Into the Super-verse: How City of Heroes shows its flexibility with how I’ve changed


When City of Heroes waved farewell in 2012, I had an army of alts who were, at most, in their mid-30s. And I loved that game.

It’s not as if leveling in the game, even then, was somehow onerous or a chore. Indeed, that’s an area where the game has always excelled. It was me and how I played games. Not just CoH, but basically every MMO I played at the time. Heck, back then I routinely would get multiple characters in other games up to the level cap and gear them enough without ever stressing about it.

But time has changed me, even though I can’t change time. And perhaps more importantly, the basic way I approach MMORPGs has changed over the course of that time. I came back to the newly legitimized servers with a very different way of approaching games from top to bottom, and I’m not going to lie when I say that made me at least a little bit anxious. Because, well… CoH hadn’t changed.

Now, let’s be clear about something: I don’t mean to say that the Homecoming team was sitting around staring at the windows and occasionally muttering about magnets during the four-year rogue server phase. The game was continually being updated and improved all the way along! It’s just that the core of the game, how it operates and such, has not changed because of course it hasn’t.

The thing that changed is me. I went from someone who was content with just faffing about on alts and not being very good to someone who, well, cares about that. Yes, I’m very aware that none of it is real. But more than a decade in another game where I have always felt like the endgame is not just available but accessible and fun has left me with a very different way of approaching the game. It’s no longer enough to just slot whatever, die periodically, and give no thought to my overall bonuses or anything. Not to me. No, I want to actually play the hit, gear well, and stake my claim.

So going back to the intensely level-agnostic endgame-light game that CoH has always been had me just a little worried. Was I going to find this fun still? Sure, it’d be possible to enjoy the leveling. But could I really be the same person I was all those years ago?

Obviously, the answer is no.

Forever and ever.

I mean, you knew this was going to be the answer. I am the guy who says repeatedly that we can’t go back to who we were in the past, that we have changed as we have played games, that some of it was just as much about environment. This is one of my big things. It should be a surprise to absolutely no one that I could not roll up a dozen new heroes and just go savagely all-in on every single one of them for about 30 levels before wanting to make a new one.

Was that a person I used to be? Yes. Do I have anything against people who can still be that person? No. Am I one of those people? Also no. That time is gone now.

“So, what, are you saying that after all these CoH columns that you don’t still love the game any more?” Hell no. I said that I’m not that person any more. No, I realized that I had become someone else… and to my delight and surprise, CoH proved why I loved it so much by meeting me where I had become.

I started one character who I knew would be my main, and I leveled that character. I enjoyed the faster unlocking of core powers, but I also did research. What’s the soft-cap for defense? How could I maximize my effectiveness? Indeed, it became very clear that there was going to be a whole lot of work to do in order to earn up the money necessary for a full set of set Enhancements, including bumping them up to the highest possible quality where applicable, and boosting IOs where that was relevant. It’d be a chunk of work!

And on top of that, there is the whole Incarnate system. Is it great? No, I’ve made my feelings on it very clear. But is it also an endgame system with a number of elements to consider? Yes. And it does affect power, and it does require learning several interlinking elements, and the next thing you know there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes. There’s a long hill to climb in endgame, a bunch of things to buy and fill out, work to do.

Instead of feeling bored, I felt motivated. Rather than feeling as if 50 was the endpoint, I found there were systems to engage with. Was it the best and richest endgame I’ve experienced? No, but the game was still meeting me where I was, feeling like a fun experience and giving me something to do.

I wasn’t that person any more… but I still felt like the game had what had made me love it all along.


Now, I’m writing this article as I am just about finished with this project. Not completely finished, mind you; there are still a couple more ranks to grab on a couple Incarnate abilities and a couple backups I want to pack for odd situations, a few more boosters, and I’ll need to rearrange things if we ever get a particular option for a powerset. But barring some new endgame content, that character is just about done… and can also still serve as a booster to help out lower-level characters and supercharge my alts as they get up in levels over time.

Yes, it took me about a month and a half of focused play to get here. But that’s a big deal. And it was fun, and it was well-earned. The person who I was is no longer with me except in memory, but the person who I am is finding plenty to do and enjoy within this game. I have changed and the game has not, but even as my investment and engagement with the game has changed, I’ve found a robust and enjoyable game that lets me be a superhero all the same.

And this is part of why CoH is an amazing game.

One of the reasons that I’ve long championed the idea of “sandpark” as a term is that there are and have always been games that work like this. You can approach from one angle and the game is fun, but if you prefer a different angle, the game is still a good time. Granted, I don’t know that I’d really qualify CoH under that header; the crafting is way too thin and feels like a post-hoc addition to the game (because it absolutely factually is), there’s not much to do outside of combat beyond roleplay, exploration is somewhat pointless if you’re not a badger, and so forth.

But it does have the property of letting you engage with the game on several levels while still working and being fun to play. And it makes me endlessly happy that the way I play MMORPGs has changed over the years, but there’s still just as much joy in CoH for the way I play now.

That isn’t always the case when going back to games I once loved.

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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