Be a Hero
by Patrick Clapp
With the recent lifting of the Non-Disclosure Agreement for the beta testers currently playing City of Heroes, I am now free to tell you all to get your tights ironed out…the world needs heroes. Actually, Paragon City needs heroes. Fortunately, in this delightful Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), there will not be a short supply.
City of Heroes boasts a rich and detailed storyline of intersecting plots that start sixty years before present day. In World War II, everyone's favorite villains, the Nazis, formed a super-power assisted assault force called The 5th Column. The menace of the 5th Column was fought by superheroes on the Allies side. They were repelled and beaten back into non-existence…or so we thought.
Years later, after the climactic battle in Paragon City against the 5th Column, the Rikti, an alien invasion force, attacked. Once again, the heroes rose to the challenge. Many were killed or grievously injured, yet, once again, the heroes of Paragon City repelled certain doom.
Now, trouble is boiling just below the surface of the streets. Gang activity is on the rise, and there have been sightings of agents of the 5th Column, thought extinct but active once more. This is the setting in which you will find yourself in City of Heroes. It is a city populated by innocent citizens, vicious thugs, and a host of costume-clad super-powers.
As a hero, you select your background and your archetype, as well as your starting powers. Each archetype has two power sets from which to select individual powers. Access to an additional power set is gained at 6th level, including such amazing powers as flight and teleportation. You will likely spend many many minutes in the costume creation stage of character creation. It is a richly detailed utility that boasts a ridiculously large combination of possibilities. If you can imagine a superhero, you can find a way to bring him (or her or it) to life in City of Heroes. A full palette of colors is available, and you can either select individual colors for each piece and section of your costume or keep everything matched across your outfit. I have found that it is helpful to keep the match on until near the end of the process and then switch it off to add a splash of color here and there before moving on to the naming process.
At long last there is a game where even silly names seem, somehow, to fit the genre. There are some attempts to mimic well-known icons of the comic world, however, names tend to be imaginative and evocative of the super-hero life. Currently I am playing The Celtic Crush, The Iceling, The Black Pharaoh, and The Plasma Torch. You do not have to include the honorific 'The'. I tend to like it, but, as with all aspects of character creation, everything is personal preference.
And then there is the game. Immersive, Colorful, Engaging, Action-Packed, Detailed, Interesting…and this is just the beta! After learning the ropes in a tutorial of perfect duration, you quickly find yourself in one of the central hubs of Paragon City – Atlas Park (or Galaxy City depending on where you want to start). Paragon City is broken into zones, Atlas Park, King's Row, Galaxy City, Steel Canyon, Perez Park, Boomtown…and so on and so forth. Within each of these zones are neighborhoods such as The Gish or Industrial Park. And hidden around corners, in back alleys, or even on rooftops are gang members perpetrating crimes. The criminals are performing muggings, car break-ins, and even sacrificial rituals. (The first time you find a group of robed maniacs in a cloud of green smoke on the rooftop of your local bank branch sacrificing some unwilling citizen to their dark gods…you will want to lay down some justice!). The citizens of Paragon City interact with your hero when saved, often resulting in a tip. At long last the inane platitudes of "how can I ever thank you" found in most games of this nature are properly met with cash.
Treasure and rewards consist of enhancements for your super powers, inspirations for use on the fly, and influence that can be used to purchase more of the same. And the powers…oh the powers. Each one is accompanied by rich animation and stirring sound effects. The combination of a team of superheroes in a pitched battle with 5th Column goons, powers screaming across the screen, auras and inspirations activating, is astounding. And the bad guys give it their vile best. Submachine guns, grenade launchers, fire blasts, explosions, sorcery, knives, sticks, bats, hammers, axes…it all quickly catches you up in the moment. The game is deliciously immersive. Stray to close to one of the corpse animating Vahzolik and you can hear the flies buzzing around the rotting skin they wear for clothing. Land a solid punch and you can hear the oomph as the wind is knocked out of your opponent.
Then there are the environments. From the moment you set foot in Paragon City, you will see heroes dashing from place to place, leaping over buildings, and flying into the air. Once you gain the ability to hover, you are free to lift off the ground and float to heights of over a mile above the city. The detail of the buildings create a visual tapestry found in every good comic in existence.
When City of Heroes goes live, it will be a sight to behold. The beta is decently stable, and the game balance is becoming more and more finely tuned each day. The colors are astounding. They are vibrant and jump off the screen. The little details fill out the big picture. I watched in delight as the woman I had just rescued thanked me and then ran up the stoop to the front door of an apartment building, opened the door, and walked in. She didn't just fade out or run around a corner, she actually ran into a building as if that was where she lived.
If you are new to the world of MMORPGs, and want to taste an interactive environment experienced simultaneously with hundreds of others, I recommend picking up a copy of City of Heroes. If you are an old hand at EverQuest, Asheron's Call, or StarWars Galaxies, give City of Heroes as spin. It is bright and refreshing and worth your time.
And if you are a criminal bent on mischief in Paragon City…beware…for No One Escapes the Pull of The Celtic Crush!!