Into the Super-verse: How City of Heroes welcomed me into MMOs


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.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.

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Jeromai _

If there was one thing early days CoH did extremely well, it was the complete ease in which joining multiplayer teams was fairly painless, nontoxic and made combat more interesting.

It never forbade soloing – you could still do so and get by perfectly well, if a little slowly and methodically. But as the enemy mobs got more complex and plentiful, while combat synergies between players = faster xp, people always wanted to stack other players up to the max.

So there was always a kind of community spread / interaction / teaching and by and large, most groups that formed knew how to play and keep things moving in enjoyable fashion with some social banter.

As usual, loot and Incarnate raids mucked up the formula, creating sufficient differential levels of power that grouping up was no longer as enjoyable, if you could do similar things faster by yourself or with players of equivalent power, as opposed to just collecting any warm body and going with that.

IronSalamander8 .

Love this look at my favorite MMO. It wasn’t my first, I had tried AO before playing a lot of EQ as my main game. CoX was an alternative game for me at first but as EQ got a bit tedious at the higher levels, and after loathing WoW in beta, it was my main game for a very long time.

Funnily enough, I got this game on a whim. I’m not a huge super hero fan but the box looked slick on the shelves so I thought ‘why not?’ And I’m glad I did. This is the only thing I had to play when I was laid off for a very long time and it kept me sane when things were very dark.

It really was easy to start as a new player, the UI was great and easy to read, the customization is still among the best, it was so much easier to get into than EQ or AO, the SK system was brilliant, and it looked amazing at the time; EQ looked bad- even with Luclin stuff turned on and WoW looked terrible (it’s had a lot of graphic improvements obviously) I would show EQ raid friends how it looked and they were quite impressed with how it looked in comparison.

EQ was my first serious MMO time, but CoX was the best.


What puzzles me is how people managed to go from the freedom of choice of CoH to the cookie cutter of 99% of other games.

Being able to play an old game and seeing things i always wanted in my more recent game, explains why the genre “isn’t” in crisis.

Hikari Kenzaki

It’s quite simple. WoW eclipsed CoH and steered the genre in that direction. Everything for the next 5-10 years was trying to get that WoW money, just like everyone now is trying to get the LoL money or that Fortnite money. Original thought is not an easy sell to a game publisher.

Castagere Shaikura

This 100%
Everything after Wow was just almost tragic if you really think about it. To me, it’s sad that most people here weren’t around in those early years of the MMO. AO was my first MMO back in 2001 and I only got into it because my PC geek friends pulled me in. I was playing first-person shooters only back then.

Demon of Razgriz
Demon of Razgriz

My first ever MMO was CoX. It was, at the time, a “hmmm why not” purchase from GameStop to finish off the last of a gift card. From the opening theme music to the gameplay and story, I was HOOKED! I was, and never will, be able to get into WoW or any of the other fantasy MMO’s because the ideas don’t work for me. The only other MMO I play is STO and that’s because I can pop in and out at my leisure. But I am religiously awaiting for City of Titans and Ship of Heroes to come onto the SuperVerse.


If only NCSoft would make the current CoX offerings an officially accepted thing, I would be back playing, and paying, immediately.

But, until they do, I just cannot see putting the time in only to see my characters and game vanish overnight. Again.

Castagere Shaikura

This is my real problem with it also. I just don’t want to waste time if it’s going to go away again.


City of Heroes was my, uh, ‘gateway drug’ as well, though it was 2010 when it finally clicked. And from there to STO and GW2 and now back to City again thanks to Homecoming.

Chris Johnson

I started with DC Universe Online on launch day. LOVED IT! I still play it off and on. I got around to City Of Heroes the following year, worked my way to Champions Online then went to STO and GW2. Funny that even after all these years, I still play them all along with ESO on a regular basis, which of course is thanks to City’s rebirth.