ultimately boring.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Yes, the map design was lacking. That and like Missions for the Villains were many times were literally just a reversed map of the Heroes map.

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Bryan Correll

I always said the greatest villain in Paragon City was the architect who designed all those office buildings overly long hallways, staircases that led nowhere, etc. I loved the game but it certainly had its warts.

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Ian Wellock

First, the character creator was unparalleled. Nothing still comes close to how responsive it was and how much sheer variety there was. I can’t recall ever being unable to make exactly the look I wanted.

Second, the general responsiveness of the game: running and jumping was perfectly smooth and never felt laggy or stuttery or anything other than precise. Too many games just don’t have that feel still.

Third, the lack of PvP (in any real sense). Controversial, I’ll admit, but for the first few years when PvE was all there was, the camaraderie was outstanding, every single Hero was willing to help. I remember the first time my younger, cooler brother and I were getting hammered by a level 6 boss in a warehouse, and after getting knocked out twice each, we asked for help. A shining light by the name of Royal Guard appeared, traded insults with the boss, and wiped him out for us. Never before or since this game have I known such selflessness. (It may sound weak now, but to us then, it was everything).

Fourth, the sheer discovery of the power pools and the way they worked: getting to level 6 for the first time and choosing a travel power – flying for the first time (well, hover, but still) – was a revelation.

Fifth, hitting level 18 and getting your class’ signature power – Invulnerability for my Tank before the legendary nerfs – made you feel genuinely heroic with what you can take on and survive.

Sixth, the mystery of Talos Island – such an amazing variety of zones and so many awesome places to hang out.

Seventh, the first time I saw a Rikti and got swatted like an ignorant fly.

Eighth, stand-up, knock-down fights with Paragon Protectors.

Ninth, when Capes appeared and for weeks all you could see was capes around, everywhere.

Tenth, the amazing ways of farming things like the Sewer Trial, and the fixed rules we developed for being safe.

Eleventh, sidekicks! Ahhh, sidekicks, a brilliant way of joining in the fight.

Oh God, so many, many things.

My most favourite though, was always circling down to land at Atlas’ feet and meeting up with the Supergroup du jour; it looked amazing and was glorious.

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Loyal Patron
Armsbend

It would be cool if Disney would do an MMO right with their Marvel IP. Is there really a better time than right now? Comic movies are basically the only thing that keeps Hollywood from going under on their big budget flicks.

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Kickstarter Donor
Blaaznar

And somehow I’m expecting a Marvel/StarWars Early-Access-Battle-Royale-Crafting-Survival game to show up any time now.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

It might be, but more than likely Disney would force me to play their IP characters.

I don’t want to play Iron Man or She Hulk, I want to use my imagination and make up my own characters.

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Dug From The Earth

Marvel already had that with Marvel Heroes…

Its doubtful they would go the same route if they tried their hand at another mmo.

With the next generation of lesser heroes hitting the cinema’s after infinity war is done, a game thats more akin to DCUO (custom heroes) is something that could be a possibility.

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Loyal Patron
Armsbend

I personally don’t think so. One of the ARPGs failings was seeing so many characters like you. Create a world like DCUO – but with a talented staff.

arimer
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arimer

The community, hands down. Which I also think is something sorely missing from MMO’s nowadays. You look at the old days of EQ, Uo, COh and some of the first mmo’s and the community was amazing. Then it all went downhill.

Aluminum Man
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Aluminum Man

The community was big. I can;t think of another game where I’ve run with pick-up groups for hours at a time just doing something like newspaper missions.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

Be interesting to see if there is data on that or its a rose colored glasses thing.

I vaguely recall never teaming with people before COH and the reasons in part were because other people weren’t that fun to hang around.

Also, COH had it’s share of arseholes, as I can still recall someone quitting our team with the complaint that,’ They did not deserve this (our ineptitude I believe) because they were the number two healer on the server.’ >.>

Oh and folks who would show up to RP events just to be jerks. Even on Virtue which was the defacto Rp server.

so I think its more people on mmos and thus percentage wise more jerks visible.

I dunno, maybe not.

I know I did get threatened in Rift a couple of weeks back.

Weeee.

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Bryan Correll

the number two healer on the server

Did you tell him dedicated healers weren’t really worth very much?

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

No. He was mocked viciously until he dropped team and we went on to finish the mission in a much more enjoyable fashion.

Duane_Does_not_check_email
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Duane_Does_not_check_email

The rose colored glasses are only slightly tinged.

I agree all games have their jerks, but coming off my own caustic 2 year EQ run I generally found the community welcoming. A lot less “YOURE PLAYING IT WRONG, FBOMB” and more “hey, you want to team or need some influence?”

I know I could not return all the favors I received from how to’s, free money or strangers offering to group in Atlas Park.Even at the end I could get a rare purple recipe drop free when a guildmate had a spare. We did sell and give the proceeds away to new players in Atlas and the super group.

Equally there should be a thread on what COH got wrong. Personally I would have loved to see a new user interface/less clunky 2002 era look and upgrade to engine.

Ghani
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Ghani

I miss this game so much, even after all this time.
I miss my first character, her powers were hopeless but her cossie was great.
I miss all the other dozens and dozens of heroes and villains that came after her, the wide selection of power combinations, the colours, the costumes, the names.
I miss spending hours in the auction house fiddling about with power sets.
Most of all though I miss my SG base, I spent more time than I care to admit building, arranging, moving, rebuilding, expanding…I could go on but I think you all know.

styopa
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styopa

Right now?

I enjoyed the game but I gotta admit right now the main fuel for the retroactive love is nostalgia and rose-colored glasses.

It was a novel niche, certainly. It was fun to be a superhero, and the game itself was fundamentally well-designed. I still don’t understand why more games haven’t made use of the modular geomorph instance spawning.

But it had no crafting to speak of…the whole game was more or less running around beating up punks (who, despite being enough to occasionally down a hero, managed to have surprising amounts of difficulty getting that purse away from the old lady).

It was fun, and I returned to it fairly regularly like I do with WoW and LotRO but it wasn’t the “greatest game ever” some people like to make it seem.

Reader

Novelty?

It did so many things that no other MMO had done, before or after. Masterminds for pet classes. Mission Architect. The sheer amount of customization. Being able to play both sides without the game pretending that it’s a ‘war’ that one side could feasibly win when it can’t (WoW and SWTOR are both super guilty of this one). I could go on.

But then, I wish MMO devs would just fucking stop putting shitty crafting in their game. I guess the market must exist, though. I just don’t see the fun.

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

Remember people shorting the market of Luck Charms? Oh that made me so mad.

Reader
Velvet Homicide

Oh, wow…where do I even begin about City of Heroes? Christmas 2004 I was given a copy of the game. At the time I had 2 babies under 2, one of them autistic, and my grandfather that I took care of full time. Needless to say, I didn’t get to go out into the world very much. I had never even heard of an MMO before. I was in my 30s and a console player.

My friend that gave me the game told me it would be a fun way to relax because who doesn’t like flying around? The first thing that I really enjoyed was making the character itself. There were SO many choices! I knew that my character would look different than anyone else. She would be unique and not this lookalike that so many games have now.

My first experience? Winter Lords! Oh gosh! It was so fun to work with a group but I wasn’t forced to actually group with anyone but my friend. Even at level 2 I felt like I was a hero helping defend the city from this giant snowman. That sure was a fun time. I absolutely enjoyed every event that City of Heroes had to coincide with holidays. Man do I miss Trick or Treating in a game!

A lot o people talk about the mechanics and the powers and stuff. But, for me to enjoy a game I have to enjoy the look and feel of the game and I have to enjoy my character. My first character was Velvet Homicide, a Dark/Dark Defender. I loved that her powers seemed to look like they were all soft with a touch of dark hero about them. She was so influential that my username in most places is hers. My gmail..hers.

The chat system was amazing and being able to be a global friend with someone was very nice. That way, someone like me, that had 50 characters could always stay connected. There were some nights that I was just too tired to play, but I still logged in to talk with the people. City of Heroes was my connection to people outside of my small needy circle.

Roleplay was also a wonderful part of the game. It allowed me the chance to make believe I was something more than a stay-at-home mom. The roleplaying community was so fun and there was always something going on.

I miss the game, like an old friend. There are still some times when I’ll drive past a building or the light is a certain way that I hear the music in my mind. When I remember flying around Atlas in Atlas Park.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

It didn’t really work for me; I tried to get into the game three times, and left it within a few weeks every time.

So, what attracted me enough to get me to attempt multiple times to play the game?

– Character creator. One of the best I’ve seen.
– Sidekicking/mentoring.
– The way its auction (consignment) house worked.
– Factions weren’t fixed, players could switch factions.
– Travel powers were fun to use, and fast travel was instant instead of wasting our time with scenic tours.
– One of the friendliest communities I’ve ever seen.
– Instances with difficulty and group size settings.
– No hard trinity.
– Player-created missions and instances.
(Plus a few others I can’t readly recall.)

What drove me away was how the game expected players to commit to their character choices, and in particular how respecs were sold in the game’s cash store; I tend to get frustrated whenever the game tries to keep me from redoing my choices. For reference, the one thing that ultimately convinced me to start playing WoW back then wasn’t its success, or some nifty content drop; rather, it was Blizzard allowing players to respec for gold.

(And yeah, before someone points it, I’m aware that players could earn respecs by playing and trade them using the consignment house. It wasn’t cheap or easy enough to get to satisfy my needs.)

Reader
A Dad Supreme

It didn’t really work for me; I tried to get into the game three times, and left it within a few weeks every time.

Goddammit! I thought I was the only one who felt this after reading about this game here for years.

It just never “clicked” with me and it’s not like I haven’t played enough MMOs to compare.

I never even got to the point where I could say City of Heroes was a “good” or “bad” game because I just couldn’t get past it. It’s the same way with EvE; I have no judgement because I can’t get past one week of it.

Forget ex-CoH players who say they need a support group because the game shut down; I think we should have our own support group and come out of the shadows!

Maybe we can call ourselves “The Never Coulds”…

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

Coh DIED because you two didn’t love it enough!

*runs off to room slamming the door!

Reader
Chrisanne

For me it was the freedom CoH gave you to make YOUR character. You could have 2 characters with the same exact power sets, yet they would still feel different because of your character appearance and bio. You also weren’t hampered down by a ‘chosen one’ storyline ( at least not till CoV) so your character’s adventures were wherever you took them.

They gave you the freedom, you just had to bring your imagination.

styopa
Reader
styopa

Yeah, those are my biggest complaints about currently-available hero games – I don’t want to play an existing character, and I don’t necessarily agree with the power-relationships forced upon the player by other devs. :|

Reader
Eduardo da Fonseca

In my opinion:
1- the community and the sense of friendship, not so toxic like games nowadays.
2- teams with 8 people.
3- the no need of class A, B or C to do a party, for most part of the game.
4- masterminds and controllers, no other game made nothing compare to those.
5- fun to log in and do a tf, with friends.