Character Development: City of Heroes
By Shannon Doyle (Leliah), OnRPG Journalist
As I’m sure many of you know next week will usher in the end of the incredible super hero themed MMO City of Heroes. I say most because from time to time there are still people finding it out for the first time. How this is possible, I don’t know. But that isn’t my focus today. This is Character Development, and that means roleplaying. City of Heroes has always been my favorite and best roleplaying experience. So I will always mention it. In some small way every game I ever play will be compared to it. But this is the last time I’ll be able to write about City of Heroes roleplaying before the end. The last time it will be the focus of a Character Development article. As you can imagine there are going to be a lot of emotions, possibly even some tears.
I’ve roped three of my close friends into helping me out with this article. All of them have played City of Heroes for several years. There is Bard, an Australian ladies man who left City of Heroes some time ago. Baronesa, an avid roleplayer who stayed with City of Heroes until the announcement of the closure. And fellow OnRPG writer Ardua who has played CoH almost it’s entire life and plans to see out the end on Virtue, surrounded by friends. I asked each of them just a couple of questions and basically got the same responses from them all. Though some were more emotional than others.
There is no denying that City of Heroes has always offered a unique haven for roleplayers. Call it the perfect storm if you like. When I asked my friends what made roleplaying in City of Heroes so unique all three said the same things though in very different ways. I could summarize it but I think Ardua said it the best so I’m just going to directly quote him.
“For me .... it was the endless possibilities. Held up and expanded upon by the developers. Other games, I enjoy the lore and the frame work. They tell me "this is how our elves work" and that is how it is. It gives me structure. Other Superhero games, they were based off of existing IPs and as such had the same ... "restrictions"Furthermore .... Issue after Issue we were given more. More powers, more costumes, more stories. Not in every issue granted, not always a hit. Gunslinger women for example being technically pantsless and skirtless. But they never restrained, they encouraged. City of Heroes let me be a mutant dog, cyborg battle system that thinks it's a kids toy, office worker granted immense power over the earth, alien hybrid fighting an aeons long war... and let me be those however I wanted to be. Yes constrained sometimes by the engine, yes sometimes constrained by what was available, but never ever constrained by vision or imagination. Paragon would have happily, gleefully I imagine, helped me realise more and more characters for years to come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. If I could think it up, I could probably make it. If I could make it, it was just as valid, as welcome, as anyone elses wildest heroic and villainous dreams.”
So, endless possibilities thanks to amazing lore which made everything you could imagine valid mixed with wonderful developers who supported our habits through expanding story, outfit options and encouraging the community. I’ve had a lot of friends who refuse to roleplay in other games simply because they say the story is too restrictive. Now, I personally don’t agree with doing things that way. I enjoy a well sculpted story. Take Rift for example, Trion has set out an extensive lore for roleplayers to follow. It was even the subject of an article I wrote some time ago. But there is something to be said about having absolute freedom.
But the setting can only explain so much. The rest, in my opinion comes down to community. From developer to average casual player everyone was always welcoming, accepting and embraced your ideas. Bard attributed City of Heroes’ success with the roleplaying to this very thing. “The general friendliness of the community (in and out of RP) made it a more welcoming experience than any other MMO I've tried” No one ever told me a character concept was dumb. People were always willing to go along with personal plots to help out friends. The community involvement extended beyond the game. If you look at the official forms and go to Virtue’s you’ll see something incredibly unique. A thread with 690 pages, each post dedicated to the trade and exploration of names. If you were ever stuck for a name The Virtue Name Watch was the place for you. I can’t tell you how many amazing names I’ve grabbed from there. In the time the thread has been running nearly 29,000 different names have been passed back and forth. I have never seen that in any other MMO and I would honestly be surprised if I ever did again. Even the Paragon Studios developers would take part in roleplay with people given the opportunity and ability. Outside of roleplay they allowed it to flourish by constantly giving more. With every issue came a new costume set and an advancement in story. It allowed us roleplayers to feel like we were in a real world. Little things like the walk ability improved the quality of life for role players. Super group bases, while never intended to be personal houses often became just that and opened up the possibilities even further.
And finally, Baronesa touched on something that I hadn’t considered until she mentioned it. Roleplay in City of Heroes was able to thrive because of this simple truth, “because of the lack of hardcore grinding, people were more focused on playing the game and their RP stories, rather than on fighting to get the uber shiny.” City of Heroes is…was a casual sort of game. You never had to grind to get anything. The fights were never so difficult that you couldn’t roleplay while fighting. It was very easy to make the story of your hero or your villain the center of your time and effort in City of Heroes.
November 30th isn’t far off. By the time you read the next installment of Character Development it will be gone. But City of Heroes will always be in the hearts of those who loved it. Especially the roleplayers who would pour all their creative love into making it their virtual home. What City of Heroes gave the roleplaying is something I doubt we will ever see again. It really was a perfect storm. But soon the sky will clear and our storm will be gone. No one game can ever replace City of Heroes. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking for the next storm on the horizon.