Some years back I spent a lunch hour or two with City of Heroes. I was not terribly impressed. It was difficult to design an avatar that pleased my eye, and the game itself seemed to be just a lot of running around, blasting enemies and exchanging canned dialog with automatons. I lost interest before finishing the tutorial.
Although I didn’t find the game interesting, some writers of note did, notably Neil Gaiman and John C. Wright. From the latter I learned that the Korean company that owns City of Heroes is going to shut it down at the end of this month. Curious to see what Gaiman and Wright found in the game that I had missed, I gave it another try.
The game-play, frankly, is boring. It is still mostly just a lot of running (or flying) around, blasting enemies and exchanging canned dialogue with automatons. As Wright observes, the best part is creating your hero. As a non-paying member, I can only have two characters registered at a time, so I’ve created and deleted a number of avatars: the heavily-armored Carolus Ludovicus, slayer of Jabberwocks; MacCruiskeen, a plain Irish policeman whose toys make your brain hurt (Paragon City needs bicycles); the Mathematrix, a manager at Hilbert’s Hotel who strives to transform the world into a well-ordered set, by force if necessary.
My primary character, and the only one I’ve bothered to level up much, is The Remarkable Miss Sakura. (She became “remarkable” at level 12. I would have preferred an adjective such as “modest,” “unassuming,” or “polite,” but title choices are limited.) Originally a mahou shoujo, she eventually outgrew her frilly dress and retired from the magical girl business. She missed the excitement, though, and decided to make a place for herself as an occidental superheroine.
New characters advance rapidly for a while, and it is mildly addictive to acquire new powers every time you log on. Eventually your progress slows down, and leveling up becomes a grind of blasting gang members, abominations, robots, occultists and Chinese, ((I wonder if the real reason NCsoft is shutting City of Heroes down is that someone was offended by the villainous “Tsoo.”)) interspersed with frequent visits to hospitals. There is currently an alien invasion underway to spice things up, but it’s not enough to sustain my interest. I might log on once more on the last day, but I’m otherwise done with City of Heroes.
I may have missed an important part of the experience, though. There are many opportunities to form teams and many kinds of chat, but apparently I managed to pick the least popular servers to create my heroes on. More often than not, it seemed that I was the only player logged on. When I did receive team invitations, they were usually badly-timed, and the few occasions I was able to accept an invitation, the experiences were frustrating, sometimes for technical reasons, sometimes for human. Asocial though I am, I might have enjoyed City of Heroes better on a more populous server.
Which is why I’ll stick to Second Life for my MMO needs, even if City of Heroes gets a reprieve. It’s much easier to meet people from across the country and around the world, and there’s no RPG to get in the way. You can just find — or build — a congenial café where you can listen to music or play your own (it’s fairly easy to stream music from your computer into Second Life) and chat with friends.
Superheroics of a different sort: Here’s a rather odd-looking Sailor Senshi.