RIP City of Heroes: 2004-2012

Me and Brian Blessed, taking a well-earned coffee break

Never a great post to write in any event, but especially in this case. While I was never a really dedicated fan of City of Heroes, I certainly spend a decent amount of time there and can honestly say I enjoyed it a lot. Never much of a comic-book superhero person, I came to the game from the perspective of an MMO aficionado and in that capacity, found a great many things that made the title stand out above the crowd and innovate the genre.

City of Heroes’ innovations seemed to me very philosophical in nature, rather than technological leaps. Cryptic Studios seemed to have a quite unusual outlook in the 2004 MMO landscape, an outlook that appeared to put fun above rules. The most clear example of this was their pioneering of Mentoring and Sidekicking. It seems such a simple thing, and code-wise, it probably is, but the revolutionary thing was having the conviction to say ‘Actually, no! Why shouldn’t friends with different available play times be allowed to play together?’ I’ve long since had the quite serious belief that any MMO without such a mentoring system in this day and age is fundamentally broken at a design level, and it is because of how well it worked in City of Heroes that I believe this.

This was just one example of how a more enlightened view could transform the early 2000s era MMO landscape from one of determined grim drudgery to something carefree and fun. Scaling missions, a casual disregard for The Trinity, a vast list of badge hunting exploration, awesome travel powers, a mind-boggling array of class/power combos and a ridiculously customisable character creator. I can honestly say I never saw two players that looked alike in my entire time there, something almost no other MMO can say, even today.

The game was not without its problems though, and early CoH was always a hard sell to the committed soloist. The repetitive nature of endless similar warehouse missions drove many away, as did the unremarkable nature of the very early super powers; punch, punch a bit harder with a longer cooldown, shoot a weak bolt. If you could make it to the 30s and stay in full-team groups of friends, the game was much more rewarding, and my best memories of the thing were the utter gleeful pandemonium of eight-player teams bellowing out graphics card melting explosions of noisy particle effects as literally dozens of evil minions piled in and were mown down. It all felt truly epic in ways few MMOs dared to convey then, or since.

I think extinction is the way of all MMOs in the end, and very few seem to gain many customers after launch. CoH had dwindled like any other MMO over the years, and eight years later, after a relatively brief dalliance with a F2P cash-shop model which apparently didn’t do it much good, NCSoft put the boot in. NCSoft seem to have a very poor tolerance for underperforming titles, and I wonder, if CoH had been a Sony Online Entertainment title, or Turbine, would it still be with us today?

#SaveCoH tags on Twitter abound, but I never thought that was an option. NCSoft just aren’t that kind of player, and if they can’t be bothered to support underperforming titles, they certainly aren’t in the business of selling their failures on to become a competitor’s success. They’ll bury it, and that’ll be the end of the matter. A shame.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of harsh commentary suggesting that CoH deserves the uncaring wrath of The Invisible Hand, and that if people like me had put my money where my mouth is, instead of writing hand-wringing after-the-fact posts like this one, it would still be going strong. I don’t know about that, but I refuse to feel guilt for disloyalty; at the end of the day, these are businesses, not charities. Even a great game (and CoH was a great game) is not enough to hold me forever. Perhaps one day, only World of Warcraft will be left. If so, I’ll probably just potter along in that, but I’ll always have fond memories of the departed, including and especially City of Heroes.

Those memories are many and precious:

As my Ice/Ice Tanker, Tundra Templar, performing colossal and outrageous acts of tanking unmatched in any other MMO, holding the aggro of tens of enemies, keeping my team safe with near-perfect invulnerability, confidence and style.

As my Mind/Psi Dominator, Professor Perplexity, practicing utter crowd-control and leadership buffing, dictating the flow of incredible combats.

As my Peacebringer, Heliobreeze, shape-shifting between attacks in a hectic blinding display of fluid near-martial art, squid to lobster to human…

As my Dark/Dark Stalker, Anna Philaxis, invisibly bypassing entire maps and conducting surgical insta-kills on mission bosses with a fearsome efficiency.

As various characters, throwing out disruptive and hilarious Comedy Powers; Ice Patch, Levitate, that Peacebringer one that turns the whole screen white. And watching the comedy powers of others in return; Gravity Summon, Intangibility, Fulcrum Shift, Speed Boost…too many to list…

As a super jumper, bounding through canyons of skyscrapers in a true and proper city the likes of which I’ve rarely seen in any other MMO, a true and busy metropolis.

As a panicky alpine skier flailing wildly on tight snowy bends, as a gleeful trick-or-treater banging on doors and running away, and as one of many heroes and villains wailing on ridiculously powerful world bosses.

As a member of a team with some sterling folks, including Dr Toerag, Teppo, Bevis, Zoso, Melmoth, Welshtroll, Rachy, Ed, Sente and more. I ‘met’ most of these folks for the first time in City of Heroes. My heart goes out to them at what must be a difficult time. Interestingly, it was during these full-team manic crime-fighting sessions that I first found the courage to try gaming with Voice Chat, which I’d previously seen as a terrifying thing. You can’t get me off of Mumble nowadays.

 

All these moments are not going to be lost like tears in the rain, because they’ll stay with me forever. I’m not too fussed about saving City of Heroes – that kind of thing is rarely in our hands at this stage, and I think I’d said my own goodbyes some months ago. Everything has its time, and I don’t regret a moment spent in Paragon City, a rare place that wasn’t afraid to let everyone be special and everyone be super…

Farewell City of Heroes, and thanks for everything.

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3 thoughts on “RIP City of Heroes: 2004-2012

  1. Dr Toerag says:

    Thanks for the write up, Tim.
    Sunday was a cruel day. I’ve been in a weekly Task Force team on and off for many years, and this Sunday the lack of City of Heroes hurt. I’ll get better, but the sheer variety of options to make up your own character and costume in CoH is something I’ll miss. In most games I feel like I’m playing someone else’s character.

  2. sente says:

    Nice write-up, Tim.
    Saturday was a tough and sad day, but also quite special with a lot of people who shared many good times over the years in this game. There were many memorable moments while it lasted, and that is a good thing.

  3. Teppo says:

    Excellent post. Didn’t realise how new you were to voice-chat at the time. My first taste of that was with Tabula Rasa. My how we’ve come a long way.

    Had some truly memorable moments in CoH/V and made potentially life-long friends :D

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