A Mild-Mannered Reporter: In the case of Masterminds

It's hard to get a much more iconic villainous archetype than the Mastermind. Most of the City of Heroes choices can make perfect sense for both factions, but if you're calling in legions of battle droids to fight your opponents, you're really half a step away from building a laser to destroy Newark. (Although that might just be throwing good lasers after bad, there.) That doesn't mean that the players have no right to play on the faction they want, just that... it's a bit harder to see the archetype as particularly heroic.

But we're not here to talk about the thematic elements of the class (or at least not just for that). This week it's time to look at what is also one of the most recognizable archetypes in City of Heroes by virtue of its uniquely overwhelming system of minions. So whether you're new to the game as a whole or just to this particular archetype, click on through for an examination of what it means to be a Mastermind.

Masterminds in a nutshell

If you like classes that fit comfortably into your idea of the usual trinity, Masterminds will give you fits. They provide damage, support, healing, and even a bit of tanking, but they do not fill any one of these roles fully They have pets, but they aren't so easily glossed as a pet class. Masterminds are a microcosm of a party within their own little worlds, and at the level cap, any given member of the class will be just one person shy of a full party. Inherent powers pale compared to the huge difference in mechanics between a high-level Controller and a mid-level Mastermind.

Mastermind pets don't simply follow the master and attack blindly; an entire interface exists to direct individual pets, rename minions, or direct them en masse ahead of you. These pets can use Inspirations, emote, and fulfill multiple functions rather than just added damage. And the Mastermind himself sits at the center of everything, providing a passive buff to all his pets so long as they're within line-of-sight and not too far from the boss. This is the ur-pet class -- you have not just one loyal minion but a whole army that can be resummoned as needed to wreak havoc.

The strength of the archetype should be obvious: You have an entire party at your beck and call at any given time, and that can lead to seemingly insurmountable group challenges becoming almost trivially easy. There's also the sheer maniacal joy of being able to order your minions into battle -- and you're doing both yourself and the entire setting of the game a disservice if you've never taken the opportunity to ham it up as a Mastermind. On the other hand, you're a jack of all trades and a master of none, and that's where you really wind up being weakest. You can do a lot of different things, and you fill all sorts of roles in a group, but you aren't as good at anything as the many other classes with a narrower focus. (Except for having an army at your command.)

Primary sets

A Mastermind's primary sets all revolve around summoning and a couple of ranged attacks -- you have three summoning powers and two summon upgrades in each set, with the other attacks or powers clearly de-emphasized. The summon upgrades have to be re-applied each time you summon your minions but are otherwise permanent, mostly just requiring a moment or two each time your minions get re-summoned.

Also worth noting are how the minions multiply. Your first summon power is available at character creation and summons one minion at your level, changing to two minions one level below you at level 6 and three minions two levels below you at level 18. Your second power at level 12 summons one minion at your level until level 24, when it changes to two minions one level below you. It's a bit confusing, I know.

Demon Summoning: Whip it! Actually, your whip can be a bit of a drawback, since you wind up with shorter range than any other Mastermind. This is balanced by a very diverse group of pets, with each "added" minion having a new set of abilities to help diversify your damage. The demons are a mix between melee and ranged, with a lot of damage-over-time abilities and slows -- and your temporary buff to said pets gives them pets of their own, albeit temporary ones.

Mercenaries: Pure, unmitigated ranged damage. You get a medic thrown in the mix once you get to level 18, but the focus of this set is really pouring on the ranged damage hard and heavy. For the most part, you'll be focusing on damage over utility, but your minions are still reasonably durable and able to keep themselves going for long times.

Necromancy: While you give up a bit of raw damage, you trade it in for a bunch of hit debuffs and inherent life drains on your pets, thus keeping everyone active at once. Your pets also wind up immune to a wide variety of negative effects, making them a little more relentless. It's a good mixed set, especially for soloing purposes. Also note the inherent awesomeness in extracting the soul of something you've already killed and reanimated as a shambling corpse.

Ninjas: Holds, knockups, and various melee debuffs are all the tools of your pets in this set, along with the ability to hide in stealth mode every so often. (Because, you know, ninjas.) You don't have the power to stand and deliver like some of the other sets, but if you want to sow chaos in a group, this set works wonders.

Robotics: Probably the most defensive set available, Robotics grants you several sets of robots, the second set of which serving as mini-healers for your other pets, helping your mechanical minions slicicing their way through all opposition. Much like Necromancy's zombies, your pets also aren't vulnerable to several effects due to their robotic nature. If there's a drawback, it's the simple fact that the defensive bent of the robots makes you a little less crushingly powerful in the damage department.

Thugs: And, of course, sometimes you just want to engage your enemies in a dogpile. Thugs are pure offense with some team buffs available, but they don't quite have the flash of some other sets. You can also call additional temporary thugs with this set, though, so it's not a bad set for doing raw damage in a group.

Secondary sets

In a broad sense, Mastermind secondaries are similar to Corruptor secondaries, but it's not a direct correlation. Party-based abilities come really into vogue here, as you're essentially never without a party to work with.

Dark Miasma, Storm Summoning: These sets both work better for hybrid Corruptors than straight Defenders, and their toolbox natures work even better with a Mastermind. You get a little bit of everything, and since your party needs can vary so widely, they really have a chance to shine.

Force Field, Pain Domination, Thermal Radiation: These sets are a bit better served with a Mastermind that has a constant party. Yes, Pain Domination is still a bit boring, but when you're already micromanaging six other people, a bit boring is kind of a good thing.

Poison: Similar to Dark Miasma, this is a broad toolbox for your group, but it's not quite as variable. The debuffs and abilities just aren't quite as good as what Dark Miasma offers, although the set does give you a nice opportunity to turn a henchman into a walking plague.

Traps: The fact that Time Bomb blows up one of your henchmen certainly does good things for this set in the long run, but it's still a bit lackluster. You need good positioning and limited movement for most of these effects to work just right, and you aren't assured of any of those.

Trick Arrow: A set that I've noted before I'm not totally sold on. The lack of direct support can work in a set that provides itself with some support, however, such as Robotics or Mercenaries. Or you can couple it with another set for maximum debuffs and damage rather than worrying about helping out your team at all.

As for me...

Most of my longtime friends know that I'm not fond of pet classes. It's not that I think they're bad classes per se, just that they rarely mesh with what I find most enjoyable out of the game. So it's forever a struggle with me to get into Masterminds in play, because while I love the class from a mechanical standpoint, I run into the pet thing pretty quickly. I want to like the class a lot, and while I do like it, I can't help but wish I liked it more. (I realize that sounds kind of ridiculous.) I keep plugging away at it, but I have yet to play one that really "clicked" for me (personally, not mechanically).

At the same time, I'm immensely happy to see one in a group, because a few armies on your side never hurt anyone. One of my favorite parties consisted of four different Masterminds with some healing-ish powers between them and a variety of pets running around. We were lower level, so the pets weren't at full strength or numbers just yet, but having an extra 12 minions or so ruining lives exemplified the controlled chaos that CoH groups deal with at all times.

Feel free to share your opinions in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com, as usual. Next week, we're either going to move on to the next archetype on the list or take a look at using one of my favorite gaming accessories with CoH. (No, rum and coke does not count as a gaming accessory.)

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.

This article was originally published on Massively.