A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann
Using the Enhancement system is pretty important to playing City of Heroes successfully. It's a combination of both gear and (arguably) character specialization, and it's the main way that you increase your power over the course of your leveling. Sure, you get new powers as you level up, but your earlier powers remain your steadfast workhorses. Mastery of Enhancements is the path to being imbalanced.

Unfortunately, the Enhancement system is also really, really complicated.

I don't say this lightly; in fact, I say this specifically after a conversation with a fellow Massively staffer who has never fully understood how this system is supposed to work. Said staffer is an intelligent man, but the system is rife with corner cases, strange rules, exceptions, and several elements that are never really explained in full. So for all of the newer free-to-play people or old hands at City of Heroes who never really got the system, here's a primer on how Enhancements work.

The Air Dance Enhancement is rarely used, but also truly awesome.The tutorial on Enhancements basically covers a few top-level points about enhancements. Specifically, it covers the fact that they exist, the mechanics of slotting them, and how to can combine them into a more powerful form. It goes into no more useful details than that, completely skipping several important facts. I am, however, going to assume that you know the bare-bones of how to slot an enhancement, so I'm not covering the miracles of dragging and dropping. If you've missed the overview, here it is: Each power has at least one Enhancement slot, and you can place Enhancement slots to improve that power in notable ways.

Every Enhancement improves a specific area of a power. Hovering over a power on the Enhancement interface will let you know what aspects of the power can be improved via Enhancements. Some Enhancements go in almost every power; any power that isn't an auto-ability can be slotted for Recharge; most of those powers can also be slotted for Endurance Reduction; and there's a veritable panoply of powers that take Damage and Accuracy. Others are much more specific, such as To-Hit Buff and Defense Debuff.

Enhancements all work as a percentage improvement. A Damage Enhancement doesn't improve damage by 150; it improves it by 15%. This has the usual problem of similar systems -- improving the damage over a very low-damage power isn't going to make it hit like a truck, and slotting Endurance Reduction for a low-cost power produces sharply diminishing returns. It also makes certain Enhancements very good indeed, since Recharge works best on powers with long cooldowns, which is where you'd want to slot them anyway.

Basic Enhancements come in three flavors: Training, Dual-Origin, and Single-Origin. Training Enhancements can be purchased straight from the start of the game and produce very weak effects, but anyone can use them. Dual-Origin Enhancements are far more potent, coming into the game from specific vendors when you start hitting the mid-teens. These Enhancements can be used only by one of two matching Origins; a Natural/Tech Dual-Origin, for instance, can be slotted only if your character's Origin is either Natural or Tech. Single-Origins are, you guessed it, limited to a single type of Origin and more powerful yet again. They'e also a bit harder to buy, usually requiring a single door mission to "unlock" the NPC for purchases.

The shiny bits aren't the Enhancements.  They're just shiny bits.  Pay attention.So why not just buy the most powerful possible Enhancements out of the gate? Because they're level-locked. Store-bought Enhancements are available in increments of five levels, and you can only slot an Enhancement that's three levels about your current level. At level 35, you could slot a level 38 Enhancement, but that level 39 would have to wait.

That three-level rule leads to another one, however: An Enhancement is only useful within a two-level range. A level 35 character would still derive some benefit from a level 32 Enhancement, but a level 31 would be completely useless. So you have to keep buying and slotting new Enhancements as you go because they're each only good for a little while. The mathematically astute among the audience will no doubt note that that five-level range from stores is just enough to ensure that your store-bought Enhancements will all go bad at the same time, necessitating a trip out to buy the next set as you level.

Fortunately, you can avoid having to totally reslot all the time via combining Enhancements. Clicking on an already-slotted Enhancement or dragging and dropping a compatible Enhancement onto the already-slotted one opens the combining interface, in which you try to fuse the two into a single Enhancement of greater quality. A successful combination results in the higher-level Enhancement's going up one level, while a failed combination simply replaces the lower Enhancement with the higher one (if the higher one is already slotted, it does nothing). So if you have a level 33 Damage Enhancement and you combine it with a level 34 Damage Enhancement of the same type, you'd wind up with a level 34+ Damage Enhancement slotted in.

The plus sign, incidentally, is basically a marker of how many times you've combined an Enhancement with a lower-level enhancement. If you have two marks, you can only combine it with something higher level, presumably so you can't sit around and assemble a set of max-level Enhancements from a pile of level 30s.

All of this is fairly simple, but it misses the central wrinkle of the whole mess: Enhancement Diversification. Unpopular when introduced, ED is an annoying but logical mechanic that basically just prevents you from stacking on too many of one type of Enhancement. The short version is that there's a certain maximum amount each parameter can be improved, and once you hit that cap, further Enhancements do less to improve the power. So three SO Damage Enhancements will net you a 90% increase in damage, but the fourth will only net you another 5%. (Roughly.)

Thus, the simple rule is that you only want three of a kind slotted into any power. Any more and you're essentially throwing a good slot after a bad. Three Damage and three Accuracy will work fine, but five Damage is right out.

As so often happens, this column ran long, which means I never got to some of the more esoteric Enhancements or more corner cases. So I'll be taking that on next week to wrap this up. Until then, you can let me know what you though of this week's column via mail to eliot@massively.com or by leaving a comment below.

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.