Into the Super-Verse: A toast to City of Heroes’ 20th birthday

Also, let's just put this out there, how about more robots?

How does you mark your first true MMO experience? Anarchy Online technically was the first MMO I ever played, although I was on dial-up, clueless, and lost for the couple months I tried it. World of Warcraft was the first title that became “the complete package” as MMOs fully clicked with me.

But between those two was another first, an unassuming yet innovative superhero ambassador that became my on-ramp to the MMORPG genre. I can’t remember every day in my life with such crystal clarity as I can the day that I bought my copy of City of Heroes at Media Play before work, read the manual cover-to-cover during lunch, and rushed home to make my first character (Weather Girl) that afternoon.

Sometimes it's about tweaking the right people.

What I’m trying to drive at is that there was something that connected with me about merely the concept of City of Heroes before the first time I logged into the game. It was the freedom of expression, I think. Unlike almost any other video game I’d played up to that point in my life, it let me envision a character concept in my mind and have a pretty good shot at making that a digital reality in this MMO.

Of course, it’s not as though those early days were nothing but smooth sailing. We had to run through the Outbreak tutorial a bazillion boring times due to all of the alts we created (if you came later to the CoH party, you don’t know the pain). Slowly jogging around the city until you got your travel power at level 14 was a slog, and I still wake up with night sweats thinking about dying in a group six times in a row and racking up bars and bars of XP debt.

Let’s never forget that stamina issues were a nagging pain in the butt. Nothing to make you feel like an impotent superhero than to be lacking stamina to pull off the skills you need in a dire situation.

And Cryptic of Olde courted plenty of controversy with this popular new game. Rarely a month went by without the community getting into an uproar over some slap-in-the-face or other. [Even now, you can drop the words “enhancement diversification” into a City of Heroes Discord channel and watch the fireworks. -Bree]

It's gone.

While the bad factors refuse to fade away in my memories, so too do some of the many joys and delights that City of Heroes gave to me in its first few years. This was the game that helped me get over any social fear of grouping up with others and blasting through warehouses (so many warehouses), offices (so many offices), and caves (please don’t superjump in a cave).

It was almost a mindless zen experience to be part of a powered-up group of capes that would be firing off a sight and sound overload just to take out some Fifth Column or Tsoo stronghold. Bunch up, let the tank take the alpha strike, activate your best abilities, and make sure you’re keeping track of health and stamina as needed.

While I rolled plenty of Controllers thanks to their pets, my archetype preference gradually shifted in the direction of Defenders. I loved to be able to help my group and wield a versatile toolkit if needed. The pinnacle of cool for this archetype was the DDD — Dark/Dark Defender — with its controls, debuffs, awesome visuals, and even a pet.

Cryptic also did a great job giving us a huge and diverse playground to enjoy. I didn’t realize in 2004 (as I do today) that flitting around a modern cityscape wasn’t going to be a regular thing in MMOs. Skyscrapers, parks, harbors, and even earthquake-inflicted zones offered so many places to explore. Sometimes all I wanted to do was to see how high I could get by superjumping off of window ledges.

This was once controversial!

Yes, it’s absolutely wild to wake up and have the realization that City of Heroes is 20 years old. It definitely has the most dramatic history packed into those two decades: a strong start, a shift over to Paragon Studios, the unexpected shutdown, the dormant years, and the glorious return thanks to leaked code, rogue servers, and (eventual) NCsoft approval.

That I and my family can still play City of Heroes today is a marvel — and not something I would’ve expected to say in, say, 2017. It doesn’t pack the draw for me that it once did, but I do enjoy my occasional trips back to Paragon City and its familiar sights.

Above what the game is and the studios and volunteer devs who gave it life is the real beating heart of this MMO: the community. That’s what always made playing City of Heroes a blast, as you’d get to hang out with people who were already in the spirit of having fun and not taking everything overly serious. Costume parties, enthusiastic super-groups, and those fun little dance parties with boomboxes as you’d wait for your group to assemble at a mission entrance are what makes me smile the most when I look back at this game.

Happy 20th anniversary, City of Heroes — you’ve earned the accolades and then some!

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.
Previous articleSkyforge is celebrating its ninth anniversary with the return of Aelion Day
Next articleStar Wars The Old Republic celebrates May the Fourth with a free Phantom Menace BX-24 droid

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments