First impressions of Champions Online
It is a nice game and I have had fun and enjoyed playing it quite a bit so far.
This is my overall impression of the game. Sometimes the simple messages like this get lost when you go into analysing things too much, so I just state that part right away.
It is probably not a surprise to anyone that Champions Online is an MMO with a comic book superhero setting. That has been quite clear from Cryptic and that they wanted to combine superhero gameplay with an MMO type world. To that effect they have created a visual style intended to look very much like a 4-colour comic book, and also a gameplay that perhaps is a bit reminiscent of the “Ka-pows” and “Blam!” like the old Batman&Robin cartoons, for example.
To that effect I think they have done a great job. It certainly looks a lot like a comic book environment and playing is definitelya bit of head on blam-bang-katjoff-kawong. So it is really a matter of if that type of game is something you would like or not. I am not a superhero comic book fan and I cannot really say what superheroes belong to Marvel, DC or whatever else there might be. But I find the setting here a fun departure from other MMO gameplay.
Starting out in Champions Online of course consists of creating a superhero character. As with Cryptic’s previous MMO, this part has plenty of choice. There are no classes or archetypes in the game, it is completely up to the player how they want to create their character – powers that a character can used can be mixed with a very high degree of freedom. As a starting point though the game provides 18 frameworks to choose from initially.
If you do not want to go with any framework there is also the option to make a custom power selection. There is a lot to play around with here and the game provide a decent short description of each framework, although it is still perhaps not enough to really know how it will be – cannot beat practical experience here. After this it continues with the actual character creation. In this area it is possible to go completely nuts – there is a huge amount of options. For some areas one can choose some predefined options – e.g. face, body, stance and mood. For things such as face and body there are also a large amount of sliders available to tune that part of the character instead of using one of the predefined options.
The costume options are quite extensive – for each area (head, upper body, lower body, hands, feet) there is a range of option groups. For each group in turn there are a number of sub groups to select pieces and items from. The sub groups will vary depending on the main option group chosen, so there is not quite a completely free choice of combining everything. But what is there is very extensive. And there have been some quite amazing outfits I have seen in the game already.
At any stage in the character creation process it is possible to save the character as it is. The neat thing here is that the costume offerings are actually saved as a picture of a comic book cover with the superhero on the front. The saved costume data can be reloaded from that picture, such as the one below here.
After creating the character it is then time to start playing. Everyone starts in the tutorial zone, which consists of a limited part of Millenium City, one of the zones in the game. In this area there is an ongoing invasion from some insectoid aliens called the Qularr and the job of the superheroes are to fight off this invasion. There are a couple of missions and NPCs teaching some gameplay basics, but most of the content in the zone is pretty much regular gameplay. Some of the missions create a more or less directed path through the zone, but there are also a couple of missions which one may stumble upon while investigating the zone. For a tutorial section I think this is quite a good one. It gets you into the action quite quickly and do provide easy and useful examples of different mission types. There are only two powers available throughout the tutorial zone, but it is also possible to obtain various devices (either as loot or mission rewards) which can be used in fights as well.
One neat thing which I did not know was part of the game was that you can pick up various items and use them as weapons to hit the enemy with. When you do not need them anymore you just throw them away. Some large items requires the character to have super strength to be able to move/lift them.
In addition to regular missions there is also one Open Mission in the tutorial zone. Open missions are areas with a defined set of objectives in multiple stages which all players in the area can contribute to, without explicitly teaming. This feature has been inspired by public quests in Warhammer Online. The last part of the tutorial is a solo mission, in which you will fight together with one of the signature heroes, Defender, to put a stop to the invasion (although Mr D becomes slightly *cough* indisposed when the going gets tough…).
After the celebration of your heroic deeds it is then off to one of two other special zones, a desert zone or a winter zone in Canada. Both are sort of extended newbie areas and a smaller part of the actual real zones. There are more missions here and this is also the point when one can start picking some new powers after the initial two that were received. The power selection also includes a travel power, which makes it easier/faster to get around: I do not recall the exact number, but I believe there were around 10-12 different travel powers to choose from.
These extended newbie areas also introduce the crafting part of the game. In the first tutorial zone there were missions that introduced various items which could be equipped and provide various bonuses. The crafting part allows similar items to be crafted, as long as the player has a blue print learned and the right components to build the item. Items that are dropped as loot can in some cases also be dismantled to get components and which also provides added experience for the crafting skills.
Once the crisis zone objective have been completed the characters are dropped into the real zone. From this point the game structure seems similar to many mission-oriented MMOs: many missions to pick up and some pretty much dressed up versions of “kill ten rats”. There are also a number of the Open Mission areas to visit.
While I cannot say that I am impressed with the mission structure for the regular missions, it is certainly not worse than many other mission-oriented MMOs. How well they work out probably depends on what kind of setting one prefers. For me I rather hunt to 10 hillbillys gone crazy from radiation than hunt 10 wolves for their skin.
I cannot say that all the mechanics and features are crystal clear at this point. But as with any good game it does leave with a desire to explore things a bit further and learn more how things work.
A few feature which are quite nice benefits from my point of view:
- Everything is in one world, so everyone can in theory play with everyone. Instead the different areas are instanced. The tutorial zone seems to have a limit in the area of 25-30 characters in each zone and the initial crisis zones seem to have a character limt at 50. The real zones are larger though and the limit seem to be 160-170 characters or higher in each .
- It is possible to pick the same name as someone else has used. An account name is used in addition to the character name to uniquely identify a character. I think this is good that sonmeone finally includes this feature.
- There are multiple “builds” available, each with potentially different power selections, equipment and devices. The first one is “balanced”, but after the tutorial the “offensive” “build” is also available. The third one should probably be “defensive”, but I have not reached that point yet. It seems to be possible to switch between those at any time. This will likely become more relevant at higher levels.
The initial peek here has really just been to see if the game is worth playing at all – I am not too keen to play too much before the real game is released. I have no idea how long I will play the game and it does not really matter – as with any other MMO I will play it when and as long as it is fun. But I do not need to know before how long that will be.
It is a fun game, but not without its flaws. There are some bugs that has been seen and some parts of the interface is a bit clunky. But it seems Cryptic is doing a good job in responding to issues so I have good hopes that there will be improvements over time also.
I do not think this is an MMO that will fit everyone and they are not really aiming for that either. But they have brought another superhero MMO into the market which is nice to see. I do not see it as a direct competitor to City of Heroes/Villains either – there are similarities obviously, but I think they are also partly adressing different audiences or play preferences. For myself I am still going to play both of them.