Well, City of Heroes, the best dang superhero MMO ever, was shut down in the wee hours of this morning, and I got to stay online and enjoy the ride clear up to the final disconnect notice.
I played City of Heroes for over eight years. I didn’t get in at the very beginning, ’cause I had to get a new computer that was able to run it. And I had a few periods when I wasn’t playing, either because life was too busy, or because my old computer went kaput and I wasn’t able to play anything. And I’m really glad I got to play all that time. I’m even glad I got to play clear ’til the game shut down. I know people who were so upset about the game ending that they didn’t play anymore — every time they logged in, they were overcome with sadness. I don’t blame them a bit — I think I’ve been adjusting fairly well, but there’s no way to tell whether I’ll wake up tomorrow and go into a period of deep mourning about it.
I can guarantee I’ll very quickly miss flying over the casinos in St. Martial, or super-jumping across the rooftops of Steel Canyon and Talos Island, or zipping across Skyway City at superspeed. I’ll miss watching my mastermind’s robot minions tear through enemies, smashing through villains with my tanker, or blowing up cars and bank vaults with my brutes. I’ll miss sliding down the slopes in the ski chalet, watching costume contests in Atlas Park, hunting exploration badges, and finding the secret, hidden locations in each zone.
There are rumors that there may still be a chance to resurrect the game. Some of the players have speculated that NCSoft may have obscure legal reasons — possibly related to the $47 million judgment against them in the Richard Garriott lawsuit from a few years back — to want to shut the game down completely before offering it up for sale. If that’s the case, whoever ended up buying the IP and the servers would probably be able to get them for a lot less money. But I’m not comfortable assuming that’s going to happen. I think it’s probably better to expect it not to happen — to expect the game to be gone for good. If it is done for, the easier to get adjusted to that fact. If it comes back, well, that’s a happy surprise, isn’t it?
I don’t think there’s any way to question that City of Heroes did a lot of things right. The character creator is widely considered the best one ever made for any game — with a lot of people wondering why other games haven’t made similarly extensive ones. Likewise, the sidekicking system, which let players team up no matter what level they were, is something I just can’t believe hasn’t been adopted in every game out there. You could bring new players in, team them up with players who had already hit the level cap, and know that everyone was still going to have fun. The mission architect — which let players create and play their own missions — was an amazing accomplishment, even if they stumbled in implementing it.
They had some stunningly beautiful zones — Atlas Park, Founders Falls, Croatoa, Talos Island, St. Martial, just about every zone in Praetoria — and lots of amazing music. They had incredible details in the scenery that often had me sitting around and wondering what on earth it must be like to live in a place like Praetoria or the Rogue Isles.
And they did superheroics better than anyone else. I was never a roleplayer, but I loved getting to play all my characters — not just because they had great powers, but because I loved getting to imagine what they were thinking while they fought (or committed) crime. I wrote biographies for almost all of my characters, often before I got out of the tutorial. It was one thing to play the game — it was another to play while envisioning my characters’ motivations. That helped make it the most fun of all.
There were still some things that I wish had been done better. All of the most recent zones were very strongly horror-based, particularly First Ward, Night Ward, and the new Dark Astoria, which went from enjoyably creepy to unpleasantly scary and depressingly grim. I like horror a lot, ya know, but I think they really overdid things in their last few updates. I wanted to play a superhero and smash up the bad guys — I didn’t want to run around the nightmarish zone and deal with missions where the monsters told me I hated life, was chronically depressed, and wanted to be eaten by eldritch monster-gods.
The game never managed to do superstrength the right way. Superstrength really is the signature superhero power, but characters who had superstrength in City of Heroes only got to smash up bad guys a bit — it didn’t even do very much damage, compared to other powers. And you certainly couldn’t pick up a car and throw it at a bad guy. Both Champions Online and DC Universe Online had decent superstrength powers, but City of Heroes never managed it.
And really, I wanted a costume option for pencil-thin mustaches for years, and I never got it. How was I to recreate Mandrake the Magician without pencil-thin mustaches?
I’ve long wished that City of Heroes had gotten some more press within the comics community. The game got possibly its only mention on comics news websites like Comics Alliance when it was announced that it was closing — and Comics Alliance gave buckets of free publicity to every single press release for any computer games based on DC or Marvel comics. The occasional article about CoH on Comics Alliance or Comic Book Resources might’ve brought in a bit more cash for the best dang superhero MMO ever made.
But I don’t want to spend a lot of time with recriminations and complaints. I had a great time over the past eight years, and though I’m sad that the game is gone, I’m also very happy that it was ever made in the first place, and that the City of Heroes community, already known for being one of the strongest in the computer game community, got even stronger over the last few months. And the developers at Paragon Studios, who’ve been awesome from the first time they started work on the game, have gotten even cooler, too. City of Heroes gave me almost a decade of happy superheroic memories, and that’s a solid win in my book.
Was this a sad day? Yes, it was. There are lots of folks who I knew through this game who I’ll probably never meet again, whether online or in meatspace. There was a great deal of sorrow, not just sitting out in Atlas Park, but during our missions and taskforces. There were a lot of people bidding farewell to the characters they’d played — in some cases, they’d been playing these very same characters ever since they started the game, and they knew they’d never see them again, except in their own screenshots.
But more than anything else, we were all saying to ourselves, “What a great game. These last few years have been amazing. We had so much fun playing together and running around this great game world.” We were sad, but we also stuck around, not just because we enjoyed the game so much, but to pay tribute to the game creators and developers and to the players who have made the game so wonderful.
Hats off, ladies and gentlemen, for City of Heroes. May it live long in our memories.