Latest in Gaming

A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Underused enemies in City of Heroes

Eliot Lefebvre
Last week I discussed why I'm not fond of Nemesis as a group, and this week I promised to discuss villainous groups that I think that City of Heroes could use a bit more actively. So I am certain that longtime readers expected me to spend most of this week talking about the Fifth Column because of course I would. I love the Fifth Column, I think they're a fantastic group of villains, and I've talked about how great they are as a group over and over.

Surprise! Not this time.

For all that I love the Column (and their continual curbstomping of their pale imitation in the Council), that wasn't my goal this week. No, this time around I want to highlight other groups that I think Paragon City could use a bit more often, enemies that either fall off the radar or just don't get as much attention as they're due. Even in a game that's been around as long as City of Heroes, there are certain enemy groups that just never get the love they deserve. Maybe the future can fix that for some of these guys.

I like the way they move.The Outcasts

Out of the several street-level thug groups you fight in the early game, the Outcasts are my favorite by a wide margin, due in no small part to the fact that they're almost in the big time. The members aren't quite powerful enough to really run with the heavy hitters, but all they need is a little spike up in the power scale to be more than a group of marauding thugs.

So really, just give one of them a little boost, and they become really dangerous. Like, say, one of the millions of plot-relevant ways for heroes or villains to become more powerful. These things are a dime a dozen across Paragon City.

The great thing is that Outcasts can fit into a lot of stories very easily. You can tell a story in which you're trying to prevent troubled kids with a little bit of superhuman power from falling in with this crowd. You can run them as a straight gang with enough punch to keep a superhuman crimefighter from being overpowered. Or you can start going into bigger and grander territory if you let them go from having not quite enough power to having some real chops.

A group of powerful Outcasts could easily turn Steel Canyon into a war zone. They could act like marauding thugs with more power, or maybe they play it smart and turn into a legitimate force of supervillains. You could even use them in a full-scale gang war against the Trolls, exploring the consequences when gangs can go to war with earth-shattering powers. Plus, because of the way the gang works, they make a very believable catspaw for a more traditional group of villains without feeling as if they've been shortchanged.

Long story short: These guys are neat. Their growing up and expanding a bit would bring in a lot of new elements to the game's storytelling.

He's in the business of giving you the business. Crey

To be fair, the Crey corporation shows up a lot. There are tons of Crey plots hither and yon. But most of them use the Crey either in a roundabout way (someone developed something valuable, it got stolen, now the company is trying to hush it up) or as a group of straight-up villains, both of which speak to some of what the group can do but wind up selling the company short.

Here's the thing: Crey is in a unique position in that it can serve as both an ally and a villain for heroes and villains alike -- often within the same story. Crey has its own agenda, one that isn't inherently negative or positive for the people of Paragon City and the Rogue Isles. The company wants to make money, and it researches in a lot of fields that give it space to work as an antagonist. But that's ignoring the fact that Crey is going to make no money if one of its inventions blows up its entire potential consumer base.

In short, Crey should run more like a company. Sometimes, yes, the company does something outright evil. Other departments are downright benevolent. Other departments will ask you for help solving a problem that they created and may very well just give you a pat on the back afterward... or stab you in the back once you've recovered the prototype. And so forth.

That's the joy of dealing with companies, for a given value of "joy." The department that's fully helpful one day might be a problem the next. Give Crey a little more of that feel and they'll become much more interesting than another group of thugs to beat on.

An offer you can't something something.The Family

Most threats in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles are by their very nature superhuman. Even the few villains that don't have powers usually wind up with some sort of mechanical battlesuit or the like. But the Family is a perfect example of how to set up a group of villains that you can't just punch around until they do what you want. You can do that, too, but the nature of the Family gives you just enough leeway to do something else as well.

Most stories about the Family focus on how they're essentially just the mafia in a world full of demons and ancient magical artifacts and the like. So you get to beat up on gangsters, which is fun. But there's another option, and that's getting back to the fundamental nature of the organization. Instead of focusing on petty crimes and getting beaten up by people with more power, the Family can serve as a sort of meta-villainous group.

Everyone wants something, after all. And the Family doesn't have to deal with heroes or villains if they don't want to. Their real strength as an organization isn't in direct force; it's in manipulating others' wants so that they wind up in a dominant position.

You can argue that that's what I dislike about Nemesis, but it's a different set of circumstances. What the Family wants is very obvious: power and money. Manipulating others isn't a matter of secrets; it's a matter of making offers that others can't refuse. The Legacy Chain wants an artifact that the Circle has, so the Family brokers a deal with the Circle... and then arranges for the Legacy Chain representatives to have an "accident" on the way back from the exchange of goods.

They're a necessary evil, a group that can get you almost anything for a price and will invariably stab you in the back, but only when you don't have the best cards on the table. And that's way more interesting than beating up gangsters with electrical powers.

And now, your round

I love reading replies to lore-centric columns because there's always something clever in there. (Last week it was the crack theory about Stefan Richter.) So please, by all means, tell me who you think is underused or misused, either via the comments below or through mail to I always read it, even if I'm not always great about replying.

Next week, I'm going to try and get some time in with some of the new Issue 23 content, some of which is very relevant to my interests. Failing enough of that, I'm going to take a look at the Praetoria war in review -- what worked, what didn't, and what CoH can learn from the experience.

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.