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Paragon Studios
MMORPG | Genre:Super-Hero | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 04/27/04)  | Pub:NCSoft
PVP:Yes | Distribution:Download,Retail | Retail Price:n/a | Pay Type:Free | Monthly Fee:n/a
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City of Heroes General Article: Superhero Face Off: DCUO V CoH

By Adam Tingle on September 29, 2011

In the latest, and hopefully last, Rocky film, Sylvester Stallone slurred his way through a speech about “it’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up” and in an effort to emulate those words, here at MMORPG.com we are readily throwing City of Heroes back into the fight. A few weeks ago, Cryptic’s first MMORPG (now run by Paragon Studios) managed to stand toe-to-toe with their newest creation, Champions Online, finally settling for a respectable draw, but this week we are baying for blood, cuts, and knock outs.

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Does City of Heroes have eyes tiger enough to take on this week’s challenge? Will it go the distance, or will it fall to the ground whimpering and whispering “I see three of ‘em out there!” As always, gather around your monitors, chant “fight” in a low hum, and prepare yourself for mortal combat. Let’s get ready to rumble!

In the Blue Corner – City of Heroes may be a veteran of the genre but its best years are still certainly to come. Boasting complexity and depth, and with half a decade’s expansions and content patches to boot, it is hard to envision any MMO taking this superpowered piece of software down. It is fresh from a draw, but can a young contender really hope to beat this journeyman fighter?

In the Red Corner – It is new, it is licensed, and it bares the mark of the MMORPG industry’s Galactic Empire: Sony Online Entertainment. Can this young upstart muster the strength to overpower its influential forbearer? Beautiful graphics, engrossing plotlines, and Batman surely think so. Now without further ado, I give you City of Heroes vs. DC Universe Online – let’s get ready to rumble!

Aesthetics

Time is a bitch, whether it is the wrinkles of age appearing on a once beautiful face, or the subtle realisation that your testicles are now so low that they look like old forgotten shopping, just simply hanging indefinitely. While the developers have fought an endless battle to keep City of Heroes looking fresh, from new water effects to better resolution optimization, it is a lost cause. As time marches on, Paragon Studios' once proud piece of software is looking more and more like a trophy wife – each day another millimetre of makeup is applied, and each day the lipstick gets that little bit more gaudy – and yet every so often you catch this game in a certain light; you see the twinkling eyes of a once stunning starlet, and then it fades away. Sad, but time catches us all – superpowered are not.

Look at those youthful bastards – what with their effortless looks and their limitless possibilities for fashion. DC Universe Online is the new kid on the block, and as such it wears its hair in that new and cutting edge way. SOE have filled this game with every new trick and flourish, and whether you’re a PC or PS3 user, you can’t help but marvel (no pun intended) at its beauty. Add to this a wonderful license that has been crying out to be converted into an MMO, and you have a gorgeous recreation of Gotham and Metro City.

Gameplay

If you are looking for an interesting, tightly packaged, and almost decade old romp through superhero antics, you will not have to look further than City of Heroes. The game is as polished as its development cycle would imply, and given its rather long teeth, things still feel surprisingly fresh. With villain upgrades and various power, abilities, and nuisances to revel in, there is much to enjoy within NCSoft’s MMO goliath.

But does age catch up with this title? Well, as mentioned last week, sadly it does. The graphical engine, while holding enough metaphorical coats of paint to make the walls wail in submission, is looked a tad tired, and the overall “fun” factor of things is beginning to wane. While things are infinitely complex and more engrossing than its peers, the sheer ability to feel super powered and mutated just lacks that “kapow” of newer games. The combat feels a little stilted and abilities just take that little bit too long to power up, and given that this was a game released in the same intake of breath as WoW, it feels like an odd relic in today’s standards. Engrossing, unique, and very compelling, but lacks that fun factor and refinement of newer games.

In a genre that is almost 2 decades in age, it seems hard to see how developers can really reinvent the wheel – and SOE haven’t, they just added sparkling graphics, a brilliantly imaginative license, and some kick-ass combinations. DC Universe Online is a game that will step on the toes of traditional sensibilities, but at the same time will endear a brand new audience with its arcade-like approach to proceedings. It is a brash, inventive and visceral experience – clicks and keyboard stamps use skills above and beyond the boredom of hotbar trappings, and at the same time manage to deliver the malaise driven slouch gameplay we have all come to know and love.

Another interesting facet of this title is in its more story influenced focus – here the developers have the scope and lore for fantastic and tantalising stories: from Lex Luthor to The Joker, most MMORPG fans know and love these characters, and to say they are a match made in heaven for this genre is an understatement. SOE have made the most of this and as such we get engrossing quests which keep the player above and beyond the call of grind and gratuitous gear grabbing. It is not all positive however, the game can lack a certain depth and feels a little on the easy side, but in terms of pure enjoyment, it pulls the ice-powered punches.  And so it might not be anything entirely new, but it brings a fresh, new, and entertaining spin on the occasion, and this is just what the genre needs.

DC Universe Online Wins

Innovation

What can we say for City of Heroes that hasn’t already been said? It is one of the most unique and engrossing games in this genre. The sheer template for every superhero title since its inception has been copied, pasted, and slightly tinkered with, but it remains firmly in the CoH mould. With the character creation tools, the idea of free, regular content, and an expansion pack that as good as doubles the titles appeal, you cannot argue that this MMO is one of the most innovative and inventive out there. Everything else is merely a pretender, and like your once sexual promiscuous grandparents – there ‘aint nothing you can do, that it hasn’t seen or done, many years earlier.

DC Universe Online brings a much needed dose of chaos to the superhero furniture, it is wild, crazy, and truly in the vein of the comic publisher that has spawned it. Where we trade off an element of complexity, we gain a brilliantly vivid and visceral portrayal of ink and bubble captioned violence. With this said however, the great majority of this games innovations are truly refinements or slight variations of its forbearer, and in reality, the genre owes so much more to the above game. With this said however, DCUO is one of the first games to truly go for both the traditional PC platform, and the console in the form of the PS3. I for one am giddy at the idea of not having to upgrade graphics cards or RAM when opting for a new virtual addiction, and so with all things considered...

DRAW!

Polish

Age may make us naught but wrinkling messes, sagging in all the wrong ways, but in an effort to counteract the depressions of life, we are given an extra nudge to carry on. City of Heroes may not be the looker it once was, but it packs all of the polish and refinement you could ask of such a game. Boasting years of updates, patches, fixes, and balances, any player looking for that ultimate experience of sparkle will surely get it here.

Ah the foolhardy of youth! DC Universe Online is still relatively young, and as such is suffering from growing pains. From idiotically placed “paid for” DLC to issues with balancing and endgame content, this game’s better days are still ahead of it. MMORPGs are like fine wines, the more time left to mature usually is for the better and for the 2-7 age range, and then we have the golden years. SOE Austin’s title is not quite there yet, but give it time.

City of Heroes Wins

Value

If you were to tell me five years ago that I would whole heartedly accept the advent of digital purchases, I would most likely spit in your face, mutter something about “my beloved boxes” and shuffle away, half in tears, half fitting with rage. Now with services such as Steam, Impulse, and D2D, players can get a game such as City of Heroes for a bargain price (even cheaper with a sale) and with so much content on offer it is hard to resist. With this said, the game still boasts the regular monthly subscription, for now, but none can argue that for a handful of bucks, this game will surely factor high in value. (Ed Note: Since the writing of the article, CoH has gone F2P with "Freedom".)

Down. Loadable. Content. Was there ever a more poisonous, greed-driven, and disgusting thing ever hurtled into the faces of gamers everywhere? If the Xbox gave us ease of online multiplayer, it also opened the Pandora’s Box in terms of selling consumers 70% of a product and the remaining 30% for triple the price. With a subscription fee, and DLC to opt for (for those who weren’t subbed when it dropped), DCUO isn’t making any friends as it stands.  But all that is bound to change when the game goes F2P in October, so long as it follows the friendly EQ2: Extended model.  Still, I’m willing to bet the content ratio on COH v. DCUO is in the former’s favour still for some time.

City of Heroes Wins

Social

The idea of City of Heroes has changed somewhat from initial focus. Groups can now be found with higher players, and now the game feels more inclusion and active. Player run events also help things run smoothly, and as with every MMO, a guild invite is only a click away. City of Heroes suffers from age in many ways, but in terms of social interaction, it does better than most. This is an active and friendly game, and the community serve it very well.

DC Universe Online was starting to look a tad worrying. Server populations were low, open groups were fleeting, and social opportunities seemed to be retreating into the long grass. In recent times however, we have seen the launch of the Mega Servers, and from what time we have spent with them, things are on the up. With more players populating the same areas, the game has the same flush of activity that it did when first launched, and as such things are looking good. If the title can maintain this however, time will only tell, but for now it is enjoyable – but like most newer MMOs there seems little community spirit to be had.  The F2P version should help, but the social nature of CoH wins out here.

City of Heroes Wins

And the Winner is!

In what has been a tough fight, it is now up to the scoreboards to decide the outcome. Coming in with 4 categories in its favour is the amiable City of Heroes – and coming in with 3 is the impressive but not quite-there-yet DCUO! We have a winner today folks, and it is the industry veteran. The old fellow has taken on the young upstart, and won out. It is just like Rocky 5.

Comparing both DCUO and CoH has been a difficult task. Both games are brilliantly fun, and equally worthy of your time. City of Heroes builds from a platform of great innovation and depth, while DCUO brings forth a new brand of entertaining and accessible (and not in a bad way) MMO’ing, albeit with the shortcomings of any newly launched game. Given enough time I have no doubts that DCUO will have the mettle to take on any game within the genre, but just of this moment its growing pains detract from the experience as a whole. Firmly one of MMORPG.com’s favourites and in every way a brilliant game on its own merits, but CoH is just better with the age and experience on its side – but hey, when the bar is as high as Paragon’s first attempt, who can be faulted for coming that tiny bit below it on first attempt?

City of Heroes has won today, but both games are worth your time and attention. In a genre that sticks so doggedly to magical, medieval fantasy, it is fantastic to see three superhero games which are all interesting in their own right. Check ‘em out.

Adam Tingle / Freelancer for MMORPG.com, 360 Gamer Magazine, and Play Magazine.

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