Champions Online - First Impressions

Champions Online, the new superhero MMOG on the block, launched earlier this month and has drawn the attention of MMOG gamers everywhere. We recently got the chance to take a look at Champions Online and this week we're offering our view on the game and what it offers gamers looking to enjoy the superhero genre and the ongoing issue of gimmick infringement. One problem City of Heroes ran into a while back was the fact that players were able to use their highly detailed character customization system to create characters that closely resembled some popular comic book figures like those featured in Marvel Comics. So much in fact, that Marvel once sued NCsoft over it. But that would never happen here. Right? Read the full story here. Discuss this and more on our forums.

Champions Online is admittedly a game that I did not follow too closely on the road to launch. I only do this rarely with certain games so that I can look at them without expectation. Going into this I only really knew a few basic things and thatÂ’s about how I wanted it. That said, this is my opinion of the game and how I viewed it from that perspective.

After you make your first outfit you get a nice little comic in your screenshots folder.

Given that this is a superhero-based MMOG, I very much expected to see a highly customizable character creation option much like the one in City of Heroes. Cryptic did not disappoint in this department as they provided a ton of looks, options, and little gimmicks to create all kinds of characters. There are so many options, you could easily spend hours just playing around with all the various choices to create some fun and unique looks before you even log in. You can also unlock costume pieces like the luchador outfits by participating in the PvP Hero Games and in other ways.

One problem City of Heroes ran into a while back was the fact that players were able to use their highly detailed character customization system to create characters that closely resembled some popular comic book figures like those featured in Marvel Comics. So much in fact, that Marvel once sued NCsoft over it. But that would never happen here. Right?

Copyright issues aside, Champions Online has one of the best character customization options of any game I have played to date. With the various costumes, including the ones I haven't unlocked yet, you have a seemingly limitless amount of customization options.

The color options are another great feature of customization. Once you have the design and gear you want for your character, you have a pretty decent range of colors, and even gradient options that make for some nice color mixtures. There are enough options that you can avoid looking like any other character in the game. If you get tired of your look you can even visit the tailor to change your outfit design. Luckily, you can save each design you create to easily switch between them.

Travel powers can be gained early in the game and make getting around much easier.

Upon entering the game youÂ’re given a little of the story about the alien invasion of Millennium City. All the champions have gone missing and the defense forces are getting their asses kicked six ways from Sunday. Enter you, a lone hero joining the fight against an invading alien army.

Unfortunately, due to the alien influence in the area, your powers of travel have been impaired. That means no super speed, no flight, no super fire or ice travel skills, nothing. You get to run. This is actually a fairly creative approach to limiting powers right off the get go. Rather than feeding you a line about your powers being underdeveloped, Cryptic worked in a nice bit of story to cover the angle. DonÂ’t worry, once you clear the Millennium City tutorial you get these powers fairly quickly.

One thing I really like is that Cryptic gives you something at the beginning that City of Heroes is just now getting, and that is the option to customize the color of your powers. You can go down your list of powers and customize each one with a color of your choice to give your character that extra flare. My character is slinging fire attacks of blue, red, and purple just for fun, but this extra detail is another way your character can be unique from others.

Burnside is an old western themed area complete with ghostly cowboys.

The mission system (quest system) is pretty standard and continues in the current trend of making it as simple as possible for the player to complete by clearly marking each goal on the map, so you are never left wondering where to go. This is good if you donÂ’t like figuring out missions, but it has the drawback of destroying the mystery. Sure you can turn it off, but we all know it's pretty much expected that you use it. Imagine a group where one guy isn't using it and has no idea where to go. However, the mission system is pretty fun and provides you with plenty of tasks to keep you busy.If you are ever at a loss for where to go you can always consult your trusty crime computer for emergencies. This will give you an idea of where the hotspots are and where you should go for more missions. You also get a mission quest journal that helps you keep track of all those missions. Overall, the mission system is pretty good and easy to follow, but missions sometimes feel more like lore fillers than part of the overall storyline.

The areas in the game have some great design in the way of themes. Millennium City itself is a warzone when you first see it with the Qulaar laying waste to the area. A very different setting from the Millennium City you see later once the invasion has been repelled. The development team designed a number of great settings and once you exit the city you get a choice of where to go next. You can either head to Canada or the Southwest Desert. Each has its own theme and provides you with a lot of unique looking content like the radioactive fields of the Atomic Waste, the neighboring ghost town in Burnside, complete with ghostly cowboys, and then there is the cold backdrop of Canada. Champions Online has plenty of great themed areas to enjoy.

The Hero Games are a lot of fun despite a couple of issues.

The Hero Games PvP is set up in a neat way, but itÂ’s not without its issues. One PvP issue I took notice of was with root abilities. You can continually be rooted without that small window of root immunity present in many other MMOGs. I spent the first minute or so of my first PvP match getting chain rooted near the entrance. Not only that, while you're rooted, your enemies can just pummel you and not break the hold. So imagine being helplessly rooted and all you can do is press the break button while everyone just kicks the crap out of you, and then, when you finally break the hold, you get rooted again. That was kind of my first PvP experience. Luckily, this didn't happen every time and the PvP was actually fun when it spilled into group combat.

You can't have an MMOG without loot, and Champions Online integrated loot in a way that can help enhance your hero much like other MMOGs. The economy isn't the greatest and Bill Roper has stated that this is something that is being worked on, but in the meantime you can keep gathering resources and use your funds for learning and mastering your research and development (crafting) skill and buying and upgrading power skills.

Combat feels faster, but it is still based on the traditional MMOG combat style.

Combat is pretty fun and is really done in the style of traditional MMOGs but with a slightly more action oriented aspect. The fighting seems much faster paced, but you still pick your skills from the traditional hotbar and wait for them to execute. This can become interesting in groups of superheroes with high particle effects as you can see all kinds of colorful clouds exploding on the screen. You can also block attacks by holding the block button to reduce the damage you receive. This adds a nice strategic element to the game and can often times mean the difference between victory and defeat in a battle. I used the hit, run, and block method with several supervillains to achieve victory.

Your superhero levels up much like you level in traditional MMOGs. You gain experience by completing missions and killing enemies and as you gain levels, you'll earn points that can be used to purchase new powers and enhance some current ones. You'll have more solo content than not, but you'll also encounter some enemy lairs that you'll need a group to get through. Nothing crushes your superhero ambitions faster than some supervillain making you scream for your mommy.

Champions Online is a pretty good game as a superhero-based MMOG. While there is nothing really groundbreaking in it, the game does use a tried and true formula that works. The scenery is interesting and the themes of the areas are creative, keeping the game interesting as you make your way through it. The music is well done and often fits the theme of the area well. For example, in Burnside you get a clearly defined western theme somewhat symbolic of those old spaghetti western movies as you make your way through the old west style ghost town. While the game does have a few issues, some that are being worked on, it's certainly worth giving a try if you're a fan of the superhero genre.

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