In April of 2004 I was on the precipice of graduation from High School. I still lived at home, naturally, and I was once again mentally ranting about the fact that my country upbringing ensured that I had only dial up internet. The reason for my venom? I had just learned of the release of a Massive Multiplayer Online Game by the name of City of Heroes. Thinking back on it now I still wish I’d been able to jump on board at the launch of the game. I did eventually join my friends in this incredible game world, with the release of City of Villains in October of 2005, and have loved the game ever since. With the recent news of its pending shut down I wanted to pay a little homage to this game that played a huge role in my young adult life while in college.
That’s right my friends, apparently NC Soft has decided to shut down Paragon Studios, with the current date of November 30th, 2012, thus ending the nearly 9 year old MMO that I feel was truly unique and apart from the world of Everquest Clones. It really does sadden me. Though I’ve not played with nearly the fervor I use to lately, I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve put into the characters out there on the Virtue Server. It was always nice to know that I could log in again and run about pummeling baddies (and goodies) with some old friends. I developed lasting friendships with people I’ve never met in real life that I only interact with in game. I may not have spoken with some of them in a few years but I know if I logged on now and they were playing we would immediately fall into a cadence of inside jokes and fun, just like the old days.
When City of Heroes launched on April 27, 2004 it was really a unique entry into the MMO world at that point. This was not Sword and Sorcery, this was a comic book brought to life. They even had a cast of supers who were there to guide your young hero all the while having adventures themselves as online comics depicted. Instead of updates you paid for once every 2-3 years they had a free one roughly every 3-4 months (later the time between updates lengthened but the updates came with far more content). Every update came with new content, mostly focusing on increasing player options.
While the game’s characters fit the archetypes of any MMO, Striker, Defender, Tanker, Controller, etc, there were always a myriad of ways you could approach those styles of play based off of a Primary and Secondary choice of powers with 5-10 choices for each. At any time there are an incredible number of options one could choose for their character. As your characters continued to grow you’d vary from others even more as you chose separate paths within you’re already varied power sets. At level 15 you could even decide whether your character could fly, run at super speeds, or jump startlingly far distances to cross miles. The variations were seemingly so endless that starting a new character became commonplace and “starting a new dude” was a frequent call to action. In the hundreds to thousands of hours I played the game I never played the same power set twice, I didn’t need to, it was all balanced well and you were nearly always an asset to any group.
I recall my first level 50 character, a Super Strength\Invulnerability Brute named Ruined Prism, a villain. I had an extensive back-story regarding the “prism” of his soul being shattered blah blah blah, it was actually pretty bad but he was so much fun to play. During the time I finally got him to level fifty we were in the midst of update number 10 aptly named “Invasion” as the game world was under siege by the Rikti, an evil alien threat to all. I can still remember fighting off the random Rikti mini invasions that would affect a zone and teams would immediately form of various strangers grouping to fight off the waves. Later I would hit the Rikti War Zone where Heroes and Villains could team up to attack the mother ship or to join the “Strike Force” mission to cull the Rikti major villain, a really nifty plot twist if you paid attention to the game’s background story. In fact it was in that Strike Force when I finally hit 50. It was a big deal because unless you knew of a power leveling group, it takes quite a bit of in game play. After that I had 3 more level fifty characters and a plethora of characters still stuck in the 30’s and 40’s but I’ll always remember my first.
Part of what made character creation so great, beyond tons of power set options, was the sheer innumerable options available to someone in the look department. Your character was truly yours. I don’t think I have ever seen two characters that looked exactly the same unless it was meant to be that way. They never stopped adding options either, every update came with new suits, gear, and other options to change up that look. To this day I’ve not met a better character creation system when it comes to options and variability. In fact I would say that the most endearing aspect of the entire game is based around options and choices. You really can make your own Super Hero\Villain. One of my favorite things to do was to check out the various Costume Contests that happened at Atlas Park. A Super Group would be looking for new talent so they invite people to strut their creative stuff, awarding “cash” prizes for the victors (heck I won a few contests myself).
There are so many things I feel like I’m leaving out when I try and recall what I love about this game. Holiday events, not deleting inactive accounts, awards for paid time, the eventual switch to free play, Double XP Weekends!!!! etc. etc. etc. There really are so many things to love, I get that other MMO’s have many of these things but something about how City put it all together just clicked with me. The little time I spent on other MMO’s always left me shrugging my shoulders and wondering at the popularity, and I’m a Sword and Sorcery guy. I love Dungeons and Dragons and anything else out there fantasy based but I never got into them the way I did with CoH. One major reason for this was that everyone is just more pleasant in CoH. It really is a team focused game, and though PvP somewhat suffers for this it makes working together on missions very fun. I’ve never met the same kind of welcoming attitude in other MMO’s that I receive when I play CoH, even when I was brand new I never got the cold shoulder that some other MMO’s give their “Newbs”. Maybe I was unlucky in those games, but I’m not the first person I know who has commented this way.
Should I be furious at NC Soft right now for shutting down a game I paid hundreds of dollars to in order to play it over the years? From everything I’ve read, Hell I even read their Quarterly Earnings Report, the decision to close down City of Heroes stems from a “change in company direction” not because City had anything to do with their recent profit loss. That loss seems to have come from having to pay out a large amount of Severance pay to recently let go employees. I’m not sure, but for some reason I only feel saddened and let down. Sure when the gates close, everything I’ve spent time on will disappear. Countless hours of work, albeit enjoyable work, will essentially drop away like it was never there. That’s the constant threat of a digital game for you. You always have to know in the back of your mind that one day it could be all gone. You really don’t own anything you paid for, you’ve basically been renting your fun for all these years. I for one would do it all over again, even if I knew the inevitable outcome. It was a blast. I regret nothing about the time I spent forging friendships and super powered characters over hours of game play that I rented from NC Soft (well maybe the fact that it played a role in my slipping to a B average my junior year of college).
I’ll end with a plea to NC Soft that they reconsider, give us an early Christmas gift this November. Of course I think that Paragon Studios has already been let go, adding some more severance pay maybe, so the feasibility of this seems slim. There is always the chance they allow someone else to run the game on private servers, though I’m not familiar enough with how that would work to really comment on it. There are many out there that have some very personal attachments to this game. In fact I’ve even heard of in game protests on the stairs of Atlas Park, it warms my heart. If you log into the game and head to Atlas Park 33 you can even join the constant “Candlelight” vigil taking place, as I did the other night using one of my beloved heroes Melvin Maddock. Throngs of heroes stand constant with torches held high, it really is a moving sight.
I and a few other friends were anxiously awaiting the chance to play again with a buddy of mine after he returned from his lengthy stint sailing with the Navy sometime in the fall. He might get back in time for one more go at patrolling the streets of Paragon City, maybe not. It is my hope and prayer that the servers are up and running when he arrives. To the folks at Cryptic and Paragon Studios, thank you for your efforts and dedication. Games can be very important to people, I think in writing this I’ve rediscovered the itch and will be playing again very soon, maybe I’ll see a few old friends and we can have some laughs before the final curtain falls.
About the Contributor
Guest Contributor Kevin Smith is not THAT Kevin Smith. He is however a fan (Thank God). A husband and father of two, this lucky guy still finds the time to weave an adventure for his friends on Monday nights and sometimes even his wife, a new initiate to the pen and paper world. You are welcome to follow his fickle ruminations on Twitter: @SharnDM.