As we approach the first anniversary of City of Heroes’ revival on the rogue server circuit, I wanted to take this opportunity to share a testimony with you about how City of Heroes became my personal gateway into the wide world of MMORPGs.
It wasn’t that I was unaware of MMOs prior to 2004, it’s just that they always seemed so dang intimidating. Every time I would turn over a box copy of EverQuest or Asheron’s Call in the store, I’d be repulsed by the graphics. Whenever I read up on them, and I did, I would find myself scratching my head at the obtuse stat setup and interfaces that made doing any normal activity far more complex than it should have been.
And that monthly subscription, for a fairly broke guy, wasn’t doing these games any favors, either. I had plenty of games that didn’t require any sort of fast internet connection or monthly service charge, so why make the leap to MMOs?
Another strike against MMOs in my book was my initial foray into them. You see, back in 2001 I was a pretty big Funcom fan thanks to The Longest Journey (which is still one of the most amazing adventure games ever). To someone who was more of a sci-fi than a fantasy fan, the fact that this company had made a MMO set in the future intrigued me. And so I dabbled in Anarchy Online in its opening months and then again when Shadowlands released.
While the launch of Anarchy Online was a well-documented disaster (and did absolutely nothing to convince me that MMOs were anything but horribly buggy messes), Shadowlands was… OK. It was pretty and the basic gameplay loop of fight-loot-repeat was easy enough to grok. But I still felt like there were a lot of barriers between me and the game itself. The visuals during combat were laggy and never matched up with what was actually happening, I had zero engagement with the wider community, and I learned the hard way that it was all too easy to botch your character’s build. So I left and resumed my isolationist gaming ways.
Looking back on that era with my current perspective, I now would say that MMOs did a horrible job of onboarding players, getting them plugged into the social scene, and making a complex series of systems as user friendly to understand and interface. They weren’t impossible to learn, just daunting — and I was daunted right out of the field.
There were plenty of MMOs that came along in the early 2000s, but it wasn’t until City of Heroes launched that I felt the irresistible urge to try one again. Again, it took a game that broke out of the fantasy mold to get my attention. The concept of a superhero MMO just seemed… perfect. We had already been envisioning our ideal superhero (or, if we are to be honest, ourselves with super powers) since we were kids, and the ability to make your own, including your look, was a heady notion indeed.
It proved to be the right catalyst to propel me into the world of MMOs. From the launch day, City of Heroes sucked me in with a fun and understandable experience. I was impressed by how good it looked, with tons of colors, a user interface that had a vague comic book feel, and an endless parade of costumed players who gave me outfit envy like nothing I had felt before.
While World of Warcraft gets a lot of praise for creating a casual friendly game in its look, form, and function, I would argue that City of Heroes really did it first. It wasn’t perfect, but so much of this MMO was designed to draw in a wide rather than narrow swath of players. We didn’t have to worry about nitty-gritty stats, just general overviews of our powers. Picking powers wasn’t small and incremental, but a major event that we instinctually understood.
I could go on and on pointing out all of the other design elements that were more inviting than terrifying. The maps? Resizable and movable UI? Shrinking and growing circles to represent power cooldowns? A smooth chat client? No-stress grouping that auto-leveled players together?
In short, I had a blast during 2004 — even after I ventured into Azeroth. I felt like I finally “got” MMOs, even though I had a lot to learn. Thanks to City of Heroes, I started to see the appeal of gaming with others, figured out the complexities of slash commands and macros, and more than got my money’s worth out of those subscription dollars.
The specific memories and stories from the game are just a bonus, in my book. Without City of Heroes, I may not have had the MMO career that I’ve enjoyed ever since April 2004. So cheers to you, Paragon City. May you shine like a beacon for many years to come.