When It Launched Champions Online hit all the same buttons that its predecessor, City of Heroes, hit Hours of fun designing and redesigning (and re-redesigning) superhero costume ideas, sketching out backstories for how Captain Thistleface was struck by radioactive plant seeds while on holiday in Inverallochy and mutated into the tartan-hued monstrosity of justice he is today, and working your way through the annoyingly repetitive tutorial each time until eventually you could do it blindfolded. Unfortunately, what happened to almost all of us after that was the age-old story of repetitive grind-based gameplay and the rapid discovery that no matter what type of hero we created,
however plotted his story and moral compass, everybody was doing the exact same missions as everyone else in more or less the exact same order, each and every time. All pretence at this being a virtual world of heroes was gone and everything boiled down to being little more than a colourful fight box in tights.
Much was promised by Cryptic prior to launch, about new content and extra gameplay, but possibly due to attention and/or resources being diverted to Star Trek Online, the promised content has yet to appear and players are getting bored of the grind.
Aside from the Nemesis Lair addition there's been precious little beyond the existing high-level zones to play with for dedicated heroes, meaning the over praised character creation system is getting more use than it should (and if you think I'm saying 'over-praised' to be contrary, take a look at the videos of the creator being used in APB to see how truly detailed a character builder can be).
There's been a distinct lack of quality control too, with game-crippling bugs such as entire zones going dead, trapping players' character inside. Almost unforgivable in a modern game.
What has been added then? Well, the Nemesis Lair. Ostensibly an end-level, repeatable raid zone, it sees you and your team, er, teaming up against a... team... of all your nemeses (nemesii?) at once. Which sounds like a great idea - and is. Once.
Twice, max. But once the thrill of seeing Demon Thora Hird (what?) joining forces with wliatever absurd notions sprung from the minds of your in-game friends when they created their lifetime foes has worn off, it quickly turns into yet another in the long line of MMO grind zones that becomes little more than a nightly routine of spamming the same keys time and time again for much the same loot.
The argument that "Hey Prezzer, shut the hell up! All MMOs are like that eventually. Why pick on CCP" would have merit if there had been any attempt by Cryptic in any of the released updates and game patches to address the lack of much-needed characterisation, gameplay variety, or storytelling in a game whose subject matter is all about telling stories. Unfortunately, despite all the goodwill and faith shown by the game's adherents in the early months, all Cryptic seems to be willing to add to the game is one or two more instanced zones in existing areas to repeatedly hammer your attack keys in and occasional seasonal events.
Since its launch, Champions Online has also seen Blood Moon, a Halloween-themed attack of zombies that also introduced a range of angelic healing powers; and Attack of the Misfit Toys, a Christmas affair with evil Teddy Bears. Which sounded great and did add a change of pace to the usual fare, but have both since been removed (although will presumably be resurrected at the appropriate times of 2010).
Despite the novelty, they quickly fell into the same pattern of all-out attack as any other option in the-game. And it's here that it becomes very plain to see just how limiting the underlying framework that makes up Champions Online really is, and how little Cryptic seem to either be willing or able to change that.
The basic gameplay mechanics, which to many observers were clearly flawed from an MMO perspective, simply don't seem to be going to change any time in the near future. This should also be a worrying warning shot across the bows for everyone eagerly waiting for Star Trek Online and who, having witnessed the beta, have been flooding the forums there with comments along the lines of "Well it's just beta. There'll be plenty of time to alter things once it goes live."
If the history of Champions Online is anything to go by, once the game's basic template is in place, the only things that change are the stats. Sometimes, as the many empty superhero tights that now litter the crime-filled streets of Millennium City will attest to, that simply isn't enough.
With none of the major issues addressed and no sign of any majorscale changes on the horizon, Champions Online has settled into a rut and looks like staying there. The game is distinctly a less heroic a proposition than it promised to be.
Download Champions Online
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Tarmac Joy games in which I can witness an NPC utter the words "Thank God!
I feel much safer now that Bea Arthur's Ghost is here!" Champions Online, and maybe the next Tomb Raider, that's about it. But it's a fine example of the sort of attention to the small details that the team at Cryptic Studios has paid with its second blast at the superhero MMO genre.
Whether it's NPCs praising your prowess as you fly past, mission text and elements filled with humorous references to modern pop culture (including nearly the entire cast of Lost), letting players send Twitter messages and updates from within the game, or the ability to choose the colour of your energy bolts and whether they fire from your head, palm or tits, Cryptic have not so much gone to town by filling Champions Online with any idea it can think of, as taken a degree in advanced town planning, built every road themselves, and then shagged every fertile woman they could find to populate the locale. You literally cannot move more than a few feet in Champions Online without seeing some testament to creative, blue-sky game feature development.
The only problem is that somewhere along the line, they appear to have forgotten to put any work into creating the actual game to tie it all together.
Champions' biggest problem is that is lacks any sense of depth. It's one of the most surface-y MMOs I've ever played. Whereas most of these virtual worlds try to offer some sense of progression choice for your characters, in Champions Online, no matter what type of hero emerges from the much talked about (and rightly lauded) character creation system, you're going to be doing exactly the same things, in exactly the same ways, each and every time. This goes right down to the over-long and unskippable tutorial zone that, while fine first time round, is a massive pain in the utility belt by your third and fourth time through. This has the unfortunate side-effect of putting you off using the impressive character creator, as you know the pain you'll eventually have to go through once you're done with it.
The basic combat mechanic, the skill or level progression paths, the mission arcs - attempt them with more than one character and you rapidly discover you're not so much exploring a world of superheroes, as working your way through an identical checklist of generic MMO goals each time. Other than the surface visuals, nothing about Champions Online's structure suggests that it started out as a superhero game for multiple players, instead coming across as a completely standard MMO template hiding underneath a glossy superhero paint job. There are precious few moments when you ever feel like you're being given a classic comic book experience. Seriously, when have you ever heard of superheroes buying new powers in a shop?
Annoyingly, Champions Online offers many glimpses of actual fun, notably when powering through the grind With a bunch of friends (although that can be said of any multiplayer experience).
If you look past all the complaints about it not being a superhero MMO and accept it for just being a colourful, basic blast-heavy combat environment, you can have a nice enough time. But be warned, that novelty is going to wear off rapidly once you reach the late teens, and realise you're in for a seriously grind-heavy experience with no hint of any high-end game that offers a goal to reach for.
And the ideas do show promise that there's a better game in here somewhere. Removing the notion of kill-stealing, eliminating spawn camps, encouraging players to just jump into someone else's fight with no penalty to either participant is a stroke of genius.
But it's hard to see that underlying structure of the game changing at all though, so unless you read about some serious patching a few months down the line on Cryptic's message boards, the best advice we can give for those tempted to try Champions Online is to treat it as a diversion until we've seen if DC Universe Online can offer better and more substantial superheroic thrills, or just stick with City of Heroes.