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City of Dress-Up

Why City of Heroes' character creator remains MMOs' finest hour.

Of all the MMOs in all the world, there's no happier moment for me than logging into City of Heroes after a few months away. Not into the game world - just the character selection screen. Laid out for me there is my curious history with the game, a half-dozen angelic, demonic, mutated, comical creations all of my own. No-one else in the world sees the same screen, and that never fails to excite me.

There's Hoffa, an enormous goat-legged brute in a sharp suit- he's the Satanic resurrection of Jimmy Hoffa, the legendary gangster who disappeared without trace during the Kennedy presidency. There's Ramses 5000, who's Egyptian Pharaoh-as-Robocop. The Flaming Moth is essentially Emo-Batgirl, the inevitable, impossibly long-legged by-product of letting my girlfriend loose on the character creator. And then, there he is. The Entomologist. My one true love.

Alright, so your Level 70 WoW Night Elf means a lot to you. He represents all your time in the game, a visual and statistical incarnation of all your achievements in dungeoneering and ganking and auctioneering over your hundreds of game-hours. His armour is his battlescars, a sign for other players to respect or fear him. But he isn't you. He's just a template someone else made. The Entomologist is me. I made him. From his appearance to his powers to his nebulous personality and back to a thousand new appearance tweaks later on, Ento is my proudest MMO achievement.

A spot of in-game cash buys you new robo-legs whenever so you desire

He isn't some preset Night Elf Warrior wearing the same Epic Armour set as every other Level 70 Night Elf Warrior. He's unique. Whenever I see him again, I smile. Sometimes I even shout "wheeee!" If I'm honest, the main reason I'm writing this is because it's an excuse to show screenshots of him to thousands of people. But more on him later. First, to prove I'm not mad, a word from some esteemed EG colleagues about how much more their City of Heroes characters mean to them than any other.

"Warwych actually was a character I made up in a real-world RPG I ran years ago as an NPC," gushes Kieron Gillen. "She was an agreeable mentalist possessee lady, and I'd kind of done a few things with her since. When I logged in to City of Heroes that fateful days all those years ago, I fancied making a character with a strong theme rather than just screwing around - in a game with as many actual meaningful options as City of Heroes, I wanted to live up to it.

"So I did my best to make Warwych - the glowing red eyes, the pale skin, the feral, almost anorexic build. I had no idea that one of the COH NPCs was called Warwitch, and it annoys me as I look like a knock-off, a W0lverine. Even so, I love Warwych, because there's a whole story of her - how she moves, how she fights, what she does... all these little rules existing inside my head when I go. Where most of the characters I've played in any MMO have had no personality, Warwych is mine."

We're all excited about GTA IV and Prototype, but COH was out there doing unfettered superheroism in huge cityscapes long ago.

Gillen, a Blaster - a ranged combat specialist, the superheroic equivalent of a spell-caster - fancied himself the leader of our little supergroup. Or, at least, he shouted orders at us. What we actually did, however, was stand behind Andov, Jim Rossignol's mighty Tanker.

"Andov was a remarkably important creation for me," explains Jim. "It wasn't simply the time I spent tailoring his enormous leather-robot physique that mattered, it was also the fact that I'd had such entertaining adventures - adventures that tied into the game mechanics. Andov was utterly maxed for damage absorption, and being able to stand there and get battered by twenty werewolves while my team dealt with them from a distance was uniquely satisfying. Of course, that's exactly how a tank is meant to feel. COH's success is in making you feel like your role matters which, when it's about keeping everyone else alive, it really does. No other game character fills me with quite as much pride as my giant yellow hero."

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.