New Player's Guide to Life Outside the AE Building
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- 1 Powers and Enhancements
- 2 Buying, Selling, Being Poor, and the Auction Houses
- 3 Where Should I Be, and How Do I Get There?
- 4 What’s Different About the “Real” Game
- 5 Help! I’m Dying a Lot!
- 6 Why am I Leveling So Slowly?
- 7 Skills to Pick Up
- 8 What's Next?
- 9 Other Hints and Tips
Are you a relative newcomer to City of Heroes / City of Villains, who has reached level 40 or 50 in less than two weeks of play, or level 20 in just one or two missions? Did you primarily level up by "farming" or "power-leveling"? Have you mostly fought Rikti communications officers (“Meow farms”), Rikti Mothership mobs (“Rikti dolls”), Hamidon mitos (“bubbles”), or other low-risk, high-reward enemies? Alternatively, did you have a friend power-level a character for you? If so, this is the guide for you.
This guide is intended to help you get acquainted with the game -- to learn at least some of the things that you would normally have learned while leveling up the normal way. Whether you leveled fast up to 20, 30, 40, or 50, you'll have skipped over things you would have encountered normally over the course of play. You've missed content, an understanding of typical tactics, and lots of other bits of trivia. This guide aims to bridge that gap.
The first portion of this guide is devoted to information that will be of use regardless of your current level. The remainder guide is divided into three sections, based on your current level -- up to level 40, level 40-49, and level 50 -- organized in reverse order, from 50 and down. It should be useful both blueside (heroes) and redside (villains). I use the term "City of Heroes" and abbreviation CoH is used to indicate both heroes and villains; if I'm being specific to one side, I say blueside or redside.
(The eternal cycle of MMOs: I wrote A New Player’s Guide to the Post-Winter-Lord World back in 2004, the last time the population got mass-power-leveled. The forum copy has been purged, although it’s still linked to guide-of-guides, but the Coldfront copy is still available; while some of it is now out of date, it may be interesting reading still.)
Powers and Enhancements
The first thing you'll want to deal with is looking at your build: Looking at your build (your power choices and slots), slotting enhancements, and figuring out whether you've screwed up your build and need to fix it.
Where are My Powers?
Start off with taking a look at your powers. Do you know what all of your powers are, and what they do? If not, type /manage to look at the current state of your character.
Do all of your powers show up on your powers tray? If not, you may need an additional tray, or even two trays. Click the “+” sign that is part of the menu bar of your existing powers tray. That adds an additional power tray (you can have a bunch of them, if you want). Click the right arrow on the new tray so that the number on the left-hand side now reads “2”; that’s the tray number. You can activate powers on that second tray by clicking on them, or holding down the left ALT key while typing the number (i.e., alt+1 will activate power slot 1 on the second tray).
You can drag and drop your powers between the trays. If any of your powers are still not appearing on one of the trays, select Powers on the tray menu. This will bring up a little window that displays all of your powers. Click on the missing one, and drag it to an empty tray slot. That power will appear in that slot.
How do I Get and Use Enhancements?
Every power can take enhancements – things that improve aspects of that power, like the amount of damage that it does. When you level up, you add enhancement slots. However, enhancement slots don’t do anything unless they’re filled by a valid enhancement. (Old enhancements – ones that are more than three levels below you – are invalid.) To put enhancements in slots, just type /manage. Drag and drop enhancements from the enhancements tray, into the slots you want to put them into.
You can buy the enhancements that you need using the Mission Architect tickets that you received automatically for running AE missions. If you are below level 12, you will buy Training enhancements; if you are below level 22, you will buy Dual Origin enhancements; at level 22 and above, you’ll buy Single Origin enhancements. The vendor for these is at the counter that’s up the stairs from the pillar of light area.
You can also find stores throughout the city that will sell you enhancements; go to the store that matches your origin, in the zone that’s appropriate for your level. Stores are marked on your mini-map as yellow “$” signs within a white circle.
By the way, if you’re selling enhancements that you’ve gotten as drops from non-AE missions, you’ll get the best price for them if you sell them at a store that matches the enhancement’s origin.
What To Do If You've Really Screwed Up Your Build
If you've leveled up quickly, there's a good chance that your power picks and enhancement slot choices haven't been particularly wise. City of Heroes rewards advance planning, and the use of something like Mid’s Hero Designer is strongly recommended for planning your build in advance. You may want to copy your character to the Training Room Test server, and try out a new build there, before you make it permanent on your live server.
Fortunately, build errors are fairly easily remedied. You are allowed to have two different builds on your character, allowing you to have a team build and a solo build, a PvE build and a PvP build, etc. Just visit a trainer to switch between them -- but be forewarned that you can only change builds once every 15 minutes. You can take advantage of this feature in order to fix a problematic build; just go to the trainer and switch builds, which will give you the opportunity to level up starting from level 1. Note, however, that you must buy separate enhancements for each build. However, chances are that if you've advanced very rapidly, you either have no enhancements in your slots, or you've simply bought enhancements using Mission Architect tickets. Thus, it's not costing you much to switch builds in order to fix any problems.
If you have screwed up both builds available to you, you'll want to do a "respec" -- a respecification of your powers, which will let you revamp your entire build from scratch. There are multiple ways to earn respecs, including buying them outright for $9.99.
Common Build Mistakes
Here are the common build mistakes to look for:
No travel power, or too many travel powers. Most characters have one travel power (SuperSpeed, SuperJump, Fly, or Teleport), which they take at level 14. Note that SuperSpeed and SuperJump don’t need extra slots, and slots for Fly and Teleport are a luxury, not a necessity. Some characters eventually add a second travel power, usually in their 40s. If you have multiple travel powers and you're below level 32, this is likely a good place to trim a power. Similarly, if you're level 14 or higher and don't have any travel power, you will want to get one. It's possible to play without a permanent travel power, especially if you’re a villain; you’ll just need to get temporary travel powers. These are available from various places, including the first two bank missions, first accessible at levels 5 and 10, and granting the Raptor Pack for flying, and the Zero-G Pack for jumping, respectively. You definitely need a travel power, though; without it, movement is slow for you, and potentially frustrating for teammates who have to wait for you to catch up.
Pool power attacks. Most characters also avoid taking power pool attacks, such as Flurry and Jump Kick, unless there's a particular need to do so; for instance, Boxing is a prerequisite for the popular defensive toggle powers Tough and Weave, and Air Superiority is a possible prerequisite for Fly and is a good attack in its own right. Otherwise, most pool power attacks do very little damage, and have minor utility compared to other powers. If you need to look at powers to discard, unnecessary pool power attacks should be the first to go. If you're getting impatient waiting for powers to recharge, consider taking Hasten (from the Speed pool) instead.
No Stamina or preparation for Stamina. Stamina (from the Fitness pool) is not a mandatory power, but it's useful for almost everyone. If you deliberately don't want to take Stamina, that's fine, but if you find you're running out of endurance a lot, you should strongly consider taking Stamina. If you're running out of endurance a lot despite having slotted endurance reduction into your powers, taking Stamina should be a priority. Stamina requires two other powers from the Fitness pool (Swift, Hurdle, Health) as a prerequisite, and cannot be taken until level 20. Consequently, you have to figure out a way to fit three powers, not just one, into your build. Most people who take Stamina eventually put 2 extra slots into it.
Missing powers that are key to performing the archetype's function. If your build primarily involves taking powers from your secondary, and from pools, be careful -- chances are that your build won't work well on teams, and may work poorly while solo. Your primary power set is primary for a reason -- those should be your bread and butter powers, the things that make your particular archetype powerful. Secondary and pool powers should be chosen to support your primary. Tankers deserve a special note here, as teams often want their tank to have a taunt power; you can choose not to take it, but if you choose not to do so, make sure you've figured out an alternative way to hold aggro.
Missing a valuable "signature" power for the set. Virtually all power sets have a particular power or powers that is clearly one of the keystone powers of the set, and should be taken as soon as it is available. For instance, illusion controllers have Phantom Army, regeneration scrappers have Integration, and kinetics defenders have Fulcrum Shift. If you decide not to take and slot these powers, that's your option, but your build will likely be weak compared to others with the same power set.
Taking a pool power to do something your primary/secondary can already do. More is generally not better. If your character can already heal (from Empathy, Thermal, Kinetics, etc.), you almost certainly don’t want to take anything from the Medicine Pool. If your character already has a taunt, you almost certainly don’t want to take anything from the Presence pool. And so forth.
Slotting things that don’t require slots. You never need to slot Brawl, Sprint, or Rest. Many other powers are fine with just their default slot; for instance, you shouldn’t need extra slots in Resurrect.
Using a poor choice of enhancements in a power. Most attacks should be slotted one accuracy, three damage; you may want one or two recharges, or an endurance reduction, in heavy-hitting big attacks, too. Most defensive toggle powers in your primary or secondary are slotted one endurance reduction, three defense (or three resist, depending on the power type). There are diminishing returns, so, once you get single-origin enhancements (or IOs at level 25 and above) you don't want to slot more than three enhancements of a particular type in a single power; for instance, if your attack already has three damage enhancements, adding a fourth won't help much.
The Guides forum, and the guides posts on the individual archetype forums, all contain detail about the various power sets, and their strengths and weaknesses. There are also guides for many power set combinations, which often come with advice on how to build. While you shouldn't necessarily follow these "cookie cutter" builds exactly, they are often a good place to start when you think about what type of build you'd like after a respec.
Buying, Selling, Being Poor, and the Auction Houses
Most of the city zones have an Auction House. Blueside, it’s called Wentworth’s (“WW”), and is marked by a circled golden “W” on your mini-map. Redside, it’s called the Black Market (“BM”) and is marked by a circled black “$” on your mini-map. The auction house is specific to the side (blue or red) but is cross-server. It allows players to buy from and sell to each other, via a bidding process. There’s a good player guide that will help you understand how it works. In general, you will get better prices for selling salvage on consignment than you will selling it to a store. You may get better prices on recipes and enhancements that way, as well. Be patient with both buying and selling. If you’re willing to wait, you can buy things for less, and sell things for more.
If you’re feeling poor, one easy way to make money is to trade in your Mission Architect Tickets for salvage. Go to the vendor in AE that’s at the counter at the stairs above the column of light. If you’re at least level 20, buy a piece of rare (orange) salvage; in general, high-level salvage is the most cost-effective thing to buy (each sells for 500,000 to 1 million Inf at auction, typically). If you’re below level 20, or would like to sell more pieces of salvage rather than one expensive piece, buy uncommon (yellow) salvage, or roll for random common salvage.
You are likely to find it necessary to conserve your Influency (blueside) / Infamy (redside) – “Inf” – especially since you want to have a nest egg built up for when you reach level 50.
One of the best ways to conserve Inf is to be conservative with your enhancements. You do NOT want to constantly replace your enhancements; you don’t need to keep them green. As long as the level number on the enhancement hasn’t turned red, it will work. Moreover, instead of buying single-origin (SO) enhancements, you might want to invest in invention origin (IO) enhancements early on. A level 25 IO is just about equivalent to an SO that’s equal-level to you. If you buy level 25 IOs when you hit level 22, you won’t ever need to replace any of them, until you reach level 50 and are ready to spend on a tweaked-out build.
Where Should I Be, and How Do I Get There?
If you leveled up quickly, you missed the breadcrumb trail that would normally cause you to learn where things are and how to get between them, as well as the chain of contacts that would normally send you to the zone that’s appropriate for your level.
To figure out where you should be, check the zone overview. You want go to the city zone that matches your current level. Once you’ve figured out what zone that is, you’ll need to figure out how to get there.
Redside has a fairly straightforward ferry system, so navigating isn't a big problem. Mercy Island connects to Port Oakes; Port Oakes connects to Cap du Diable; Cap du Diable has a ferry system that connects to the remaining major city zones. On your mini-map, the ferries are marked by a blue “F” in a circle.
Blueside has a lot of intricacies to the intra-zone layout that make the fastest route from point A to point B somewhat inobvious. The main connection between the blueside zones are two train systems -- the Yellow and Green trains, marked with circled "T" signs on your map. Yellow connects the lower-level zones, and Green connects the higher-level zones. Steel Canyon and Skyway City have both Yellow and Green lines, and thus serve as interconnection points. The highest-level zone, Peregrine Island, is not on the train system; instead, you get to it via a ferry from Talos (which is on the Green line).
The main, train-connected zones also serve as gateways into the hazard zones, level-restricted zones that are connected to these primary zones via exits at the edge of the maps. City zones may also connect directly to each other via the map edges. A knowledge of the layout can help you get places more quickly. For instance, Independence Port ("IP") is a long and narrow zone; for missions at the southern end of the zone, it's often easiest to take the train to Brickstown, then enter IP via its connection to Brickstown, which will put you in the southern portion of IP.
There are some zones that are accessed in special ways. Those include Ouroboros (see below), Cimerora (accessed via the Midnighter Club, requiring some missions to be completed first), and the Rikti War Zone (accessed via the Vanguard buildings).
For some useful, detailed maps of the game that will help you get oriented, consult VidiotMaps. It’s often the easiest way to answer “How do I get to…?” questions.
What is Ouroboros and How Do I Get There?
Ouroboros is a special zone restricted to characters level 25 and above. It's reached via an Ouroboros portal. Players with the Ouroboros Portal "temporary" power can create these portals, which last for 5 minutes and can be used by anyone 25+. Click on the portal (move your mouse over the golden glowing thing, until you see your cursor change to a blue hand) and you'll be transported into Ouroboros.
Normally, once you're level 20, you're able to get missions that eventually lead you to obtain the Ouroboros Portal power. However, it's possible to out-level these missions. If you're at level 25+, you can just step through an Ouroboros portal that someone else has created. You'll find a set of contacts there who will give you missions. Do these missions, and you will be granted the power. (You can also obtain the power by going to the very top of the building in Ouroboros; there’s an exploration badge up there that will grant you the power.)
The Ouroboros Portal power is extremely useful because the portal is, for people with reasonably fast zone load times, the quickest way to get between the major areas of the game.
Ouroboros is also going to be the key to seeing all the content in the game that you missed. In Ouroboros, once you complete the set of missions given by the contacts there, you’ll unlock access to the “flashback” system. This allows you to play content that you outleveled, as well as undertake challenges that are specific to the flashback system. When you flashback, you will be exemplared down to the level of the flashback mission.
How Can I Get Non-AE Missions?
Outside of AE, missions are normally given by Contacts, NPCs located in level-appropriated zones. Every 5 levels comprises a “tier”; every tier contains a set of contacts. If you’ve leveled up very quickly, your contacts are going to be wrong for the level you’re currently at. Thus, you’ll need to get back on track by getting level-appropriate contacts.
Some contacts are given to you automatically when you level up; for instance, you’ll automatically get a contact for the Midnighter Club when you reach the appropriate level. These contacts will be listed on the active tab of your Contacts menu; visit them to see what missions they have for you. There are also miscellaneous other missions that you can simply go and do – your cape mission at level 20 or higher, and your aura mission at level 30 or higher, for instance.
You’ll also automatically get a detective (blueside) or broker (redside) contact at each tier, which will be marked on your mini-map, circled and blinking, when you first go into the zone that contains that contact. However, the game gives you no other indication of who this is, which is problematic because this is the easiest way to get back on track with your contacts, and it’s necessary to find this contact in order to get your police radio (blueside) or newspaper (redside).
To track down your detective/broker, travel to the city zone(s) that are appropriate to your level, and look for the blinking contact on your mini-map. Go talk to that contact. You’ll get your radio or paper. Open your contact menu and you’ll see the radio or paper at the top of it. Click on it, and grab a mission. Once you’ve done several of these missions, you’ll be able to visit the contact, who will give you a bank mission (Safeguard blueside, Mayhem redside). When you complete the bank mission, the contact will offer to introduce you to an appropriate contact for your level. From there, the normal contact introduction process will keep you on track.
What are Bank Missions?
Bank missions (technically known as Safeguard Missions blueside, and Mayhem Missions redside) are special missions that you get after doing a certain number of radio (blueside) or newspaper (redside) missions in a zone appropriate to your level. When you’ve done the requisite number of missions, you’ll see the detective (blueside) or broker (redside) appear in your Active Contacts, with a full red bar, indicating that you should go and talk to him. He’ll offer you a bank mission. You’ll have to take it then, or refuse it; if you refuse it, you will have to do more radio/paper missions before he’ll offer you a bank mission again.
A bank mission is a 15-minute timed mission. The timer begins once the first person on your team (or you, if solo) zones into the mission, so if you’re doing it with a team, don’t enter until everyone has gathered and agreed that they’re ready and want to start now. Within the mission, you can gain bonus time for completing certain tasks. The most common tactic is to run straight to the bank (marked on your mini-map with a “$” sign), dodging and ignoring all the mobs between you and it. Once you’re in the bank, you’ll work your way in towards the vault.
Blueside, there will be villains running towards the bank’s exit, and then to a getaway point. You can usually stop them within the bank. There’ll usually be a special boss, along with his companions, to defeat. That will complete the mission.
Redside, you’ll have to go to the vault. You’ll break down the vault door with attacks (click on the vault door to target it). Then, you’ll go into the vault and click on the glowie. If you get hit with an attack while you’re gathering the loot, you’ll get interrupted. Thus, you’ll want to kill off the guards in the vicinity of the vault before you try clicking the glowie. Once you’ve got the glowie, you should retrace your path, towards the bank’s door where you came in. Along the way, you’ll meet a hero and more guards. Defeat them to complete the mission.
Completing the mission will grant you a temporary power as a reward, but it doesn’t actually end the mission – there’s still more stuff you can do. You can then go after “side missions” (found by defeating certain foes, who will give you a key, and which will spawn a waypoint on your mini-map showing where to go), and redside, you can smash stuff. There’s also an exploration badge on each map.
How to Clear Out Old Missions
The level of a mission is set at the time that you accept it from the contact. Thus, if you leveled rapidly, you may have missions that you took, didn’t play, and which are now many levels under your current level. Fortunately, you can drop a mission once every three days. To get rid of a mission that’s worthless to you, go back to the contact that you received it from, and you will usually be given the option to drop it. Some missions can’t be dropped, in which case you’ll simply have to complete them.
Capes, Auras, and Costumes
You can change your costume by going to the Tailor (blueside) or Facemaker (redside). Each tailor has a mission that will allow you to earn extra costume slots -- you can get an additional one at levels 20, 30, and 40.
At level 20, you can earn a cape by completing a mission. At level 30, you can earn auras by completing a mission. Blueside, these missions are obtained from the City Representative in Atlas Park, who is located in the middle of the rotunda that you see when you first enter the City Hall building. Redside, these missions are obtained from your first contact in Mercy Island (Kalinda or Matthew Burke).
What’s Different About the “Real” Game
For maximum efficiency, the AE missions that are used to quickly level up characters tend to be monotonous, with a single critter, or handful of critters, that serve as the enemy to punch for as much reward as possible per minute of time spent. However, the developer-created missions and enemy groups for City of Heroes are not like that. The enemy groups that you fight will be composed of different critters with a wide variety of capabilities.
Solo, you’ll usually be taking on a few critters at a time –- most likely three to six. The size of the spawns (groups of enemies) increase with the size of the team, and are affected by the difficulty setting, but it’s fairly rare, in normal dev-created content, to see the highly dense spawns that are common to AE farming missions. Also, because normal spawns for teams would include a mix of minions, lieutenants, and bosses, the tactics used to fight these enemies are very different than what you’ve encountered within the Mission Architect.
If you’ve played typical AE farms, you’ve learned one very simple tactic –- how to mow down dense spawns with area of effect (AoE) attacks. This is certainly a skill, but it is only one of many skills that players normally learn as they level up. Many of the particular approaches to farmed AE mobs also don’t work on a normal mixture of enemies.
In the five years of the game’s history, the average skill level of a player has gone up significantly. Many missions that might have once been difficult for typical players have become relatively trivial, because teams are composed primarily of experienced players who are fairly skilled, and thus have better situational awareness, faster reactions, and generally more knowledge of how best to help their team and keep themselves out of trouble. Consequently, if you team to play normal content, you may feel like your team is still steamrollering everything out there with ease, even though there’s no obvious tactical coordination.
The best way to learn to play your character is likely in small teams, particularly with people who are willing to offer advice and explain what they’re doing. Solo, or in a smaller team, you’ll have time to absorb what’s going on, rather than having the game be a noisy festival of special effects and things dying nearly instantly. There are extensive guides in the forum that explain combat in detail; they’re worth reading, especially if you’re finding your missions, solo or teamed, to be overly difficult.
Help! I’m Dying a Lot!
Are you dying a lot? If so, it's worth figuring out why. Debt slows your advancement rate by half while you have it; while it doesn't prevent you from leveling up, it certainly lengthens the process. While dying occasionally is part of the game, and not a big deal, dying constantly is a sign that something is wrong. If you have hit the debt cap, you are definitely dying too much.
There are three major causes of frequent death –- overly difficult missions, poor tactics, and a poor build. Overly difficult missions are usually the result of an overly ambitious difficulty setting. Poor tactics are more obvious in team situations; if you are usually fine when you do your own missions solo, but die a lot in teams, tactics are likely the problem. If your build is poor, you will tend to die a lot solo as well as teamed, although there are builds that are fine solo but not very good when teamed.
If you're wondering if it's your tactics or your build at fault, try asking other people. You can ask people to critique your build on the forum appropriate to your archetype. You can ask people in your supergroup, or even people on your teams, if your power selection looks reasonable. You can see how your rate of death compares to teammates -- if everyone else is fine, but you're dying constantly, there's a reasonable chance that it's your build that's the problem, although your personal tactics may be problematic as well. Your teammates may, in fact, be able to explain to you why you're dying a lot, if you ask.
Are Your Missions Too Difficult?
If you’re dying a lot, or just having a lot of difficulty soloing your missions, begin by checking your difficulty level, also known as Notoriety. Go to your Missions list. If you have at least one mission, it will show a Challenge Level and a number, along with a descriptor like “Heroic” or “Villainous”. That’s your difficulty level; 1 is the lowest, and 5 is the highest. If you’re having problems, try setting it down to the lowest level, by visiting a Hero Corps Analyst (blueside) or Fateweaver (redside); they’re marked on your mini-map by a person icon in a pink-purple gradient. You can go back and raise the difficultly level later, as you find what level of challenge suits you.
The difficulty of a mission is the difficulty that the mission owner is set to (or the team leader, in AE and TFs). If you’re lower level than your other team members, and/or the team leader has the difficulty cranked up, you may have problems. In general, you should be able to take on enemies that are your level or one level higher. As the level difference goes up, it becomes harder for you to hit, you do less damage, they hit you more easily, and they do more damage to you. If you’re having trouble, try teaming with people who are no more than a level or two above you, and are running missions set on challenge level 1 or 2.
Does Your Team Suck?
Whole-team wipeouts are almost always the result of poor tactics, although bad team composition or an overly-high difficulty setting can also be a factor. If you're running into a lot of total party wipes, check out PhiloticKnight’s Combat Handbook; while it’s written for blueside, the information is also valuable redside. Also, learn how to pull. Finally, R M's Guide to Team Leadership has lots of great advice, for team members as well as team leaders.
Unlike many other MMOs, City of Heroes does NOT have a “required” team composition. You will do best if your team is well balanced between damage and support, but damage and support can come in many forms. For instance, enough control can substitute for needing a tank to manage aggro, and sufficient buffs or debuffs likely mean there’s no need for healing. Playing smartly is vastly more important than having the “right” combination of archetypes.
Here are a few tips for keeping yourself alive on a team.
Carry and use inspirations. Inspirations are very useful when soloing, and remain so when you’re teamed. Green (heal), purple (lowers chance to hit you), and orange (reduces damage done to you) inspirations are particularly valuable for survival. If you’re getting low on health, pop a green; you can’t necessarily rely on someone to heal you, especially if a lot of people are taking damage. If you keep taking damage, particularly if you’re taking it faster than you can be healed, pop a purple and/or an orange. Inspirations are cheap, and they drop frequently from defeated enemies. If you get inspirations that aren’t useful to you, combine them (three of the same color-and-size can be combined into any other color) or delete them to make way for more useful drops.
Tanks, scrappers, and brutes must take their defenses. If you’re in one of these roles, you’re going to be taking a lot of hits. You’ve got to build accordingly. Tanks, particularly, have defensive powers as their primary, which means that these powers have priority for taking and slotting; get and slot these before your attacks. If you’re playing one of these characters, don’t be a coward. Your team is expecting you to take these hits.
Characters without significant defenses (“squishies”) shouldn’t attack first. Let whoever is in the tank role (usually a tank, brute, or sturdy scrapper) go first. Hang back slightly behind them, so that the enemy sees them first. Give them a moment to grab aggro (hatred that causes an enemy to focus its attacks on a character), before you open up with your own attacks. This is particularly important if you plan to use an area of effect (AoE) attack that hits lots of enemies. Blasters, controllers, corruptors, and dominators, especially, need to keep this in mind.
Squishies must control their aggro and position themselves to survive. If you don’t control your aggro (enemy hatred for you), you will die, and you will die a lot. If you’ve drawn unwanted attention, the best thing you can do in many situations is to run towards the tank. Your instincts may be to run away from the group, but this often results in being shot down by ranged attacks and the like; unless you are going to run far away enough that the enemy loses interest in you, running towards the tank is often the safest thing to do, as the enemy’s attention is likely to be drawn towards the tank and therefore away from you. Alternatively, if the tank is surrounded by a lot of AoE attacks, try running towards another sturdy character, like a scrapper. They may notice the enemy you dragged over to them and kill it for you. Also, don’t neglect your own tools for dealing with unwanted attention; controls and knockback are all useful for shedding enemies. Finally, note that many heals and buffs are AoEs surrounding the caster, or surrounding a targeted enemy (usually an enemy near the caster, who will often be near the tank). If you’re not near the buffer (usually a defender, controller, or corruptor), you will be out of range for the AoE buff.
Why am I Leveling So Slowly?
Well-optimized AE missions can allow you to level very quickly, especially if there’s a significant level delta between you and your enemies (for instance, if the enemies con purple to you), and there are higher-level players on your team who are doing most of the work. However, the norm for the game is that it usually takes several hours to gain a level, particularly after level 20. Most players reach level 50 in somewhere between 100 and 250 hours of play. Thus, when you emerge from the AE building, and try to level up without farming, you may find that the speed of your level progression slows considerably.
The speed at which you level will depend on your relative level to the enemies you're fighting, how quickly you defeat enemies, how quickly you finish missions (and thus how often you get mission complete XP bonuses), the amount of downtime you have between fights (recovery, exploration, travel, and running to stores and contacts), and how frequently you incur debt by dying. Also, larger teams receive more XP per enemy defeated (often called the "large-team bonus").
You will not receive XP for defeating enemies that are significantly lower-level than you are. In general, you don't want to bother with enemies that con gray to you. You will receive so little XP that it's not worth your time. Similarly, it’s often not worthwhile to hunt enemies that are more than two levels above you; the faster kill speed and greater safety offsets the extra XP from the bigger level difference.
Many builds have one or more levels that are "humps" -- where the XP seems to be coming very slowly, often due to a relative weakness at this point in the build, versus the ramp in enemy difficulty level. At those levels, patience is necessary. Teaming up can help a lot.
The nice thing about City of Heroes is that the content is effectively customized for your current level. In a given tier of contacts, you'll get the same missions whether you see them at, say, level 16 or level 18, and the missions are balanced with that in mind. Chances are, in fact, that you will level up more quickly than you can see all of the content available at a given level, unless you are constantly in XP debt. Consequently, while that next cool power is always tantalizingly close, you don't need it to complete content at your current tier, although it may prove to be useful.
Skills to Pick Up
In leveling up very quickly, you may have missed learning a number of skills that will be second nature to players who have leveled up more slowly, putting dozens of hours into their characters and perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of hours into the game. You'll want to practice these skills as soon as you can; they'll improve your survivability and make you a better teammate.
The first key skill is mastery of movement and the camera. You should be comfortable moving around at various speeds. You should be able to jump and land on a spot with reasonable accuracy.
If you are a melee character, you should be able to chase a target around without needing to toggle "follow" on it. If you are a ranged character, you should be able to pick targets at range, rather than depending on standing in close melee with them. You should get used to targeting with the keyboard, rather than relying on the mouse. It is highly recommended that you bind a key to "target_enemy_near" (for instance, /bind tilde "target_enemy_near" binds the ~ key to targeting the nearest foe). You can use the Tab key to cycle through targets. In a packed group of foes, this is easier than trying to click on the appropriate foe. You can click on a teammate to target whatever they're targeting; this is known as an "assist".
You should be able to maintain an awareness of the battle going on around you, and have some idea of your situation relative to the area that you're in, so that you don't accidentally run into a nearby mob and aggro that (which often leads to a total party wipe-out). You should be able to adjust the camera so you can look up and down, zoom out, and zoom in, as necessary for the fight and the terrain.
The second key skill is awareness of your teammates. The team window shows the health and endurance bars of everyone on the team. Click the arrow on the right to expand it to also show all the status icons of teammates (right-click the icons and select Hide Autopowers to reduce the number of icons shown); teammates not in the same zone will have the name of the zone they're in shown (useful for keeping track of where people are in traveling).
While defenders, controllers, and corruptors with powersets like Empathy and Force Fields need to keep an especially close eye on health and status, everyone, regardless of archetype, needs to be aware of how their teammates are doing; it's crucial to team survival. Health bars that are dropping rapidly (even if still green) are cause for concern. If a teammate is out of endurance, you know that you can't expect much help from that quarter -- this is especially vital if the hero that's out of endurance is a defender, controller, or tank. Defenders that are out of endurance cannot heal and will lose their toggles. Controllers that are out of endurance will lose the ability to keep things held. Tanks that are out of endurance may drop their toggles; tanks without toggles have a high chance of dying quickly, and may not be able to hold aggro.
The third key skill is recognition of other people's powers. It's useful to be able to pull up another character's info, look at their power list, and generally know what you can and can't expect from them on a team. It also means that you'll know how to adjust your team tactics. If you have an Invulnerability tank on your team, for instance, you probably don't want to use knockback attacks on the foes surrounding him -- his defenses depend on being surrounded by a big mob. Moreover, certain powers are visually distinctive and you need to learn to recognize them; for instance, you should learn to recognize anchor powers, so you don't accidentally kill an anchor that should be left alive.
Your new adventures outside the AE building will depend on what level you currently are at.
Level 50: What Do I Do Now?
City of Heroes is a "journey, not the destination" sort of MMORPG. It does not have a traditional MMO end-game. In most MMOs, the "real" play, especially for hardcore players, begins at the level cap. By contrast, most long-term CoH players simply begin new characters when they reach level 50; the fun is in trying out the different sets of powers. Level 50 does not introduce [i]new[/i] things to do, other than the occasional mass raid on the Hamidon. It is where the majority of the game's PvP is focused, though.
Now that you're suddenly level 50, you've got two choices -- you can continue on with this character and essentially try to see the game in a rearview mirror, or you can start a new character and experience the game in a more normal fashion.
If you’ve tried to get to 50 as quickly as possible because you want to play an epic AT (Kheldians and VEAT Arachnos), you are probably going to be very disappointed when you try out your new “epic” character. These ATs are not any more powerful than standard City of Heroes characters. They are highly complex to build, complex to play, and are at their best in large teams. Because they’re intended for veteran players, their story arcs are most meaningful in the context of having seen the rest of the game’s content, and the powersets assume a solid understanding of how to take advantage of numerous different options to create a playable build. While the epic ATs are fun, they’re going to be a tough way to learn how to play the game. Strongly consider learning the game on some other character first.
If you choose to continue on with your character at 50, you have four primary things to occupy your time. First, you can visit lower-level content that you missed through the game's "flashback" system in Ouroboros. Second, you can access content for levels 45+, some of which is repeatable, like the task forces / strike forces. Third, you can try the player-generated Mission Architect content, which can provide a wide array of different sorts of challenges that are not farms. Fourth, you can PvP.
Although most of the distinctiveness of your character's capabilities will come from his normal "build" -- i.e., the powers and enhancement slots that you picked -- a significant amount of additional customization can be obtained through the use of Invention Origin enhancements. IOs are the game's "crafting" system. To learn how to use the system, do the tutorial –- you’ll get a free IO out of it, which is worth a significant amount. Blueside, go to the University in Steel Canyon and talk to Admissions Officer Lenk. Redside, go to the University in Cap du Diable, and talk to Dean John Yu.
In brief, to craft an IO, you need a worktable (available at the University, and sometimes in player bases), the recipe for that IO, the Salvage that comprises that invention, and some Influence. Mobs normally drop both recipes and salvage items; the exception are in non-Dev's Choice, Mission Architect story arcs. You can buy "Common IO recipes" from worktables, and they're often found at the auction houses (Wentworth's in most blueside zones, and the Black Market in most redside zones), as well as randomly dropped from mobs. Common IOs give a constant bonus regardless of level, but provide no other advantages. There are also Invention Sets, which are IOs that usually blend multiple types of enhancers and give bonuses if collected as a set, with multiple inventions from the same set slotted into a single power; using these IOs is often referred to as "frankenslotting". Invention Set recipes are obtained as random drops, bought using Merits obtained from completing story arcs and other challenges such as trials and task forces, or obtained as part of a random reward roll purchased with Mission Architect tickets; they are frequently sold at the auction houses by players who have obtained ones they can't use.
Tweaking out a build is a popular activity at level 50, as is collecting badges (see Badge-Hunter for info), particularly to get Accolade Powers. There’s still plenty to do at level 50; you’ll just be starting from a more awkward position than a character who has leveled up through normal game content from level 1 onwards, learning how to best play through the levels, and collecting badges along the way.
Level 40-49: The Long Climb to 50
Levels 40 through 49 are normally the longest, hardest levels of the game. They’re full of interesting challenges, including challenges that are very hard to overcome without a team, like Archvillains and Heroes.
If you’ve leveled all the way to this point using AE farms, you’re going to be in for a shock when you start running normal missions The enemies, especially blueside Carnies and Malta, are mean. The AE has shielded you, up to this point, from the gradual progression of enemy difficulty up through the levels; in AE, you probably fought things that were the equivalent of scaled-up versions of the same basic enemies you encountered at level 2, or maybe even enemies that weren’t even capable of fighting back.
You may not want to learn the game this way. You may find it strongly preferable to go to Ouroboros and flashback to earlier content, following the progression that you would otherwise have experienced. This will also help you build up your Inf, so that you will be able to afford some nice IO enhancements for your build at level 50.
If you’re teamed, ask your teammates questions about what you’re doing and why. Ask them for advice on what you could be doing better. Listen to the team leader when he’s giving orders, and follow them. If you don’t understand what’s going on, ask. It’s better to ask a question and look ignorant, than to screw up because you don’t know what you’re doing.
Before Level 40: Recovering from AE Babysitting
If you’re not yet level 40, there’s still plenty of time to learn to play the game the normal way. Go find your level-appropriate contacts, and run some regular missions. Try soloing, or playing in a group of no more than four people; it will help you learn. Soloing, in particular, will really teach you what you can and can’t do with your character.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of powers that you have, consider going through flashback missions, starting with the low-level missions and progressing methodically upwards. When you’re exemplared via flashback, you only have the powers you had at the level you’re being exemplared to. This lets you get the effect that players normally have of powers being being added one at a time, with many hours of play passing before the next power, giving plenty of opportunity to figure out how the powers interact and to develop a strategy for using them in harmony.
If you’re finding your character frustrating to play outside of AE, consider starting a new character from scratch. If you want to try a character that’s easy to learn, fast and fun, consider a katana / willpower scrapper blueside, or a super strength / willpower brute redside. Both characters have high survivability and excellent damage, can solo very easily, and will be welcome on teams. Scrappers and brutes are a good way to learn how to effectively use movement and positioning, and find and take down the right targets. Willpower is an excellent “fire and forget” secondary; turn on your toggles and you’re good to go, letting you focus on learning how to use your other abilities.
Other Hints and Tips
Join a good supergroup – preferably one with experienced players who are higher level than you are, as well as plenty of players of around your own level. Supergroups are an invaluable source of camaraderie, assistance, and advice.
Be patient with your teammates. It can be incredibly frustrating to be on a team where nobody quite seems to know what they're doing, or where everyone is dying but isn't sure why. Don't take it out on your fellow players. If it's just not working out, go on to something else; a team that can't take on one mission can often successfully do other, easier (or just different) missions.
Be patient with yourself. It takes some time to get to know the game, and your power set, and its strengths and weaknesses. Soloing can help, but be aware that solo tactics don't necessarily work well when teamed, and not all builds solo well. You may find it easier to group up with one other hero while you go through the learning stages.
Ask for advice, and take it. If you have questions, ask your teammates; it's likely that they know. Ask on the forums. Ask on the help channel (use /hc to speak on the channel). Also, people are usually helpful if you ask politely, once, on the broadcast channel (which, by the way, is local to a particular zone, and isn't heard by the whole server).
Most of all, enjoy the game. If this first character is too frustrating, consider starting another one. It doesn't take very long to go through the first ten levels of the game, and there's tons of content in the teens, so if you're new to the game, there's undoubtedly plenty that you have yet to see and do.