Champions Online: A Second Look

Champions Online entered the superhero MMOG fray with both fists swinging. However, a year and a half later, the game went to free-to-play. Ten Ton Hammer’s Jeffprime heads back to Millennium City to give CO a second look.

champions online

I eagerly awaited the launch of Champions Online for a variety of reasons. First, I was a huge comic book fan (and still am) and spent a small fortune on my now-gone comic collection. I’ve always been a huge fan of superheroes fighting crime and opposing evil. Second, I had played the Champions RPG back in the 1980s with my gaming buddies, so I was somewhat familiar with the setting. Lastly, it was during one of my separations from City of Heroes and I was looking for a new comic book MMOG to try out.

I was lucky enough to get into CO’s beta and continued to play the game thoroughly after the game officially launched, and I have to admit, I enjoyed playing the game immensely. There were a few things that I didn’t care for, design-wise, but overall, I thought CO was a solid game. Eventually, my vagabond nature took hold after I hit level 40 and I wandered off to other MMOG pastures. Since I’ve been gone for over a year, I thought it was time for me to return to Champions Online and give it a second look.

champions online
Heroes fighting against the legendary Foxbat.

A lot has changed since I left. CO is now officially Champions Online: Free to Play and supports a hybrid subscription model. You can pay for a subscription which gives you all the game content plus the ability to create freeform characters. Your other option is to play for free, but have limited character slots and have to choose from specific archetypes as opposed to creating truly unique superheroes. Let’s rundown some of the changes that has happened to CO over the past year.


Originally, a player could choose any power set that he wanted in CO with the limiting factor only being that certain powers could only be taken after a player had already selected a specific number of powers within that power set already or had a minimum number of powers overall. With the game going to free-to-play, players now have to choose from an archetype if they don’t wish to pay for the ability to have a freeform character. By choosing an archetype, the player’s power progression is fixed and they are limited to specific powers which they gain as they level.  If you choose the Blade archetype (a sword wielding hero), then you’ll be unable to get a healing ability as that it is not part of the power progression for that archetype. Currently, there are 8 archetypes for free and another 8 that can be purchased from CO’s C-Store.

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The Marksman Archetype.

Overall, I don’t have any issues with the archetype system. The basic types of hero are available for free and, if you want to do anything special, you’ll have to pay for it. If you’re a subscriber, then every option is available to you. The basic archetypes, while not earth-shattering, are pretty solid and provide a decent number of options from which to choose.

Upgraded Zones

One thing that bugged me about CO when I originally played was the zone layout. The first three zones that you play in (Millennium City, Canadian Wilderness, and Southwest Desert) had a weird level progression layout. When you finished the tutorial, you had the choice to go to either the Canadian Wilderness or Southwest Desert. The first time I played, my reaction was, “Is there a difference? Is one area better for me than the other?” The result was some confusion. Then, you spent the majority of your time hopping from one zone to the other based upon your level. You would spend two levels in Southwest Desert, then hop over to Millennium City for another level, then head over to Canadian Wilderness for a level or two and then rinse and repeat.

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You won't be using the jet to hop from zone to zone like a madman anymore.

The biggest reason for this hopping around was the insanely varying levels of the enemies you would encounter in each zone. You could be a level 10 superhero and be fighting level 10 enemies in one section of a zone. Then you would cross over the hill to a new area (still in the same zone) and find yourself facing foes that were 5 to 10 levels higher than you!

Fortunately, that has been toned down quite a bit. Now, after you finish the tutorial, you go to Millennium City and begin your adventures there. Later on, you’ll travel to the Southwest Desert and the Canadian Wilderness, but now those zones are much more smoothed out threat-level wise. You won’t be hopping around like a rabbit on a hit tin roof anymore. There is now no longer the confusion of where do I go next?


One constant player complaint is of lack of content. There were times that you had to grind to hit that next level. Cryptic has added some new content in the form of the Adventure Packs and the Comic Series. While the Comic Series (Aftershock) is free, the three Adventure Packs (Serpent Lantern, Demonflame, and Resistance) are not free unless you’re a subscriber.

These new adventures are rather well done and better yet, scale with your character’s level. Therefore, you can play these missions from level 11 all the way to level 40. This new content is a welcome addition and Cryptic plans on putting out additional Comic Series with the next one arriving in November.

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Investigating a destroyed camp in the Aftershock Comic Series.

New missions were introduced and others were changed/deleted when the game went free-to-play. The new missions, especially the introductory ones in Millennium City, are well-designed and help immerse you into a storyline as opposed to the standard kill X of something. Still, more content is always desirable, but having four content updates in a year's period with the game switching over to free-to-play isn’t bad at all.


Another change to CO is the addition of sidekicks and henchmen. These characters are essentially hirelings (as in Dungeons and Dragons Online) that act as trained pets. You can summon them, after purchasing them from the C-Store, and they’ll travel with you for an hour fighting your enemies and staying by your side. I like the use of characters like these as that if you only have a short time to play or are having problem getting a group together, you can just grab one of these and just go do your mission. There are two limitations though. The first is that you can only have one active at a time. I think it would be better if you could have more than one if you wish to choose to. The second is that you have to purchase them from the C-Store. I would prefer that you could buy them from the C-Store and have a limited number available for purchase from an in-game vendor for in-game currency similar to DDO’s method.

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The mighty Harajuku Twins make great sidekicks.


Cryptic has recently added player hideouts to the game. Subscribers were able to get one for free, but you can purchase all of the available hideouts if you wish. Overall, there are four different types of hideouts: the sanctum, the moon base, the basement, and the cave. Each of the different hideout types has a number of different types. For example, there’s the Hi-Tech Basement, Mom’s Basement, and Vigilante Basement (upcoming). Each hideout has a number of different options that you can choose to more personalize your individual hideout. While it is not truly customizable, it is a welcome addition to the game. Every superhero worth his salt needs a lair for them to plot their crusade against evil. You can also invite friends into your hideout so you can hang out and socialize.

I am personally stoked over the addition of hideouts to CO. I’ve always been a proponent of player housing in MMOGs so I was glad to see it finally come to CO. While I wish that you could do more to customize your hideout, I’ll gladly take what’s available now. What I would like to see in the future is the ability to customize them some more and the ability for guilds to have hideouts of their own, but on a grander scale.

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The Hi-Tech Cave Hideout.


Champions Online has changed since I originally left, but the core gameplay is still there. The biggest change is the switch to free-to-play and its impact upon choosing powers through the use of archetypes. While you’re locked into a specific power progression, at least you can truly look unique. CO’s costume creator is still the standard of character creation in the MMOG market. The zone progression is a great deal smoother and there is some nice new content with the Adventure Packs and the Comic Series. There are still areas that need some attention such as PvP, end-game content, and guild housing, but, overall, CO has made some improvements since I left. The game is definitely worth a second look and, better yet, it won’t cost you dime to try it out.

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