City of Heroes has been a strange ride. A sad one, certainly, and that's part of it, but it's also just been strange in certain ways, such as how every single column on the subject -- and I do mean every single one -- has garnered at least one person acting shocked that this column would continue to cover the game on the way to its shutdown instead of just throwing in the towel back in October or something.
I really don't get that, considering that this column has been running for nearly three years without interruption, even when I had to send the text off to someone else because I was out of power due to a hurricane. There's no way I'm not going the last few feet. But I think some of it comes down to not understanding what about the game makes some of the players so passionate about the city.
Passion is a lot of things, none of them logical. It's not possible to just point to items on a list and say, "I'm passionate because of that." But I can try to outline what's made the game so special beyond just its length of operation, and I'll do the best I can with today's column.
Neither world, yet both
World of Warcraft is the model for the modern MMORPG, by and large. You can say that World of Warcraft itself was derivative of previous games, and you'd be right, but the fact of the matter is that no one goes back to DikuMUD to draw inspiration anymore. It's pulled from WoW and we all know it. Some games do more with the idea, and some games just copy it wholesale, but that's where it traces back to.
But WoW came out at the same time as a lot of other games playing with the same idea. Guild Wars and City of Heroes both released just around the same time and used a similar set of mechanics, all based off of refining a model previously found in EverQuest.
The result is that while City of Heroes is very recognizable in its structure to someone who's grown up on later games, it's still also a different animal. It's drawing from familiar ideas but using them in a slightly different method. If standard questing models are like the wolf, CoH is the thylacine, a strange path of evolution that worked only in one isolated case but worked quite well. (Also it's soon to be extinct, but that's taking the metaphor a bit too far.)
You can see bits and pieces of this come back in some later games, certainly. I'd like to think of Star Wars: The Old Republic's holocomm quest turn-ins as a reference back to the cell phones in CoH, which ensure you don't have to hike back across the zone just to get the next mission. But in large part there's just the sense that the game is not beholden to one artificially limited genre or another. It's a unique creature from the brief moment in time when everyone figured out that aimlessness wasn't fun but hadn't yet agreed on how to combat that problem.
No endgame but what you make
I really don't like endgames. Well, that's not true; it would be fairer to say that I don't like how a large number of games give me a single endgame option, possibly two options, and then expect me to like it. Both options are some variant of "get a bunch of your friends together and do something." Forget challenging content for me as a solo player or content that scales for how many people are around or even just a wide base of different things to do. It's a sin that plagues a lot of games that I like as a whole, forcing me to more or less fall back on the strength of the group finder to keep playing a character at the level cap.
This isn't to say that I don't like organized large-group PvE; I enjoy it quite a bit. I also enjoy pizza. I don't want pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.
Partly because of the divergent evolutionary path I just mentioned, CoH didn't have that structured endgame. For most of its life, it didn't have a pure endgame at all. You had a lot of different things you could do at the level cap, both in large groups and small in many different fashions, but there was nothing that married you to one set of activities.
Want merit rewards? Great, there are all sorts of story arcs you can run for those solo or in a team. Farm influence or farm missions with others. Craft, roleplay, go on a badge hunt, fart around if you'd rather. The game doesn't care. It was occasionally a bit schizophrenic in terms of challenge, but you never hit a point when you had to do one thing at all times.
Final Fantasy XIV's relaunch promises to have an endgame more closely resembling the common model, but at launch it resembled the CoH model. You can guess which I preferred. Even the Incarnate system was big enough in time to fit all sorts of different playstyles, giving you something to do whenever you felt like it.
The powers that rock
Let me not create an idealized image of the community or of the development team. It could truly be said that for all of the positivity there was a lot of negativity, that there are people who hated Positron and had nothing but nasty things to say about the development team at all times. I cannot say Paragon Studios was universally beloved, nor can I say that I have unambiguously heaped praise upon the studio.
But even at the times when I was unhappiest about what Paragon was doing, I still respected the people there. The development team kept an open line of communication, the people in charge were fair, and if Positron said something that later turned out to be mind-shatteringly stupid, he had the character to stand up and own that mind-shatteringly stupid statement. It was a classy group, in short.
Combine that with how long we've been playing the game, and yeah, we're going to be passionate. And we're going to take our time in giving our game the tribute it deserves. Or at least the tribute we can actually give it, since setting fire to a Statesman effigy and throwing it through the front doors of NCsoft's main office is kind of illegal.
Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, just as always. Next week, paying the piper and dealing with the aftermath. The week after that, a conclusion.
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.
A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The passion for City of Heroes
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