I’ve noticed that some people get irritated when others repeatedly bring up long-dead MMORPGs. I think there’s the mentality of, “What’s done is done, let it go, it’s in the past.” Yet memories and relationships ware what we take out of these games, and I’ve always seen it as a great testament to an MMO’s legacy when people honor it years after it has gone offline.
City of Heroes shut down on November 30, 2012, after a last-ditch community campaign to change the decision passed down from corporate. Since then, fans have created tributes, gathered together on a yearly basis to quiz its devs on lore, and sponsored several start-up spiritual successors (all of which are still in development).
Consider this my contribution to its legacy: a collection of 10 memories from this terrific, quirky, and inspiring superhero MMO that have yet to evaporate in my mind.
1. Day One
While I was aware of and had dabbled in MMORPGs prior to City of Heroes, it was this game that really convinced me to dive deep into the genre. Part of that came from its accessibility, its color, and its alluring promise of being able to build my own superhero.
I still remember buying the game in the morning on the way to work and devouring the manual over lunch, picking my powersets and abilities. I probably broke several speed laws in getting home that evening, eager to get right into the game.
2. Outbreak zone
I don’t know which issue finally allowed players to skip the tutorial zone, but prior to that moment, every new character had to go through the slow and plodding Outbreak area. Since City of Heroes quickly earned the reputation of a very alt-friendly game, you can only imagine how many new characters had to plow through the tutorial. Didn’t deter us from doing so, but boy did it kind of suck having to do with with, what, one attack power? There was even a horrible achievement if you ground out 100 kills in that area. I don’t think I ever did it, but I can’t recall for sure…
3. Setting up the UI
As I said, I — along with most of the playerbase — was constantly creating new heroes. Sometimes a new theme came to mind (don’t underestimate the power of a punny hero name!), and often it was just to try out other powers and combinations. I don’t even think I had such a thing as a main in that MMO, now that I consider it.
Anyway, with all of those new characters came a process of setting up the UI. I didn’t like the default layout at all, so there was always about 10 minutes or so of moving, adjusting, filtering, chat-window-creating, and so forth. It got really tedious, to tell the truth, and I often wished for the ability to save and import the UI placement [They added that later! -Bree]. But in a weird way, that annoying routine kind of became a fond memory in the way when you can recall every detail of something in the past perfectly.
4. Sound design
Speaking of things burned into one’s mind, the sound design of City of Heroes dominates my memories of this game. From the little musical snippets to all of the power sounds, this was a game in which audio played a more important role than usual for an MMO. While there were some power sounds that I wish could’ve been muted (force bubble, ugh), on the whole it added weight and presence to your abilities and gave the whole game that extra comic book feel that it needed.
5. XP debt
Most of my time playing City of Heroes was during its first couple of years of existence, and thus I was there when XP debt was a real and terrible presence. If you died, you didn’t lose XP earned to date, oh no. Instead, you lost future XP in the form of a bar of debt that you had to work off before being able to make progress. Since levels initially came so slowly in the game, a few deaths’ worth of XP debt could become a huge deterrent to playing a character.
On the other hand, it certainly made the prospect of death more terrifying and encouraged us to group up more often. I don’t miss that part, but since I was there for it, I can at least show off the scars that I bear on my soul from it.
6. City of Villains’ launch
The release of City of Villains in 2004 felt like such a huge game-changer in so many ways. It wasn’t just an expansion; it was its own standalone title (albeit one that fulfilled an expansion’s purpose). It was as if the game now had both sides of the coin, allowing players to be as bad or as good as they wanted.
I never warmed up to the villain side the way that I did for the heroes, but I certainly appreciated the darker zones, new classes, and much better prestige archetypes (what were the game designers thinking with the alien squid thing, anyway?). And at least it allowed me to play a Mastermind, the greatest MMORPG pet class ever.
7. Getting lost in Perez Park
It’s strange to me how many of my favorite memories are of what were at the time pretty annoying features. Perez Park is a great example of this, a horribly designed forest zone that was part maze, part despair, and part gauntlet for teams. It seemed that you ended up going in here before travel powers, so there was no quick and easy option to escape. Instead, you just walked among the trees… forever.
I am still there. I am still lost. Help.
8. Warehouses, caves, and offices, oh my!
Was there a story that went with this game? If so, I never saw it. I was always running random missions with groups through semi-randomized instances. Any City of Heroes player quickly became acquainted with the jigsaw puzzle design of the game’s M.C. Escher office buildings, its huge and illogical warehouses, and its intensely frustrating cave systems.
I always got a laugh at feeling super-heroic when huddling in a corner right off the elevator with the other members of my team while the tank went around the floor and rounded up all of the bad guys. Just like the Justice League and the Avengers, am I right?
9. Level 14 and Stamina
Back before you could sneeze and hit level 20, each level came at a snail’s pace — and a level that granted a new power slot was a gift from the heavens itself. There were two levels in particular that always stuck out at me. The first was whenever I was able to get the stamina ability (I think around 16 or so) because finally I stopped running out of blue juice for my powers. The second was level 14, as you could pick your travel power and go from jogging around town to flying, teleporting, jumping, or racing through it. Superjump for the win!
10. Covering the player protest
As I said, I hardcore played for the first two years and then only sporadically thereafter. When it was announced that City of Heroes was closing, I might not have been in the game on a regular basis, but I still cared pretty deeply for it.
We followed the protests and saga of the closing very closely on old Massively, and I recall all of the weeks leading up to the shutdown with stories of vigils, campaigns, and loads of screenshots sent in from our readers. Again, this showed me how much the game actually meant to players, that this wasn’t just some disposable bargain-bin piece of software.
Costume parties. NPC quotes as you ran by. Clockwork robots. Running on power lines. Hours in the costume creator. The Fifth Column. The monorail. Dance parties with groups as we waited for the last people to show up. Badge collecting. The claw hands. The default superhero stance. Capes in Issue 2. Dark Astoria. The awesomeness of controllers.