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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: The unseen cost of closing City of Heroes

Eliot Lefebvre

City of Heroes is leaving a lot of victims with its closure: the employees of an excellent and underrated development team, a group of players with a lot of passion and energy, and an entire world that deserves to keep going. But there are a lot of other costs along with all of those, things what we're losing out on that you might not have even considered at the time.

At least, not until some writer on the internet decided to call attention to all of those things. Guilty as charged.

Those of us who are adamant fans of the game have been lamenting the loss of the game that is. But one of the reasons I tied every single anniversary post with another post looking forward is that City of Heroes has always been a game that moves in both directions. It's a game where a lot of the fun is tied into what it will be. And while there are some directions I've been critical of, there's a lot about what's coming up that's never going to be realized.


I could write about all of the promise in Issue 24 for days. I could talk about all of the cool stuff that was being done with power pools, with Blasters, with power pool customizations. But that would wind up being even crueler than what I'm actually going to write because the simple truth of the matter is that there's a much more fundamental truth behind Issue 24: The development team showed how much in the game could still be improved and how much good could come out of such little changes.

There had been previous columns in which I complained that the game was focusing much more heavily on Incarnate content compared to other options -- i.e., the stuff that I personally found interesting. But Issue 24 went around and gave a lot of new options for players that weren't necessarily interest in Incarnate progression, both cosmetic and mechanical. There was a real sense that the developers were shoring up a few weak points, through both customization features and quality-of-life improvements.

If you were stuck at the endgame, it wouldn't matter as much. But for a lot of players, it was a patch that served to remind everyone that CoH is many things to many different people and that the development team seriously cares about everyone who enjoys the game for any reason.

Yes, I know I'm going to get a comment about PvP, but I stand by my statement.

But we'll never get to see the patch because it's shelved. Gone. Finito, dust in the wind, the way of all flesh and so forth. It could have been something spectacular, but we'll never see that promise realized. That strikes me as a particular loss.

She seems remarkably calm about being bludgeoned to death.New powersets and costumes

For all that I had some concerns about the way that new powersets were being handled, the fact was that I still supported the idea for several reasons, not the least of which being that it finally gave Paragon an excuse to do new sets that didn't naturally line up with other events.

There are some serious issues with adding new sets to the game, mostly revolving around the inherently problematic requirements that you had to actually experience the new set. In short, there's no way around it but to make a completely new character and level him or her to the mid 30s, at which point you'll have a clear picture of how the set plays. And Zeus forbid that a new set that serves as a better thematic match for your character concept is released because then there's nothing to be done but reroll, son. This needed to be addressed, definitely.

But the variety! Since the conversion to free-to-play, the gates had been flung open and everything was fair game. I had never dreamed we'd actually see Staff Fighting go live. Bree had given up hope on Water Blast (I didn't care much, but by that point, I had Staff Fighting, so I guess someone thinks that's neat). Issue 24 would have finally let you make a character with dual pistols and martial arts skills, meaning that you could finally be the trenchcoated vigilante you always secretly wanted.

I think choosing those powers in conjunction automatically switched your chest type to a trenchcoat, actually.

Costumes were even more noteworthy because prior to the business model switch, costumes were constrained to "packs" that usually featured two sets, a new power of some kind, and a couple of extra widgets. The problem was that some sets play out for only one costume, and some of the "packs" weren't very well constructed. Plus, you could wind up getting a dozen pieces you never planned to use just for the one piece you did want to use. With the switch in business model...

Well, do I need to say it again? The team threw open the doors and played with almost everything. Nothing was off the table, and that meant tons of new options for any concept you could think of. The game had reached the point that you could have a team blending 1950s science fiction heroes with steampunk machinists, and you could dress accordingly. The fact that you could do Space: 1889 is absolutely mind-shattering.

We're losing the promise of a lot of concepts that were still being made. Post-apocalyptic costumes? Bio Armor? Ideas that we haven't even heard of? Gone. Just like the next major update.

This was actually a particularly well-run character arc.  I could see this working in a print book.Better stories

The thing that originally drew me to CoH was the fact that I love comic books, and not just the format, although that's also true. I love superheroes, I love superhero stories, and I love the idea of superhero games. And while CoH arguably doesn't always hit the right notes for a superhero game, at this point we were starting to get the right level of superheroic stories.

Superheroes are tricky. They require a certain level of continuity, a certain amount of backstory for the right flavor. There's a reason several of the most brilliant takes on the genre imply a continuity where none previously existed: The people behind these takes realize continuous backstory's necessity. It's not enough to just have Batman and the Joker; you need a world around Batman and the Joker and the sense that this is a conflict in which you see only an isolated snippet.

CoH had that continuity built up, and it had enough in its event backlog -- the Rikti invasion, the Praetorian invasion, the death of Statesman, the corruption of Hero 1, the rise of Penelope Yin -- that you had the sense of playing in the right environment. New stories had hooks, history, and emotional resonance. It took a while, but the game finally felt like a distinct continuity with its own flavor rather than a poor man's DC universe. (It can't be a poor man's Marvel; Paragon City isn't a real place.)

But now that's snuffed out. A world went away, and the worst part is that we're saying goodbye just as it was getting really good. That's as heartbreaking to me as anything else taking place.

Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to Although if your feedback takes the form of "oh, stop whining," you can really keep on walking. (I mean that in a metaphorical sense; I'm assuming you read this sitting down.) Next week -- if you're going to move on, where do you move?

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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