Into the Super-Verse: How to get started with Incarnates in City of Heroes


It wasn’t so long ago that I mentioned how pleased I was about City of Heroes matching my different intensity and goals after I returned to Homecoming with zeal once the license was announced. This has not changed. But it occurred to me, not for the first time, that one of the major reasons to dislike the Incarnate system is something that used to be true but isn’t any longer, and another major reason is just that it is not very well explained anywhere, including on the unofficial wiki.

This is kind of a problem because without a decent tutorial it’s easy to peace-out from the system pretty early just because you have no idea what in the Barbenheimer is happening and you need to actually build up your character. So here’s a quick primer on how to unlock your various slots (phrasing!) and what the heck you’re supposed to do with all these materials that started showing up.

Power up.

Unlocking and using your Incarnate abilities

In order to start unlocking Incarnate abilities, you need only be level 50. This sounds easy and it is, but it’s also a touch harder than it sounds because you don’t need to hit level 50; you need to be level 50.

Let’s take a step back. In CoH, once you hit enough experience for a level, you level up. Experience and influence rewards automatically begin scaling to your current level no matter what. So if you’re in a task force at level 30 and you hit level 31, you are immediately getting rewarded as a level 31 character, no questions asked. However, the actual benefits of level 31 – enhancement slots, for example – require you to stop by a trainer and properly level up in order to gain access.

For the most part, this distinction doesn’t really matter all that much. For Incarnates, it does. When you are still level 49, you will not get Incarnate Experience; once you are, you will. Fortunately, that is literally all you have to do; once you tick over, you will get Incarnate Experience for doing anything that would normally give you experience.

How Incarnate Experience works

It’s just experience. It’s another type of experience. Seriously, do not devote one second of thought to this. As you do things to acquire experience – which will still get you veteran levels that do not improve your actual levels but give you various other rewards – you will gain Incarnate Experience. There are ways to accelerate it and you should not use them at all; just keep doin’ stuff and you’ll be good to go. Watch for messages saying you unlocked such-and-such a slot and that’s all you need.


How to craft and slot Incarnate abilities

When you click on the “Powers” slide-out menu by your action bars, there are two little things to click on at the top. One is “Combat Attributes,” which measures fun stuff like your total Defense and damage and so forth. The other says “Incarnate Abilities.” That’s how you open that interface.

Unfortunately, this is also where it gets way, way, way more complicated than it needs to get, so let’s start this at the top. In order to craft any given Incarnate ability, you need three total ingredients. For a tier 1 ability, you need three common ingredients. Tier 2 requires a tier 1 ability, an uncommon ingredient, and two commons. Tier 3 requires a tier 2 ability in the tree, a rare ingredient, and two commons. Tier 4 requires two tier 3 abilities, a very rare ingredient, and two commons.

This in and of itself sounds easy enough, but then… well, there are incarnate shards and incarnate threads. Shards are used for the Alpha slot and nothing else; Threads are usable for everything. So you want to try to use Shards and related materials for Alpha slot abilities since they’re useless otherwise, but you’re going to wind up with more threads anyway.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to randomly getting Shards and Threads as drops, you can also get random drops of Incarnate ingredients from Incarnate-level content. These ingredients can be broken down into Shards/Threads (depending on crafting source) or sidegraded into other components for a lower cost than crafting these items independently.

Let’s demonstrate via examples. After doing some questing, you have a Biomorphic Goo, a Supercharged Capacitor, and 40 Incarnate Threads, and you want to craft your first Alpha ability. You decide to start with an Agility ability, and the first tier of that requires Biomorphic Goo, Meditation Techniques, and Genomic Analysis. You opt to sidegrade the Supercharged Capacitor into Genomic Analysis for 2 Incarnate Threads, then craft Meditation Techniques for 20 Incarnate Threads, then craft your ability. You now have 18 remaining Threads and the first-tier Agility slot ability.

Since your Alpha slot is unlocked, you navigate to that tab, click on the Alpha slot, then double-click the Agility ability in the list on the right. Now you’re golden.

Abilities can be swapped around and stored, so there’s nothing to worry about there; you cannot, however, break down completed abilities. It’s also worth noting that crafting Rare and Very Rare ingredients requires Empyrean Merits, which are awarded from a variety of sources but more slowly and not as random drops. It’s all a little complicated, but if you pick through the menus a bit, you’ll feel more comfortable with it.

I need to start taking my own shots here.

What else do I need to know about Incarnate abilities?

Three Incarnate Abilities are important beyond just the abilities themselves: the Alpha Slot, Lore Slot, and Destiny Slot. The tier 3 and higher Alpha abilities provide a Level Shift, while the Lore and Destiny tier 3s and above provide an Incarnate Shift. The Level Shift works exactly how it sounds, treating your character as level 51 for all base level calculations, so level 50 Minions will read as blue to you, and their defenses/accuracy/etc. will all be calculated as if they were one level lower.

It’s important to note that this shift does not change your actual level. Your health does not go up, for example. It just pushes the math for your level one higher. Similarly, the Incarnate Shift does the same thing but only for Incarnate content like missions in Dark Astoria, Incarnate task forces, and so forth. So if you have a +1 Level Shift and +2 Incarnate Shift, in a Dark Astoria mission, you will be checked as if you were level 53; if you hop out to Peregrine Island, you’ll be checked as if you were level 51.

All of the Incarnate abilities function as long as your character is level 45 or above. If you exemplar down below that, your Incarnate abilities will not be active. This can be particularly notable with, say, builds that really rely upon some of the Alpha slot modifications, since the Alpha slot is kind of a turbo-Enhancement that lets you break some diversification limits. However, the game still lets you earn experience for these slots even if you’re exemplared below the point when you can actually use them.

Last but not least, please keep in mind that while it is possible to make worse choices here, it’s easy enough to get threads and Empyrean Merits so you cannot really screw up here. At worst, you’re just going to make the process take longer for you.

Of course, saying that there are worse choices raises the question of what the good choices are, so… y’know, tune in next week when I talk about that. Hopefully the primer helps until then, though.

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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