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Cryptic Studios



T (Teen)



April 27, 2004



- Great character creation

- Setting is a departure from the usual

- Never short of players to team up with

- Easy controls

- Looks and sounds great

- Always something to do

- FUN!



- Where are the capes?

- Huge city areas require lots of running around

- No items to collect

- Danger of sleep deprivation



Review: Final Fantasy XI Online (PS2)

Review: X-Men - Next Dimension (XB)

Review: Shattered Galaxy (PC)

Review: Asheron's Call - Dark Majesty (PC)

Review: Spider-Man - The Movie (PS2)



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City of Heroes

Score: 8.9 / 10


Note: that this section of the City of Heroes review concentrates on the second free expansion.  The original review follows this text.


When City of Heroes shipped there was a bit of consternation that capes were absent.  What would Batman be without a cape?  What about Superman?  Vision?  Spawn?  Thor?  It’s a shortcoming that is finally addressed in the second free expansion.


Not only do you get the chance to earn a cape – you really have to work for it! – a whack of new stuff has been added, including a new zone, a tweaked interface allowing for more flexibility in searching for allies, closed doors on indoor missions (which can change your attack strategies), and new animations for some moves.  At the same time, developer Cryptic Studios arranged for an invasion of extremely tough inter-dimensional aliens!  All over Paragon City, random portals opened to spew out the invaders – and continued to spew until the portal was destroyed.


city of heroes review          city of heroes review


The first time I saw a caped hero was in the midst of a battle with a group of the aliens.  The scene was enough to pull my attention back to COH.  I had cape envy.


It took me forever to get my hero to level 18.  At level 20 you get access to the “Cape” Mission so I set about climbing the XP ladder.  I didn’t take me long to reach level 20 – in relative terms it was extremely quick, so it’s possible that Cryptic tweaked the XP earnings.




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I haven’t actually gone on the Cape Mission (yet) but according to heroes with a cape, the effort is worth it – not only because the mission itself provides some good XP, but because you get bragging rights, particularly standing in Atlas Park among the players just starting out.  Also when you reach level 20, you gain access Paragon City’s tailor to the heroes (a feature added with the first free expansion).



I have become attached to the way my hero – Omni Avenger – looks but I jumped at the opportunity to acquire a new look.  But fighting through to level 20 isn’t enough.  The tailor sends you on a mission before he’ll help you change your look, then he has the balls to charge you for the changes!  (Even if you never change your look, tailor’s place has some cool stuff to look at.)  Switching between costumes is simple and you can have up to four different looks.


city of heroes review            city of heroes review


Are subscribers still getting their money’s worth from the monthly fee?  Oh, yeah!  New zones, new enemies, trial missions… City of Heroes is only getting better.


(September 22, 2004)



On the whole, the Armchair Empire doesn’t review massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) very often due to the fact they take so darn long to play.  The most recent MMORPG reviewed here was Final Fantasy XI Online (PS2) – a title that Mr. Nash played for more than 60 hours before putting pen to paper to even begin the review.  I’ve put about 25 hours into City of Heroes (CoH), the superhero-themed MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and NCSoft, and I’m far from being able to provide a well-rounded review because every time I play it, I find something new to like about it or some aspect I overlooked.  Hence the subtitle of this review, “The First 25 Hours.”


city of heroes review          city of heroes review


After installing CoH, setting up an account with NCSoft, and picking a server you enter the character creation stage.  It would be easy to spend hours getting your character just right because Cryptic has included so many different options.  First, you pick from five origins: Mutant, Natural, Technology Science, or Magic.  (Just for an example, the Technology origin boils down to carrying “unique and advanced devices that allow you to produce superhuman effects” along the line of the Avengers’ Hank Pym.)  The origins are important but not as vital as choosing an archetype: Blaster, Controller, Tanker, Scrapper and Defender.  The archetypes really define how you’ll play CoH.  The Tanker and Scrappers are the frontline, melee fighters that always end up in the thick of any fight.  The other three archetypes tend to stay back from an encounter – raining death from afar or healing up the Tankers and Scrappers.  Then you choose your primary and secondary power sets.  I chose to create my character along the lines of Batman: a natural scrapper with martial arts skills.


After this stage, you move onto the physicality of your character: will your character be tall or short, muscular or slender, female or male, etc.  This stage is a relatively easy one compared to the next one.


Creating a costume actually took me a long time and I put more consideration into this aspect then the “more important” parts like choosing an archetype.  From top to bottom, you have a great amount of control as to what your character will look like.  Even with all the time I’ve spent running around Paragon City, I’ve never seen two costumes even close to being similar.  I have seen recognizable comic characters like the Tick and Nightcrawler, but for the most part, all the heroes you come across will have a unique look.  My one gripe with the costume creation is that capes are not available.


You can have up to eight characters on each server.  There are ten servers so theoretically you could create and play around with 80 characters.  However, it’s probably not practical when it comes to building a powerful character.  Most of the people I’ve chatted with in the game have a three-character line-up (of different archetypes) that they rotate.  This seems a little laborious to me – I’ve stuck with just one character.


CoH has a gentle learning curve.  After you’ve finalized your character you enter the training area, which equips you with all the basics you’ll need to bring thugs to justice, like understanding how endurance effects you and how your moves recharge after each use (kind of like a turn-based game in a firmly real-time environment).  The control aspects are straightforward and easy to learn, with a combination of WASD movement controls and mouse (and keyboard) interface control.  (Even looking at the screenshots you’ll be able to sort out the control scheme for combat.) It’s a painless process and it’s not long before you go on your first mission.


Paragon City, the metropolis where CoH takes place, is a massive place and maybe the most detailed cityscape I’ve seen since GTA: Vice City, populated with plenty of NPC citizens, gang members, and vehicle traffic.  The city itself is broken up into different zones by impenetrable force fields (erected after the Rikti War – more about that later) and connected by safe tunnels and a monorail system.  You’ll get to know each one intimately as you make contacts and are sent on missions.


city of heroes review            city of heroes review

In my first 25 hours, I accepted a variety of missions, evenly split between indoor and outdoor missions.  Indoor missions can simply be a matter of clearing out the gang presence but there are sometimes wrinkles included, like finding hidden bombs or confiscating contraband. (Indoor missions only seem to sport six or seven different floor plans so they can seem a little repetitive.)  Going on missions is the quickest way to gain experience points (XP), influence (the currency to buy enhancements and inspirations), and work off debt.  The difficulty of each mission you go on is scaled in consideration to the power and number of heroes on your team (more on that later).


Having your health points knocked down to zero really sucks, but it will happen.  Heroes that are level 4 and lower don’t have much to worry about when it comes to “dying.”  Any Hero level 5 and above accrues Experience Debt anytime they’re defeated in battle.  The Experience Debt cuts into any of the XP you earn thereafter (until the debt is paid off), which makes leveling-up slower.  Basically, you’re paying off your debt to society for the medical aid you get at the hospital.  (When you’re level 4 and below, they just have pity on you.)  The upshot of it is, don’t die!


Avoiding an untimely defeat can be aided by a few variables.


Enhancements are found on defeated foes, acquired through trade with other players, or purchased from contacts and trainers.  Their main usage is to augment your powers.  If you find a Damage enhancement with a value of 7, you can slot that to a given attack power to increase it’s damage potential.  Every time your hero levels-up you can add an empty slot to any of your powers.  This means you can install a variety of enhancements to each power.  (For example, you can have an Recharge and Damage enhancements equipped at the same time to make your strikes more powerful and you can strike more often.)  As you gain levels, you will want to swap out enhancements because that level 7 Damage enhancement that looked so good when you were at level 6, doesn’t seem so great when you’ve climbed to level 9.  Like enhancements can be combined to imbue further improvements.


The other edge you can use during combat are the various Inspirations, which are temporary power-ups that can further heighten your fighting and defensive capabilities.  For example, the Luck inspiration boosts your defensive capabilities by being harder to hit.  Like the Enhancements, Inspirations can be traded, found, bought and sold.


Speaking of buying and selling, there are no items to find, buy or sell.  Unlike the typical MMORPG, equipping melee or ranged weapons doesn’t play into the mix.  You can’t buy a ray gun or find an energy shield.  At the start of some missions you gain access to an item you wouldn’t normally have, like flash grenades or ice gauntlets, but they have strict limits imposed on them so their use is extremely limited.  For a Scrapper having a ranged weapon – even for a limited time – is very useful.  I can see how items could be implemented on a permanent basis even if their use had strict rules associated with them.


Maybe your best chance for survival is teaming up with other heroes – hopefully ones that complement your archetype.  There are many ways to team-up but the most common is to form temporary teams to with other heroes looking for action.  Raising a few teammates has never proved a problem because Cryptic has included a variety of ways to make contact with other players but maybe the most useful is the friends list.  When someone on your list comes online, you’re notified immediately.  This allows you to get to know players, at least in terms of their reliability if you've got a particularly tough mission. (i.e. They don't just drop out in the middle of a mission.)  Mixing up the archetypes is the key to easy wins.  Having a team of pure Scrappers can be fun, but having a Controller, Blaster, Tanker and Scrapper is a way easier to stay alive.  The communication aspects during heavy fighting is easier than I thought it would be – particularly if you use macros and know the keyboard shortcuts.


One neglected option is the ability to buddy up with a sidekick.  When a duo is formed the lower level character fights at the same level as the main hero as long as the sidekick and hero are in close proximity to each other.  This can really help out if the only help you can drum up is a few experience levels below you (or even 7 or 8 levels below you).


I achieved level 10 (nearly at level 11) so I’m eligible to join or create a Supergroup – yet another way to foster a sense of community.


city of heroes review          city of heroes review


The story aspects of CoH are scattered.  There are a number of gangs throughout each part of the city that have sprung up as Paragon City rebuilds after the Ritki War, an alien invasion that only eight heroes survived.  The Surviving 8 can be found throughout the city, but their role is passive.  The gangs and villains are a lot less passive – creating havoc throughout the city.  There are storylines for each gang that often weave in and out of each other but understanding what is actually going on in Paragon City takes time because each mission you go on only reveals a snippet of each story line.  And because you can tackle missions out of order from various contacts, connecting the dots can be tricky to the point that they seem completely unconnected.  (In Part II of this review, I should have more to say about the overall story.)  And some missions are repeated.


There is no player versus player combat include in CoH.  It is coming with the City of Villains expansion (due Fall 2004) but until then you’re limited to fighting AI thugs.  So far, I have yet to encounter any jerks online.  There is a bit of an unofficial protocol around engaging enemies already fully engaged by another hero, but that’s easy to learn.


Another feature I really like about CoH is that logging out takes 30 seconds.  In the words of the Manual: this prevents “players from creating unpleasant situations then logging out to avoid them.”  It works.


On the presentation side, CoH performs extremely well.  The details are great, with plenty of ambient detail like glowing force fields, combat effects and trash blowing in the breeze.  Each area of the city is packed with back alleys, shortcuts and changes in elevation.  With the resolution turned up and details cranked, CoH runs very well on my PC (a P4 2.5Ghz with a relatively low-end video card and 256MB of RAM).  Just look at the screens!  And the character models don’t suffer a bit, in terms of either costumes or combat effects.  (One touch I really like is the way ice armor gradually goes from sparkling to dripping as time goes on.)


And you will get to see quite a bit of the city up close and personal, depending on your archetype.  If you’re a flyer or can teleport, traversing the city is simple.  If you’re on-foot, you’ll spend a good deal of time running from place to place, which can offer more chances to engage thugs (and increase XP, etc.) but when your destination is a long way away it gets close to boring.


I’m far from finished with City of Heroes -- I'm still having fun even after so many hours.  There’s so much more to explore and with Cryptic hard at work on an update and strong sales of the game (meaning more players to interact with), it looks like City of Heroes has the potential to be around for a while.  But is it worth the $15US per month fee?  My answer is, "Yes."  If you think about the dollars-to-entertainment ratio, City of Heroes is a deal, even with the initial cost to buy the game.  (The first month of play is free.)


More in a month (or so)!


NOTE: I play as "Omni Avenger" on the Liberty server, so if you're playing there look me up!


- Omni

(June 15, 2004)


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