Remembering City of Heroes Amidst New Pain

City of Heroes, the MMO that ran from April 2004 until it was shutdown in Novermber 2012, was seriously one of my favourite games of all time. It was, in many ways, a perfect game for me and I have yet to find anything that is capable of filling the void that it left behind. Now, old scabs are being peeled away by the upcoming Master X Master beta, which has chosen to include one of CoH’s signature characters.

When I first started playing City of Heroes, I had virtually no experience with MMOs. I started playing and for the most part soloed everything, as I didn’t want to get involved with a team unless I absolutely had to. My ideal superhero at the time was one who could face all opponents alone, without the need of a team. Sure, I enjoyed team comics, like the X-Men, but I preferred solo heroes like Spider-Man or Superman.

Some time after the release of the game, I started working nights. My wife would be left at home with our elder son who was still a toddler, so she would sometimes go online to pass the time. One night, she discovered CoH and started playing. I was very surprised to discover her character one day as I sat down to play, and asked her about it. She was enjoying it about as much as I was and unlike me, she had started teaming with a small group on a regular basis. I was fortunate enough a short time later to switch from working nights back to days and we started playing together after I picked up a second computer. Having your wife or girlfriend join you in gaming (especially so enthusiastically) is pretty much every male geek’s fantasy. I was thrilled to play together.

My wife introduced me to the core of what would become Our Group, playing together on a nightly basis for a number of years. We started as four (the Fab Four, as we came to be known). There was me, my wife, a guy from Toronto (Polar Star) and a woman from Chicago, I believe (Lady Ember). In short order we were joined by another player from Alabama (Switch). This group stayed pretty regular, but several others joined us, coming and going– sometimes repeatedly– over the years. My wife’s work and a return to school eventually took her away from the game, but I played up until the final day, when the servers were shut down.

I don’t think I have ever invested myself in any game as much as I did with City of Heroes. I spent countless hours (and dollars) playing. I made dozens of characters, almost always with a fairly extensive backstory. Most of them were even tied together in some way. The game rekindled my love of writing. I wrote short posts about my characters on a regular basis, which eventually culminated in at least two novellas featuring the heroes that I and my teammates had created. I have hundreds and hundreds of pages of fiction involving these characters.

The people I played with were an amazing bunch. I totally loved getting together with them each night to save Paragon City, over an over again. I miss them horribly. The rest of the community was also pretty amazing. I have never seen a game with so many honestly helpful and kind players. Perhaps the act of playing superheroes brought out the best in people, or maybe the game simply attracted that type of person from the beginning. I am not sure. All I know is that there were a tremendous number of warm, genuinely kind people playing that game. Fortunately, that community has largely continued in various Facebook groups. Most excitingly, perhaps, is that Paragon City has somewhat returned in the form of what some call a “virtual chat room,” allowing former players to create a character and log in to several of the city’s zones, where they can interact and chat, but no longer fight crime.

The intense love for and loyalty to CoH has led various groups to start work on different successor projects that aim to recapture the feel of the original. At this moment there are at least four:  Valiance Online, Heroes and Villains, City of Titans, and now Ship of Heroes.  I expect to try them all, though I am not certain that any of them will manage to capture the magic of the game I loved. This was a game that could be (and was!) played by little kids, their older siblings, parents and grandparents. My son had just started playing when the game was shut down. He was 9 at the time. I knew players in their teens, 20’s, 30’s… The oldest player I met was, I believe 68. There was also a large female demographic in the game.

I never understood why City of Heroes was shut down. Simply put, there was no reason to close the game. It still had plenty of subscribers considering how old it was, and they were fiercely loyal. The game was even managing to attract some new players and was making a profit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was already well under construction, kicking off a renewed interest in all things related to comic books and superheroes. The game could have easily parlayed that into greater success and, many thought, a sequel. Unfortunately, CoH was shut down with very little advance notice and virtually no explanation, leading to sadness, frustration and outright anger on the part of fans that continues to this day.

Just how much anger still lingers is evident with the announcement of NCSoft’s Master X Master (what kind of name is that?) including City of Heroes’s Statesman as a playable character. His bio on their info page indicates that this is a continuation of the storyline that was developing in CoH… the storyline that we didn’t get to participate in.

I have seen several dozen shares on Facebook about Statesman’s “return” and several hundred vitriolic comments from former players, many of which I won’t repeat here due to language… The general consensus, however, is that NCSoft is spitting in the faces of former fans.

Personally, I had a brief hope that given the continued love for CoH exhibited by fans and the continued success of various superhero franchises in other media, that perhaps NCSoft was testing to see if fans were truly willing to part with their money to have their beloved Paragon City back again. Most others that I have spoken to, however, consider it to be a move made to lock up the IP for several more years, ensuring that fans will never gain access to it. Many are calling for all former fans to sign up for MXM beta access in order to fill up the server with countless Statesmen all chanting “bring back CoH.” I love that idea, but I know it will accomplish nothing.

I have sadly come to accept that I will never walk the streets (or fly the skies) of Paragon City again, ouside of my own imaginings or continued stories.

I’m hoping to play one of the successor projects soon. I know it will likely pale beside memories of City Of Heroes, but at least it will be something. I doubt that I will see the majority of my old gaming group again, but I’m hoping that I will see a couple of them and maybe find some new friends.

Nothing will replace City of Heroes. I won’t ever forget all the fun that it gave me. I also won’t forget what NCSoft took away for no reason.

Will you be playing any of the successor games? Which ones? If you plan on playing more than one, which one interests you the most, and why? What is your favourite Paragon City memory?

I’d love to hear from you.


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