7 Things City of Heroes did Wrong

No, my evil clone did not take over the blog.  A colleague recently prompted me with a challenge.  “Anybody can write about all the great things that City of Heroes had, let’s see you talk about all the things they got wrong.” Given my extensive biases for the game, which should be very well known by now, this was no easy task.  The list below represents my results of this particular mental challenge, but let’s here what you have to say in the comments below.  It would be interesting to see what others felt were the biggest mistakes City of Heroes made in it’s 9 years of life.



Story pacing was a real problem for the original game, particularly with task forces (the CoH equivalent of dungeons and raids).  Anyone who had been through the original Positron’s Task Force understood how long some of these things could be.  According to the Paragon Wiki it contained 21 distinct missions in it, including the fed ex and “go talk to person x” missions.  It was a brutal slog and could take a team multiple nights to complete.  And if you weren’t in the same super group your odds of finishing it were extremely low.  Let’s also remember, in the early years of the game if you logged out or were innocently disconnected from the servers, you were bumped from the Task Force and the TF leader could NOT invite you back or get a replacement.  Task Forces were locked into the specific number of players you started with.  This gave the early task forces huge time commitments that even some hardcore players had difficulty in managing.

It took the game devs years before they started trying to shorten the task forces down to anything that resembled a reasonable time frame.  The early assumptions devs made about players and their willingness to meet back up on different nights to finish these long task forces proved to be faulty.  Eventually pacing improved and disconnects wouldn’t auto-kick you from the Task Force any more.  But everyone knew even at the end that starting one was a commitment and not always an easy one to complete.


If you’ve seen one warehouse, you’ve seen them all.  Nearly everyone who ever played the game was familiar with this complaint.  Despite the massive number of maps created to play in the game,  the devs had a limited number of tile sets available to work with.  The sense of doing the same map over and over again just with slightly different walls and hallways was ever present.  Things improved over time as well as getting better in the later levels, but the lack of different tile sets and the frequency with which random missions would throw you into the same caves/offices/warehouses was a major cause for frustration for early and mid level gamers.


This is a tricky one.  There are both bad and good things about the CoH economy.  The best that can be said about it was summarized in a tweet from Talen Lee, a regular poster to the CoH forums and a vocal proponent of the game.  They tweeted:

City of Heroes had the only objectivist economy I could imagine, where EVERYTHING was a luxury good, and EVERYONE a primary producer.

And Talen Lee was right.  All items that were tradable/sellable in the economy were also droppable from combat and mission rewards.  Thus, everyone had the potential to be a producer of goods.  And since everything that was droppable for a character was also optional, no single item in the game could make or break a character.  Also, City of Heroes employed anonymous bidding on it’s auctions, and as a result had one of the most liquid economies in any game.

That being said there were still major issues with the economy.  Inflation was the problem to beat and it set up a HUGE barrier to entry for newbies or just people who didn’t engage in the economy a great deal.  It would often take massive influxes of influence (the games currency) to get into a market and play with the marketeers who had their own little mini game buying and selling all the stuff.  And while anyone could actually buy their way into the market with enough time and effort, casuals were hard-pressed to get anything of real value out of the market without help.  (Thank you Eeek!  You helped me outfit my main with the best that money could buy!  I’ll never forget you, wherever you’ve gone!)

But, other economic hardships existed outside of the primary market too.  Alternate currencies for things like Super Group (guild) upkeep, and certain other things that would have been called reputation in other games had their own issues.  Super group currency was an especially insidious problem when first introduced.  It set up a system where people invited others into super groups, specifically for their ability to earn them this currency.  While many claimed there was never any evidence of players being misused this way, the SG forums ran rampant with stories of guilds that had invited people for certain level ranges and then kicked them off inexplicably when the SG prestige bonuses they earned stopped applying and the amount of the currency they were providing dropped.  The devs never addressed this a tall.  They even left the ridiculous exchange rate between SG currency and Influence in the game to the very end, thus eliminating one possible drain on all the excess influence that ran rampant in the game.

Game balance

The best example of this issue with the game came at the very end.  As soon as the news that the game was being shut down was announced, a forum user posted the following one line to the consternation (and hilarity) of many:

Told ya, they’d never fix blasters.

It was a humorous and brutal take down of one of the major problems the devs struggled with in the game for years.  Balancing the classes and powers was a huge challenge.  Problems ranged from structural issues caused by poor math skills, to the decisions on AoE, to things like a million typos (i.e. bugs) in the powers spreadsheet.  Many early adopters of the game railed against major changes to defense stats and mez effects after the first year, brought about as a result of said poor math skills.  Maximum number of target caps were also introduced after the game launched and completely altered the way the game played.  Some thought this was the death knell of the game, despite the fact that there was never any evidence to this theory (the game did go on for 8 more years after these changes were enacted).  But with every new content release (and there were 2 to 3 every year), a major fix or patch to the way certain powers and or classes behaved was a staple.  Blasters, my primary class and the subject of the forum post above, still had major issues that the final issue of the game was attempting to address.  This was after the class had already undergone 2 previous major revamps in how it operated to try and address the problems that a “glass cannon” creates in an MMO.  We’ll never know if those changes would have fixed them or not.  But game balance was a fight the devs struggled with throughout the life of the game.

Signature Heroes and Villains

Uhh, why is everyone staring at....Oh, nevermind.

Uhh, why is everyone staring at? Oh, nevermind.

One of the biggest complaints about the game invloved the signature heroes and villains of Paragon City.  Many complained that they felt like second stringers to the main heroes.  While some never felt this was a major issue, there was something splintering my brain about it that kept coming back up over and over….

Statesman’s Pal.

That’s right.  Remember that time you fought your way through hordes of bad guys and took on and took out the major arch villains that even the main hero of the game couldn’t defeat?  Do you remember how at the end of the run, you got to meet that grateful hero who promptly gave you a badge signifying your status to him as Jimmy Olsen.  You weren’t his rescuer, his savior, or even his peer.  You were his pal.  Make sure to get my good side, Jimmy.  No, your name is Jimmy, trust me.

Other signature heroes and villains had story arcs that just compounded the issue.  So many of them were so wrapped up in what was going on with each other that they forgot we were there sometimes.  It was a problem the devs acknowledged but couldn’t seem to figure out how to fix.  While no one would argue that some agency was needed for the devs to progress the story forward, this remained one of the issues that continually grated against players that the devs couldn’t quite get their brains around.

Gender Diversity

To be fair, the source material that the devs were deriving for their inspiration was often times even worse than anything the devs ever pulled.  Still, remember that picture of the Freedom Phalanx?

Look! 7 super heroes and a lingerie model. Ouuu Bonus! It’s Christmas season!

In the devs defense, they did get better with this, and were arguably ahead of the curve that comics is trying to ride now with being more inclusive of gender and less catering to a specific audience.  But it was eiasest to see where this struggle fell apart with costume sets.

Ahhh costume sets.  Arguably, the bread and butter of the game.  You could dress in style and make yourself look like anything you wanted to.  Unless of course you were playing a girl.  Then you discovered that you could not be anything you wanted.  At least not as well as the men.  There were lots of bad examples of this in the game but the easiest one to pick on was when they released the Gunslinger costume set.  If your character was male, you could be a cool western themed cowboy, with a couple of styles of hats, coats, pants, and boots.  If your character was female, you could be a whore.

2011-10-31 12:38:58

We can’t show the base layer for the female version of this costume set. This is an age appropriate blog!

There was no in-between on this, and for some brain dead reason, the devs released this set thinking there couldn’t possibly be any problems with it.  There was a vocal and awesome faction of the forums that took the devs to task on this and got a few of the male pieces moved to the female avatar, but this wasn’t the first or last problem with costume sets.  While they do get points for doing better on this, as I mentioned earlier, it was only through the efforts of their vocal fan base that pushed them to improve the situation.

Instance Reset

Finally, there’s the infuriating situation of instance resets.  One of the nice things about open world games is you can run around and if you need to leave, or get called away, or if you get disconnected, then your character would pretty much be exactly where you left them when you signed back on.  While dungeon info wasn’t saved and the dungeon would reset, the times you were in a dungeon compared to just running around in the over world were reasonably rare.  Unless you were playing City of Heroes.

Because, everything was done in instances, you were in them a lot more.  And getting caught in an instance and having to leave either by disconnect, or real life calling you away, meant that the instance would reset itself upon your return.  Sometimes this wasn’t so big a deal but if the instance was particularly long, it could mean nights of being forced to replay the same game over and over in an attempt to finish it.  Some ended up quitting because they would often be forced to quit in the middle of an instance and have no alternative to escape the mission otherwise (auto-complete and mission skipping didn’t come along until much later in the game).  This led to a lot of frustration and was a pretty bad design decision for such a heavily instanced MMO.  And by the time it was finally fixed, the damage had already been done.


Well, that was tough.  What’s interesting about this list is while it’s hardly a complete list of all the issues present in the game, few of the topics listed here are issues for just City of Heroes.  Most other MMO’s also suffer these same problems to some extent and some are a lot worse.  Pointing out that the devs eventually put in an option to auto-complete and skip missions you didn’t want to do could arguably go back on the good list, but let’s not revisit that right now.  But, what do you think?  What did you really hate about City of Heroes?  Speak up, below.

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4 Responses to 7 Things City of Heroes did Wrong

  1. Pingback: Link Dead Radio: Blizzard Blunders and Community Conversations | Healing the masses

  2. Pingback: 2.5 Things City of Heroes Did Wrong | Why I Game

  3. John says:

    The lower-level missions were repetitive and pointless. They almost lost me when I was a newbie and kept on getting unoriginal “hit the Trolls” missions that never amounted to anything. They seemed to think that I should have to wait for all the good stuff.

  4. John says:

    Eventually they did add more varied low-level stuff.

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