Saturday, August 29, 2009

Champions Online Beta Impressions

So, the beta for Champions Online has been over for a couple days now, and I had been playing quite a bit of it while it was going on. Champions Online is a game published by Atari and created by Cryptic Studios, the same studio that made City of Heroes and City of Villains. Now, I've played City of Heroes before, and thought it was fairly fun. Champions Online retains a lot of what made City of Heroes so great, and takes the whole thing a few steps further.

First, let's talk about the character creator. In comparison to character creators in other MMOs, Champions Online pretty much beats them all. In WoW, you can basically choose from a few different hairstyles and face styles, and that's it. and in other MMOs, it's usually similar. However, Champions Online is closer to something like the character creator from The Sims 3. It might not be quite as in-depth as that, but you have a lot of various options, and there's a hell of a lot of sliders to adjust. Not only that but since the art style in the game is so cool and has a nice comic-book style to it, you usually end up making something that looks cool every time. During my time with the game, I made three characters, all very different looking, and they all turned out awesome.

But, let's talk more about the actual gameplay. The game starts you in Millennium City, and the whole city is being attacked by aliens. This part is mostly a tutorial mode, you learn all about different leveling concepts, and about the controls. Eventually you save the city and then you have a choice. Depending on which NPC you get a quest from, you can either go to the Disaster in The Desert, or the Crisis in Canada. It doesn't really matter which one you choose, because you can always go back to the other one later, but I chose Canada.

In Canada, this is pretty much the ice zone of the game, and the crisis I mentioned before is a bunch of zombies attacking. This leads me onto the next part of the game, which I found to be rather interesting. After completing a bunch of quests, me, and the team I was with at this point, got a quest where we had to fight the boss of the area. We ended up traveling through this portal, and when we beat the boss and traveled back, everything was all good, no more zombies. Not only that, but there were more locations to visit on the map. At first I was confused, and thought that maybe since the change was so dramatic that we were the only ones to have completed the mission at that point. Then it occurred to me, that we were actually in a whole new area! The game works on a pretty ingenious system of "area servers." For example, the Millennium City tutorial zone has about 10 dedicated servers just for that zone, and the Crisis in Canada zone has maybe another 10 servers, only for that zone, and now this new zone, the Canadian Wilderness zone, had another 10 servers. This is a pretty ingenious way to spice up the gameplay, and change the surroundings for players who have completed area-changing quests, however, without a highly populated userbase, some areas might be a little deserted.

So, eventually, after doing some more quests in the Canadian Wilderness, I ended up going back to Millennium City. Now, the city was much different from when we left it. The tutorial zone was the noob zone, pretty much, and now this new Millennium City seemed to be the main location that you're going to spend the game. I was only able to do a couple quests here and there in this part of town, but the whole area seems huge, and it's really useful to have some flying ability.

Speaking of abilities, let's talk about some of the ones you can get. There's fire, ice, electricity, earth, telekinesis, strength, munitions (guns and stuff), gadgets (necromancer, pretty much), magic, demon, mechanical, bladed weapons, science, and pretty much any other type of hero archetype you could think of. Basically, selecting one of these would determine what your character's focus was. You could always get powers from different archetypes after leveling, but this would determine your character's starting powers and stats. I ended up choosing Telekinesis for my main character, Psycho Drake, and I also messed around a bit with Strength, and Dual Blades. Overall, whichever archetype you choose, there's a lot of satisfying powers to use against your enemies.

Speaking of enemies, let me get into the combat system a little. If you've played an MMO before, this sort of combat may seem familiar, but it has a few nice touches to it. You still add powers to your quickbar, you're still pressing 1-7 to activate said powers, however, there's a heavy focus on moving your character around. You take less damage when you dodge an attack, and if you hit a number key without anybody selected, it will automatically attack the closest person to you. This makes the whole thing feel a lot more like Diablo or some sort of Action RPG instead of an MMO, and I personally think it's a welcome change on the market.

Now, what would an MMO be without any social aspects? Kinda boring, I tell you. Well, let me talk about some of that. The majority of the userbase, at least during the beta, was pretty friendly, and many people don't mind just starting up a random team, which is good if you don't know anybody who plays the game. the emotes might be a little lacking in variety, but the ones they do have are really good. they have a few different dancing emotes, including a break-dancing emote, a quick Micheal Jackson style twirl, and of course... since it's a superhero game, and you've gotta "superman dat' hoe" they have the Soulja Boy dance in here. Yes... they really do, in fact somebody has already made a WoW style music video using it and posted it on youtube. Some of the other emotes range from an evil laugh to a "charge" emote complete with bugle horns.

I only played a bit of the PvP, and it's your basic stuff. 5v5 arena cage matches with superheroes spawning in their designated rooms. In all of the PvP matches I played, people were leveled up to 10, but I'm not sure if some people were leveled down or not. However, this would not affect your abilites, only your stats. I kinda wish they had more large-scale PvP battles, kind of like Guild Wars, but with superheroes, but since that's all Guild Wars really focuses on, I guess that's asking a bit much.

Now, for the part you've all been waiting for. The end of beta event! So, the end of beta was pretty cool, I'm not too well versed in the champions universe of comics, but what I'm guessing is most likely the main villain, Dr. Destroyer, sent in all of his troops to Millennium City, this included various raids by Destro-Troopers, and a few giant Mega-Destructiods, pictured to the right, that were level 40 and spawned in the middle of some main-hub areas. Luckily, Cryptic set up a quest that would boost anybody who talked to the quest-giver up to level 40. This allowed me to get my hands on a lot of powerful moves, and really see what my class had to offer. Pretty crazy stuff, really. Even at level 40, though... Mega-Destructiod is not an easy enemy to take down. In fact, I ended up not being able to take down a single one. In fact, full groups of five went in and still weren't able to take them down. They seem like an end-game type of enemy, and definitely a challenge that would require somebody to gain just a few more levels. Hopefully they don't cap the level at 40 in the full game.

Overall, the beta was fun, and the game is definitely a satisfying experience, and one I'd recommend to anybody who enjoys any sort of RPG, and even more to those who enjoy the MMO variety. Is this game a WoW killer? Well, maybe it's too early to say, but I definitely think Cryptic has something really good here, and it may just be on par with something like WoW in the near future.

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