Not Dead Yet

October 5, 2009

It’s been over a month since I began playing Champions Online, a game I neither followed prior to launch nor believed I would ever play.  It wasn’t until two to three weeks before the game launched that I started to experience any sort of interest in trying the game, and that only because of a (at least in my mind) lack of quality MMOs to play with.  Now that I’ve been playing for a good four or five weeks (including the open beta and head start) I feel comfortable transcribing a few thoughts about the game.

Overall, I am really enjoying Champions.  Many have said that the game is good for casual play — the sort of game one can jump in for an hour every couple of days or make endless alts — and that’s accurate.  Others have pointed out the game’s similarities to its predecessors, such as City of Heroes and, to a lesser extent, World of Warcraft.  There’s no denying the truth to those statements, either.

One of my champions using jet boots to navigate Millennium City.

One of my champions using jet boots to navigate Millennium City.

Beneath the surface, however, CO is a unique and fun game that offers enough familiarity to be comfortable to new players while providing neat innovations to the genre.  My thoughts on the subject are probably best expressed in list format, so without further ado…

Character Creation: What can I add that others haven’t already said?  It’s amazing, but complicated.  It’s beautiful, but not polished.  Basically, there’s a wealth of options available for character design, but like most systems in which there are numerous options, there’s a high probability for confusion.  What option did I have to choose to access those funky shoulders?  Why can’t I find the tiger stripe design for these pants?  Why does this cowboy shirt look like it was spray painted on my character’s body?

Probably the best aspect of the character creator for me are the body sliders.  The face sliders leave something to be desired: my champion has either a small, pouty mouth or a wide, thin-lipped one.  The body sliders, though, are awesome and provide for countless proportion options.  Much to my surprise, it’s even possible to make a female champion who is not overly sexualized (and can even look — gasp! — chubby and flat chested), such as my most recent creation who resembles a female body builder.  One complaint is the lack of female hairstyles, as many of them are…kind of ugly.

A tailor is easily accessed from most major quest hubs and offers reasonable prices on costume changes.  At various levels the character gets extra costume slots, for a total of (I think) four.

PvE Content: There are two aspects of PvE content that merit their own categories later (nemesis and dungeons) but this category is for the overall analysis.  The short version: I’m pleased with the PvE Content available for the game.  To speak at length…

The tutorial zone is fun, but gets old.  Fortunately it has been rumored that players will be able to skip this once they’ve gone through once on a character.  The second tier of newbie zones are great, particularly because around level 10 or 12 the player goes through a more difficult quest that takes them to a larger zone in which the landscape is changed to reflect the character’s accomplishments.  For instance, players in Canada must stop a…well I guess it’s a demon?…from creating a huge storm that…well, whatever it does…and when the player is finished he comes back to a (relatively) peaceful Canada in which the storm is gone but a new set of problems have begun.

Millennium City is very well-designed with lots of neat areas to explore.  The majority of the quests are done outside, with a few taking the player inside instanced buildings.  This is a nice change from City of Heroes, in which nearly every quest required the player to visit an instance.  Another quick note about questing: while the basic formula for quests follows the standard norm, there is no emphasis on grouping as there was in City of Heroes.  Players in CO can quest solo or in a team, with only a few challenging quests requiring a group.

Of the higher level zones, I’ve seen only one: Monster Island.  It’s much like the other zones in layout and design, but the quests seem a tad more challenging.  Also, there is an extremely powerful jackal NPC who offers the player the chance to best him to receive his treasure.  When the player does so, the player is flagged for PvP and other players are invited to come join the fray, battling the NPC and each other for the ultimate prize.  At least, that’s what happens in theory, as I’m too low to have done it myself and have not seen it happen.

PvP Content: Without PvP content, I’m not sure I would enjoy CO quite as much as I do.  There are arena cage matches in which two teams face off, free-for-all open air (but still instanced) matches in which players race to score ten kills, and higher level matches that incorporate some of the actual Champions NPCs getting into the fight.  There are a few abilities that seem far too powerful, but aside from the extreme advantage of teleportation there is nothing I’ve seen that really needs a nerf.  Healers appear pretty powerful and often can out-heal even a crowd of other players’ DPS.  There’s obvious pros and cons to that power, but it’s something worth mentioning.

Classes?  Powers?: Champions Online’s system of free-form power selection is something that I thought would be confusing or complicated, but it’s actually quite simple once you grasp the basics.  Warhammer Online offered a similar variety of powers in that it had 24 distinct classes, but ultimately I find the free-form power selection to be superior to even a wide variety of class options like WAR provided.  And while there are certain powers that many people seem to take (regeneration is clearly quite popular), I have found that there’s enough variety in both players and powers that I never run into a cookie cutter build.

Particularly unique is that there are a few different ways to activate powers in CO, all of which do something different.  Tap powers mean the player hits the power only once for each application, sort of like a rogue in WoW using sinister strike — it leads to button mashing.  Charged powers have a bar that fills up and can be released at any time, for better benefits but higher energy cost the more it fills.  Powers that are maintained are like charged powers in that they have a meter, only the meter starts at full and then decreases as you hold the button until the meter empties or your energy does.

Some powers have neat little effects.  For instance, one of my characters has a single target heal that can either be tapped or charged.  If I tap it, it does a small heal that doesn’t do much.  When I charge it, it does a long heal that, depending on one of my stats, heals for much more, often around a half a bar of health.  However, if I tap the power when I’m targeting a friendly player, I receive energy for every tap I do.  This is a great thing for healers — imagine priests in WoW tapping a button while targeting friendlies to get back mana.  Using this, my energy bar fills up very quickly and I’m then able to do a long heal on the friendly player.  Often the many taps I’ve done have been able to sustain him while I waited for the energy to fill.

Dungeons: There are many instanced quests in CO in which the player must defeat a named end boss, but often these are able to be accomplished solo or with only one other player.  When I talk about dungeons, I mean instanced areas that don’t require a quest to enter and require nearly a full five person team to complete.  So far I’ve completed two dungeons in CO, both of which were difficult but fun.  During my first experience I was fortunate enough to run with a group who had done the instance before and therefore knew all the little tricks.  In my second experience, however, it was only Boyfriend, a close friend, and myself (doing content a level or two below us), none of whom had run the dungeon before.

Dungeons in CO are sort of like public quests in WAR, except the stages usually aren’t timed.  If one has a quest to enter the dungeon, one’s quest log will simply say, “Go to Dr. Destroyer’s lab.”  It isn’t until one enters that one learns what the objectives are.  They’ll appear to the left side of one’s screen and will only be revealed in increments as one accomplishes each task.  In the dungeon we did last night, there was a puzzle in which we had to use four consoles to move a magnet around a room.  It took us a while to figure out how exactly to move the damn thing, but once we had it down it went quickly.  Another room was an assembly line that kept spawning robots, eventually faster than we could kill them.  Eventually I realized we had to shut off the assembly line by activating a series of consoles.  Just when I thought I’d done it, I realized I’d only turned off one of two assembly lines.  D’oh.

Nemesis: The nemesis system is a great feature in CO.  Players can only access the nemesis content once they reach level 25, a barrier that I think is a tad too high.  Since this game encourages altoholism, there will likely be many players who don’t make it to 25 until their fifth character, and at that after months of play.  Since the nemesis system is such an awesome feature, I feel that it should be available slightly earlier, perhaps at level 15.  Especially considering that, as I read elsewhere, the player will have many nemeses throughout the game.

For those who aren’t playing or who haven’t reached 25 yet, the nemesis system allows the player to design a nemesis using the character creator.  All the options are available to customize your nemesis, and the player can even choose his nemesis’ powers, though only the default frameworks are available.  No real power customization allowed here, so the nemesis is either all ice powers or all dual-blade powers (for instance).  The player can then choose the nemesis’ attitude — Mastermind (evil genius), Savage (like a thug sort of…), and Maniac (think The Joker) — and his minions.  There are quite a few minion options, such as zombies, ninjas, soldiers, gangsters, and so forth.  One problem here is that none of the minions are female.  None.  There are female minion NPCs running around the city (at least a few) but there are no female options here.  Hopefully that would be improved in the future.

Once the player has created his nemesis, he must complete an instanced intro quest that right away puts him face-to-face with his nemesis.  The nemesis gets away of course, but that’s to be expected.  After that, any time the player is outside an instance and killing mobs or destroying objects, there is a chance his nemesis’ minions will ambush him.  Occasionally they might drop clues that lead to quests, with the ultimate quest being another encounter with the nemesis.  I’ve read that eventually the player’s nemesis is defeated and taken to jail, and that the player can then create a new nemesis at some point.  I’ve yet to reach that point in my nemesis content.


No doubt there is some significant aspect of the game that I’ve yet to comment on (just as I type that I realize I haven’t discussed crafting), but these are the things that I am most concerned with.  As I said above, the nutshell version of this post is that I am enjoying Champions Online and will continue playing it.  There are definite negatives: some quests are buggy, graphics are a tad disappointing, some quests get repetitive.  But overall I think it’s a solid game that will appeal to many players and will likely maintain a following much like City of Heroes.  It will never be the best game out there, but it’s fun and worth spending a few dollars and a few hours on.