Every now and then I get a hankering to play City of Heroes again, lately I’ve been getting into this urge again and have reactivated my account just a short time ago. COH (I realize some call it CoX since Villains but come on, you can’t do this to an established name) is actually in one of the more interesting positions in the MMO market. At launch it was met with rave reviews. It was fun, it was bug free, it used new concepts that were just starting to take off, and it innovated. What could go wrong with such a stunning game?
However, it was quickly realized that the game had flaws, and many of them. It wasn’t hard at all to rapidly advance to the level of 50 (later to 60), and once you got there, there was little to do. This was largely due to the lack of loot, PvP, and raiding (which is tied to loot), all of which are the mainstays of the genre once you level. In fact it turns out that the ease of leveling isn’t even a problem as WoW has proved. In fact making alts proved even more fun in COH and people often did it just to make a new costume even when they weren’t at the cap. Their skill system was so successful that people would also try out one of the many dozens of skill trees that they may not have tried previously. But the loot and raiding I think really hurt this game the most. And so did it’s reliance on instancing (something that made Anarchy Online suffer as well).
The three or so years since the launch of CoH has continued to see advancement for the genre as a whole. Their badge system was revolutionary and was quickly copied in many respects by WoW, EQ2, and LotRO. Their PvP system is interesting, deep, and new. The base creation system is completely original, truly giving the depth of their character creation system to the building system. They’ve added new “classes,” skill trees, costumes, and zones, all for free.
Yet it isn’t without the bad too. They started out by raising the level cap within a few months, but haven’t done so since. They have been going for 3 years with only a single expansion, relegating themselves to AC’s old mantra of “free expansions” which would be impressive in AC’s day, but EQ2 has seen over 30 similar in depth features in 2 years where CoH took 3 years for 9 updates. [1. granted each update for CoH tends to be more robust, but every single one of EQ2’s has something and many have a lot.]
Still CoH at its core is a great game. They are actually positioned in a place where they could make some serious headway if they wanted to. But they’d have to do more than what they’ve done. The upcoming tradeskills is a start, and something they have been promising for well over a year. but it isn’t enough. They really need to launch a second expansion for both CoH and CoV. This expansion should raise the level cap to 70-75. It should introduce perhaps a new race not unlike their previous alienish creatures. It should add some new skill trees for both good and evil. It should provide more concrete questlines that are both epic and heroic. It should add real loot into the game. And for its fun hook, maybe they could have evil & good co-op zones and missions. That’d be fun. They just need to make the game more in depth, less repetitive, and more fun. I think these things could do it.[2. I also think they should do a server merger to make their current servers more lively. The split of their population between good and evil has not been kind to the cities.]
However, I have a feeling that cryptic has essentially given up on this particular game, if not franchise. I think they are more looking at Marvel Online to be what CoH never became. I bet we will see a continuation of what made CoH so fun (super hero feeling combat, great skill systems, great customization, badges, and probably the PvP system), but will learn from the mistakes of CoH. So I imagine that it will also have loot and raids, and real true quests that are actually fun to do. I also think that they are using this tradeskill system as a test bed for what they do next. I could totally see them having a tradeskill system that concentrates on fun stuff like new costume items, new base items, maybe new skill customizations, and new skill enhancements not unlike what we will see in Issue 9. But they will tweak it based on what they find out in Issue 9 as well as to suit a loot game.
So unfortunately our answer is that no, CoH can not be saved. But in essence despite what Cryptic says, I think that Marvel will be its sequal. It is too bad really because CoH has really been one of the better modern MMOs. It has still the best first 3 months in the industry, it’s too bad how repetitive it gets past that point because this game was stellar, and it was original, and I like original games too. Not only that I really think that Cryptic could save CoH, I think its position is that they can really make a grab at WoW players. The ease of leveling is similar, but this one is more in depth and more enjoyable than WoW overall. I think this is especially true because over the last year I’ve noticed that many WoW players have been trying out some of the newer MMOs because they are bored with WoW. There are more than 2 million WoW players looking to get out, but not finding a similar enough experience that is fast and fun, and CoH is likely that, but it is unfortunately devoid of an end game.