Now that Champions Online is free-to-play, Staff Writer Paul "LockeColeMA" Cleveland decided to fly into the game and take a look around.
Fans of superhero MMOs can currently choose between the veteran City of Heroes, the newly released DC Universe Online, and Champions Online. In an attempt to make Champions Online stand apart from the crowd, Cryptic recently made the switch to the free-to-play format. Interested in seeing how the change has revitalized the game, I took the opportunity to dive (or fly, or super jump) into Champions Online.
I had some headaches start with the game even before I could sign in. First was the download itself. I'll say it right now: the patcher is terrible. It took me several hours to download the entire game; it took me half that amount of time to reinstall and update World of Warcraft for Cataclysm. And even better, upon trying to install the game I kept receiving errors. Under advice from a friend I went to Fileplanet instead and downloaded a version of the game. Turns out I downloaded the beta for the free-to-play server, so that didn't work either. Third try was finally the charm, and the Fileplanet download worked.
I also noticed that when logging out of the game, you entirely exit out of your account, prompting you to log back in if you want to change characters. Not sure why I wouldn't just be taken back to the character page, but that's how it works. Anyway, I finally got patched and set about to make my new hero.
The first big change that returning players will notice comes with character creation. The game still offers a monthly subscription plan: paying each month will give a player “gold level” account status, allowing them to design their own brand of superhero; while a free-to-play character has “silver level” status and must choose from several archetypes, such as the Blade or the Inferno. This means a paying customer will have much greater flexibility in what skills he or she can choose, as well as being able to get 3 more powers than silver level heroes.
The customization process is almost overwhelming for a new character – I spent at least half an hour picking out what type of character I wanted and using scroll bars to get the perfect features in the perfect colors. Then I scrapped my original idea and made a hero based on a manga character. And so Ken the Manager, owner of a magical afro and shades colored with my University's colors, was unleashed upon the world.
Upon entering the besieged Millennium City, I was able to choose my controls based on MMO experience or action games. I went for the MMO set-up which made a lot of keybinds standard: for example, C was my character's profile, B was inventory, P was for my powers and abilities. All the keys could be rebound, but it was nice having a familiar scheme with which to start. The game was easy enough to pick up, but the graphics were hit or miss for me. On the one hand, everything looks nice and crisp, and your characters stand out like comic characters against a bland background; on the other, the world was a bland background. The colors were bright but there wasn't too much to be impressed by besides other players' costumes.
The game starts in a tutorial zone, and gives helpful hints on how to play. Early on I was introduced to the questing system – standard to most MMOs, quests are shown by a giant “!” over the head of the quest-giver, the minimap showed the approximate area of the objective and a large “?” would show where to turn in the completed quest. The quests were all standard fare, which was a bit boring but understandable for a tutorial. Most of the named NPCs came with an “Info!” tab that would explain their background, so there was a nice bit of lore involved here.
I also noticed early on that, while fighting is quick and fun, leveling comes almost entirely from missions. This unfortunately made mindlessly shooting down aliens a bit pointless after the first 10 minutes or so. Instead I started to avoid combat except for the quest areas.
The tutorial zone did a good job of introducing the core mechanics of the game, such as fighting, questing and equipment. Combat is an interesting change from the standard MMO fare; as a Marksman, my attacks would either be weak attacks that generate energy, or charged attacks whose damage, extra effects and energy consumption increased the longer I held down the action button. It was unintuitive to get the hang of at first, but after seeing the difference between just spamming the buttons and actually charging and using my powers, I really enjoyed it. Also at times in the tutorial zone I was able to utilize the blocking skill, which lessens damage and restores energy. It was especially useful during a boss fight to lower damage from his own charged attacks.
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