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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Remembering my time in City of Heroes

Eliot Lefebvre

Not long after my first column on the City of Heroes shutdown, I received an email that contained several of the testimonials from this full-to-bursting thread on the Save CoH boards. And they're not the only ones out there. There are countless stories about what the game means to people, ranging from the silly to the sublime, stories that can only really accumulate in a game that's run for eight solid years.

When it comes to recollections about the game, I'm not Mercedes Lackey or Scott Kurtz or even Eric Burns-White. I'm what the byline says: a mild-mannered reporter. But I'm also a guy with a lot of feelings about the game, one that I've been playing on and off for nearly all of its eight-year run. To be blunt, I've got the microphone and you don't. So I'm going to go ahead and throw my hat into the ring when it comes to remembering City of Heroes, starting with the game that I played at launch for less than two weeks.

Rough, sure.  But still a lot of fun even then.To be fair, I wasn't timing it then. It may have been slightly more than that. But I didn't play it very long, and it wasn't because of some deep-seated resentment about the game. It was because I was stuck on a dial-up connection and the game ran like a chain-smoking asthmatic. You think that the game has problems with rubberbanding and "Connection to mapserver lost" now? Buy a 56k modem and then we can talk.

(Note: Do not do this. Massively does not require you to purchase obsolete computer hardware.)

At the time I started playing the game, my choices were CoH and Final Fantasy XI, and the latter has an amazing set of net coding that allowed it to run like a dream on a dial-up connection. A few months later, something else launched, and that was right around the same time that I moved house and upgraded to DSL. Like everyone else on the planet, I was too enraptured with World of Warcraft to really think back and remember why I had stopped playing CoH, so I didn't leap right back once I had an actual internet connection.

But after a few months with World of Warcraft, I needed a break. And so I decided to dip back into City of Heroes and see how much the game had grown since I first started playing. And I was absolutely in love... briefly.

What killed the game for me the second time around was, I'm sorry to say, my own general worthlessness in the game. I had characters with awful builds stumbling through content inelegantly; I was frequently dying and making a lot of sensible build choices that made characters really boring or difficult to play for long stretches of time. This was before Enhancement Diversification, back when six-slotting Stamina was a solid choice, one that made for several levels in which your powers that actually did stuff got no better.

So by following well-meaning but ultimately soul-crushing advice, I killed my affection for the game again. And it lay dormant for a while, until City of Villains came out. And then again until Ms. Lady got interested in the game. You get the idea. As I'm fond of making analogies in which games are compared to relationships, let me make another: CoH was the person I kept dating briefly and then splitting with for reasons that we would forget in a few months.

It wasn't until I started working for Massively that I started to get back into the game once again, and that was also when my love of the game really blossomed in full. There was still a lot of archaic stuff that made the introduction a bit rough, but by that point I'd played a lot of other games and was thinking about games a lot more than before. Suddenly I could appreciate CoH on a whole new level, really understanding the elegance behind design choices.

Whether or not your character creator allows me to create a Victorian matron robot with mechanical wings is a pretty simple litmus test for every game ever.It wasn't long before I penned one of my first real features for Massively specifically about CoH, because I'd found a whole new dimension to what the game could be. Even now, after having played the game consistently for several years, I'm still amazed at the number of different things players can do at any given juncture. There's just so much stuff, things to explore and stories to experience, something that comes only from years of development devoted to player choice and ease of play.

That's the biggest thing that always sold me on the game: that there are so many different ways to do everything, that the difficulty is pegged just right to give players options. There's no solo build vs. a party build. Some options are better suited to one or the other, but you can do a heck of a lot with a bit of skill and through careful use of your powers.

No other game has ever asked me to be so liberal with my alts. CoH served as my character testbed for years, the place where I would try out a new concept for a few levels to see whether I liked how the character played in both roleplaying and in the actual game. The biggest restrictions it placed upon me were ones of age, not balance.

I've still got my original game discs from eight years ago. And even when the last day comes, I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of them.

Feedback, as always, can be left in the comments below or mailed to You can also feel free to leave your own stories. I'm not great at replying all the time, but rest assured that I am reading everything. And you should tune back in on Friday as well for a little extra CoH content if you're up for it.

Next week? Well, I'm going to address the obvious. But until then, I'm just going to tell people that now is not the time to give up and walk away.

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.

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