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Heroic Strategy Simulations

The trouble with determining that any character is fine to play does is that it not resolve the fundamental problem that in order to get past the login screen, some choice must be made. Fronted with such a choice in City of Heroes today brought me to running some mental simulations. They were interesting enough (to me) that I thought I'd write them down. (Also interesting is apparently I'd rather talk about the game than play it right now.)

In any case, the following is an elaborate lie to try to convince myself there's a best choice. It just goes to show that the hierarchy of falsehood is still: Lies < Damn Lies < Statistics. I fear it's neurotic posts like this that drive away most of my readers, with bleeding eyes.

Test Setups

Psi-Caster, level 36 Illusion/Weather Controller.
Stamina-less, versatile configuration.

The Nanites, level 33 Spines/Dark Armor Scrapper.
Balanced configuration, not too much AOE, not too much single target, with prerequisite 6 powers dedicated to Acrobatics (for knockback resistance) and Stamina.

Max Powers, currently level 12 Assault Rifle/Electricity Manipulations Blaster.
For sake of simulation lets assume he's level 32. (Here I'm making the widest stretch because I haven't played a Blaster at 32, but I've played the game enough that I bet I can make an solid educated guess about how it'll go.)

Scenarios and simulations:
All scenarios assume equal-level foes.

Scenario 1: 1 boss, 2 lieutenants, 3 minions. (Challenging mission encounter.)

Psi-Caster will first layer two confuses on the boss, setting his high damage potential against the lieutenants and minions. Then he'll drop Phantom Army to distract the rest and move in for the kill. Everything will fall promptly in a random manner, with reapplications of confuse on the boss and the potential to hold targets if any survive. When we're down to just the boss, start leveling holds and spectral wounds while the pets now only have one target to focus on. It will still take a little while to take down the boss, as Controller damage is not that great - this is the part I hate the most. No potential for failure, as Psi-Caster is never directly engaged and has a number of other tricks if things go wrong.

Nanites will make sure all toggles are active, Build Up, Throw Spines the group, and then engage the boss, attempting to manuever as many foes into Ripper and subsequent Throw Spines cones as possible. Death Shroud will finish off the minions that don't run. Once the boss is down, move on to the lieutenants. If health gets low, activate Dark Regeneration. There's a potential for failure if I take too much damage too quickly, redeemable at later levels through PBAOE disorient and self-resurrection.

Max Power hits Build Up and tries to catch all foes in Full Auto, then Flamethrower, M60 Grenade, Shotgun. The minions and probably the lieutenants are instantly obliterated. Chain beanbag the boss to disorient him, but he probably won't last long enough for it to be worth meleeing him. Potential for failure exists if too many misses occur or the boss gets lucky. The Nanites has a small advantage here in that he has a high potential for critical hits on bosses and can endure more damage than Max Power.

Offensive Ranking: Nanites > Max Power > Psi-Caster
Defensive Ranking: Psi-Caster > Nanites > Max Power
Fun Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster

Scenario 2: 10 minions. (Some Hazard zone encounters.)

Psi-Caster has few direct attacks, so must rely on Phantom Army and Phantasm's random attack whims while taking down foes one at a time with Hold and Spectral Wounds. At later levels he will gain more attacks, including Lightning Storm and ancillary AOE attacks. No potential of failure because, although the minions are likely to survive Phantom Army's expiration, he has various abilities to stop them from defeating him. There will be some monotony as he cleans up the remainders one target at a time, though Lightning Storm may assist with this.

Nanites has some cone and AOE attacks, which is unusual for a Scrapper but common of his set. Uses Throw Spines and Ripper to weaken minions, with the bulk falling to Death Shroud. Some minions will run off, probably more than can be conveniently Impaled. Victory is mostly assured, but I have run into some nasty Metal Swipers that can wipe out a lot of hitpoints even through his shields. I'd say a high probability for failure until PBAOE disorient is learned, as the minions will not be defeated fast enough to prevent an en-masse counterattack. Then again, it's unlike typical minion behavior for more than a few to engage in melee at once, and the range attacks are not a threat.

Max Power simply Builds Up and blows them all away with Full Auto. The only ones left will be those outside the cone, and they should be quickly cleaned up. Ready for next group! Minion extermination is what Blasters do best. There's a very slim potential for failure if the remaining minion's counterattack proves overwhelming, but I doubt there'll be that much to worry about.

Offensive Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster
Defensive Ranking: Psi-Caster > Max Power > Nanites
Fun Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster

Scenario 3: 2 bosses, 4 lieutenants, and 8 minions. (Worse Hazard zone encounters.)

Psi-Caster lands two confuses on one of the bosses, throws down Phantom Army, and attempts to chain confuse the other boss as well. With duration and accuracy enhancements, that's not too hard to do against even-con. With the assistance of the bosses, the majority of the foes are quickly defeated, some of them without receiving injury directly from Psi-Caster and so not giving an xp reward. (I can counteract this by throwing Freezing Rain, but this attracts the attention of all undefeated foes.) The two bosses remaining are awkward, hold one and confuse the other, then when we're down to one, hold the remaining and slowly... whittle... it down. Offensively, this scenario is why I hate being a Controller. Defensively, this scenario is why I love being a controller, though it can be a tad boring to not be under risk.

Nanites is hard pressed for success, but can pull it off with some defense inspirations. Same tactic as Scenario 2, but with priority on the bosses. Offensively, I don't need to deal with a long time taking down the bosses. Defensively, this battle is fatal without inspirations... but possibly the PBAOE disorient will change that.

Max Power should just walk away... but he's feeling lucky today. Build Up and Full Auto removes the minions. Two bosses and 4 leuitenents counterattack strikes. Still standing? Lucky you, now suck it up and throw a self-heal from the power pool. A subsequent AOE attack takes care of the lieutenants. Now he's down to 2 bosses, and they are pissed. One can be chain beanbagged, but the other will need to be taken down quickly, perhaps with melee. Alternate (safer) plan: Pull at range with Sniper Rifle... but if he pulls too much, he'll have to run away and try again.

Offensive Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster
Defensive Ranking: Psi-Caster > Nanites > Max Power
Fun Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster

Scenario 4: One archvillain-level foe. (Intentionally unbeatable scenario solo.)

Psi-Caster can keep an archvillain occupied indefinitely. Throw down Phantom army, Chain those holds. If that's not good enough, perhaps Tornado will throw him. If that's not good enough, maybe it can be confused. Worse case scenario, we've some hefty debuffs to severely reduce the incoming damage. However, actual defeat of the archvillain is impossible with Psi-Caster - he simply can't outdamage the regeneration.

Nanites can fight toe-to-toe with the archvillain until he runs out of endurance. He will be able to make slow progress against his foes' hitpoint regeneration, but it is unlikely he will overcome the foe before he runs out of endurance. This is an ideal scenario with inspirations being used to maximum effectiveness.

Max Power can do enough damage to defeat an archvillain, but only because of his Defiance trait. His best bet is to get badly injured, gaining 200% - 400% defiance damage bonus. Then pop 75% - 100% defensive inspirations and pray that the remaining 5% he's getting hit won't kill him while he's wailing away. However, without something stopping him from getting hit, he gets splattered against the walls instantly. It's just terrifying enough for the fun to be overpowered by a desire for more defense.

Offensive Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster
Defensive Ranking: Psi-Caster > Nanites > Max Power
Fun Ranking: Nanites > Max Power > Psi-Caster

Scenario 5: Group support against a large number of mixed foes.

Psi-Caster stands from afar while the meleers move on. If somebody is injured, he throws O2 boost. If the entire group is injured, he can't do much. If I sense too much damage is being taken by the group, I've debuffs to throw. It goes without saying that I'll already have neutralized the bosses with Holds and Confuse. I can nullify the initial alpha strike entirely with Phantom Army. Overall, Psi-Caster is a party support machine.

Nanites, a responsible Scrapper, keeps an eye on the squishies and jumps to their assistance if they're getting attacked, but otherwise removes the biggest threats first because that's what his crits are specialized against. If he's up against a lot of foes, he avoids attracting too much attention because he can't survive too much of it at once. Dark Armor Scrappers throw a little mob control (such as his upcoming PBAOE disorient) and AOE damage into the mix, but otherwise it's all about taking down the big bads fast. Overall, a pretty good group contributor, but he has to be proactive in his approach.

Max Power's group specialty is damage output. He can quickly render the minions a non-threat, and lieutenants shortly afterwards, leaving those pesky bosses. He doesn't support the group as much as the group supports him, everybody else keeps the Blaster alive: the Tanks distract the foes he's hitting, the Defenders keep him alive, and the Controllers a little of both. As I said under the Nanites, Scrappers can perform excellent squishy screening. In return, the Blaster keeps the team's forward momentum constant. Perhaps the Blaster's motto should be, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." However, I personally don't, and I can see that as being a problem in the long run.

Offensive Ranking: Max Power > Nanites > Psi-Caster
Defensive Ranking: Psi-Caster > Nanites > Max Power
Fun Ranking*: Psi-Caster > Nanites > Max Power

* - This was a tough one as they're all entertainnig to play in a group in their own way. Max Power keeps the action moving for the whole group, but Blaster-heavy groups tend to spend a lot of time earning debt because their leaders are too dumb to recognize that Blasters need somebody to soak the alpha strikes. Nanites has considerable freedom of mobility during battles, but has to be proactive to assist the team. Psi-Caster has the greatest freedom of choice and capacity to operate well in a group.


There really wasn't a need to put down a Offensive Ranking and Defensive Ranking.

Offensively, Blaster > Scrapper > Controller - The damage tables make sure of that. The only varying factor is that Scrappers will have an advantage against bosses, but Blasters are no slouches there either.

Defensively, Scrappers have enough defense to keep themselves alive while Controllers have enough defense to keep an entire group alive. Well-played Controllers render Tankers a safety net. Blasters defenses are tough for me to judge, as I've little first hand experience of trying to rely on them, but my assessment is that they've a few tricks that can't be relied on. For a blaster, their most reliable defense os a solid offense.

Fun is the most important thing, but it's also mostly objective to the person. My "fun" rankings for each scenario broke down this way (with 1 being the best of the three compared archetypes):

Scenario1 (Simple)2(10Minion)3(Tough)4(A.V.)5(Group)

It's pretty clear from these rankings that I think Psi-Caster is generally boring to solo but exciting in a group. I'm not surprised: the guy can't be hurt and takes longer than the others to defeat a batch of foes, but that problem goes away when I'm challenged to protect somebody else who can quickly deal the damage I can't.

Nanites unintentionally pulled the middle rank in every typical category (1 on 1 archvillian fights not being typical) making him both consistantly kinda fun and consistantly mediocre. That sounds about right from my experiences - Nanites is a solid character, but not that flashy.

Max Power is exciting to solo, but has a limited niche in groups. Of course, a lot of the "excitement" from Max Power comes from the simple fact that he's defensively quite weak, meaning I've got to stay on my toes to survive. That's both a good thing and a bad thing: Sure it's exciting, but this inherant vulnerability limits his potential and encourages me to group even if I don't feel like it.

Overall, the results were ultimately inconclusive. Another testimate to Cryptic's excellent balance work. If I had to choose one and that's all I could play, I'd probably go with Nanites. He's just the safest bet. If I had to delete all my other characters, I'd probably choose Psi-Caster, because advancing a Controller to 36 is my proudest achievement. But these are imaginary scenarios. In reality, perhaps I should play Max Power a little longer and see just how effective these Blaster secondary defense powers are. Maybe a level 32 Blaster has a lot better group role than I imagined, and if that's the case, the "fun" chart above scores 80% in complete favor of him. If nothing else, even reaching the 20s would be the highest I ever took a Blaster, having taken Controllers and Scrappers there on many occations. Still not very conclusive, though...

So, I flipped three coins, one for each archetype. The Blaster coin won 3/3 tosses. In a situation where any choice is fine, a coin toss would have saved a lot of time. Level 50, here I come.
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