What 'City of Heroes' Means To Me

city of heroes egyptian scarab
The only photo I have of Egyptian Scarab Newsweek

In early April, a secret fan-made server for City of Heroes was unearthed by a YouTuber after getting shut down in 2012. Fans of NCSoft's superhero MMO were surprised, shocked and hurt that their favorite game was available — if you knew the right people. Since the game's closure, heroes of Paragon City and villains of the Rogue Isles have gathered in forums and Facebook groups to discuss the world they once inhabited. Here's my story.

Finding My Hero

The year was 2005. "Don't Cha" by the PussyCat Dolls blasted out of fluorescent iPods and North Face jackets filled the cubbies of my Long Island middle school. One cold afternoon, while waiting for the bus, I overheard a conversation between two kids from my class. "Have you heard of this game where you get to be a superhero, City of something?" said one while playing Snake on his Palm Pilot. All I ever wanted to be was a hero; able to fly away or teleport away from my small town and be something great.

Heading down to the local GameStop, I found a CD copy of City of Heroes. My dad wasn't excited about the idea of spending 15 bucks a month on a game subscription, but eventually he caved. After downloading, updating and patching CoH on my rust bucket of a Dell, I made my first hero. Egyptian Scarab (a name I still don't understand) was an ice-wielding, energy blaster who wore a bright turquoise Pharaoh headdress and tights. His backstory involved an evil Nazi group called the Fifth Column experimenting on his DNA, causing him to be able to speed up or slow down molecules.

I spent every free moment I had with Egyptian Scarab over the next year. My parents tried moving the computer to the unheated basement in an attempt to limit my play to an hour a day. Instead, I got home before my mother and played with the heaviest jacket I could find. My fingers froze earning badges, collecting new costumes, slaying alien Rikti and hitting the level cap of 50.

The only remaining photo I have of him is this Christmas skin I would wear on gentile holidays.

After a few months, City of Villains was released, allowing players a chance to try a dastardly persona. Mine was Robo-Shredder, a mechanical werewolf who could control robot underlings and shoot dark miasma. I spent just as much with my hound dog, skipping school to do special missions called Strike Forces that could take upwards of eight hours to play. My hypochondriac of a mother would let me stay home if I was "feeling out of it," a state of mind I still haven't left behind.

Egyptian Scarab and Robo-Shredder were quickly joined by a host of other characters, including my sister's main, Miss Mischief. She had also fallen in love with CoH, and sharing one account soon became an impossibility. By the end of our love affair with the game, my dad was paying for two subscriptions and throwing down for exclusive costume package microtransactions.

As the years went on, my sister and I started to move away from City of Heroes. New updates, like Mission Architect, allowed users to create their own missions I wouldn't play because they weren't "canon" in the lore. When the game went free-to-play in 2011, I knew my fun was over. At this point, I had left high school and had to figure out how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. The time for capes and cowls had past.

Returning to Atlas City

When City of Heroes closed in August of 2012, I didn't even know about it. When I found out months later, I was genuinely devastated. It felt like a relative had been taken off life support and I wasn't there to hold their hand. That might seem ridiculous, but CoH was my adolescent life. I didn't have many real-world friends, being a genuine weirdo in a small-town private school. The only way I could escape was to take control of my alter-egos. In Atlas Park, Astoria or Steel Canyon, I either helped the Superman-like Statesman keep the streets free of crime, or caused more trouble to make the arachnid crime boss Lord Recluse more happy.

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The original log-in page brings back memories Newsweek

"Maybe if I had played more or spent more money, CoH would have survived," I would think as I tried to go to sleep at night. I've now realized that NCSoft was going to close the studio regardless, but sometimes the feeling comes back.

When the new server shenanigans started to pop up, a few well-meaning individuals decided to open them up to the public. I was ecstatic, downloading the client and booting up CoH the first chance I got. Hearing the loading screen music and seeing the entire cast the looking like they did 14 years ago put tears in my eyes. Loading into Atlas Park with a random character, I realized that I would never be able to recapture the magic. After about 20 minutes of slaying gang members, I uninstalled the launcher.

City of Heroes, to me, isn't a game that I can relive. I've grown so much since those days of middle school torture, and I no longer need to escape into an alter-ego. I'm happier with myself now and don't need Egyptian Scarab or Robo-Shredder to feel fulfilled. (Also, the dated graphics and tedious gameplay has a hard time holding up.)

For those heroes that are headed back home, good luck in the fight. But for me, I'm just going to stick with Spider-Man.