Monday, September 7, 2009

Played Lately: Champions Online

  • Now that I've hit level 25 in Champions Online, I wanted to take a look at the game and how it's done so far. The game is still shaking itself out, so don't take this for a review. However if you've been on the fence about wanting to try Champions, maybe I can give you the information you'll need to decide.

  • Character Creation - If there is a guiding theme for character creation in Champions Online, it is flexibility. The costume creator is absolutely mad. I've already made several characters solely for the purpose of having costumes ready for future use. Even so, I'm still finding options in the menus that I wasn't aware of. Other players have shown amazing creativity and are a great source for inspiration.

    Flexibility also extends to the technical side of character creation. Where in most games you pick a class and race and end up like every other player of the same type, Champions lets you customize which specific powers and attributes to advance in. I didn't understand how amazing this was until I started leveling up my first character. For several levels, I stayed well within the Fire framework, not even looking at other options. However while I was putting out a fantastic amount of damage, I quickly noticed that I was having trouble on the defensive side. There are no Fire powers to address this, so I just ignored it. Big mistake. I kept getting pounded into the sand. (I was in the Southwestern Desert Zone, you see.) So the next time I got a power selection, I looked through the other options and found the Force Shield power. I slid the color option down to orange and had a very convincing Fire Shield to fit my character. It was like a revelation.

    If I had a suggestion, it would be that the game needs different power sorting options to make this mix-and-match flexibility clearer. Just a toggle to convert the tabs to power categories instead of frameworks would help immensely.

  • Gameplay - Tobold called Champions "a console MMORPG", and it is in the best sense of the word. Controls are fast and responsive. Combat can be challenging, especially since I have a cone AoE that I have to position correctly. The active defense is genius. While watching a villain wind up a big attack may seem silly at first, having something to react to makes the fight much more interesting. It reminds me of the shifting defenses of Age of Conan. Having something more to do than smash hotkeys until the mob is dead is a great advance for the genre.

  • Questing - I've already written about this and nothing has changed in the last six days. Questing feels an awful lot like World of Warcraft. Quest hubs in the mission zones give multiple quests into the same area so you have many things to work on at once. In Millennium City, Cryptic mixes in City of Heroes-style quests. Citizens will run up to give you a mission, especially after you save them from menacing enemies, that sends you across the city into an instance. So far, I've been in a lot of similar looking quests, but they're not all the same warehouse. There have been museums, banks, sewers, offices, military complexes, caverns, and, yeah, there are warehouses.

    The tutorial is well designed, getting you right into the thick of the action. As I mention in the earlier post though, a straighter path out of the tutorial might be welcome. I loved the ideas behind the crisis zones and have been told the concept continues when later zones are introduced. I'm very much hoping Cryptic builds more horizontal content (with more crisis zones) to allow multiple leveling paths. With the wild number of alts being rolled up, more variety can only help the game.

    I'm particularly happy that the game throws different levels of enemies at you to switch up the challenges. Henchmen aren't as deadly as everyone wants you to think, unless you try to take on too many at once. However, many groups also contain a villain and master villain enemies who are much more difficult. Then above them, you get the most difficult opponents, the super-villains. I love the fact that they include "boss mob" type enemies that can be taken on by a single player who plans and plays carefully. I know when I took out Kevin Poe, I wiped out several times before figuring out how to do it. A group would have helped a lot, but it wasn't required. That kind of choice is exactly what I want out of an MMO.

    Open Missions, just like Warhammer Online's Public Quests, are fun when you get enough people together. By cutting down the numbers to one per major questing arc and better positioning means that they have been more active so far. Whether that is a function of the number of people traversing the low level zones this early or not is still open for debate.

  • Crafting - Crafting is pretty standard at its basic level: buy a recipe, gather components, click a button, and you get an item. That's the Development side of the system. Research is where the good stuff comes from. Instead of improving your crafting skills only through harvesting or creating items, you also get skill points and components by tearing apart other items from the same crafting school. That you can do this from quest items, dropped items, and items you crafted yourself, doesn't matter.

    It's a fascinating concept. However, it's one that I'm not sure is perfectly balanced yet. You just about fly to the first skill cap at 100. From 100-200 though, skill gains really slow down with very little to gain from crafting. The beauty of the system really shines through again once you hit 200 and customizable items become available. Instead of prescribed recipes, these items have selectable prefixes you can mix and match to your heart's content. In addition, you can change the power of the item by selecting its rarity, from the most basic (white) to common (yellow), uncommon (green), or rare (blue). The highest rarities require the most components to craft, but can make items that outstrip quest rewards and dropped items. If that rough middle patch can be smoothed out, this might become one of my favorite crafting systems in an MMO.

  • Graphics, Sound, & Performance - At the default graphic setting, Champions is a very attractive game. The visual style is very comic-booky which fits the setting perfectly. I'm glad Cryptic decided to avoid the uncanny valley problem by stylizing the characters and the world. There have been reports of problems, but I have yet to run into more than the occasional rubber-banding. I've been very happy with how the game runs.

    The sound design is odd. Maybe a better term would be nondescript. It does remind me a lot of City of Heroes. This isn't a bad thing. It does its job and gets out of the way. I'd rather have serviceable sound and music than bad. I haven't been tempted to mute the game yet.

  • So that's my impression of the early game for Champions. From one to twenty-five, it feels very comfortable. If you are burned out on the current MMO paradigm, this hasn't done much more than throw a spandex suit over it. Personally, the game makes me feel like a superhero. The variety of missions, the creativity of character options (both cosmetic and ability options), and friendliness of the solo game have made this a game I'm happy to recommend.

  • Since I have literally spent all day writing these impressions, I have yet to play the game at all. I'll be writing something very similar to this once I've gotten familiar with the Nemesis system and see what Cryptic has in store for the endgame. Everything I've read makes me think this is where they have put their best ideas. And everything I've played so far tells me it will be a success.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Very nice write up. Funny you mention Poe, I helped someone take him out last night. He was level 20 and we were lvl 17, close fight, but very fun.

  2. Glad the quality of the game seems to continue throughout. Very much looking forward to getting back to it.

    That's the most detailed write up of the crafting system I've seen on any of the blogs that I follow, sounds interesting. I like the idea of customizing items a lot.

  3. Good read. Look forward to the Nemesis impressions. I just ding'd lvl 21 so I will be there by this weekend hopefully.

  4. @ Jayedub - He's one of the harder fights I've faced. I was only able to do it with a summoned henchmen to keep him distracted. I think it's so cool that they have boss like enemies in the normal questing path.

    @ Yeebo - One thing I didn't mention is how the world expands as you level. From the small tutorial zone, though the crisis zone, to Millennium City, the world just keeps getting bigger. Within instance parameters, but still big. I wonder if the confining early game put other people off before the world got large enough.

    As for the crafting portion, I was inspired by reading a discussion on the CO forums. How I came out with my eyebrows unsinged, I do not know.

    @ Zeno - Nemesis is very interesting so far. His minions always seem to show up at the wrong time. More details to come!