Champions Online Review

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My Champions Online review is below starting with character creation.

Character Creation: Simply put, character creation in Champions Online is one of the most verbose systems I have ever dealt with.  The closest thing to compare it to is City of Heroes, which makes perfect sense since Cryptic Studios developed that superhero title as well.  In Champions players can create the most insanely awesome, copycat or downright ugly characters that their imaginations allow.  There is a metric ton of typical options, sliders for body type attributes, and even more options that enable you to modify those attributes into robot parts, wings, a demon tail or objects that are barely describable (T-Rex arms!).  Assuming you manage to pull off a sweet design you can even save and share it with friends.

Character creation doesn’t end after the ‘Play’ button though.  Throughout the game players can specialize their character in numerous other ways, some purely cosmetic, some that actually impact gameplay.  Cosmetically, one can chose where, and with what color, our spells fire from.  Want fireballs to launch from you chest and appear as iceballs?  So be it.  Gameplay customization can be summed up as specializing, but Cryptic enables players to chose basically anything.  To the point that you can horribly gimp your toon.  You can roll these poor decisions back – a tanking toon with threat reduction is bad? – but it’s a costly process.

For all the choice built in to the feature, Cryptic did botch one aspect of creation.  Costume creation contains so many options, with so many dropdown boxes that it’s common to be unable to locate what you want to modify.  The developers seemed to realize this, because they allow you to click on specific parts of the costume to modify in an attempt to pinpoint such things, but it isn’t that accurate.  A minor, but rather annoying, inconvenience in one of the title’s most stunning features.

Opening & Lore:  Thanks to Cryptic’s acquisition of the entire Champions intellectual property Champions Online has quite a bit of lore.  Although the stories and heroic deeds done by the property’s heroes aren’t well known to the general public, it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable.  From the early tutorial to the powerful super villains, everything has a greater purpose.  Much of lore is forgettable, but the truly epic stories and tasks are ingrained in players thanks to the an extra detail, full voice acting.

The early public quests sets the tone for the rest of the important battles.  A champion rises to the cause, explaining the requirements, setting the stage and pumping up the participants for the multi-stage task.  The task(s) isn’t all that memorable, but it’s amazing how eloquent voice acting and good character writing can sear a setting in one’s brain.  On the flipside, it goes to show how easily all the text-based lore and character development is forgotten.  One can only hope that Crytpic realizes the importance of voicing future content.

It’s worth noting that Cryptic initially filled the website with new lore.  An act that has tailed off since launch, likely due to devs being busy with fixing and extending the game itself.

mmoc_champions_online_locked_inUser Interface:  Champions Online sticks with the User Interface that has become common since the original EverQuest burst on to the gaming scene.  Spells and abilities are launched from a default bar on the bottom of the screen, the inventory pops up on the right side of the screen, and the ever popular minimap resides in the upper right corner.  The basics are nothing but familiar except for the gear that boosts character statistics.

Because Cryptic Studios wanted to make the costume players chose last the entire game, or until they wish to change the look, the gear equipped has absolutely no impact on a character’s look.  This means that loot isn’t applied to a character in the same way as most popular MMOGs.  Out goes your token slot – head, waist, legs, shoulders, etc – Instead players are given nine slots to work in whatever boosts they can finagle without overlapping types.  An interesting design decision, even if it is a little confusing at first.

Quests & Grinding:  Quite simple, questing is your only option.  The mobs in Champions Online offer so little XP per kill as to become negligible when compared to the massive amounts of experience gained by completing quests.  With the balance heavily favoring questing – something some players hate, and others love – the problems arise when players clear an area’s quests but aren’t high enough level to progress to a new level.  Thankfully Cryptic has been adding extra quests for those sparse areas.

Dungeons:  Solidsamantha has over two dozen hours clocked but has never entered what one would call a dungeon.  She’s cleared plenty of group content, villains of varying difficulty, but there’s never been a dungeon crawl, complete with a loot-hording boss at the end.They do exist, Cryptic calls them ‘Lairs.’  These challenges have been available to her, but have never been worth the effort. Following the path of least resistance mantra, Solidsagart has progressed through solo content.

Polish:  It’s obvious that Champions Online needed more time in the oven.  It’s been over a month since going live and the game still has issues.  No MMOGs ship in a perfect state, but Cryptic continues to have problems across the board.  Cryptic is handling it well, issuing patches and community updates to keep players abreast of the situation and show them that the developers are aware of the issues.  To make amends Cryptic has issued free playtime and retcons – aka respecs – to subscribers.  A small measure that actually goes a long way.

mmoc_champions_online1Uniqueness:  There’s only one obvious comparison that can be made, City of Heroes (and Villains).  Considering that Cryptic Studios also made CoH, it’s easy to assume that Champions Online is simply CoH v1.5.  The assumption isn’t far off the mark at first glance, and likely why the stigma still remains, but Champions is far deeper than a weird rip-off.

Sure, both titles feature fast-paced action and revolve around superheroes, but Warhammer Online and WoW feature fantasy settings and they aren’t the same.  Just like the fantasy pair, the worlds of CO and CoH are drastically different, enabling the developers to go in a variety of directions.  The reoccurring knock of v1.5 is the result of Cryptic’s developers not diversifying the title from the get go.  This was likely a conscious decision; having some familiarity is a good draw for MMO gamers in general, not just former CoH players.

To be clear, it’s the worlds that diversify the content – the story, the writing and the presentation.  The combat remains fairly close to CoH’s, although Champions’ combat is faster and more arcade-y than CoH’s already arcade-y combat.

Overall:  Champions Online offers a unique experience in today’s crowded MMOG genre.  It’s extremely casual and alt friendly, but is hamstrung by a lack of group content early on.  By and large the game is entirely soloable up until the lairs become a more frequent occurrence later in the game.  Champions Online is far from perfect, but as one of the few non-fantasy titles available it holds its own and will only get better in the coming months.

3 Comments

  1. I you like alot down time,nerfs,and lies from a game you love this one.They had a winner in Beta to get people to buy and get lifetime subs.Then day of official launch they launch massive nerfing of every power set.Then with very little content and weak heros.You be better off buying City of heros.

  2. The review fails to mention the lack of end game content. Once you’ve maxed your character out there is little to do except roll and alt and start all over again.

    That is Champions Online’s idea of ‘replayability’.

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