Blazing Pistols - Hands-On with City of Heroes' Lambda Sector

Having never played City of Heroes, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye got his first taste by playing side by side with an all-star dev team. How does the new Incarnate Trial of a seven-year old game stack up? Find out in our exclusive hands-on!


I'll admit it! I didn't play City of Heroes since its launch in April, 2004. I'm not proud of it. I was just preoccupied with other things in my life and to be fair I wasn't working in the MMOG space at that point either. As the years passed by and I eventually joined up with Ten Ton Hammer I still didn't play CoH. It wasn't that I was disinterested, it was more a matter of which games I was focusing on at any given time.

I knew that CoH had made its impact on the MMOG world. I knew it offered character customization to such diversity that it had been unmatched in any other game. I knew it empowered the casual gamer. I knew it was action-based combat that many found revolutionary. I knew it was the first game to provide "sidekicks" which was a way for high level players to group up with their lower level friends. I knew all this, but I still didn't get a taste of it.

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That all changed recently. With the recent global server merge in City of Heroes and the game's 7th anniversary last month I got the chance to try out the game for the first time. I was accompanied by the game's lead designer, Matt "Positron" Miller; Tia "Avatea" Paraurahi, Assistant Community Manager; Hosun Lee, Brand Manager and Nate Birkholz, Lead Producer. If there's a group of people that know CoH, this was them.

Having a unique IP like City of Heroes can be quite the boon. In short, there are no constraints, so the team is free to really have fun with the title, as long as the developers remain true to the story they're writing. As such, Paragon Studios has a "Design Bible" which contains all the collective writings over the past seven years. In times of doubt, the team turns to the community and checks the various wikis and websites that fans have created in order to make sure they don't contradict a past story or bit of lore. This makes for a seamless teaming up of both community and developer which is a rare, but happy relationship.

With several other super-hero themed titles on the market today, I asked the team what they felt makes City of Heroes stand out. The answer came quick and short: Seven years. Admittedly, with seven years of content, patches, expansions, updates and lore, it does stand to reason that the game could very well have a larger, more complete game world. But I still hadn't played it to try it out for myself.

So the team decided to remedy that. We all logged onto an array of laptops and booted up the game. To whet our appetite we were taken into the new Incarnate Trial, the Lambda sector.

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Now, I don't know how or where the Lambda sector fits into the lore or universe, so my experience was solely playing through it with a large team of players and experiencing my first dose of CoH. So for those of you reading this who have been CoHing it up hometown since launch, you'll have to forgive my newbishness for the rest of this column. (But hey, I bet you never got to play side by side with Positron, now have you? It was bound to be a sure win.)

After logging in I found myself a little overwhelmed. The UI was clean, but I had no idea what most of it meant. Lucky for me, I had a team of devs ready to show me everything I needed to know, so I was ready to go in short order.

Entering into the sector we had two teams - the eight of us at the table with laptops, and a team from QA that were connected through Ventrilo with Positron. The first phase was pretty straight forward. We needed to defeat enemies to activate a Security Team. Not a problem. I watched as my team destroyed the enemies. I did get a shot in near the end though, once I remembered that I needed to click a button for my dual pistols.

Marauder Proud of my accomplishment of firing a single round in the first phase, we moved onward and down an elevator. At this point I became very interested in what was happening. For this script the team needed to split in two, with one team destroying Weapons Caches in one part of the sector, while the other destroyed Containment Chambers in a different area. I was told the idea was to clear both areas in roughly the same amount of time. As it turned out, the QA team finished their goals somewhat quicker than we finished ours (go figure, as half of us were playing CoH for the very first time) but it didn't break anything.

After we met our goals, we were shown a cutscene with the entrance of a bad dude by the name of Marauder. It was quite clear this guy was going to be our end boss. I was ready for the challenge. I knew how to fire my dual pistols and was ready to take him on single-handedly. And if all else failed, I could always ask Positron for a rez.

Avatea informed me that we needed to take out the Reinforcement Portals surrounding the lobby, lest they be used by the evil Marauder to summon more aid. Since we had destroyed the Containment Chambers we had Molecular Acids which allowed us a temporary power to dissolve the portals. Yay for us! I destroyed one of the portals while Avatea and others destroyed the rest and the bulk of the remaining team started some destruction of their own - all over Marauder's head.

The rest of the fight was a cake-walk. Well, apart from the fact that Marauder had a bajillion hit points and a bad-ass AoE that would knock you into the boards like Chara on Pacioretty. He wouldn't stay still either, flying around the arena like a mosquito on meth. I stood in awe as I watched my allies fly around after him. I never did find the "fly" button, but you'll be pleased to know that I was able to finally catch up to him, whip out my dual pistols and shoot him in the face. Marauder fell, and victory was ours.

Clearly, I was the star of the team as Avatea and Positron said "good job." They weren't looking at me when they said it, but I knew it was meant for me and my dual pistols.

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So how was the Lambda sector? It was a lot of fun. I was impressed that the folks at Paragon were able to forge such a co-operative-dependent instance that any team would have fun doing. I'm sure it would offer sufficient challenge to the thrill-seekers as well. Obviously not everyone will have me on their team, but I'm sure there is enough talent in the game somewhere to make up for that handicap.

Overall I was able to understand why this seven year old game still has a loyal following. Even by today's standards the mechanics and presentation are more than pleasing. It was a rich, team-spirited run, and one I'd gladly repeat on my own with my other friends.

Well done, Paragon.

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