Back during the beta for City of Heroes (CoH) I wrote a preview. Now that a few months have passed since the game's release I figured I should follow it up with an official Review. If you haven't read the Preview yet I suggest you start with that because I'll basically be continuing from and adding to what I said there. For the most part not much has changed with CoH since I wrote that preview. There's only been one real update where content was added to the game. So if what I say here sounds a little repetitive of the preview in some places, bear with me. Probably about the biggest difference between the Preview and this Review will be that this isn't beta anymore, I don't have the NDA to worry about; now the gloves are off! ;)
As I stated before, the graphics in City of Heroes are down right amazing. They are very beautifully done and definitely give the grand-scale feeling you'd expect from a Superhero world. Probably the biggest complaint I've read about the game world is "it's all one city, there's no variety, no forests and mountains etc". Well let's think about this for a minute, most of your comic book superheroes had a city where they pretty much stuck to. Batman had Gotham, Spiderman had NYC, etc. And I personally thing that Paragon City is done well enough that this isn't an issue. Yes, technically the entire game world is once city, but there is more than enough variety in the different zones of the city.
Environment graphics are quite good for the most part, with some especially high points (go check out the reflection in the marble floor of City Hall). Outside scenery is enjoyable and suitably monumental, while maintaining a good scale. View distance fogging is handled well, with zone boundary textures blending well with in-zone textures for a smooth, unified feel; you feel constrained by the force fields, not by the "map." Player models are well done, with the various costume elements made such that although elements such as your shirt, tights, and robotic boots may clash in theme, pattern, or color, it still all fits seamlessly together. When you see a hero dressed poorly, you think it is his taste, not his tailor. Player models are easily distinguished from a distance because they render at a greater distances than villains, which is great when you need to find other players, especially in the foggier zones. Combat graphics are good, although a few could possibly use some tweaking. At the higher settings in normal scale battles they cause no lag on my average machine.
While the update technically hasn't done anything to change the actual graphics of the game, a couple new zones were added to Paragon City. But then again, there's not a whole lot that could have been improved about the graphics, and you know the saying, don't fix what isn't broken. Overall you just really can't go wrong with the graphics in City of Heroes.
The sound and music in City of Heroes is also very well done. Background music is cued by zone changes. Each zone has its own different music. After you zone into a new zone the music plays for a short period then fades away. The only constant sound is an entirely pleasant track of urban white noise such as cars, the occasional honk or squeaky brakes, and the crinkle of litter as it blows past. While just fine for the most part, a few of the combat sound effects could use a bit of work. The looping sound some of the toggle effects such as buffs generate can get on your nerves after a while. It has always been my personal opinion that the best music/sound in a mmorpg is the kind that you forget is there. The kind that does its job without you really noticing it. City of Heroes pulls this off almost flawlessly, providing a very effective yet completely unobtrusive world of sound.
You will encounter relatively little true roleplaying, in the traditional sense, during a normal day playing CoH. And it's not really so much a lack of role-playing but merely a different form of role-playing. City of Heroes takes place in a fairly modern setting, and the characters in the game are more or less everyday people. You're not going to have your "role-playing lingo" that you find in so many fantasy based games where people throw some "Thee"s and "Thou"s into their everyday language and call it role-playing. In most of those games one of the biggest rules on the RP serves and for role-playing in general is the lack of any out of character conversations. This problem doesn't exist with City of Heroes because two heroes might very well talk about last night's basketball game. Due to the setting of the world all of the things which people would normally refrain from talking about ingame in order to stay in character are perfectly acceptable.
The comic book culture is already so soaked in pop culture and vice versa that the lines between blur more easily; Period clothing, behavior, vernacular... all out the window when it comes to comic books, so the lack of widespread roleplaying in the traditional sense can be more easily shrugged off. One thing that I have seen more devoted roleplayers take advantage of is a feature in the recent update adding extra costume slots that hold extra costumes. Want to have an alter ego? Fill one costume slot with your superhero outfit and another with a navy blue suit and tie. (Or skirt and blouse as the case may be). That old woman is being mugged! Run around the corner and become Supergreatguy in pink tights and save the day! One thing I have noticed much more in CoH than elsewhere - people taking powers because they fit with their hero theme, or because they sound extremely cool, like "Opens a portal and pulls in a heavy object that you can then levitate and propel at foes." or "Throws dozens of spines in a wide arc, impaling a group of foes." You see this especially among travel powers; Flight may be slowest but it's just so dang fun! CoH has done well with mostly avoiding unviable character builds. Even if you do get a worse power or make a bad choice, it's probably still useful and probably still fun, in contrast to other games out there. Certainly there are still "gimps" as well as the players who freely apply the label to others, but when it gets down to it there are no truly bad builds.
The tools to facilitate Role-Playing are definitely present in City of Heroes, even more so now after the recent update. With extra costume slots and a Tailor ingame to change your costume it is definitely easy to role-play in CoH. Now they just need to take the alter ego thing one step further and let you change your displayed name while in your "everyday clothes". So while in costume other players would see you as "Supergreatguy", but in your suit and tie they would see you as "Bob Jones".