Friday, September 25, 2009

If I Was Only This Much More Super!

Alright well I've had Champions Online for quite some time now, pushed a character pretty far into the game, level 30, and while I do not feel that I have seen everything the game has to offer, I feel I've seen enough to get a nice impressions/review piece out. Which is interesting because I've put easily 70 hours into the game over the past month and that does not feel like a significant portion of time to offer anything truly concrete about the game beyond impressions.

So lets just dive into it, I enjoy Champions Online. As far as MMOs go it is not trying to change anything, I wouldn't even say that it is trying to perfect what has come before. It is simply trying to exist as an awesome experience for those of us who adore Superheroes and wish we could do that. So put bluntly, if you do not enjoy comic books then you most likely will not enjoy this game. Plain and simple, there is too much service paid to comic book cliches to make it anything else beyond a comic book nerd's fantasy made real. You will venture through cities beating up gangs, you will stop super villains in fantastical bases, you will feign defeat to surprise a villain in their lair. You will find an amazing travel power and most probably beat/slash/incinerate/freeze/mentally assault thousands upon thousands of thugs into what I can only assume is death.

You will have fun. For a time. There is a  problem in that the game tends to keep you in an area just 1-2 hours longer than you would prefer to be. Upon entering a new section there is a euphoric realization of the new sights and sounds before you and how refreshing they are; for me the biggest was the Robot Cowboy section with an amusement park, that just took my breathe away. But then 4-6 hours later the feeling of this grand unique setting was worn off almost entirely as I struggled to make my way through the canyon. Had the game only put me there for 2-3 hours I believe looking back I would only have my Euphoric memories, but now in hindsight I have the two conflicting opinions. One of sheer amazement and the other tedious boredom at wanting to be blown away again. And I was when I did move on, but the cycle continued.

It isn't a horrid scenario but it meshes terribly with the feeling that the amount of content just barely scrapes you along. You need to grab every quest available to push follow the leveling path. Miss one (difficult because you can access a list with all quest givers shown on it which will then highlight them on your map) or worse come across a broken mission and you'll find yourself struggling to keep up with the missions. If they would increase the exp reward (or alternatively lower the leveling requirements) then it would let you leave missions alone giving you different stuff to play through later with alternate characters. 

Luckily the core gameplay is an absolute blast. Combat is a joy, with plenty of options available for you to approach your foes. Do you focus on one at a time and drop them like dominoes one after another. Or do you max your AOE and kill them off in one huge explosion. I honestly cannot tell you which is better, but it keeps things different, sometimes i use my cone attack, other times my single target high damage attack, or my close range flurry of melee attacks, or my sphere aoe to annihilate everything (which also pulls everything in sight to attack me which is dangerous but simultaneously awesome). Combat keeps you paying attention, you have to watch for indicators to block, (which have saved me numerous times from fights I could have lost)  and in general stay on your toes. 
It is true the game requires someone to go over the power set descriptions and delineate everything about them, because often times they have simply left code up that really fails to explain what they do. Thankfully the Powerhouse exists for you go and sample your prospective powers before you are locked in with them (although respecs are possible). So really if you grab a power that doesn't work as you would like it to or expect it to you can only blame yourself for not trying it fully out. 

But how does the game function as an MMO? Well that's interesting because it is true that you will constantly see people, hear their chat logs, and on occasion fight for mission goals. But for the most part, you will be soloing unless you and a friend are constantly grouping (this will also make the game easy as pie for you, as there are very few missions that require more than one person let alone two). The game does not care at all about who last hits or deals the most damage to a target; you hit it once you'll get credit, although actually resources and experience are allotted based on damage dealt. You get credit for your mission just by tagging the target once.
Another unique facet of Champions is how the servers are split into shards, or up to 100 people, this means there is never a need for server transfers, nor will you and your friends ever have to recreate a character because you did not know what servers you were each on.

Of course I really should not end this before discussing the largest perceived problem with the title, the end game drought. I honestly cannot comment on this issue at the present time. I have been busy with plenty of content so far and promises of more content several time a year seems sufficient in my opinion. I will be sure to address this in the future should an issue present itself towards the pro or the con. I will say that playing through with my alts is very tedious. You just do missions you have already done (albeit you do them better the second time around) and aside from playing a radically different powerset (the various powers really do differentiate themselves from each other) there truly is little reason to replay the content beyond utilizing unique powers each go around the proverbial merry-go-round.

Crafting is another issue present within the game. It exists and you can do it, but the main reason is to build very useful healing items and damage shields that can prove their worth in battles that are not going your way. The gear you can craft usually is on par with loot found or earned from missions. The requirement for learning special recipes needs to be explained however, as there appears to be random drops earned from breaking down components. It all adds up to craft system that has some perks but seems more like a bullet point rather than a fully developed feature.  

And I'll end on the positive note. The character creator. It is without a doubt in my mind brilliant. If you can envisage a character concept you can make it pretty damn close to what you want. You will want to make alternate Champs simply because it is a joy flexing the creative potential of the creator and making a robot dragon who uses rocket boots because your nemesis tore your wings off.

I should also comment on the nemesis system. It is very cool. But shows up 10 levels too late. It is very fun building your rival and explaining your feud that led to the nemesis status between them, but the fact that it arrives at level 25 instead of 15 or sooner seems strange. The concept is perhaps the lone unique idea that Champions has and they decide to make you work towards it. I suppose in a game you'll be playing for months to come it will not be a huge impact but I would like to be able to at least form the Nemesis at the same time I make the hero so I can build them around a single, perhaps contrasting, concept. Once you get it though, awesome, nothing like seeing your traitorous brother trying to kill you over and over again.

So in closing. Champion Online. Bring almost nothing new to MMOs. Yet surprisingly still a compelling and unique experience thanks to its central theme of being about superheroes. If you like combat and comics, and are not turned off by the prospect of spending the next year or so playing the same game, then I think you'll find a charming game in Champions. It is clearly not built for everyone, but for those who can find something to relate to. Well they will really enjoy it. 

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