A Mild-Mannered Reporter: In the case of Controllers

Every game has certain classes that seem unique. I don't mean to suggest that the rest of City of Heroes isn't unique, but when the game launched, the Controller was definitely in a league by itself. Time has shown that the Mastermind's personal army makes the archetype a bit more uncommon than a class focusing on holds and control elements, but the Controller was pretty unique stuff when the game launched almost seven years ago. Or at least, it was to me. Other audience members may feel differently.

These days, with the trinity in most games having supplanted any unique roles, it's even more odd to think of "support" as a party role to be filled. But we're not here to talk about the gradual erosion of what was once a far more robust party structure; we're here to talk about Controllers. They're one of the original heroic archetypes, and they're also a very odd class from a design perspective, with a lot of offensive abilities but very little direct punch. So whether you are new to City of Heroes or just have never played with a hold set before, click on past the break for a look at what makes the archetype tick.

Controllers in a nutshell

The archetype name tells you almost everything you need to know. What do Controllers do? They control. They control the battlefield by crippling, holding, and distracting enemies while the rest of the group tears the mobs to pieces. 'Trollers control the group by providing key buffs and heals when needed. They control powerful pets (albeit not as powerful as those of a Mastermind) to help them take care of opponents. In less flowery speech, a Controller helps his or her fellow players out by providing general support, reducing or removing enemy attacks while simultaneously enhancing his or her allies.

Understanding how the Controller works requires an understanding of the many different status effects that can force either a player or an enemy to be incapacitated. A hold is the most iconic status effect of a Controller, as it completely shuts down the target's ability to act or move. Disorient works similarly, as the target will stagger around in a daze while affected. Sleep will shut the target down, but any damage dealt will wake the target back up, and Immobilize will keep the target rooted in place though he can otherwise act normally. When used correctly, these effects can lock dangerous foes out of abilities or help make swarms of mobs more manageable.

Controllers benefit from an inherent power that boosts damage significantly when they're attacking a target that has already been Held, Slept, Immobilized, or Disoriented. (Note that those effects do not need to have been applied by the same Controller for the boost to apply.) They also have an additional magnitude applied to their holding abilities, meaning that even though many attacks have a chance to Disorient opponents, the staggering confusion lasts longer and hits more often when that effect is delivered by a Controller rather than another archetype.

Obviously, the strength of the archetype is that when it's played well, your enemies don't get to move or twitch unless you say so. The downside is that Controllers make Defenders look like offensive dynamos -- while they have some minor offensive ability, neither of their powersets really allows for a straight offensive rush. You have to play a Controller very carefully, hang back, and pick out your targets with care while alone.

Primary sets

A Controller's primary sets revolve around -- wait for it -- controlling. They're a mix of various inhibiting effects with a handful of damaging powers, and most of them include a pet at higher levels to help balance out the class's inherent weaknesses.

Earth Control: There are a lot of Immobilize effects in this set, which makes a certain amount of sense. Volcanic Gases serves as your area hold, and almost all of your abilities carry a defense reduction debuff. If you'll forgive the pun, it's a pretty solid set.

Electric Control: While it can seem a little light on holds at first glance, this set has two great things going for it. The first is Static Field, which essentially applies a targeted sleep field in a given area; it puts enemies to sleep and then keeps putting them back to sleep, thus saving you the trouble of dealing with party members who keep hitting what's asleep. The second is that almost every attack carries an Endurance reduction with it, and as has been mentioned before, enemies with no Endurance are held even more effectively than those with a Hold on. A very, very nice set.

Fire Control: As usual, Fire is a bit more offensively oriented than other sets, with a fair number of holds but a number of damage-over-time effects and a lot of burning death too. I'd rank it on the weaker end for group play (where your damage really isn't the point), but it's a solid option for solo Controllers.

Gravity Control: OK, it's impossible to claim that it's not fun to send things hurtling through the air at a breakneck pace just because you can. That being said, the knocking effects aren't really holds, and they make it harder for non-ranged attackers to keep a solid lock on a target. That being said, your pet is also a mini-Controller, so there's fun to be had with the projecting effects.

Ice Control: Probably one of the weaker overall sets. The confusion/slowing toggle is nice, but the fact that your only area hold is point-blank forces you to get into the paint more often than is really safe for such a fragile class. The slowing effects are nice, but they don't make up for the weaknesses of the set, and there are other ways to get them.

Illusion Control: An odd set with a lot of pets that have strong taunting effects and a great deal of damage that doesn't last. It's sort of a more gamble-oriented approach to the class -- targets that drop fast won't even recover from your illusions, but if they don't drop quick, you're essentially contributing nothing. You also get group stealth powers, which contributes to the feeling of oddity.

Mind Control: This set is, functionally, nigh-impossible to solo with. You get no pet whatsoever and have little to no direct damage ability. What you do have is psionic damage (which is as close to an irresistible damage type as ever there was) and a wide variety of holds, including two area holds and an area confusion effect in place of a pet. If you don't mind a near-constant need to team, the set can provide a lot of power.

Plant Control: A group heal helps place this set firmly in the defensive support mold, but you also have a few nice holds, an area sleep, and a confusion effect. You can also help immobilize and snare a large group with Carrion Creepers, which is a neat power with some weird and occasionally wonky implementations.

Secondary sets

Controllers draw from the same general well of powers that Masterminds, Corruptors, and Defenders do -- that is, healing, buffing, and debuffing. As a result, some of these are sets that you've probably gotten very accustomed to seeing here.

Cold Domination, Force Field, Sonic Resonance, Storm Summoning: These are all sets that I said approximately forever ago shone better with an archetype other than Defender. Well, here we are. The sets provide a lot of nice buffs, some much-needed offensive punches, and in the last case, an additional pet for the controlling player. All of these fit wonderfully with the archetype.

Empathy, Kinetics, Radiation Emission: Or you could go with the more healing-oriented sets that are still as awesome as ever. You will find yourself much more shackled to a group, however; you've got no offensive powers to really back you up here.

Thermal Radiation: This secondary is worse for Controllers than it was for Masterminds but still better than it is for Corruptors. When you're solo, you won't have fellow players for your group buffs, but your pets will usually be able to benefit. Or just take the set in conjunction with Mind Control, so you'll be forced to have a group at all times and it won't matter.

Trick Arrow: OK, by all rights Trick Arrow should be in the first group up there. I'm just so happy to be able to say that it fully fits with an archetype that I wanted to show it a little extra love And it does mesh nicely with a Controller's abilities -- you won't be hitting hard, but you can spread some extra chaos and debuffs with a bow.

As for me...

Controllers are one of two archetypes that really required some extra playtime from me so that I could write this episode of the archetype series. It's not that I dislike the class; it just sits to one side of my preferred playstyle. Moreso than Masterminds, Controllers have always fallen into the realm of that class, the one that seems really neat when played well but is intensely frustrating to learn how to play. For that matter, it runs counter to my usual choice of technique, so rolling a Controller has always been a rare event for me.

Having taken a walk on the controlling side, I can appreciate the style a bit more, but it's ultimately not for me. The class performs wonders in groups, however, and for sheer all-around group benefit, it can sometimes outclass Defenders. That's pretty neat, even if it's not quite my cup of tea.

As usual, you can mail me at eliot@massively.com or leave your opinions in the comment field. (Cue people telling me about their awesome Ice/Thermal 'Troller for the next 30 comments. I look forward to it, even.) Next week, it's time to look around before we look backward -- if you haven't noticed, we're coming up on anniversary time. And I don't mean for the column.

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.