City of Heroes is a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG, it is also often referred to as a MMO Role Playing Game, or MMORPG). It was released in North America in May of 2004 with 11 servers, and in the winter of 2005 it was released in Europe with 5 servers in English, French and German. A Korean launch is upcoming under the title of "City of Hero". Developed by Cryptic Studios and published by NCSoft, CoH is based on the genre of comic books popularized by Marvel, DC, Wildstorm, Image, and so on. Players take on the role of a superhero in Paragon City, fighting the criminal element that has torn the city apart. In the "expanshalone" City of Villains, released in late October 2005, players can take the opposing side and play as supervillains, based in The Rogue Isles. The game ended on November 31, 2012 (tecniqually December 1,2012 since it ended at midnight)
City of Heroes Overview
City of Heroes starts with a player building their hero or heroine from the ground up. First, a player chooses one of 5 Archetypes, or 'AT's (with 2 'Kheldian' ATs unlockable once a character has hit level 50, these are known as 'Epic Archetypes' or 'EAT's): the Blaster, Defender, Controller, Tanker, or Scrapper. Each AT has a selection of Primary and Secondary Power Sets, each with 9 powers. These powers can be unlocked as a character levels up, starting at level 1 a character can choose one of their first two powers from their chosen Primary, and also receive the first power from their Secondary. Generally, secondaries unlock later than primaries, and are less powerful than primary versions that may be available to other ATs. You also choose an origin, which is mainly used to determine which enhancement types your character can use.
Then, they choose the design of their character. Unlike many other MMOs, appearances such as armor or lack of it has no effect on player statistics. CoH character customization is perhaps the most flexible in almost any game, and almost certainly within the MMO field, with a virtually infinite number of possible costumes, even without taking into count color variations. Players can choose a basic female, basic male, or 'Huge' male frame to start with, and go off from there. Then, it's time to choose a name, write an origin story (if you choose), think of a battle cry (optional), and hit the tutorial.
City of Heroes Story
City of Heroes has a rich backstory, with a story bible said to be several hundred pages including dozens of hero and villain organizations. Obviously this is too much to cover here, but the basics are:
Paragon City takes the place of Providence, Rhode Island, in the CoH universe. It takes the place of New York City as America's most famous city, and perhaps in all the world. The first heroes were found in Paragon, starting with Statesman (Marcus Cole) in the 1920s. In World War II, Paragon was attacked by the German 5th Column, led by Requiem, at the same time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. However, the most important event happened in 2002: The Rikti Invasion. Natives of a parallel universe, the Rikti attacked Earth without warning and caused global devastation. Paragon City was at ground zero of the invasion, and the superpowered resistance. Through the heroic sacrifices of the Omega Team, led by the British Hero 1, who shut down the portals from the Rikti side, the invasion forces were cut off from their homeworld. Unfortunately, by this time huge portions of Paragon had been destroyed, and almost all the heroes were slaughtered. Several years later, enter City of Heroes, the game: Paragon has been divided into zones by massive War Walls to keep order, and the Freedom Phalanx's 'Surviving Eight' (Statesman, Positron, Synapse, Manticore, Sister Psyche, Citadel, Numina and Back Alley Brawler) have called out for new heroes to save the besieged city. Do you have what it takes?
The style of gameplay varies depending on which of the several Archetypes is being played. Each has its own focus, strengths, and weaknesses, and while all are intended to be soloable to some extent, some are more group-focused than others.
The Blaster is the king of long-range damage in CoH. Also known as "glass cannons" or "kittens with laser beams on their heads", their damage output comes with a high level of vulnerability; their main defense is to kill (or arrest, depending on your motivations) their opponents before they are defeated themselves. Their primary sets include: Assault Rifle, Ice, Fire, Archery, Sonic, Energy and Electricity. Their secondaries are: Devices, Ice, Fire, Energy and Electricity and Dual Pistols. The primaries are the long-range damage powers, with secondaries usually involving powers to get the blaster out of the trouble they've caused (immobilizations, single-target holds, melee attacks). Their inherent power is 'Defiance', which used to allow them to do more damage as their health dropped, but now allows them to retain the use of basic powers when held or asleep. Comic book examples of Blasters include Cyclops of the X-Men, Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, and Starfire of the Teen Titans/Outsiders.
Defenders have a focus on group support, with a backup of long-range damage; there is much overlap between their secondaries and blaster primaries. Their blasts do less damage, but they have strong buff and debuff abilities. Primaries include: Force Fields, Empathy, Dark Miasma, Sonic, Trick Arrow, Storm, and Radiation. Secondaries are: Energy, Psychic, Dark, Sonic, Archery, Electricity and Radiation. Their inherent power is 'Vigilance', which causes their powers to cost less endurance as their teammates health drops. Examples would be Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four, Storm of the X-Men, or Green Arrow of the Justice League.
Controllers have an emphasis on making it easy for their teammates to defeat their opponents, and have very little direct damage ability, especially before unlocking their pets (if their primary set has pets at all). Their primaries focus on 'mez' powers, with: Mind Control, Illusion, Ice, Fire, Earth and Gravity. Their secondaries share overlaps with Defender primaries, with: Empathy, Force Fields, Radiation, Sonics, Trick Arrows, Storm, and Radiation. Their inherent power is 'Containment', which allows them to do double damage to an opponent that has been 'mezzed' (held, slept, confused, immobilized). Examples would be Professor X of the X-Men, Magneto, or Terra of the Teen Titans.
Once, and possibly still, known as the Solo King, the much maligned scrapper has seen the most changes since CoH launched. Once passed over for blasters, they were later seen as virtual gods with more damage than blasters and more defenses than tanks, and have now been reduced to something more in line with other ATs. Scrappers focus on melee attacks, and have strong defenses to make up for being in the thick of combat. Their Primaries are: Katana, Claws, Martial Arts, Broadsword, and Darkness. Their Secondaries are: Regeneration, Super Reflexes, Invincibility, and Dark Armor. Their inherent power allows for a random chance of a critical (2x damage) hit. Examples include Wolverine of the X-Men, Daredevil, or Nightwing.
The aggro-managers of CoH, a good tank can face down a dozen opponents or more and laugh in their face - he just can't kill them on his own. Very strong defenses, but weak melee attacks. Primaries are: Stone, Invincibility, Ice and Fire. Secondaries are: Energy, Earth, Ice, Fire, Battle Ax, Mace and Super Strength. Their inherent power is 'Gauntlet', which causes an AoE (area of effect) 'taunt' which draws aggro every time they attack. Examples include The Thing of the Fantastic Four, Juggernaut, or Colossus of the X-Men.
There are 2 unlockable Kheldian ATs, War Shades and Peacebringers. Unlike the other ATs, these 'EAT's have a story specific to the CoH universe. Kheldians are a species of aliens which must merge with a host to survive. Peacebringers merge with willing hosts, while their enemies the Nictus take hosts by force. War Shades are former Nictus who have seen the error of their ways. Each Kheldian has a Human form, which focuses on long-range attacks, melee attacks (PBs), or controller-ish effects (WSs). At level 6 they can unlock a Nova form, "the flying squid", which has a selection of long range attacks and an inherent flight, and is similar to a blaster. At 20 they can unlock their tank-like Dwarf form ("the rhino-lobster" which is actually quite large), with several melee attacks and the ability to teleport. PBs are generally seen as superior thanks to a stronger Human and Dwarf form, although WSs pets at level 32 can be quite effective. Their inherent power allows them to gain bonuses depending on the AT mixture of their team, however this only takes effect in Human form. Although unique to CoH, aliens possessing human hosts is not unusual in comics, such as the Brood or 'Captain Universe' Power Cosmic of Marvel, or the Kherubim and Deamonites of Wildstorm.
CoH follows MMO tradition with the use of level-based combat. There are 50 levels in CoH, and the experience points required to level up increases as you proceed (although the number of minions you need to defeat remains constant starting around level 39). Players have higher damage and accuracy, and longer duration of effects against lower-leveled opponents, and the opposite against those of a higher level. CoH also uses a classification system for different types of PvE opponents: Underlings, Minions, Lieutenants, Bosses, Elite Bosses, Arch-Villains and Giant Monsters. CoH was balanced around one player being roughly the equal of 3 even-level minions, 1.5 lieutenants, or 2/3rds of a boss. This holds up for roughly the first twenty levels, however as players gain access to better enhancements and more powers Heroes may find themselves capable of taking on large numbers of even-level foes, and will need to attack higher levels to find a challenge. Underlings are typically cannon-fodder, while Elite Bosses and Arch-Villains, or EBs and AVs, usually require 2-5 players to defeat. Giant Monsters have no level and are a threat to any level player, and can require from 4-20 players to defeat. Some individual enemies have their own classification, such as Hamidon ('Hamidon' class) or Ruladak ('Field Marshall' class). In PvP, all players are considered to be of an equal level, although those with a true higher level will usually still have an advantage.
There are two bars for players to keep track of during combat, their Health and Endurance. Should a player be reduced to zero Health, they are defeated, and must either call on the emergency Mediport system, wait for resurrection by an ally, use a self-resurrection power (if they have one), or a self-resurrection 'Awaken' inspiration. Players receive 'XP Debt' for being defeated, until the debt is paid off they only receive half the normal experience point gains. Since launch, many cutbacks have been made to when you receive debt, currently you do not receive debt until level 10, and only receive half debt while in an instanced mission. The other bar is Endurance, and is the energy required to activate powers. Unlike Health, your total amount of Endurance ('end') does not increase as you level up, so as more powers are gained the player must use Endurance Reduction enhancements or powers like Stamina to keep from running dry during a fight.
Unlike many MMOs, 'loot' is virtually non-existent in CoH. The rewards that can be gained by defeating enemies or completing missions are: Enhancements, Inspirations, Influence, Salvage, Prestige, and Badges. Enhancments take the place of loot, and are used to improve a character's powers. When leveling up players receive either a new power or a number of Enhancement Slots, a power starts with 1 slot and can have up to six. There are almost thirty kinds of enhancements which do things like increase damage,.accuracy, duration of effects, speed of travel powers, and so on. There are also three basic classes of enhancments: Trainings, Dual Origins and Single Origins. Trainings can be used by any origin character and are generally used from levels 1 to 15. Dual Origins are twice as effective as Trainings, but can only be used by 2 of the 5 origins. Around level 25 players can purchase Single Origins, which are twice as effective as 'DO's but can only be used by a single origin. There are also special, more powerful enhancements which can be gained by completing certain trials or defeating the Hamidon.
Inspirations are more commonly dropped, and much, much cheaper to buy. They are short-term powerups that increase damage, return health, break mez effects, and so on. As a player levels up they can hold more, up to a maximum of 20. Influence is the currency of CoH and is a numerical valuation of how much people respect you. Influence is mostly used for purchasing enhancements, or changing a characters costume. Salvage is a new form of loot used for Supergroup bases, and is used to construct certain items, like teleporters or power generators. Although there are dozens of kinds of salvage dropped by the various villain groups, they are refined into a limited number of mystical or technological components, making it easy for a SG to combine them into something useful. Prestige is a new form of currency used only for SG bases and is used to increase the base plot size, or to place items - even items built with salvage still require prestige to place. After level 34 players can either earn influence or prestige, but not both simultaneously. Badges are a mostly decorative item used to show to other players what that player has accomplished, and they are rewarded for a variety of different actions. Accolade badges typically have a gameplay benefit, such as a HP or End percentage increase, or the ability to 'respec' powers.
CoH Universe Beyond the PC
All comic companies have decades worth of stories that cover thousands of books. Although City of Heroes is only a few years old, it is able to draw on those themes to create something far larger than even an MMO can contain.
City of Heroes, the Comic
CoH has given back to its roots by creating its own comic book. The first 12-issue version was sent for free to all current subscribers and covered the story of Apex, War Witch and Horus, three otherwise unknown characters in the CoH universe. In Issue 5 (of game updates, not of the comic) War Witch (in a fashion) became the trainer of the new Croatoa zone, but Apex and Horus have since disappeared from the official story.
Version 2 of the comic took it to a higher level, with better art and a story involving the stars of CoH, the Freedom Phalanx. Several months into V2, after CoV was launched, the comic was no longer shipped for free to game subscribers, although it is posted online in PDF format for free download by anyone. Although the comic has always been in the same universe as the game, events in one are not always mentioned or carried over to the other.
The comic book also contains several extras; such as fan fiction, fan-created art, Paragon City news, and comic strips that have included the work of Ctrl-Alt-Delete and PvP. Also, through various contests many players have managed to have cameos in the comic with one of their characters.
The Web of Arachnos, by Robert Weinberg, was published by CDS Books in October 2005. In this novel readers learn of the history of Statesman and Lord Recluse, the most important figures in the CoH universe. It covers their origin stories, and how heroes first came to Paragon City.
A final novel, The Rikti War, is due to be published in 2006.
City of Heroes, the Collectible Card Game (CCG)
When City of Villains was launched, players who bought the Collectors Edition received a demo deck of the new CCG based around either Synapse or Mynx, as well as a Statesman card. Retail decks will be available soon. In this CCG players control a single hero and potentially a sidekick, and use the powers of that hero to duel another. It is a very fast-paced game designed to mimic PC gameplay closely. So far only hero decks are planned.
On November 12, 2004 it was reported that Marvel Comics, owners of famous comic book properties such as Spider-Man, The X-Men and Captain America were suing NCsoft and Cryptic Studios over City of Heroes.  They claimed that the character creation system enabled players to make superheroes that closely resembled their trademarked characters such as The Hulk and Wolverine. While true, Cryptic Studios specifically forbids these creations in its EULA. On December 14, 2005, it was reported that both sides settled all legal disputes.