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!
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.
Champions 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
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!
For 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.
Some 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.