Failed Champions

Champions Online

You may remember I gave the “Champions Online” MMORPG a kinda-sorta-review back in December. I couldn’t really give it a proper review then, because my old computer wouldn’t have been able to run it. However, I did pick up a more advanced computer since Christmas, and I decided to give Cryptic’s newest superhero game a shot.

So what’s the gimmick? As we’ve said before, it’s an MMO, like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but instead of a fantasy hero, you play a superhero. It’s based on the old Champions pen-and-paper roleplaying game, so some of the people you can meet include big-time Champions superheroes like Defender, Ironclad, and Sapphire, as well as villains like Grond, Menton, Foxbat, and Dr. Destroyer. You travel all over the world — Millennium City, Canada, the American Southwest, even the moon and an underwater city.

The game was produced by Cryptic Studios — the same people who developed “City of Heroes,” the current big-dawg on the superhero MMO scene. They’ve tried to design “Champions Online” as a combination of a traditional MMORPG and a fast-and-furious action game. You can’t just target an enemy and start button-mashing to get your powers to take him out — you’ve got to be prepared to block attacks or you’ll be kissing pavement.

Verdict: Thumbs down. But I’m gonna work my way around to explainin’ this to ya.

First, there were a lot of things I liked.

The character creation system is great. I’ve played “City of Heroes” for years, and I’m well-used to having a wide variety of costume options to choose from, so I can create anything from a massive, musclebound alien monster to a high-tech battlesuit to a tiny pixie-winged elf to a trenchcoated private eye and everything in between. And the character creation system in “Champions Online” completely blows the one in “City of Heroes” away. Yes, they have a lot of similar costume pieces — capes, spandex, suits, battle armor, and all that — but Champions has two unique elements that put them over the top.

First, while CoH will let you do a little alteration of your body type — height, shoulders, chest, waist, hips, and leg length — Champions has options for changing almost everything. At one point, I was working on a new character that was a dinosauroid alien, and I wanted to make sure he’d look freaky. So I made him as skinny as I could, shrank his leg length to the minimum, stretched his arms as far as I could, and enlarged his hands and feet, to make sure his claws would be scary looking. Another was going to be a part-time bodybuilder — I increased her muscle definition, broadened her shoulders, narrowed her hips, and made her arms and legs thicker.

And second, Champions lets you change the way your character stands. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it is a big thing. You can make your strong-jawed hero stand heroically. You can make your sword-slinging sex-kitten pop star stand differently than your magic-wielding under-confident librarian. You can make your werewolf character stand hunched-over, and he’ll run on all fours. I’ve been dreaming of something like that for CoH for years, and nothing has come of it.

What else works well? When you level up and select new powers, you can test them out first, and if you don’t like them, you can pick different powers. And you’re not stuck with a single set of powers. You can start out with fire blast powers, level up, add some ice blast powers, level up some more, pick out some gadgeteer powers, et cetera.

And you can take travel powers as soon as you get finished with the game’s tutorial. There’s quite a variety of travel powers, too — from traditional ones like flight, superspeed, and super-leaping to more unusual ones like tunneling, high-tech flying disks, swinglines, ice surfing, and flying around on chunks of concrete. And I really loved the animation of the super-leaping power — super-leaping in CoH is effortless, flawless, and graceful, and I love it. Super-leaping in Champions is sprawling, flailing, and looks like you jumped so hard, you’re about to lose control any second. Each leap is so powerful, you crack the ground when you land. And I love it even more.

So far, it sounds like I loved it, doesn’t it?

Here’s what I didn’t like.

For all those character creation options, you only get eight character slots. Total. You can purchase four more, but that’s it. It’s nuts to give people that many costume options, make it insanely fun to build and outfit new characters, offer so many different kinds of superpowers, and then put such an extreme limit on how many characters you can create. It’s cruel, frustrating, and just generally no fun.

And the tutorial goes on forever. In CoH, you can finish the tutorial in 10-15 minutes, maybe even five minutes, if you know what you’re doing. In Champions, it can easily take over an hour. Sure, in that hour, you’ll go from Level 1 to Level 5. But it’s still just the tutorial. There’s no reason for a tutorial to take that long to complete.

And when you finish the tutorial, you don’t start out in futuristic, awesome Millennium City. You get sent to either the desert to fight irradiated mutants, or the arctic to fight ice demons and zombies. And I didn’t want to get stuck in the boondocks. I wanted to hang out in that gorgeous city with the huge holograms everywhere. I figure I was going to be stuck out in the wilderness until Level 15, and that’s a really long time to be forced to hang out in a boring setting with no cool scenery.

And then there was gameplay. If you’re not used to console gaming, you may have some trouble with gameplay. I never once managed to block an attack successfully — I just wasn’t used to hitting that one extra key to execute my block, so I got smacked around a lot. Luckily, you heal fast, even from very low health — unless you get stuck fighting a boss. And you really can’t avoid the bosses — you often need to fight them to complete your missions, and the only way you can beat a boss is if he’s two levels below you or you’re very lucky.

The missions and quests are a big problem — specifically, they’re almost all hunt missions. Go hunt ice demons. Go hunt zombies. Go rescue people who are guarded by mutants. Go hunt one of the really tough bosses who can kill you with one shot. Hunt missions are boring. Insanely, fantastically boring. And apparently, this isn’t just a problem on the low levels, but all the way to the level cap. Hunt missions, hunt missions, hunt missions.

In the end, the fun is vastly outmatched by the no-fun. And while I’ll miss getting to leap all over the place with my awesome-looking superheroes, I won’t miss watching them get beat down like a punk every time they try to fight a bad guy.

No Comments

  1. Sado Said,

    February 23, 2010 @ 8:21 am

    Yeah, it has a few moments of cool, but otherwise it degenerates into a big pile of not-so-much-fun.

    They needed some more variety in their starting areas, not sticking you out in the boonies (which you’ll return to again and again, by the way). Just when you get done with your missions in Canada in the teens, you go right over to the Desert.

    Some powers and power sets are more equal than others too. The gadgeteering power set has a lot more garbage than useful talents. The AI on the bots you get is incredibly, incredibly stupid (when I last played, that is). They’ll heal anything but the person about to die.

    Then there’s the other end of the spectrum with Might, which does make you feel like a monster, but it also kinda ruins the experience with other power sets.

    I got bored and left, ultimately, once I got my taste of Star Trek Online, which has its own set of problems. Namely boredom.

    Cryptic has churned out two disappointments in a row. Quite a shame for a talented bunch of folks.

  2. king of the... Said,

    February 23, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    Just curious… is City of Heroes turn-based or action fighting?

  3. Scott Slemmons Said,

    February 23, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

    Probably neither one, king — I don’t think most MMOs operate on either level. Since you’re playing with and against other players, I think it’s too difficult to set up a working turn-based system, and Champions Online is one of the few that’s tried to include action/fighting strategy. MMOs really are their own category by themselves…