In Champions Online you create your own lycra-bound (or not) superhero, complete with a myriad of superpowers, and taking on all manner of villainous scum and general criminal lowlife. It’s also another example of a large well established MMO releasing a free-to-play version of its core game with a sort of ‘try-before-you-buy’ feel. Allowing the players to experience enough of the content to encourage them to fork our a monthly fee for the whole game.
The gameplay in Champions Online is not too dissimilar from many of the other major MMO’s out there. You design your character, defeat the bad guys and rescue as many damsels in distress as you can. In the most part the gameplay doesn’t really differentiate from that approach.
The quests are as you’d expect; pick up a certain amount of x, find/escort y, kill so many of z. The quests are pretty standard and I haven’t found many quests where I was struck silent in awe with their creative ingenuity.
|Leaps Buildings in a single bound…?|
At a very early level you can choose your own travel power, whether it’s flight, tunneling, super-speed or jumping whole buildings in a single bound etc. which is definitely a nice idea. With the general lack of originality with the quests you don’t want to add to this, a pointless grind through the mobs as you slowly run to each quests location and back to the quest giver. The travel power eliminates this problem and adds a nice element of fun. Jumping is my favourite, there’s just something quite chaotic and clumsy about the animation that really works for me.
Like all other MMO’s there are group quests and lairs which will take several of you working together to complete. Each character (depending on their level) can create a number of builds for their character which in short allows them to fulfill any of the standard group roles (tank, damage dealer, healer). These builds can then be augmented by various unlockable roles (which when utilised have varying effects including increasing hit points, or healing power or threat generation.) and the various upgrades which increase the hero’s main statistics.
For example a Tanking build would focus on damage mitigation, threat generation and increased armour rating; whilst a healing build would focus on healing effectiveness, and energy regeneration.
There really is nothing fantastically original in the way of gameplay. The really outstanding part of Champions Online is the unparalleled character creation.
Like nearly all other MMO’s the first thing you have to do is create your character. The first step being to choose your powers. In the full game you can break this down into primary and secondary powers enabling all manner of different combinations. For example, you can set the primary power as fire, and the secondary power as Gadgeteer leading the way to creating a character that not only burns enemies to a cinder but will also create healing robots or defence towers. In the free version you can only choose one of a few power sets and their primary and secondary power are always the same, also only a few of those power’s are selectable with some being purchasable from the online store and others being only available to gold (i.e. paying) subscribers.
This part was a bit of a disappointment to me but only because I had experienced the complete and varied options of the full game beforehand. The selected options offer a good introduction to a selection of those powers and they do a very good job of encouraging you to fork out the monthly fee to use the rest.
Once you have chosen your power sets you arrive at the character customisation options. Champions Online has one of the most diverse character creation elements of any MMO to date. The sheer number of options you have to create your perfect hero is incredible. Everything is customizable; from the details of the hero such as height, build, forearm length, foot size and yes, even breast size, (sorry ladies, there’s no male equivalent of that option.) Through to the costume options where every aspect of the costume is broken down and editable. You are even able to decide how your character stands; do they stand heroically or run around on all fours like a wild animal.
The last step is choosing your name and writing your own back-story. You don’t need to write a back-story, but it can help to explain your character to anyone who views your character profile.
Once you enter the game you are even allowed to change how some of your skills look. Some skills will allow you to not only change the colour of the power itself but also to change elements of the skill. In the case of the fireball for example, it can be modified to fire from the head, palms or the fists.
|“I may be half-naked but I can still beat you with this stick…!”|
Another brilliant element of the full game that has been taken out of the free-version is your ability to change which skills you acquire next. In the full game you are able to take any skills from any power set providing you have the requisite number of skills. Another example of the game allowing you to create exactly the type of hero you want.
In the free version, you have no choice about how your character develops. Your skill tree has been pre-decided and as you level up you gain those new skills in a set order. This is another way to encourage non-paying subscribers to pay for the full version. To me this is the biggest reason out there for forking out the cash. In essence , without this control over your character you might as well be levelling up someone else’s which in my mind isn’t as fun as it could be.
In my opinion, the crafting element of Champions Online is not put together as well as it is in other MMO’s. It just doesn’t provide much in the way of usefulness, certainly not during the earlier levels. Although, there is the possibility of crafting new travel powers at higher levels.
The first step in crafting is to choose which school you wish to pursue. There are three different schools ‘Arms’, ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Science’. Each of these schools are geared towards creating items that supplement different characteristics. So from a lore perspective it can seem rather out of place when your 4000 year old demigod, has to craft rifles and heavy weaponry to improve the characteristics that would benefit him rather than the Mysticism route which makes more sense lore-wise but will offer limited benefit to your character.
Once you know which school you will be crafting in it’s simply a matter of finding the various nodes (there’s one for each school) and double-clicking them. This will supply your character with crafting materials. These materials are then used to create items, which increase your skill allowing you to make more advanced items etc. Which is pretty standard for an MMO these days.
One advantage that the Champions Online system has over others is that every character can break down any item of the same school that they have found (or even made) to supply themselves with more materials. Which makes levelling up crafting a little easier and therefore means you are grinding for crafting materials less too.
It just seems a very disjointed part of the game. Nothing really drags me into spending any real time at all levelling it. Is it better than nothing? Yeah… Just.
The Nemesis System
Another nice little touch that Champions Online has is the ‘Nemesis System’. Once you reach level 25 you are able to create your characters own arch-enemy, his/her own nemesis.
The Nemesis System is along the same lines as creating your superhero. You decide what they are to look like, the power sets that they will use and you even get to design their henchman.
The Nemesis, once created, will send his henchman out to stop, kill, or just generally annoy your character. As you defeat the minions they drop clues, which lead to more quests and ultimately the final confrontation between you and them. Once you have defeated your Arch nemesis it won’t be long before a new villain or even one of his underlings starts to try to defeat you.
Player vs. Player combat is not a major part in this game, and if that style of play is of utmost importance to you, then I suggest that Champions Online may not be your game. The PvP events are mostly based around Arena style play, as there is only one playable side (the good guys). Any PvP fights are based more around competition than survival. The fights have no great long-term effects on the world or plotline in question and once the game has finished you go back to the standard game of kicking seven bells out of each the bad guys.
However, there is one saving grace to the PvP games which I find myself going to over and over again. The Zombie Apocalypse PvP is, in my mind, a stroke of genius. In this game one hero starts off as a zombie whilst all other heroes start off as normal heroes. As the game continues hordes of ravenous zombies, including the zombie hero will attack the remaining players, whilst the heroes protect a survivor filled cabin. As heroes are defeated they rise again as zombies and then join the zombie masses to attack the remaining warriors.
Player vs. Player is not a big thing for me anyway, and in many cases I can either take it or leave it, though Zombie Apocalypse is really worth giving it a shot.
|“Your knife versus my gun? Go on then”|
The visuals have been created with a bright and extremely colourful, comic book style with all the “Kersplats”, “Ger-Blammos” and “GunYargs” that your screen can deal with. A very good job has been done to bring the comic book look to life, even to the point of putting a thick black line around your character to emphasize them. (Although, I find this effect quite annoying and end up turning it off but still you can’t knock the effort that’s gone in.)
Despite the glaring and colourful comic book visuals, the graphics do not excite me. They are well done yes, but it’s hard to really excel with this type of graphics. You can’t show off with beautiful landscapes, or realistic shadow/fire and water effects. Though in the same vein it’s hard to really go that wrong either.
Ultimately they had no choice which direction they were going to take with the look of this game, as it’s almost set in stone being a comic-book MMO. Once the initial wonder has worn off, you’ll probably find yourself not even really noticing the graphics anymore.
The free version of Champions Online should certainly be downloaded and given a try. The character creation is excellent although it is a shame that your level of control for levelling your character is severely reduced with only a handful of pre-made archetypes and no ability to create custom ones. Of course they have to leave something for the paid version and this is definitely a good reason to pay the £14.99 a month.
Without the control over your characters levelling the game can at times seem rather hollow as I find you get to the point where the only reason to play the game is to get to the more interesting part of the game quicker.
With that aside, what you are left with is a nice, tidy and graphically well presented game that is still worth taking a look at despite it’s flaws. Don’t expect to be over-awed with unique and awe-inspiring gameplay because until you hit the ‘Nemesis’ part of the game at level 25 you won’t find much. Just look forward to a well put together and relatively unique approach to an MMO.
Whether you want to spend the monthly fee’s and have access to all the things they left out, is up to you.
If you want to try the free version, you can link to their site from here…