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City of Heroes – Preview

This is a place where we can all be heroes. Set in a metropolis overrun by villains, City of Heroes brings the world of comic books and movies alive in the first PC MMORPG of its kind.

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This is a place where we can all be heroes. Set in a metropolis overrun by villains, City of Heroes brings the world of comic books and movies alive in the first PC MMORPG of its kind.

System Specs


Recommended:
Windows 2000/XP
Pentium 4 1.7Ghz or better
512MB Ram
2GB HDD space
Geforce 4 Ti or ATI Radeon 8500 or better
Broadband connection

As Tested:
Win XP
P-4 2.24Ghz
1GB Ram
80GB HD
GeForce Ti 4600
SB Audigy

Gameplay


City of Heroes (denoted as COH from here out) is a MMORPG set in a comic book world called Paragon City. It is up to you, the player, to create a super hero and right the wrongs and injustices of the world. Let me tell you, creation is where some real fun lies.

When you first start COH, you log in, then choose your server. Right now, during beta, the servers are loaded for bear. It may be hard to get onto the crowded ones. After to log in, you either choose an already created hero, or create a brand new one. With all the options to choose from, you’ll fill up your eight characters slots pretty quickly!

A hero is made up of an origin and an archetype. There are five origins: Science, Mutation, Magic, Technology, and Natural. Originally, the origins were to play a bigger part in the game, controlling what powers a particular hero had access to from the beginning. However, this was changed to have origins control from which agency you get missions from and where you get enhancements from. More on that later.


Gameplay cont’d

There are also five archetypes: Blaster, Controller, Defender, Scrapper, and Tanker. These are the least common denominator of the overall makeup of comic book superheroes. Cyclops is a blaster, Professor X is a controller, Wolverine is a scrapper, etc.

These archetypes determine what power sets you get to choose from. Power sets come in three flavors: Primary, Secondary, and Pool. You get access to primary and secondary from the start of the game. You choose one of two primaries, and get assigned a secondary to start out your character. These power sets are wide and various depending on archetype. For example, the blaster archetype gets to choose from Assault Rifle, Electric Blast, Energy Blast, Fire Blast, and Ice Blast as a primary power set.

All heroes start out knowing how to run and brawl, but at the 6th level, they get access to Pool power sets. These are lesser in power than primary or secondary, but make up for that in variety. It is here that you get to choose most travel powers, like teleport, jumping, or flight. However, as with the primary and secondary power sets, more powers only open up with experience level gains. I’ll get to that in just a bit as well.

After you choose your power sets, you go into the most fun part of character creation, choosing body type and making the costume. Body type is easy. Are you male, female, or huge like Juggernaut? The costume part is where you can spend your most time. You control changes to your head, upper body, and lower body. Want a non-masked, blonde haired, flat top guy wearing a tank top, camo cargo pants, and combat boots? No problem. Want to make a pimp daddy with a pink suit, pink fedora, and tinted glasses? Sure thing! Best feature is the random button. It will mix and match results that are sometime humorous and sometimes damn good!

Finally, you are ready to name your character. Well, be fearful, true believers, because COH won’t let you use your favorite super hero name. In order to CYA against lawsuits, Cryptic decided to ask the major comic labels for names that would get them sued. DC had a few, Marvel had reams. There will be name filters in place when they go live at the end of this month. Be creative if you can. At this point, you can also give the character a battle cry and history. The battle cry can be used as an emote, and the history is for the role-players out there.

Your first step into the game is a tutorial aimed at teaching you the ropes. It is a mini adventure titled Outbreak. Here you learn all about the basics of the game, from movement to combat to enhancing your powers.

Movement is controlled through a standard W-A-S-D and mouse look setup that can be changed in the options screen. You can left click on the menus and interface to access them. They can all be hidden off the screen. Click menu to bring up a list of options and commands. The options are straightforward, including control changes, video setup, and audio setup.

The screen layout has the targets info in the top left, a direction and mission ticker at top center, your health and endurance at top right, your power/inspiration/enhancement bar at the bottom right, and the chat multi-window at the bottom left.


Gameplay cont’d

So, what do you do as a hero? You take missions! You get introduced to contacts through your origin group early in the game. They give you missions to complete, which gain you experience, influence, and possibly more contacts. Experience is just like other games. You gain until you level up, at which point something comes open to you, like powers and enhancement slots. Influence is the coin of the realm. Think of it as expendable popularity. You use your popularity to get things, mainly inspirations and enhancements.

Inspirations are instant boosters to health, accuracy, damage, and defense. Enhancements are permanent boosts attached to powers. At first, you can only have one enhancement on each power, but as you level up, you can open up more slots per power to attach enhancements to. Enhancements come in all varieties, from travel speed to damage done to defense buffs. These are earned in combat, or can be bought with influence.

That is pretty much all there is to the character building side of the game. There is no min/maxing of stats to make the uber tank-mage. Simplicity is what this game is. They took everything that makes super-heroes fun and distilled it down to its purest elements. No other game has made you want to make character decisions based on role-playing rather than min/maxing.

So, you’re on a mission, and you find bad guys. What do you do? As Ben Grimm would say, IT’S CLOBBERIN TIME! Combat is dead simple, yet tactically complex at the same time. It all depends on your character. Blasters dish damage at range, while scrappers and tankers are up front pounding away on the bad guys. You target a bad guy, choose the power you want to use on him, and then have at it. The game determines if you hit or miss when the power is activated. Hope you have those enhancements tuned up!

The bad guys that you fight are varied and complex. There is a neo-Nazi group called the 5th column. They are dressed in full combat uniforms and have varying weapons with different powers. There are clockwork minions which are little robotic constructs. Some fly, having propellers for heads. Other’s looked incomplete, yet still will put a whooping on you. There are your basic street gangs, some out for weapons, and others out for black magic. You will probably encounter each of them before you get your first pool power set.

Heroes never die; they just get taken to the nearest medical center. You emerge healed, but with an experience debt you have to work off before advancing. So, why did you end up here? You probably tried to solo a mission that needed a group.

Remember those tactics I mentioned before? Well, it has been stated by the developers of the game that while soloing will be difficult, you should choose a team to do missions with. The team function is really easy to use. Bring up the team menu, click to indicate you want to join a team, then either find others listed that want to team up or wait for an invite. It sure beats spamming the chat channel with “Level 5 blaster LFG.” I personally think that grouping is the way a comic book game should be run. If everyone is in character, it is a total blast! Plus, the experience is great in groups due to smart spawns.

The designers of the game were filled with much forethought when they envisioned scaleable mission instancing. The game will look at your overall group level, determine how many and of what difficulty the enemy will be when it stocks the mission. It will then spawn an instance of the mission for you and you alone. No spawn camping! No waiting for a named mob. Things of the past I tell you! Instancing also happens in the main server zones as well. If one is getting crowded, you can tram over to another instance of the same zone. Brilliant!

Gameplay cont’d


Paragon city is a large conglomeration of zones that can be traversed with travel powers or a tram that runs through the most common zones. The two new player zones are Atlas Park and Galaxy City. From there, bad guys ramp up in difficulty per the different zones. Contact missions will lead you to the other zones once you get to a sufficient enough minimum level.

Let’s talk about the level grind for a minute. As will all MMORPGS, there is a level grind. This game is no different. You have to defeat bad guys to get experience to gain levels. However, your gains are quick. You get enhancement slots every odd level. You get new powers at every even level. Plus, there are plenty enough bad guys to go around! It has been mentioned that there is a lull between level 6 (first travel power) to around level 12, where two really cool enhancements start opening up to players. To alleviate this, you can group, sidekick, or be a part of a task force.

A sidekick is a hero that is able to virtually gain the same level as a high level hero, in order to take part in upper level content of the game. The gain is temporary, and the experience points aren’t quite as good as a regular mission, but you get to participate in truly extraordinary missions that would take you quite some time to get to. Downside is that you have to stay close to your main hero, less you get no bonus.

A task force is a group of missions for a group of heroes. They get to complete mission after mission, giving clues and hints leading up to a final confrontation with the boss. I haven’t participated in one yet, but I hear they are a bit bugged right now.

Speaking of bugs, what game launches without them? Well, COH is no different. However, the developers are definitely making strides to make things much better. Some known issues are lag drops causing you to get a message that you “Cannot connect to Mapserver.” Also, you can get dropped from the game with a DBServer error. Some people experience a black screen upon exiting a busy building. This requires them to be moved by using the /Stuck command. There are some mission bugs right now, but they are being stomped as we speak. One final problem I see is that melee isn’t sticky. The problem with that is scrapper and tanker characters have to follow their targets in order to physically attack them, while ranged attackers can hit running foes with ease.

I mentioned the /Stuck command previously. This game comes complete with ‘/’ commands out the wazoo. This is especially great for making custom key bindings, just like your favorite FPS will let you do. Also, this game has a lot of emotes build in, so you can role-play and chat with style and finesse. Nothing like playing rock-paper-scissors with someone while waiting for other group members.

Finally, I think that if there is one thing missing from the game, and that is the free reign of developing your powers. I know this would be nigh impossible to do, but it is hard to ignore in a comic book world. For instance, if I have the teleport pool power set, I can teleport a friend to me, teleport a foe to me, teleport myself, or teleport my group. Simple enough. However, what I’d like to do is teleport a foe into a mailbox, or 100 yards in the air and let them drop. If I have super strength, I want to snatch up lamp posts to use as a club, or pick up an abandoned car to toss at foes. I understand that limitations have to be there for gameplay and processing power purposes, but it is something that I personally miss.

Sound


There is sound all over the place, and it is great! From the blasts of fireballs to the chill of ice swords to the cracks of thunder from the lightning flingers, this game has some of the best effects. There isn’t a moment of silence in the game world. Each power has its own unique sound. Some, unfortunately, are annoying. However, if a comic book had sound, it would be what is in COH.

The same can be said for the music as well. Inside each zone are neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own theme music. Each mission has its own theme music as well. These range from haunting organic sounds to pumping techno.

One thing that is missed in a comic book world is actual voices. Sure, there are grunts, growls, and moans. What I would love to hear is named bad guys having voices. Even generic thugs should have voices to go with their expressions. What could be cooler than perching on a rooftop actually listening for a group of thugs to complete their dealings.

There really aren’t any sound settings other than effect and music volume settings.

Graphics


The world of Paragon city is illustrious, immaculate, downtrodden, and destroyed all at once. It is an ugly place, yet contains such majestic beauties. The skyline of Atlas Park, for example, is gorgeous at night. The graphics come straight from a comic book. Buildings are massively huge, yet architecturally sound. The zones are all different, with designs changing to fit the history behind that zone.

The world is also alive. Not just with bad guys, either. The NPC population continues on with their daily lives around the heroes. Commuters get on the tram, cars drive the roadways, police are on patrol, and citizens walk the walks. Of course, the heroes are what make this game completely dazzling. The variety and colors that can be used to create some of the most unique looking heroes is vast. The renderings are just a site to behold. All of this with the buildings and the heroes equate to no graphical slowdown whatsoever on my machine!


Final Thoughts

If you don’t like MMORPGS, don’t bother. If you think the best thing in life is to power level and gain phat loot from raids, forget about it. If you don’t like comics, you might wanna keep away. However, if you want a meat and potatoes RPG game set in a comic book realm, come right on in. I’ve been waiting for a game like this to come along since Champions of vaporware fame. Sure, Freedom Force was a fun game, but I have found my Holy Grail, and City of Heroes is its name.

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