Wednesday, October 7 2009

The Fairness Doctrine: City of Heroes

Since I’m having fun with Champions Online, it seemed only fair to mention the competition, City of Heroes/Villains, which not only has a free trial, but also a Mac client. I tried it out before purchasing CO, and after a few days and a few characters, found no enthusiasm for continuing. Despite the completely different genre, the game it most felt like was Anarchy Online, which I burned out on soon after it launched.

You can, as Ubu demonstrates, make some very nice, detailed characters. You can customize the visual effect of their powers in quite tasty ways. You can jump into the game and start beating up muggers and purse-snatchers with those powers. In fact, you have to, since they’re fifty feet from police headquarters and most characters are stuck “jogging heroically” (as Shamus so aptly puts it) for quite a few levels. I lost interest because that’s all you seem to do at low levels: attack loitering gangs of muggers and get killed with a lead pipe by anonymous punks. Level up, and you get to attack different loitering gangs of muggers.

I’m sorry, but I created a nine-foot-tall amazon who summons gale-force winds and blasts of ice, and I resent being done in by a purse-snatcher. Even if he’s a level nine purse-snatcher. As far as I can tell, the only variety at low-levels is that some of the muggers have been reskinned into “trolls” and “butchers”. Same weapons, same tactics, SSDD. And they respawn in about a minute in the exact same location with the exact same mix of shooter/slasher/puncher. I’m sure there’s a compelling game at higher levels, but the out-of-box experience is a dull, derivative grind.

Lovely characters, though. Here’s the one I liked the best:

City of Heroes - Konayuki

Konayuki (“powdered snow”; care to guess how many variations of “Yuki” are already taken on every server?) is a mutant with frost powers. Max height, max legs, max breasts, and a schoolgirl outfit, with a cold, calculating face that doesn’t match any of the rest. Half frost giant? Bitten by a radioactive snowball? Imbued with ancient magics? Honestly, I got sick of freezing muggers and getting clobbered with lead pipes before I came up with a significant backstory.

My trial account is still active, but this set of screenshots is the only thing I’ve used it for recently. I see no reason to pay to play. There’s nothing terribly new, original, or heroic about the gameplay. You’re not a superhero, you’re a part-time civil servant with a union card and poor fashion sense.