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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.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Champions Online

Another edition of “Holiday Gift Bag” already? Yeah, I’m running a bit behind, so I decided to pick up the pace a little to get some more gift recommendations done. Today, we’re going to look at Champions Online.


This is going to be a bit of an unusual recommendation for me, because I don’t own this game and haven’t played it. My computer is old enough that it probably wouldn’t be able to run it. Plus, I’ve still got my ongoing addiction of rival superhero MMO “City of Heroes,” and haven’t bought any new computer games in years.

Nevertheless, Champions Online looks pretty good. Like I said, it’s a superhero MMORPG — in fact, it was developed by Cryptic Studios, which originally designed “City of Heroes.” In the game, you play a superhero or a supervillain taking on a wide variety of opponents in Millennium City or other locations, including the Stronghold superprison, the undersea Lemuria City, the icy-cold Burial Butte, Canada, Monster Island, Snake Gulch, and more.


Because this is a superhero game, a lot of work has been done to create cool powers. Unlike “City of Heroes” — and actually, most other games — Champions doesn’t have character classes or archetypes. Any character can take any power they want and customize it almost any way they want.

One of Champions’ spotlight features is the custom nemesis. At a certain point in your superhero/villain career, you’ll be able to create your very own archnemesis, who will periodically ambush you, leave clues to new schemes, and generally serve as the Joker to your Batman, the Sabretooth to your Wolverine, the Doctor Bong to your Howard the Duck…


Longtime players of the Champions pen-and-paper roleplaying game will probably recognize some characters who will show up as NPCs, allies, or enemies, including Defender, Ironclad, Sapphire, Menton, Grond, Armadillo, Doctor Destroyer, and even Foxbat. Yes, Foxbat! Everyone loves Foxbat!

Because Champions Online is an MMO, there is going to be a monthly $15 subscription rate to play the game on top of the cost of the game itself. That fifteen bucks isn’t a whole lot, but keep it in mind if you’re buying the game as a gift — you’ll want to make sure your gift recipient can afford to keep playing the game if they enjoy it.


Champions Online. Go pick it up.

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Champions Online

I’ve already mentioned my love for the “City of Heroes” game. Well, the studio that created the game, Cryptic Studios, sold the game to its publisher, NCSoft, a while back and started working on the Marvel Universe Online MMO. Unfortunately, that project died a quick and painful death. So Cryptic has now jumped into working on a new game — another superhero MMO called “Champions Online.”

Now if you play pen-and-paper roleplaying games, that name’s probably pretty familiar to you — “Champions” is probably the most successful superhero RPG ever, and attaching its name to an MMO computer game is a pretty smart move. It gets you some recognition from the folks who are fans of superhero gaming, but it’s also obscure enough to give the game designers lots of room to make changes.

On the surface, there look to be a lot of similarities between the “City of” franchise and Champions Online — it’s superheroes and supervillains, character/costume customization is muy bueno, etc. To keep it from being a CoH clone, Cryptic has added several features that have been frequently requested by CoH players but never added, including full power customization; zones for outer space, underwater, and snowy wastes; combat more like fighting games; and a system that lets you design your own archenemy.

I’m sure a lot of people will at least give it a try, but I don’t much think I’ll be among them at this point. I already have one superhero-videogame addiction — why would I want to add a second one?

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