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The Complete Newcomer's Guide to City of Heroes: Basic Terminology and Concepts


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Before I go over how to spend your new character's first day in City of Heroes, there are a few concepts I should introduce to make things go easier. These are things you'll encounter in your first hours playing the game, but will be dealing with all throughout the course of it, so getting an idea of what they mean now will help you start off on the right foot. I'll try to keep these explanations simple, because you really will learn a lot more from experience.



Since you'll be learning from experience, we'll start your learning with…experience! Experience Points, that is; usually abbreviated to "XP." These points are how the game charts your progress as you defeat bad (or good) guys and complete missions. After you collect a certain amount of XP, you will "level up"—that is, graduate to the next character level, so you can go to a trainer and improve your powers. You'll also be greeted with a nifty chime and visual effect celebrating your ascendancy, and have a large set of Inspirations automatically applied to you. (Including an Awaken, so if you're currently face-down from having been defeated when it happens, you'll immediately be brought back to life.) If you're on a team, these things will call your level-up to your teammates' attention, and they may congratulate you. 


(Because of that chime, leveling up is also referred to as a "ding," and it's not uncommon for people who level up to shout "Ding!" or "Ding <level number>!" when it happens, or use the term as a verb. "When I ding 50...")


The amount of XP required to level up scales up as you level up. At level 1 or 2, it just requires defeating an enemy or two, or just a few, to do it. By the time you're in your 40s, you'll have to defeat hundreds of them (as well as obtain XP from other sources). Also, the amount of XP you get from individual defeats scales up level by level. There are charts out there giving the exact details of how many enemy defeats it takes per level if you care to look for them, but most players don't really worry about that. They track their progress by the graphical representation in the upper right corner of the screen, in the same place as their Health and Endurance bars.


To the right of the Health and Endurance bars is a dial with ten wedge-shaped segments (often referred to as "bubbles" or "bubs"). Below the Health and End bars is an XP bar. The bar starts out empty, but will fill with pink as you defeat enemies and earn XP. Each filled bar represents one filled bubble, and you must fill ten bubbles to advance to the next level. (Since filling one bar amounts to a bubble, sometimes players will talk about needing "two more bubs," or they may say "two more bars.")



Did you know you can earn XP for not playing your character? In the picture above, you'll note that part of the XP bar is blue, and there are two blue bubbles after the filled pink ones. This blue segment is called Patrol XP. It's a sort of XP bonus you get for staying logged out over long periods of time—approximately one full bar per day. When you next adventure, that blue bar will add to the amount of regular XP you earn until it is used up. Each time you earn one experience point, one of the Patrol experience points will convert into a regular one, meaning that you'll earn XP twice as fast until you use it up. (Patrol XP only counts toward XP from enemy defeats, not from other sources such as end-of-mission XP bonuses.)


You won't encounter the other kind of XP modifier until you reach level 10. That is XP debt.


When you're defeated after level 10, you'll get a form of negative XP added onto your XP bar, called XP Debt—the brown segment in the picture above. This debt works just like patrol XP, but in reverse: out of every two XP you earn, one will be deducted from the XP debt until the debt is gone. There are ways to work off debt faster, but in actuality they hardly matter, because most of the time you'll hardly even notice your XP debt before it's worked off by defeating a few enemies on your way to the next level. You will earn half as much debt for being defeated within a mission as you would for being defeated within a regular map zone.


Back when City of Heroes was first launched, the way of thinking in MMO design was that there should be some sort of extra punishment for being defeated in battle—be that making you have to go find your corpse to get your stuff back, or tacking an XP penalty onto you for it. In those days, you would get a half-bar of debt for being defeated inside a mission, or a whole bar for being defeated outside. Many players would groan about it—but some would intentionally get defeated multiple times to slow down their leveling progress so they could experience more content without outleveling it.


Those days are long gone. Now you can simply choose to turn off XP gain with a switch in the options menu if you want to slow down your leveling—and there's a flashback system for going back to play content you missed, so you don't even have to do that. And the amount of XP Debt you get for defeats has been vastly reduced.


(Also, "In my day, we had to earn XP uphill both ways, in the snow...")


XP Debt and Patrol XP cancel each other out. If you have Patrol XP when you're defeated after level 10, the amount of debt will subtract from the Patrol XP instead of adding the brown segment. Also, if you log out with debt, the next time you log in that debt will be reduced by the amount of Patrol XP you would have earned in that time.



Besides XP, the other thing you'll earn from defeating enemies is the game's main system of currency, Inf. Depending on which side your character starts out, Inf may stand for Influence (for heroes), Infamy (for villains), or Information (for Praetorians). The different names are just for thematic purposes, because it's actually the exact same currency—if your character switches sides from hero to villain, they will have the same amount of Infamy as they did Influence before the change. 


Inf is actually not meant to represent material wealth, but rather how well-regarded your character is in the overall heroing, villainous, or Praetorian community. At the time City of Heroes was launched, "reputation currency" was a nifty new idea in some science-fictional and philosophical circles (for example, it featured heavily in Cory Doctorow's 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). It's easy to see why the game developers went that route, since it offered a way to avoid the mercenary connotations that would arise out of heroes having to earn real money for their heroing work in order to upgrade their powers. Also, it gives players more control over their characters' backstories. If they want to say their character lives in a penthouse, or they want them to live just up the alley from where Skulls and Hellions mug people, that's entirely up to them. It doesn't make a difference to the game either way.


In any case, as you defeat enemies, you will earn both XP and Inf. Inf can be used at vendors or auction houses to buy things including Enhancements and Inspirations (more on those shortly) to power up your characters. You can also use the game's email system to email Inf to other people, or to yourself if you want to be able to move it from character to character or simply keep it in storage. Your character can't have more than 2 billion Inf in its wallet at any one time; any amount you earn over that is simply lost. If you approach that 2 billion Inf cap, you'll probably want to email yourself a few hundred million to clear room for more. (It may seem unimaginable to you right now that you could ever have two billion Inf, but you'll get there.)


There is a free XP booster you can get at the P2W store that will increase the amount of XP you earn. However, it will also cut the amount of Inf you earn by the same percentage—so if you double your XP, you won't earn any Inf from adventuring at all. As you're just starting out in the game, you might want to leave that alone for now. 


There are also other (and faster) ways to earn Inf than just adventuring. In fact, I cover a method that will let you earn your first million or so Inf within just an hour of gameplay in another of my guides. But that's one of those advanced guides that assumes a little more game knowledge than someone just starting out might have, so it might be best to save that one until you've played the game a little and understand a little more.



It probably won't come as a surprise that Enhancements are one of the more complicated elements of City of Heroes. Enhancements are the way you upgrade and customize your powers—and there are a whole lot of different kinds of them. Fortunately, you won't encounter most of those kinds until you've had more experience in the game, so I won't cover those in any detail. But even going over the kinds you'll run into when you start out will be complicated enough.


If you've already gone through the tutorial for that character you created in the previous guide, you'll have been introduced to Enhancements already. They fit into spaces on your powers, that you add to your powers as you level up. A power starts with just one slot, and you can add up to five, for a total of six. 


When City of Heroes launched, first there were just three fundamental categories of Enhancement. Training Enhancements (or Trainings) are low-level Enhancements, that dropped from defeated enemies at levels 1-14. Dual-Origin Enhancements (abbreviated as DOs) started dropping at level 15 (as well as being available for purchase in stores at that level). They are twice as effective as Trainings, and each one can be used by characters who have one of two particular Origins. For example, one variety of DO can be used by Mutant or Magic characters, another can be used by Magic or Natural characters, another by Natural or Technology, and so on. Single-Origin Enhancements (SOs) are twice as effective as DOs (hence, four times as effective as Trainings) and started dropping (and selling) at level 25, and can be used by characters of that one specific Origin that they're meant for. 


As you level up, these Enhancements will become less effective and eventually expire. You can slot them starting three levels below the level of the Enhancement. (For example, you can slot a level 15 DO when your character is level 12.) As long as the Enhancement is higher than your character's level, the number will be colored green. When it is exactly equal to your character's level, it will be colored white. When it is up to 3 levels lower than your character, it is colored yellow. If it is more than 3 levels higher or lower than your character's level, the Enhancement will be colored red, and you can't slot it (and if it's one you slotted already and outleveled, it just won't do anything for the power it's in until it's replaced with a higher-level Enhancement). 


To make the Enhancements last longer, you can combine Enhancements that are less than 3 levels higher than you are, to bump them up one more level in effectiveness. Even so, in days of old, it was not uncommon for a teammate to say, "Hold up, guys, all my Enhancements just went red," and for them have to spend five or ten minutes at a store hastily buying and slotting new ones. And they would have to do this every five levels.


Fortunately, as time went on, the developers introduced new kinds of Enhancement to the game, including Invention Enhancements that don't expire. However, you probably won't be making much use of those until you get into your level 20s. Invention Enhancements can be kind of complicated, but you shouldn't worry about those when you're just getting into the game. By the time you've leveled up to the point where Invention Enhancements will be a good option for your character, you'll be better able to understand the other guides that discuss those in more detail.


As a just-starting player, most of the Enhancements you'll be dealing with right now until you reach level 12 will be Trainings. These are the ones that will drop when you defeat some enemies. You should slot ones you can use and sell ones you can't—or just sell all of them to get a little extra money you can use for other things. I wouldn't really suggest buying more, though. To be honest, as little as Trainings do, it's almost not worth messing with them at all. At low levels, your character gets some automatic buffs that make the Enhancements a lot less important; these buffs dwindle and go away by level 20.


Incidentally, this whole business may be just about to change. Since Invention Enhancements have effectively rendered Trainings and DOs obsolete, a patch currently testing on the open beta server will make SO Enhancements available starting at level 5. (And once it goes live, I'll have to update this section of my guide.) That will make your Enhancement drops much more effective. 



As you adventure, you will also have Inspirations drop from defeated enemies, or be available to purchase in the same stores that sell Inspirations. Inspirations are temporary power-ups you can use at any time to boost your damage, accuracy, defense, and other statistics, or to recover health or Endurance. Inspirations are square tokens that show up in a tray above your power trays, where you can click one to use it up. The basic Inspirations you receive at first will be a solid color with a particular logo on them representing their effect, and they come in three sizes with different level of effectiveness. The small size is the only one you can purchase directly from vendors; you can get larger ones from higher-level enemies or the auction house, among other places. Players often refer to Inspirations as "candy," or by the color of the inspiration ("greens," "blues," etc.). When you start out, you'll only be able to hold three Inspirations in your tray, but as you level up you'll get more space.


Inspirations can make the difference between failure and success. It's not uncommon for players to go by the vendor and pick up whole trays full of purple (Defense) Inspirations before going into particularly challenging missions. One type of Inspiration, Awakens, will let you resurrect ("rez") yourself after having been defeated, though they leave you vulnerable for a good amount of time so be sure you're in a safe place before you use them. There are a few other types of Inspiration beyond just the basic, that you will be able to get later on.


Don't be afraid to use your Inspirations. You can only get more Inspirations from defeating enemies if you have empty space in your tray for them to drop into. It's tempting to save Inspirations, especially bigger ones, for later on when you think you might need them. However, if you use them as often as possible, you get the benefit of them right away and make room for more to come to you later—or for teammates to pass them to you if they see you need them. If you keep your Inspiration tray full all the time, you're passing up many chances to get more.



At some point, the game will notify you that you've just received your first piece of invention salvage from a defeated enemy. Invention salvage is used in City of Heroes's crafting system, where you can build Invention Enhancements out of pieces you pick up or buy at auction. For now, you should probably just hold onto it. You can learn more about crafting Inventions by taking the tutorial offered by an NPC at the universities in Steel Canyon or Cap au Diable.



You will receive your first few reward merits early on, after you complete your first mission story arcs. (I'll discuss those in the next guide, about starting off your adventures in Paragon City.) Reward Merits are a system of tokens that are awarded for certain accomplishments in the game, such as completing story arcs or Task/Strike Forces, or visiting all the exploration badges in a zone. You can use them at Reward Merit Vendors to purchase various items such as Enhancements or Recipes. 


You will probably want to save these Merits up at first, as most of the things you could buy with them aren't that useful at lower levels. In a couple of my other guides, I do discuss things you can buy with them in more detail, as well as how to use them to make money. You may want to get a little more experience at playing the game before you dive too deeply into those, however.


There are other types of Merits in the game (Hero/Villain, Vanguard, Empyrean, etc.) but you won't encounter those until considerably later on.



Hopefully, I haven't confused you too badly. In the next guide, I will offer advice for getting started on your first day in Paragon City or the Rogue Isles.

Edited by Robotech_Master
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