The sudden revival of City of Heroes, which began as a story of a secret private server operating for the past seven years, has been a literal homecoming for diehard fans of the popular superhero MMO. With public servers now up through independent groups, and thousands of players playing their beloved MMO once more, City of Heroes has proven that despite being shut down for seven years, there is still a hunger by players who vastly enjoyed what the game had to offer.
Bullet Points is a regular series that looks at a unique aspect to one game. You can find more of them here.
There are many aspects of City of Heroes that make it appealing to audiences, but perhaps the best part of its design is the character creation process, arguably the most robust creation tool ever devised for any video game. To show what I mean, let us go through the whole process, step by step, to show that no two superheroes will ever be alike in terms of powers, appearance, and even playstyle.
It all begins with a character concept, what kind of hero, or villain, you wish to play as. The game offers five generic origins, and six generic playstyles to follow. Do you want to be a power-wielding mutant who blasts fire on foes? Or an Iron Man clone who uses a sword and shield? Maybe you’re just a well-trained assassin or magical mind manipulator? The choices are ultimately up to the player, but this early choice of origin is mostly just a choice to help with the character's theme, while playstyle narrows down your next big choice: your archetype.
So, for us let’s make a literal "TechRaptor" hero. First is choosing a name, and unfortunately the name "TechRaptor" is already taken, thanks to a quick click on their search button. We will have to make do with the inferior "Tech Raptor" name, but it’s close enough and fits our purposes.
Our origin should be, naturally, technology, since it is in the name we selected, and considering he will be a raptor-like character, let’s go for a close quarters melee fighting style. We get a ton of choices, from swift scrappers to stealthy stalkers, to even the hero/villain prestige archetypes. For Tech Raptor, the idea was to make a hero who can be fast but powerful, dishing out damage while taking it in return. The Brute archetype, originally a villain archetype, fits the choice best with the concept.
When originally launched, there were only five primary archetypes in City of Heroes, with two “prestige class” archetypes unlockable. The addition of City of Villains and Going Rogue would see that total balloon up to fifteen different archetypes, all of which are unlockable now in the rogue servers.
Each archetype attempts to offer a specific playstyle. Looking for long range damage? The blaster is your best bet. Love pets and supporting them? The unique mastermind archetype is the way to go. Some archetypes also blend together, creating a sort of ‘hybrid’ playstyle for players as well. The brute itself falls into this category, combining the high melee damage of the scrapper along with the sustainability of a tanker.
The real meat of this system comes in with your power sets. Power sets for heroes are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary powers are normally your main abilities that fit in with your archetype, while the secondary powers compliment them with additional skills and powers. In addition, while playing the game, players have the option to unlock power pools, essentially a third power set that can grant the ability to fly, teleport, extra damage dealing abilities, and more.
In total, the game contains over 100 different sets of powers, which in turn contain multiple abilities per set. The real fun of this is selecting your powers for your given archetype. So with our brute being a scrapper/tanker hybrid, we get access to all the melee abilities from the scrapper set, along with some of the defensive powers from the tanker set.
On the surface, the abilities per set are pretty much the same, being a mix of attacks, buffs, crowd controls, and passives. Most power sets follow a specific pattern depending on their type. However, each set offers unique abilities, animations, sound effects and passive buffs and debuffs that help them become unique. For Tech Raptor, it is tempting to give him rending claws to dish out tons of damage, but since he is part robot in some way, why not go for something different?
The choices for the brute’s primary powers are extensive, with multiple weapon sets, straight up martial arts, and other melee abilities. Considering it is a tech-style character who will likely use robot arms to punch things, a straightforward power set might do the trick for the character's theme. The Kinetic power line fits that well, offering fast and slow attacks that, as a bonus, reduce enemy strength as a debuff.
The brute’s secondary powers offer a bunch of options, and players are free to mix and match however they like. Want to create a character that uses fire and electricity? How about Dark powers mixed with Archery? This is where the power sets following a pattern come in handy; each set found in the primary or secondary categories is designed to fit the theme you choose for your character. The fact that powers also offer unique buffs and abilities adds to the theming.
So, for Tech Raptor, our secondary power has tons of choices, from Bio Armor to superior reflexes. Here though, we can play around with the character and find something different with the secondary power choice of regeneration. Tech Raptor is a raptor-like creature, after all, and combine that with mechanical bits it makes sense for it to have regenerative properties such as faster healing. Plus, it adds a ton of defensive sustainability to our hero, allowing him to survive long stretches of combat.
With powers chosen, and a primary theme already set, next is the true heart of character creation: the customization options. Players will have the ability to select size, shape, gender, skin color, scaling sliders for head and body shape, and hundreds of costume items to choose from. Quite frankly, any photographs do not do the game justice. Every aspect of the character can be fully customized, from head to toe to create something unique.
Since we are dealing with a technology-styled Raptor, taking those two ideas and combining them into one seems like a logical start. Our head selection offers a few reptilian-looking faces, even one that is a full-on monster head that removes any human features. For now, though, sticking with the human-shaped heads yields a very Raptor-like face structure. To also give credit to the modern science of real life raptors having feathers, adding plant-like hair and giving it a different color mimic colorful feathers on top, giving the character a more unique presentation.
The body and legs would be a mix of robot and raptor-like parts. Many of the costume pieces are designed to go together symmetrically, but players can also mix and match pieces as they see fit. For example, I gave Tech Raptor two robotic arms, and then dressed up his shoulders and gloves with mecha parts, then blended them together by their colors. Players have the option to link two colors together throughout the costume if they wish, but for more sophisticated color schemes players can customize every bit by hand as they see fit.
Tech Raptor’s chest, for example, could have been another set of mecha armor or just general armor plating. Instead, I went for the ‘bare chest’ look and added the reptilian skin to it. Then, I tweaked the colors and the pattern on the chest to give it a lighter green blend to make the color scheme more dynamic.
As for the legs, selecting the monstrous set gives us claws we can use, but instead of the standard raptor claws, going for robotic, clawed feet seems like a better option. Though the clawed feet and the monster legs don’t necessarily match the clean style of the mecha arms, finding close proximities and giving it the green and white scheme yields decent results that make the whole costume match up well.
It is more than just options for the main portion of the body, as tons of extra bits can also help accent the character. Adding an animated reptile tail of course makes perfect sense, as does a back piece that looks sort of like a jetpack to connect the two robotic arms pieces together. This also gives us the excuse of having a form of flight later as a third power set. Players have access to multiple cape, weapon and even aura designs to give your hero a little bit of extra flair to help sell their powers. Even changing the color of your power effects is an option, customizing your character further.
The final step of the character creation process is the backstory. Though entirely optional, players are given the chance to pen their own narrative. It can be as simple as a one sentence preview, or as detailed as you want it to be. Players can make joke backstories or serious backstories, all which tie into the customization of how the player wishes to roleplay. It is little touches like this that give the entire character creation process in City of Heroes its distinct feel; your backstory is readable by any player in the game, and for those willing to write one, it is their statement on the character they have created.
City of Heroes is unique because of its character creation process. Unlike most MMORPGs, equipment is not tied to progression, your powersets take that place. As players level up, they have the chance of customizing their costumes further, creating several sets of costumes for one hero. All of this is only cosmetic, but it allows players creativity to shine through more than having the proper gear scores, and players can enhance their powers with in-game enhancements and special abilities they can obtain from crafting.
The combination of powers, costumes, and theming is the perfect recipe for character generation, to the point where the character creation alone is a worthy tool on its own. It is one of those rare moments where everything fires on all cylinders the first time out, that Cryptic and Paragon Studios never changed up the system. They just continued to add to it over the course of the games run with new powers, costume pieces and options for the player. Tech Raptor is now one of thousands of revived heroes and villains in the Homecoming City of Heroes servers, and outside of his name, he is likely the only one of his kind to look and play the way he does from level 1 to level 50.
I hope you enjoyed this look into City of Heroes. If you have any questions about the game, or any questions or requests for Bullet Points, leave your comments below.