A POWERLEVELING PRIMER
TAKING THE SPEEDY WAY TO LEVEL 50
About fifteen issues ago, I wrote a powerleveling guide for City of Heroes (which I called an "XP Gain/Debt Loss Guide" because "powerleveling" was kind of a dirty word back then). I’ve been looking at going back and revising it, but so much has changed since those days (and so many of those techniques no longer work) that I realized it would actually be less trouble just to start fresh.
If you do go back and reread that old guide, you’ll probably be struck by just how fiddly some of those methods were. For example, if you had just the right mix of character levels, you could arrange sidekick levels in Task Forces so you could be sidekicked as low as possible to earn as much XP as possible—which doesn’t work so much now that everyone is automatically set to the same level on a Task Force. Also, any given method would only work for just so long before the devs caught on and did their best to nerf it out of existence in the name of “game balance.”
By comparison, powerleveling now is a whole lot simpler—and a lot easier. The Homecoming team doesn’t seem as eager to nerf it away as the old live devs. There are just a few key things you need to know if you want to level your character as high as possible as quickly as possible.
Please note: I strongly recommend playing your first few characters through the game the long way. The longer leveling curve gives you plenty of time to learn how things work and explore all the fun content on the way up. With Ouroboros, you can always go back to revisit the content you missed, but there’s no substitute for experience when it comes to knowing what you’re doing. And as difficult as some of the post-level-50 Incarnate content can be, your other teammates won’t thank you if you’re the one who caused a team or league wipe, or cost them badges, because you didn’t know what you were doing.
TEMP POWERS FOR POWERLEVELING
To begin with, here are a couple of useful temporary powers that will give you a boost to your leveling speed.
You can adjust your XP rate using the XP boost options available at the P2W store. These are options to boost your XP gain by 25%, 50%, or 100%. If you’re wanting to level up fast, that’s clearly the way to go. The boost comes in one-hour chunks, and you can have up to eight hours of it at a time.
Each boost will also cut the amount of Inf you gain by the same percentage. If you are earning 100% extra XP, you are earning zero percent Inf. Folks who aren’t so good at earning cash by other means may want to leave this alone—but if you’re adept at marketeering or farming, knock yourself out. XP boosts only work until you hit level 50, at which point they are no longer available to purchase.
You can check how much time you have left on your XP boost by opening your Powers window and right-clicking the icon for it. You should always check before you begin a Task Force or other lengthy event. If you run out in the middle of a TF, most P2W vendors won't talk to you until the TF is over; however, the P2W in Pocket D will still talk to you.
Another handy temp power is Experienced. This power immediately provides 5 bubbles of Patrol XP—the blue XP bubbles that you can also get for staying logged out for long periods of time. These bubbles boost the amount of XP you get from critter defeats by 50%. That is, if defeating an enemy usually gives you 100 XP, defeating it while you have Patrol XP gives you 150 XP, deducting 50 of that from your Patrol XP. Patrol XP also applies toward any XP debt from player defeats before it starts adding debt to your regular XP.
During anniversary months or other special events, new characters may get 5 charges of this power for free; apart from that, the only way to obtain it is as part of the 10 million or 25 million Inf Super Packs listed under Special Salvage on the Auction House. (It can’t be bought separately, or transferred once someone has it.) Experienced doesn’t come in every pack, but if you build up enough Inf to buy those packs in bulk, you’ll end up with a good number of charges of it over time.
You’ll get the most benefit out of this power if you hold off on using it until at least level 30 or so, when the amount of enemy defeats needed per XP bubble start going way up. But if you have it, you can use it at any time (that it’s off cooldown, at least). Note that you can only have a total of 10 Patrol XP bubbles from any source at any time—so if you have more than 5 bubbles, don’t use another Experienced yet.
Hence, if using both 100% XP Boost and Experienced/Patrol XP, you will earn 3x the normal XP rate for mob defeats (just 2X normal for end of mission bonuses and other XP sources). You will be amazed at how fast you level just playing normally. But if you want to get the most out of these powers, here are some play techniques I recommend.
DEFENSE, OFFENSE, AND SURVIVAL AMPLIFIER
These powers provide one-hour buffs to the relevant combat stats. Their prices scale up exponentially as character level increases, starting out at 1,000 Inf per hour at level 1 and capping out at 2.5 million per hour at level 50. This means they're most worthwhile at lower levels when your character is fairly low-powered, but even higher-level characters may find them worth buying if they can afford them. Note that, like the XP Buff, these take effect immediately upon purchase, so don’t just buy them haphazardly thinking to save them for when you need them. But, like XP Booster, you might want to purchase a few hours right when you start a Task Force.
These powers can be handy for the low end of powerleveling, when you have no or weak Enhancements; since they last an hour, one purchase could see you through a dozen or so levels. Like Experienced, you can also obtain them from Super Packs, but you may want to save any you get that way for use later on, when they're much more expensive.
There are a number of other temp or prestige powers available at P2W that can also be super-useful to players starting out. See my guide to the P2W store for more information on those.
This section will cover some of the best ways to maximize the amount of XP you're earning while you're using XP boosts or stocking up on Patrol XP. Because XP multipliers and number of mobs increases with bigger teams, the best way to earn XP as fast as possible is to be on as large a team as possible, defeating as many higher-level enemies as possible. The ideal team for the fastest XP gain would be putting your low level character on a full team led by a level 50+1 character, fighting enemies at level +4 difficulty. If there are enough 50+1s on the team to handle the enemies, lower-level characters can just soak it up even if they can’t hit a darned thing themselves.
However, remember that this relies on your teammates being willing to carry you. It's always best to ask, meekly, if they're okay with you leeching XP. Most of the time, they probably will be, especially if you've got good buffs, debuffs, heals, etc. so you can carry some weight without having to be able hit bad guys. But don't just assume, and don't give them any grief if they say no. Nobody owes you powerleveling.
(You can also run x8 difficulty missions all by yourself if you're a tough character like a Tanker, Brute, or Scrapper who can handle many mobs beating on them, but that doesn't also give the per-team-member XP multiplier.)
There are a couple of main ways of getting on such a team: joining or forming a pick-up group, or joining or forming a Task Force or Trial. I'll cover these below.
Pick-up groups can be good ways to earn XP fast, especially if they're being run by a level 50+1. They also come with no real obligation to hang around for a particular period of time: you can join for a couple missions if and as you have the time, then go off and do other things.
A good way to get on such a team would be to hang around in Peregrine Island, Grandville, Rikti War Zone, or other level 50 areas, and keep an eye on the /broadcast and /lfg channels to see if anyone is looking for more teammates. Or you could try to put such a team together yourself, giving the star to one of the level 50+1s. If you do ask to join such a team, try not to make a nuisance of yourself about it. If no one bites, there may just not be any pick-up groups looking for openings right now.
TASK FORCES/STRIKE FORCES/TRIALS
Task/Strike Forces and Trials are one of the easiest ways to put together large teams, take down large numbers of tough enemies, and even get some Reward Merits along the way for your trouble.
TF/SF/Trials are generally easy to form up, because everyone knows what to expect, how long they’re going to take, and that they can expect a big reward at the end. (All the more from Weekly Strike Targets, which provide double merits and a valuable piece of Incarnate Salvage (or a huge XP bonus to characters who aren’t Incarnate yet).)
Choosing the right mission difficulty for your Task Force can either help or hinder your leveling speed. Higher-level mobs are worth more XP, but they can also be much harder to kill. Always take into account the composition of the team. At lower levels, you’re not going to have very good Enhancements, and Exemplared higher-level characters will have their Enhancement effectiveness slashed considerably, so I would suggest not going any higher than +0 or +1 at most until you hit level 22 and can get SOs or decent common IOs, and +2 thereafter at least until you hit the 40s. (The Imperious Task Force can be an exception; I’ll say more about that a little later.)
Thanks to the XP boosts, you could practically go from level 1 to 50 on nothing but trials and TFs. For example, when I start a new hero-side character, I usually put double-XP on and then go through Death From Below once or twice, to reach at least level 8. From there, I go straight to Positron, and do all the “Task Force Commander” Task Forces up through Numina, followed by a few Imperious Task Forces and possibly some Rikti Mothership Raids. I’m level 50 before I know it, often just over the course of a day or two. If I ever hit a stretch where I don’t have quite enough XP to get to the next Task Force, I will fill in with one of the other TFs or trials, like Moonfire or Hess, Market Crash, Summer Blockbuster, or a Respec Trial. I might also do the Abandoned Sewer Trial or Eden Trial for variety, or the Shadow Shard TFs if I can find enough people willing to do them; I’ll also be sure to do whatever the current Weekly Strike Target is for that big XP bonus.
Although I haven’t done much on villain-side yet, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work the same way, with the various Strike Forces available over there. And, of course, Vigilantes and Rogues have access to all Task/Strike Force missions available to either side. (Praetorian alignment doesn’t have access to Task/Strike Forces until they pick an alignment at level 20, at which time they can do all of those accessible to whatever side(s) that alignment permits.)
DEATH FROM BELOW
Here’s a word or two about Death From Below, which is the go-to trial for low-level characters who want to get their first jump on earning lots of XP. Hardly a moment goes by you don’t hear someone broadcasting about one forming up in Atlas Park. You actually don’t have to be in any particular spot to launch it, though a lot of the time you can find them forming up just inside the Atlas Park sewer entrance.
Each time you run DFB, it gives a decent chunk of XP, five SO Enhancements in your Origin, and a choice of four temporary buffs that last for a few days or until you reach Level 22, whichever comes first. There are also two badges that can be earned by defeating the Vahzilok boss before any of his adds, and the Lost boss after all of his adds.
As I mentioned, I usually just run DFB once, to level high enough to start the first Positron Task Force and go from there. However, you could certainly run it four times, once for each buff, or even more. However, the amount of XP you get per run starts to fall off after you hit level 10, and drops sharply by the time you reach level 20, to prevent people from doing nothing but grinding DFB all the way to level 50. There’s a lot of other fun content out there; go and do it!
RIKTI MOTHERSHIP RAIDS
There are two types of Rikti Mothership Raids: the zone event and the instanced trial. The zone event can be open to anyone within the 50-person-limit Rikti War Zone area, whereas the instanced trial is for up to a six-team league and requires a minimum level of 35 from all members to start.
The Mothership Raid can be a good way to powerlevel, even starting all the way down at level 1 for the zone event. As long as you’re sidekicked up to survivability, you can hang out in the bowl and soak up XP from your teammates killing off all those level 54 Rikti. However, if you’re going to try to get in at low levels, check with the raid organizer first.
Some organizers won’t allow characters below level 35 to join, because such a character isn’t going to be able to contribute meaningfully to the success of the raid. The more dead weight on a raid, the fewer Rikti will get defeated, and the fewer Vanguard Reward Merits will be earned. You don’t want to join only to get kicked in the middle of the event.
At level 35, you should be sure to do the mission arc for Levantera that involves talking to a bunch of people and defeating five Rikti. (You don’t need to do the second arc, involving various instanced missions to fight Rikti and rescue Temblor and Fusionette.) This will get you the Member of Vanguard badge, that will let you earn Vanguard Merits for Rikti defeated on the raid. If you get it while a raid is going on, your teammates on the raid can easily handle the defeat five Rikti mission for you while you’re still back at the Vanguard base.
If you’re at least level 35, a Mothership Raid can be a good way to earn a decent chunk of XP, especially if you make sure your XP boost is full before you start. It will also earn you around a thousand Vanguard Merits per half-hour run, which can be converted to about 33 Reward Merits or used to buy handy items at the Vanguard Crafting Table.
IMPERIOUS TASK FORCE
The ITF can also be a good means of powerleveling if you’re at least level 35. You’re mostly just facing wave upon wave of ancient Roman soldiers, who mostly just do lethal damage, with a few Warshades and Nictus here and there. On a good team, you can mow them down with ease, and gain at least a level or two by the end of the event.
You do need to get the Midnighter badge to enter Cimerora, either by doing one of the introductory arcs or by visiting the mansion in Night Ward. Once you have it, you can instantly teleport to Cimerora just by queuing and locking the “Time’s Arrow” Task Force. (See this guide to getting around for full details on how to do that.)
For the best XP, you need to be sure that you’re doing a “kill-most” ITF, rather than a speed run. A speed run is intended to get through the TF for the merit reward as quickly as possible, and can easily be done in 15 minutes or less. But to grind out the most XP, you want to take your time and defeat as many enemies as you possibly can.
For the very best XP, make sure that as many members of the team as possible are level 50+1 with the Incarnate Alpha boost, and have one of them lead and set the difficulty to +4. You may not be able to hit much yourself, but your teammates will handle that, and you’ll rake in XP by the bucket. (And remember what I said above about asking nicely if you can leech XP.) But even setting the diff lower will still result in a good haul, as long as your team is able to defeat the mobs easily.
This is probably the most common way people powerlevel. I’m not going to go in-depth about how to farm here; there are plenty of other great guides for that. But I can give you a decent overview.
In case you didn’t know, farming is when you do the same content over and over, for the purpose of gaining lots of XP or Inf. Some people will keep certain plot arc missions as handy reusable farms for specific enemy types (Council are a fave), but probably most farming is done via Architect Entertainment farming maps. Even though AE awards XP at only 50% of the rate of adventuring within official content, AE missions can be packed full enough of readily-defeated enemies to overcome that drawback for many.
Some farmers will request “door sitters”—people to join their team and wait at the entrance of a farm while they go do their thing, so that the XP multiplier improves and they can get the best personal XP rate. If you’re looking for a door-sitting slot, your best bet is to sit in an AE in a lowbie zone like Atlas and wait for someone to make the request. You can try broadcasting or posting to /lfg requests to join such a team yourself, but don’t make a nuisance of yourself about it.
If you making a farming-capable character yourself, you may be able to trade favors with other farmers—get them to farm you up in return for you doing the same for one of their alts at need. Or, if you have the ability to run two instances of City of Heroes, you could dual-box with two separate accounts of your own, making a farmer on each account and using it to farm-level someone from the other account. (Bear in mind, dual-boxing is only permissible when the server has below 1,500 accounts logged in.)
If you’re looking to make a character to run a fire farm (one of the most popular AE farm types), you’ll probably want to go with a Fire/Spines Brute, or Fire/Radiation Melee if you just don’t like how spines look. Any melee set with decent AoE will be good in a farm, even the classic Fire/Fire. You can also farm with Fire Scrappers and to a certain extent Tankers (they’re very tough, but don’t damage as fast), and even Fire/Kinetic Controllers can be built with farming in mind. When you farm, Inspirations will drop like crazy, so use them like crazy if you want to stay alive.
From experience, farming can be kind of boring, but on the other hand there can also be a sort of soothing “zen” about defeating the same enemies over and over and over again, lather rinse repeat. It doesn’t require a whole lot of attention, so you can do it while you’re thinking about other things, or watching TV, or whatever. And even if you’re soloing, it can be a decent way to powerlevel yourself once you get the hang of it. But it's not required, by any means; as I mentioned above, doing task forces on double XP can be very nearly as fast, and a lot more fun besides.
Once you’ve hit level 50, you can also choose to turn off XP and just farm for Inf. Inf farming can be pretty lucrative in its own right.
Powerleveling isn't just a matter of leveling and training up. There's also slotting up involved, too—enhancing your powers so that they will be more effective on tougher enemies. But how and when to slot? Here are my suggestions.
COMMON IO ENHANCEMENTS
When to slot Common IOs is a bit of a balance; they don't need to be replaced, but at the lower levels you'll be leveling so fast that if you fill too many slots it won't be long before you'll want to replace them with better ones. Luckily, if you have the recipes memorized on at least one of your characters, you can craft them for next to nothing; your only real limitation is how much storage room you have in your supergroup base (or your character's 70 Enhancement Tray slots if you don't have a SG base).
I would suggest crafting or buying a just handful of the most-used types of Common IO (Damage, Accuracy, Recharge Rate, Endurance Reduction, Healing, Run Speed) at level 10, for slotting after you finish your Death From Below. Craft or buy a few more of those at levels 15 and 20, which you can stick into empty slots, but you're probably not going to want to bother replacing all the level 10s just yet. Then craft a bunch more at level 25, that you can use to replace the lower-level ones. Those are very nearly as effective as SOs, so you can keep them as they are for a while. You probably should concentrate on replacing them with Attuned IO sets from here on out, rather than continuing to upgrade everything through commons to level 50.
Having all these Enhancements crafted ahead of time means that when you level, you can pop into your base and grab as many IOs as you need, rather than having to spend a bunch of time crafting or buying all new ones and slowing yourself and everyone else down as you sprint to level 50.
Common IO are great for getting started, but over time, if you want your character to be at their best, you're going to want to replace them with Attuned Enhancement sets for the long haul. By the time you're 50, you should be full up on ATOs, special sets like Overwhelming Force or Winter-Os, and the higher-end Invention Origin sets (Uncommon, Rare, Very Rare, PVP). You'll have to wait to get Very Rare, Superior ATO, and Level 50 PVP sets until you hit level 50, but there's no reason you couldn't work on slotting everything else in Attuned form along the way so it can level up with you to level 50.
The best way to go about this is to plan your build ahead of time using Mids, so that you can place bids on the Auction House for the specific recipes or Enhancements that you want, and hope that they'll come in by the time you can use them. This is especially worth doing for purple (Very Rare) sets, since you'll have all the way up to level 50 for the bids to go through. You may also want to buy or craft some "filler" IO sets to stand in for those level-50-only sets until you reach 50 and can slot them; then you can pop those fillers out and sell them or pass them on to the next character you make.
If you slotted and Attuned any PVP sets on the way up, at level 50 you'll want to pop them out and sell them, then re-buy the non-Attuned level 50 version so you can Boost it to 50+5. Also remember to boost purple IO sets; do not Attune them. (Purple and PVP sets will act as if they're Attuned, providing their set bonuses as low as they're available.)
This guide sure was a lot shorter than the last powerleveling guide I wrote, wasn’t it? Even leaving aside all the old FAQ stuff about why people would want to powerlevel, there really aren’t all that many secrets to know anymore now that the Homecoming devs are only nerfing things when they get ridiculous (like people taking DFB all the way to level 50). Just remember to respect the other players, and always ask nicely if they mind when you know you're not going to be a very effective member of the team.
Hopefully, knowing how to level as quickly as possible will enhance your enjoyment of the game—but also, remember that nobody says you have to powerlevel. You’re free to leave double XP boosts off and take your time, leveling as quickly or as slowly as you want. Isn’t it fun to have a choice?
If I made any mistakes, or left out any good methods of powerleveling, please let me know in the comments. If there’s anything really big that I forgot to mention, I’ll be happy to incorporate it into the guide.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this guide, please check out my others.