One of the best parts of Champions Online has always been its Nemesis system.
Every hero has one. Batman has the Joker. Spider-Man has the Green Goblin. Thor has Loki. Superman has Lex Luthor. And so on, and so on. That one villain who is the bane of their existence. But wait-honestly, it’s not so much that they have a single nemesis-they all have a rotating rogue’s gallery, a heap of villains. Bats doesn’t just have the Joker; he’s got the Riddler and the Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul and Catwoman. Spider-Man has Doctor Octopus and the Lizard and the Kingpin and Kraven the Hunter.
City of Heroes had never really been able to replicate that sort of thing, one of its few lingering faults in my opinion. Mission Architect could help a little bit, but that required you to actually figure out how to make a mission from start to finish. CO may have its faults, but their Nemesis system seemed to definitely be a winner, and it still stuns me after all these years how-outside of one endgame thing-they never bothered to iterate on it. As in, at all. It’s one of their prime attractions to that game, and they ignore it. (I’ve spoken recently about how dumb the decision making at Cryptic is; this is just another example.)
Over my time in the game, I’ve managed to mess with this with a few heroes; one of them even managed to jail no less than two of his nemeses. This probably demands a bit of explanation first before I get into them.
When you get to level 25, you can go to the police station in Millennium City and “reveal” a secret history to the cop there-about your Nemesis! It’s a thinly veiled story lead-in to allow you to design your villain. The villain has pretty much all the same costume options as the hero does (save for weapons, I believe). You define a general power set for them, and assign henchmen-which have their own powerset. Once you’ve done that-and an introductory mission for the Nemesis-then you can expect to occasionally be ambushed by the minions of the Nemesis while you’re out in the world beating bad guys. If you defeat them (which, honestly, is rarely too hard-the hard part is if you’re fighting someone else at the same time. This will happen-often), one will usually drop a clue that goes in your inventory; opening it starts a “Nemesis Mission”, which features something the Nemesis is doing or the minions are doing, which you get to foil. Eventually, it all comes to a head and you may finally confront the Nemesis and defeat them, and put them in jail. Except…you have the option of reactivating the Nemesis, which will start a new cycle with villain, or create a NEW Nemesis. And when that cycle is done, you can choose to reactivate either of the old ones, or create yet another. And so on, to a maximum of eighteen. That’s not as easy as it sounds, because there is a cooldown timer limiting how often the minions ambush you-or more accurately, how often they drop clues.
There’s occasional bugs in the system; the Prison Break mission is infamous for having a bug that prevents you from completing the mission (I avoid it by just not saving any policemen, opening the cells, and making sure to defuse the bomb; I can’t be 100 percent certain that any of the above actually helps). And there’s one mission involving a VIPER Draysha facility that doesn’t cooperate so well if you’re teamed up with other heroes. So no, it isn’t perfect, and since CO is basically barely above maintenance mode (it still finds time for lockboxes), they probably won’t improve anyday soon.
That said, it’s still fun to have your hero occasionally get reminded by your Nemesis that they’re still out there.
So far, I’ve had four Nemeses (see? I know the plural form!) for my characters, and they’re worth sharing.
The first one was Fhtagath, a Nemesis for Runelord. That character was a wizard sort of guy, so it made sense to make a demon sort of guy to fight him. The name was derived a bit from Lovecraft; it sounded suitably horrific. I’d gone with a savage personality with Infernal Supernatural powers, so he was a definite melee brute-a nasty counterpoint to my ranged based Grimoire character. I used Ice Demons as his minions, but gave them fire powers; I liked the dichotomy. He actually featured in the one bit of fiction I wrote for Runelord as the demon that killed his master, but in the service of its own master (who never, alas, was revealed).
The good news for the good guys was, eventually, I managed to put him in jail (well, from a character standpoint, I banished him). So I expanded Runelord’s gallery by introducing the Black Blade. I made her a swordswoman-again with the melee!-and made her a thief of occult treasures and artifacts. Since Runelord’s backstory included possession of a fairly potent artifact, it would be a fair hook for any future writing I did (alas!), as well as give him a villain who wasn’t necessarily focused on simply rending him apart. Her minions were your traditional ninja; I’d not worked out why they worked for her, but I’m pretty sure I was leaning towards them being bound to the owner of the sword she used.
Gunfighter was another character who had a Nemesis available, and she was still at large; Mind Ripper was a telepath, and she came from the same program that had produced Gunfighter; the difference was that instead of being given tech to take advantage of exceptional skill, she had her very genetic structure remapped to produce telpathic powers-which drove her nuts. Her minions were thugs-who also wielded telepathic powers. My rationale was that she had effectively created a hive-mind with these thugs, so they no longer had any will of their own. I’d given her a maniac personality; that’s something worth mentioning-each Nemesis could have one of three personality types: mastermind, savage, or maniac. It could lead to some dialogue that didn’t really make much sense, and three is just limiting-you’d think it wouldn’t be hard to add more types, but again, that would require developers to actually iterate on the system.
The last Nemesis is the most recent, and is tied to my recent hero, Asteroid. When I was working up a backstory for him, included a reference to a mad scientist who had owned the moon base that Asteroid now uses; Asteroid referred to him as “Doctor Whatsisface”. So I decided it would be a good direction to go for his first nemesis. Since I liked the humor I was putting into the character’s backstory, I decided to continue a bit of it for his Nemesis. I decided that the name “Doctor Whatsisface” actually stuck, and that’s what the media started calling him. So now you have a mad scientist who has put conquering the world as a secondary goal, with a primary goal of beating up and burying that alien buffoon who stuck him with that ludicrous nickname! I gave him a gadgeteer powerset, which is pretty nasty as I hear it, and gave him insectoid minions with the power-armor powerset: genetically engineered and heavily armed, I wanted to put the “mad science” into my mad scientist. Given that I didn’t have a lab coat costume part to work with, I think he came out pretty good.
The Nemesis system may have its flaws-I’m sure the missions can become as repetitive as time goes on, but it’s still one of the better parts of CO. And really, what’s the fun of making a hero if you can’t make a villain to go against him? The only negative is having to get a character all the way to level 25 to do it, but given how deadly those villains can be, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.