Perfect Ten: MMOs that let you feel superheroic

    
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We're all NPCs now.

So, hey, Captain Marvel is out now! And I’m writing this before having actually seen it, so I can’t say word one about whether or not it’s actually any good. It prominently features a big orange tabby, though, so that’s a mark in its favor; it’s also made a whole lot of toxic people super angry about a character introduced in 1968. But that means this is a fine time to talk about the many, many superhero games we’ve gotten over the years!

When I proposed this idea, our editor-in-chief immediately wondered if we even had 10 entries for this list, but we do. We actually have a lot more edge cases, as it happens, and it’s sad to say that some of these options have shut down or gone away over the years while others are still awaiting their wider release. But hey, let’s get our super on, or at least reminisce about getting our super on.

Heroes.

1. City of Heroes

You knew this would be here and it would be first on the list. Don’t front.

City of Heroes was not a perfect game, but it was a great game, and it casts such a long shadow even several years out from its unexpected shutdown that it still tends to be what people think of when you mention a superhero MMO. And honestly, it seems almost like a platonic ideal of the same. Widespread customization, ad hoc grouping and gameplay, numerous villain groups, active gameplay…

Gosh, I’m getting misty. Let’s move on, shall we?

what

2. Champions Online

It gets really bland writing the same thing about Champions Online every single time, since it’s really the same story. It should have been the great second wave of superhero games, and instead it’s a janky mess with periodic sputters of life. And it’s disappointing because gosh are there still fun parts about it. Like, you can jump in and have a fun time right now!

I guess that’s what still bothers me so much; the game isn’t bad, it just feels like it has no long-term future beyond what you see now until it gets shut down. Disappointing. I’d still pre-purchase a sequel, though.

JUST TELL ME YOUR DEAL

3. DC Universe Online

We’re wading into licensed territory now: DC Universe Online is a game I also find to be a janky mess… but one with some ongoing development and an awful lot of people who love it just the same. And hey, I can’t say bad things about that. It has fans, it has stuff that works for it, it has a kind of schizoid approach to the DC properties – but then so does DC most of the time.

So it’s just not for me. Which, heck, I can live with.

Well, goodbye

4. Marvel Heroes

You may recall that I never much liked Marvel Heroes, and that would be accurate, but it was also a game that managed to really capture the zeitgeist for a bit. Heck, it captured it and ran with everything it had to offer in a way few games can ever manage, complete with both well-known characters and more offbeat options, as well as a commitment to different costume styles that I always appreciated.

Its unexpected and violent closure came as a real shock to everyone. This isn’t a game that petered out and then sank; it’s one that was doing fine and then it suddenly turned out that it’s studio had been a dumpster fire for a while and the license got burned. And it was a really sad loss. The writing hadn’t been on the wall for this one, and it hurt.

It was cute.

5. Super Hero Squad Online

Meanwhile, the writing felt like it had been on the wall for this title since launch… and that’s a shame. Super Hero Squad Online was never a game I played, but it was a game MOP’s Bree played, and she will wax poetic about how great it was for little kids and big kids. And that’s kind of important and good, since superheroes and comic books are for kids.

Yes, I say that as someone who loves superheroes to this day. Sure, it’s fine to have alternative and more mature takes on these characters, but none of that changes the fact that these characters are for kids first and foremost. This game was charming in its visual style, I appreciate it for that, and while I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did, I’m sad that it’s gone.

Now rather finite.

6. Infinite Crisis

So… here’s the thing. On the one hand, this seemed like it was never a game that quite knew what it had or how to leverage it, and for that reason it’s not exactly stunning that Infinite Crisis sputtered and died. On the other hand, it’s a superhero MOBA. Superhero MOBA. This feels like the most obvious option available. Throw a lot of characters together and have them fight!

Seriously, how do we not already have more of these?

Rebuild. Rise.

7. City of Titans

When CoH shuttered, some fans got upset, others got programming. The so-called “Plan Z” games are a small group of titles that were all about creating a new superhero game based on what people loved from that title so that it was almost like it didn’t die… or at least like death was not, in fact, a terminus for the game’s culture and design philosophy.

City of Titans is the title most closely adhering to its predecessor’s formula, making a conscious effort to be akin to a near-sequel. Obviously, it can’t quite lay claim to being a spiritual sequel because none of the original developers is there (to my knowledge), but it’s definitely aimed at being close to its inspiration.

How near, how far.

8. Valiance Online

If City of Titans is the M2 universe to CoH’s Marvel universe, Valiance Online is the 2099 spinoff. It’s slightly more futuristic, slightly different, and also for a long time seemed to be the one closest to a functional state. Unfortunately its development updates have quieted a bit in recent months, which is more than a little worrying. We’re all cheering for you, Valiance Online.

Combination crossover.

9. Ship of Heroes

Shall we count this one among the “Plan Z” titles? It wasn’t one of the original batch of spiritual replacements, but it definitely falls into the same basic spirit, and it’s clearly being pushed hard toward a completed and functional space. It also is taking place in space, as Ship of Heroes explicitly refers to a gigantic colony ship that is also floating through space and has a normal city inside of it.

Yes, that feels a little bit odd in terms of thematic mishmash, but it means both space adventures and superheroes in the long term. That’s a good thing! And we’re excited to see where the game goes from here.

Once you see it...

10. Secret World Legends

This title is always split between people who agree that it’s totally a superhero game and people who insist that Secret World Legends is more about being a modern occult game. But when you look at the thematic links… you’re a previously normal human who experienced an unusual event, resulting in strange powers that the player character had no idea existed. Upon these powers awakening you go through a period of adjustment, upending your life and changing what you thought you knew about the world.

Yeah, it’s got a lot of that occult flavor as well, but that doesn’t actually separate it from being a superhero setting; a lot of superheroes have similar flavors in chunks or in part. You’re not a wizard, Harry; you’re a superhero who happens to work for the Illuminati.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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Anton Mochalin

City of Heroes isn’t “what people think of when you mention a superhero MMO”. Some people among this website readers – probably, but if you watch MMO-focused YouTube channels hundreds of times more popular than this website you’d see City of Heroes isn’t mentioned there at all. DCUO, Champions, even Marvel Heroes which like City of Heroes is no longer a thing are mentioned. So this again demonstrates this website’s focus on living in the past. And if City of Heroes was so good why was it shut down?

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Edujam

It’s clear you never played city of heroes. The game was great, but the sense of community was something i never found in any other game. It’s not a guild thing, the entire server was a community. I used to play on liberty, we had 2 server channels, we just say forming a synapse tf, who’s willing to join? 3-4 minutes later, you replied thank you guys it’s full. I used to run dr. Quaterfield task force once a month on a last Saturday, it could take from 5 to 8 hours. And we always had people doing it and committed to that. That was that made CoH so great, besides powers animations, teams of 8 people and everything else.

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Armsman

CoH was okay. I think a lot of former CoH player really have large rose tinted glasses when they talk about it these days. (And hell, I was one of the first group of 300 to beta test the game back in December 2003 once they went beyond the ‘friend & family portion of the beta’).

Like all MMOs it had its problems (and some were pretty severe).

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Does not check email

I am entrenched in the group that played from start to finish and the shut down. I will look backwards for years asking wtf happened. My mind is set and will be to this day it was a whim move by executives that are no longer around who were busy chasing a mythic “wow killer” or today “killer mobile game”.

The sins of this product was being loved by a zealous community. COH players, including myself, were not players that treated the game like any other… we were bought mind, body and soul into a product that was creative, social and welcoming. I know couples who met and married and remain in contact years after the closure with a number of people. Telling a COH player to go play another game because they are all interchangeable shows that you do not share the feeling for any game we felt for that one.

This game showed up during a different era well before social media when gaming news was a magazine at a book store. Even by issue 6 which introduced villains The game was frankly old design, old concepts and many limitations. The developers did their best to undo mistakes and make enhancement. What they did deliver was good… and bad and a little ugly. 23 issues of updates with a 24th on the cusp is anything but a flop.

The game had issues and lacked a good sponsor/advocate within ncsoft.
Eight years is a success in this industry that otherwise throws away its products and customers regularly.

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Does not check email

And I would like to say I don’t want my rant to response to come off belittling. Another place and time I would offer a compusa 30 day gift card… I hooked a couple local friends on the game that way.

I had no idea why compusa sold those ncsoft gift cards $5 off but then again that’s probably why they are not around either.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Every single MMO you mentioned is old. Very few MMOs are actually new. Playing MMOs is to some extent committing to living in the past eventually since they are expressly driven by longer term investment. But mentioning CoH in a listicle specifically about superhero MMOs doesn’t require any broad nostalgia obsession; not mentioning it would be idiotic, especially given that versions of it live on in the present and so many in-dev MMOs are still trying to be it.

That said, your post history shows you’ve posted on plenty of articles about new and in-development games here, so you know your thesis about this website and its writers is (once again) incorrect. Please stop trolling our articles with insults.

Five minutes on Google would provide you with the answer to the “if City of Heroes was so good why was it shut down” question – it’s been asked and answered dozens upon dozens of times just on this site alone. The game was shouldering the development of a second game on its revenue, which depending on which story you believe was not something NCsoft wanted to pay for. The game was in the black. The studio was apparently in the red. And NCsoft has always been fast with the delete button when it needs an overseas writeoff.

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Anton Mochalin

You still don’t get my main argument – people in YouTube comments simply don’t mention CoH when talking about DCUO or Champions. And most gamers are people from YouTube comments, not people from this comment thread. City of Heroes is now mostly just history of a very niche community and not very relevant in broader context. Yes games like Ship of Heroes somehow refer to City of Heroes as a sort of inspiration but we can notice that Ship of Heroes is mentioned on this site much more often than elsewhere.

And I’ve heard of many online games (and played some of them) which their players called a great community before all else, most of these games can be called very niche games with very little commercial success. But could that be that it has little to do with the games themselves (them being about superheroes or anything, action or tab target or whatever) but just with some personalities maybe even outside the game’s team? Would City of Heroes create a similar community when published in another region? Could it become just an average MMO with some quirky ideas in that context?

If you read Steam reviews for all sorts of games you’ll see even very average games getting their share of reviews like “this game was a defining experience for me” etc etc. This just shows how different people and their stories are and how subjective everyone is (and for me this is a very positive thing). It just doesn’t say much about the game. So yeah I totally believe your stories about CoH of old that subjectively it was something special for you but is it relevant now for someone who wasn’t part of that community? And do those stories have anything to do with the superheroic genre as we see it today?

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Nick Smith

Eliot. Thank you for listing Super Hero Squad Online. I have fond memories. My son and I played that game together for countless hours. It was charming, challenging for adults and fun. I was sad to see it go.

butterpanda888
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butterpanda888

4 games that were shutdown, 3 that aren’t out yet. :/

I can understand games that aren’t out yet (gotta look to the future and build hype), but including shut down games is just rubbing salt in a wound. Especially for this genre of MMO.

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Sally Bowls

SuperHero games remain popular.

Marvel Strike Force generated $150 million in revenue in its first year

That Marvel game did double what GW2 did last year and about 3000% of CoH’s final year. It is more the PC MMO market that is “just resting”/”pining for the fjords.”

butterpanda888
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butterpanda888

I don’t doubt it, but Marvel Strike Force is by no means an MMO (O do enjoy it though). I’m just saddened by this post because out of the games mentioned the only ones that truly mean anything to me are City of Heroes, Marvel Heroes, and DCUO. It’s hard to get excited for Valiance Online, Ship of Heroes, and City of Titans because it just seems like they are taking SO long to come out and while they have the potential to be good they just can’t replace City of Heroes. Plus I’m mad Gazillion screwed up with Marvel Heroes. I really loved that game.

Sorry for the cynicism but that’s honestly the only way I could think of to respond to this post.

MagmaFist
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MagmaFist

That saved me from composing my own comment. Thank you and ditto on everything you said.

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Anton Mochalin

There’s also Marvel Future Fight on mobile and I play it regularly and it’s a good hero collector with action combat. And also a Marvel TCG, Marvel pinball and some more Marvel games xD

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Alex Willis

I think it’s worth distinguishing between “superhero games” and “games that make you feel superheroic”. The former is easily identifiable. But the latter? I’d say that’s more meaningful, and harder to quantify. After all, any old MMO class would be superheroic by “normal human” standards, but not every one will actually allow you that particular feeling.

On that note, I’d like to make a case for Warframe. Besides being a parkour space ninja, Warframe sets you up to feel like you could pretty much conquer the solar system if given the space to do so. I have had moments in this game that left my jaw hanging open for a long time. Setting aside some of the amazing story quests, some gameplay mechanics leave me giddy. For example, when you’re in the open world components of the game, you can leap into the air and, in midair, open up your ArchWing flight unit, and then rocket off across the planet at insane speeds, diving down cliff faces and then releasing and crashing into groups of enemies from thousands of metres in the air in an insane explosion (esp. if you’re using a Rhino frame). It’s so fluid and seamless, and truly makes you as the player feel special.

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Anton Mochalin

My thoughts exactly. First game I thought of when seeing the headline was Warframe. And it actually has all the necessary attributes for superhero genre: Superpowers obtained by accident? Check. A variety of supervillains? Check. A variety of superabilities? In abundance. Crazy world with clash of agendas? Included. There’s even a Warframe comic book (or two already?)

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Fenrir Wolf

Champions Online is such a tragic tale, really.

There were fits and bursts of what it truly should have felt like, grandiose moments of brilliance where the stupefyingly incompetent balancing team missed something that didn’t have PvP relevance and, well, it rocked pretty bloody heavy. There were those rare moments where you’d tank a platoon of forty trained VIPER soldiers, blasting them with haymakers and sending them flying off of cliffs…

It was a game at its most magical when the balancing team were slacking off. They didn’t seem to really grasp the point of a superhero game, often raising the ire of the majority of their players, with the game earning slogans like “Civilians who Just so Happen to Shoot Bright Colours from their Hands Online” and the like.

Perhaps the very best period of the game was the beta, and then the launch of Vibora Bay. Both times had quite plentiful amounts of “balancing issues,” which in the parlance of layfolk means “fun times.” The main issue was that the management operated under the bizarre delusion that if it wasn’t an operant conditioning chamber, it wouldn’t be successful.

You blithering imbeciles,” we wailed, “you’ve crafted something splendidly fun! Be it by intent or serendipity, it matters not. We play it because it’s fun! Don’t take the fun away!

And they did, time and time again.

I feel what frustrated me most is that they didn’t have ArenaNet’s Heart of Thorns realisation. I mean, at this point, everyone realises that Path of Fire is a response to the balls-up that they even apologised for. It’s about as casual, diverse, and fun as one could hope for. It could still use work, the ol’ Yolosmith really could be buffed up a notch, but overall it’s a lot better than it’s ever been.

Cryptic never had that realisation. The thing is? The way their servers were set up (instances of 100 players each) permitted anyone nosey enough to keep track of their population. The roleplaying club likewise provided an atmosphere for how willing the whales were to drop wads of dosh on an admittedly sinking ship.

If you kept your finger on the pulse, you could see how Champions Online died a little bit every time they went through a round of nerfs. It’s insufferably, unbearably patronising for a company to believe that their operant conditioning chamber approach yields results when the data very directly, openly contradicts that.

Oh thems players, they’ll come around to the brainwashin’ our marketin’ folk tells us will work just about any day now. Jes’ you wait, you’ll see!

How does this even happen? Why is management always so incomp–well, no. That’s disingenuous of me, silly even. I know precisely why management is so inherently inadequate, inexpert, and inept. It’s because a cut-throat personality and a killer instinct is more valued in the corporate space than logic, intellect, and common sense. So the resulting shitshow is an inevitable factor.

Managers are, to put it politely, nincompoops.

Also psychopaths.

Not necessarily the smartest people in the world, but the ones who can make the best promises of short-term profits, which is exactly what shareholders want to hear. Being so out-of-touch that they might as well be living on Mars is just par the course. And some of them even want to. Good luck with that! Perhaps try a short sabbatical on Everest first though, yes?

I can’t even talk about this without bringing up Battleborn. In its beta… oh god, it was so much fun. I adored it, as did my partner and our collective friends. Glorious doesn’t even cut it. Benedict rocked because his animation cancelling whilst flying required skill and… well? That. Made. Me. So. Gosh. Darned. Happy.

I loved Benedict. He’s my spirit animal.

Gearbox couldn’t let go of their ~*VISION*~ though. Sigh. Chasing that magical unicorn off into the sunset. The sunset of the game, that is. And they did. They bloody well did. It’s infuriating.

Gearbox: We have an eSport here! All of our players are eSports fanatics. Woohoo!

Community: No, your community is one of “filthy casuals” because you’ve made a game that’s too fantastic, too fun, and too festively flamboyant to appeal to the eSports crowd and we adore it so! Please recognise us!

Gearbox: La la la! I’m not listening! I’m a [Randy Pitchfork] and I know everything about games! I’m brilliant! A genius! Unsurpassed! You festering pissants! Don’t tell me how to game!

And so Battleborn died.

Just like Champions Online did.

As so many games I’ve loved have. It’s really getting me down that so many of the failures in the MMORPG space are invariably ones of mismanagement. There’s a reason we have a word for that, that doesn’t require us to use two words to define it. Why everything still operates this way is beyond me. Still, I wouldn’t want to be in that poistion either, which is the problem.

I understand that people like myself are as much a part of the problem as anyone, as we don’t want to lead. The anxiety, focus on us, and pressure would be too much. It’s an invariable truth though that the ones who don’t want to lead are the ones most suited to it.

And the advice I have, really, is — as always — just listen to your community. And by that, I very much do mean your entire community, not a small detachment of no-lifers who happen to post on your forums. This is why I push for having polls advertised in launchers to get a feeling for how everyone within the community feels about things.

Not everyone uses Twitter, or Reddit, or forums, or even any of the above. But everyone uses the launcher to launch the game. Put your polls there and you’ll have equal representation and gain a true feel for how the community would react to something.

Mismanagement is, unfortunately, everywhere though. Just look at Google Chrome, now. I’ve never seen so many users flock to Firefox all at once, as they’re so happy they can use UserChrome.css to configure their browser to look as Chrome once did. And there are plenty of nerds who’d help them do that.

That material design reeks of Google forgetting that billions of desktops out there exist, with so many users now very upset at them for not having a browser that’s suited to the desktop environment any more. You’d think they learned from Microsoft with Windows 8 but… well?

*sparkles* MANAGEMENT *sparkles*

So, yes. I’d usually pick Champions Online for the top of this list. I would, had it had been the game it really, truly could’ve been, unburdened by managerial sabotage. Perhaps in some reality out there, it is. Sadly, that isn’t the one we live in. Instead, I award it to the shockingly decent Super Hero Squad Online, as it’s the only released title that didn’t manage to piss off the vast, vast majority of their players. It was a game that, in an unspectacular fashion, had a healthy run until it wasn’t viable any longer due to the shifting tastes of its core demographic.

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IronSalamander8 .

I really enjoyed Battleborn. So much fun and I love the voice lines, especially some of Ambra’s. So many issues with it like you point out(Randy Pitchford is a pox on our industry, the timing of the release with Overwatch, the way you could only play some characters free. Ugh, so much to love ruined. >.<

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Legend Of Vinny T

I hear you on CO. I remain convinced that it was due to be shut down or maintenance-moded with the launch of Neverwinter, except the sudden death of CoH forced them to change plans.

I’m not sure what Gearbox could have done to save Battleborn other than moving its launch date up a few months – which would have been impossible – to get far enough ahead of the Overwatch launch juggernaut.

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Anton Mochalin

Re. Battleborn: it’s doing ok on consoles and I was regularly invited for private matches on PC just a couple of months ago. Its only problem was not going free-to-play right from the start and it would be better with Dota 2 type f2p (all characters unlocked for free from the start). Or maybe Warframe type f2p. I’m actually very glad that Paladins is doing much better than Battleborn even understanding that BB is a better game. Because the future is f2p and the sooner game industry realizes that the better for everyone. And Warframe’s case shows f2p can be high quality and bring a lot of money.

I don’t get what’s wrong with Google Chrome. I’m a web dev and I can say Chrome is totally fine. You’re the first person from which I hear there’s something wrong with it.

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PanagiotisLial1

Marvel Heroes was my favorite.My favorite diablo-like game and my favorite superhero game. I had spent a lot of time on it.

Champions Online felt fun at least to someone like me that had never played COH and compare them to each other. Like you said they just do not seem to updating it much but it has a lighthearted fun action style. I also loved going superjump travel through its world.

I didnt like much DC universe really but that doesnt mean its bad. It just doesnt didnt click to me. I also loved TSW but I never considered it a superhero game

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Legend Of Vinny T

A garishly-colored superhero standing next to a well-lit pile of rubble is probably the most honest illustration of CO you could have chosen.

If it helps wrap your brain around the idea of Secret World Legends on this list, think of it as being a “low fantasy” superhero setting, as opposed the “high fantasy” of Marvel or DC.

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Armsman

Sorry but I’d remove DCUO – unless “Feeling like a super heroic sidekick…” to either Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman..et al. is your thing.

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Randomessa

Warframe, honestly, scratches most if not all of the itch I have for being a superhero. I have the overpowered capacity to rain fire onto entire rooms, scale walls and glide across chasms, shift between planes of existence, become an immortal mummy, spread pestilence across the map, literally fly with my fairy wings or attached harness, and shoot tentacle monsters in the face with a sniper rifle with my superhuman aim. And that’s not to mention the customizability, splashes of color, capes, deployable henchmen, and imperiled civilian cultures we are practically defied by for saving and protecting.

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IronSalamander8 .

City of Heroes for sure. This was even more evident when I went from a tank in EQ to a Tanker in CoH and I was all “I can solo more than 1 mob at a time?!” and then I tuned my build and accidentally found that I could leave myself logged into a mission and get groceries (this was before the auto-afk-logout) and came back to see a mob I hadn’t seen had apparently been attacking me for long enough to fill my chat log with this fact and my Tanker (Iron Vixen) wasn’t even damaged thanks to in combat regen! She was Inv/SS, even though she wasn’t using the regen power set you still had some health regen in battle.

They nerfed that later but she was still so fun and powerful to play. My other characters were never as heroic feeling as she was but overall CoH really gave you that feeling. I also agree that it wasn’t perfect, but it was a blast and it’s so annoying that it’s shut down while so many lesser games are still playable.

Champions has it to a lesser degree. It just lacks in so many ways compared to CoH, even today it feels like they haven’t actually finished it yet.

DCUO was a major letdown. That was one of the last preorders I did and I cancelled it since it was just not that good barring the graphics which were nicer than CoH or CO and looked ‘comic-booky’ the rest, meh.

I did play some Marvel Heroes online. It was ok but felt mostly like a reskinned Diablo, whether that’s good or bad, hard to say really. It was at least enjoyable.

Secret World never clicked with me and I love Lovecraftian themes. I did try it for a bit with some friends never felt super there.

I can’t really speak on the not yet released games but they at least look to try to follow in CoH’s footsteps.