Previews

Champions Online Zone Preview

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Cryptic's upcoming super hero-themed MMO game, Champions Online, was made available to the press this past weekend, and Ten Ton Hammer was there to try out the early content. Will it have the audacious heroics expected by fans of comic book heroes and the depth expected in a triple-A product? We hope to answer those questions with our hands-on look at what you'll see when you make your way to Millennium City later this summer.

While Ten Ton Hammer was only able to look at the first 8-10 levels, those zones emphasized the theme and spirit of what we can expect to see when the game launches. Thanks to the limited nature of the preview, I was able to run the available content four or five times with various characters and can provide a detailed look at not only the tutorial area, but also Canada Crisis and the Desert. By the time we're done with this article, you'll hopefully have an idea of what you are in for and the epic fights your character will engage in.

Gladiator 01

A fair warning to everyone: There are no dragons, night elves, or hobbits in the comic world, so for those of you firmly entrenched in traditional fantasy productsÂ… this could be an awakening for you. Former City of Heroes players will feel right at home as you watch the cut scene after your character creation You begin your story in Millennium City, which is being besieged by an alien race called the Qularr. They've constructed a large force field around a sector of the city, cutting off local police from reinforcement. You and the other player heroes are their only hope, and this is where the tutorial begins.

Millenium City

Even the vibrant colors of the game can't obscure the destruction of this part of the war torn city. Streets are broken, buildings collapsed, and enemies have overrun almost every inch save a few police barricades. You'll spend the first few missions having the controls explained to you, including how your powers work. After smashing up a few alien eggs you will be ready for a real fight, so the mayor will send you into a ruined City Hall to collect important documents. Subsequent missions will require you to collect a lost passport and suitcase, not to mention assist citizens harassed by groups of dangerous invaders. Enjoy the excitement of saving citizens while it's fresh, you'll be doing a lot more of it in the other areas. Destroying Qularr equipment, dodging glaringly obvious land mines, and even hurling mailboxes into the faces of your foes are just a few other tasks you'll accomplish.

All this has prepared you for your first real challenge: the Open Mission. As Executive Producer Bill Roper stated in an interview with Ten Ton Hammer last month, the Open Mission is very similar to Warhmmer Online: Age of Reckoning's Public Quest system. If you aren't familiar with the concept, imagine a large open area where a scripted event consistently takes place. The event has stages that get progressively more difficult and end with an epic fight. The truly unique part is the quest is designed to have multiple participants and players can join at any point and receive at least partial credit. This first Open Mission will direct you to initially eliminate enemy forces being dropped by assault ships buzzing overhead. An NPC champion stands near a large cannon dubbed Ironclad, ready to assist you. Once this has been completed you'll need to gather cannon parts from nearby crates to repair the cannon. Finally you must defend the cannon against an all out assault, which can be rather tricky if you aren't careful.

Gladiator 01

Completing the Open Mission now begins your journey into the champion's base that has, of course, been overrun. This instanced mini-dungeon begins with a half dozen encounters before a pre-boss fight. At this point you'll team up with Justicator to face the mastermind behind the attack. He's larger than life and so fearsome he actually cripples Justicator during the battle so you'll have to finish this one alone. After the battle, the NPC champion recovers, and you'll move throughout the rest of the chamber deactivating equipment allowing them to fire the Ironclad cannon. After choosing new powers, you'll exit the hall to a true hero's welcome (which was a really nice touch) and choose whether to make your way to Canada or the Desert.

O, Canada

Pack your thermal britches because this helicopter is non-stop to Canada. I don't mean that pretty Vancouver backdrop of mountains and trees. This is the stereotypical frozen waste that makes you bundle up at first sight. At a military base you are informed of a plane crash in a nearby lake, not to mention a number of soldiers who have gone missing. Walking just a few meters beyond relative safety will put you up against the worst possible enemy, Ice Zombies. After slinging missiles and even spraying them with a gatlin gun, they only stayed down a moment before rising back up. An Open Mission requires you to rescue soldiers from these zombies and finishes off by revealing infiltrators in the base itself.

You'll do some running around and rescue passengers on the frozen lake not to mention free others encased in ice. At some point you'll also be directed to pick a crafting class. While it's tempting to skip this, you'll actually need the created device to survive a later boss encounter. On a nearby mountain alongside one of the NPC Champions is a standard dimensional portal that will take you to where a villain is summoning something powerful enough to doom mankind. This dimension did have a creepy element to it and not following the NPC's advice about killing certain things first proved fatal in the final fight. This is where the preview of Canada ended and likely will push you towards a more challenging area.

In a Desert on a Horse with No Name

If cold weather and moose aren't your thing, Champions gives you a second choice to earn your early levels. The desert zone is actually a military base that could easily be named Black Mesa. Toss out those creepy ice zombies and replace them with irradiated soldiers. One of your earliest missions will send you up against guys with miniature nuclear warheads strapped to their back. Your objective is to not only take them out but disarm the warhead before it explodes. While it wasn't too challenging once you've tried it a few times, I was blasted in the air more than once. Other tasks will have you activate defense turrets, deactivate a Fallout 3 sized atomic bomb, and kill plenty of radioactive creatures.

Gladiator 01

Like Canada you'll be directed to a crafting mission that you'll want to complete if you hope to survive the boss instance to follow. Once the correct mission series is finished it will be time to enter a vault deep in the side of a nearby cliff face. Its here you'll learn of a super soldier who has gone quite mad will, of course, oppose you. To even face him however, you'll have to fight your way through dozens of creatures and use the crafted anti-radiation device to survive. This instance felt significantly more difficult than the dimensional portal in Canada. This concluded my adventure in the desert, and I can only assume you return to Millennium City to continue your adventures.

I walked away from Champions Online with a number of impressions, and although I only saw the first few levels, if the rest of the content follows suit it should be a solid game. These levels felt like a good comic book story with lore and design creating a believable environment. As Cryptic presents more for the press to see, we'll be sure to provide you with previews of other areas so be sure to keep checking back. Look for Champions Online to hit retail July 14th .

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