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Sizing Up the First F2P Superhero Simulator - Champions Online Free for All Review

Updated Sun, Feb 27, 2011 by Stow

It seems like forever ago that Cryptic Studios released Champions Online released to moderate
fanfare.  It was only a year ago in reality, and now
Champions Online has followed in the footsteps of Turbine’s Lord of the
Rings Online
and countless other reforming subscription-driven titles with a free-to-play
alternative.  Does the epic game of spandex and superheroes lose
something in the transition?  Not as much as you might expect!


Stylish.  I might look like the American flag vomited on Ironman, but I look good.

The first thing you do, as in every superhero game, is design a hero.  Your hero can choose from an array of archetypes that define the powers you gain as you level.  These align to basic ranged DPS, tanking, melee DPS, and control/support roles.  The majority of archetypes are available to all players, but a few "special" archetypes require you to subscribe or make a one time payment.  Since these special archetypes are more hybridized and arguably more challenging to play, they're not absolutely essential to a group or (especially) for solo play, so you can go without as a F2P player. However, if you want a return to the old days and freeform character design, you'll have to subscribe.

Costume designing is a blast.  You have over 3000 parts to work with from the start, and more unlock as you play or with a handful of Atari Tokens, the cash currency.  Angel wings, devil wings, animal hides and more give every superhero a completely unique look.  You’ll spend a few hours at character creation probably, but remember, there’s a whole MMO behind the costume screen!

Cautions

The ESRB gives Champions Online a T for Teen. It has Blood, Drug Reference, Fantasy Violence and Suggestive Themes. In my time with it though, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary for superheroes fighting crime, so I'd say this is safe for the children so long as they can put up with the usual unruly suspects and chatter that inhabits MMORPGs.

Gameplay

80GoodChampions Online is a very fast paced game.  You move quickly, you attack quickly, and you can find your way to quest and enemy areas in the blink of an eye.   The basic flow of combat is similar to the new Hunters in World of Warcraft.  You have an energy bar that depletes as you use special attacks, but you have a basic attack that builds energy back up.  The global cooldown is almost nonexistent, so attacks will fly from your fists left and right as you pummel your opponents into submission with rapid fire attacks.


Eventually - and this was one of the most memorable charms of Champions Online at original launch - you get the ability to create a Nemesis, a baddie who you will run into and eventually have a series of showdowns with.  Make him ugly.  The bad guy has to be less handsome than the hero!

Enemies are everywhere, and very few are neutral.  Whenever you’re wandering about, expect random hails of gunfire or charging goons to interrupt your leisurely stroll.  Fortunately, when you don’t want to be attacked, your Travel Powers make you quick enough that most enemies won’t even bat an eye as you pass by, and even if they do, you’ll be a shadow in the distance by the time they get a shot off.  Travel Powers can even be activated in combat for a hasty retreat or to assist an ally quickly, albeit at a slower speed.  If you can’t flee, you can also block to reduce damage, an important mechanic in many boss fights.  You can’t just freely mash your attacks and win!

Quests are obtained from various contacts found throughout the city, and some even come via exploration and the Crime Computer, a little mission generator in your inventory.   Most are the basic search and rescue, search and destroy, or collection types, so no real ingenuity there.

Just like at character creation, Champions shines in progression with a wide array of customization.  Advantage Points allow you to empower certain basic skills for additional effects, and Talents give you a way to customize your base stats for a particular role.  Not only will no two heroes look alike, but even with the same power set they’ll be different!

If you are a fan of Warhammer : Age of Reckoning, you’ll recognize areas that are dedicated to a live multiple step quest that resets every time it fully completes (or fails!)  These are perfect for a superhero game, as they have tons of enemies and people working together towards a common goal.  Sometimes you’ll even get heroic backup as a public quest nears completion!

Graphics

77Pretty GoodFor all the performance gains associated with cell-shaded graphics, gamers tend to love or hate this particular art style. I would have argued this kind of art style and direction a perfect fit for a comic-book game, but after seeing what DC Universe Online with its more photorealistic bent, I think I much prefer the atmosphere of, say, Gotham City to Millennium City. Yet Champions Online hosts a variety of non-urban settings, from jungles to a wild west theme park, so your personal mileage may vary.

Model design and animation are certainly on par with CO's recently launched cousin, and the game does regularly capture the feel of a live setting. Bright lights, neon outfits, and fiery explosions occur on a regular basis in Champions Online, and it does a good job of keeping it pretty yet civil enough to understand what’s going on. Travel Powers in particular are a lot of fun and have some neat graphics to go along with the super speed, flight, or a variety of other ways to get around. Enemies can be a little difficult to pick out of a crowd, so you just end up assuming everyone is hostile by default. It’s the only way to ensure there are more of those lovely explosions!

Champions Online also does a good job of scaling down to lesser computers and windowed modes, so those of us who like to multitask on one monitor or a laptop are still able to enjoy our time fighting crime.

Sound

70OkaySome above average voice acting is in place for the various heroes and villains that dot the storyline, which helps fit the setting. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the music and sound effects, which come off as clips from a low-budget superhero movie soundtrack. Music and sound do the game justice especially now that we're talking F2P; it’s just not on the same heroic level as the voice acting clips you’ll run into throughout the game.

oi

I agree that after DCUO the graphics in CO do not compare well. Still it is fun as a little time waster and if you play STO, the Atari tokens you buy there can also be used here so that is a plus.

DStahl managed to perform some magic with the look of space in STO but not sure if they can do the same with the CO cartoon look as it is now.

somehow the comic hero genre seems limited to me and because of this bias I only dabbled in both CO and DCUO. If you are a real RP type, CO is probably better because DCUO chat was useless.

I see the reviewer and comments regard the graphics of the game. I have heard complaints about the graphics before and it can often be solved by changing 1 option in the video options tab. You can shut off the comic style outlines on the characters and environment and the difference is night and day.

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