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Champions Online Review

publisher: Atari
developer: Cryptic Studios
genre: MMORPG

PIV 2500, 1GB RAM, 5GB HDD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Sep 01, 09
» All About Champions Online on ActionTrip

A little over 5 years ago, developer Cryptic Studios won my praise and admiration when they took a chance in the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMMOG) market. City of Heroes allowed players to walk a new and different role playing path as they could create and play their own superhero. Missions included battling thugs, aliens and villains typically only found in the pages of a comic book. City of Heroes was fresh, entertaining and for the time, looked good. I was a paying subscriber for more than two years. However, even with regular updates to the game, I eventually grew bored, feeling some key MMMOG elements were missing and moved onto other titles. Flash forward to today and Cryptic (this time with publisher Atari) is taking another bite at the Superhero MMOG apple with Champions Online. The question that must be asked: Was Cryptic able to keep what worked with City of Heroes while improving on its short comings, or is Champions Online the same old superhero in a new pair of tights?

While Cryptic Studios licensed the long established pen and paper game Champions from Hero games, they do not use the core rule set. Rather, they have their own versions of the character creation and power sets that they say takes inspiration from the pen and paper game. This arrangement also allows Cryptic access to a rich Champions Universe of Superheroes and Villains with all their back stories, rivalries and environments that their stories take place in. This is a good thing as it allows Cryptic to concentrate on game mechanics and not on creating a new game universe from scratch as they had to do in City of Heroes.

When creating your hero in Champions Online for the first time, players are walked through the process of choosing their power set from a predetermined list including things like Powered Armor, Martial Arts, fire and other typical comic book style powers. If you prefer, you can create your own custom set, picking and choosing your powers as you would entrees from a Chinese buffet. Don't fret if you pick a stock power set because you can deviate from your chosen path as you level up picking items from other sets if you so choose. This turns out to be a bit of double edge sword however, which I will discuss more later. Choosing your power set is just the start to customize your hero. The next big step is determining how your hero will look.

City of Heroes character creator was ground breaking as it gave players the ability to customize every aspect of their new hero. Champions Online takes the same character creation system and shoots it up with 1000 cc's of horse steroids. You can spend literally, hours, tweaking body components like arms, legs, heads, etc. before moving onto your costume. You can mix and match between alien, animal and robotic parts with different colors, textures and patterns. It's a dizzying array of options and people who are much more creative than I have made some truly stunning heroes. This is by far, the most advanced and well executed character customization engine I have seen in any game to date (yeah, Bill Roper was always obsessed with detailed character customization, which is a good thing in this case - Vader).

While we are talking about how your character is going to look, I have to mention the graphics. Champions Online features a very comic book looking style. I am not sure if they call it cel shading but that is the term that springs to mind when you see the game in action. Bright vibrant colors add to the effects as your hero unleashes your attacks. Animations are fluid and vary based on your particular power sets. And yes, even here you can further customize your hero, as you can edit the effects of your powers choosing the color and even in some cases, what part of your hero's body the effect emanates from. But keep yourself in check Beavis. As much as I am sure this disappoints you to hear this, you can't create Fiery Darts of Farting Fire that blast out of your butt. This is a family friendly game after all.

Once you finish building your hero you are ushered into the game world in a shielded part of Millennium City that is under siege by insectoid space aliens. This newbie area allows player to get their bearings, test new powers and learn a bit about how to gain experience and equip items. One quest that has you block incoming rifle fire from a defense solider gives you a clue that combat in Champions Online is unlike other MMOGs. You still hit buttons to fire off attacks as you do in other games, but there is a mix of arcade style action here as well. Some powers allow you to charge attacks by holding down the button and then releasing it when you reach the desired power level. Others keep the attack sustained until you are out of energy. And visual clues from enemies prompt you to hold the shift key to engage a block that will reduce the damage you take from special attacks. It's a system that keeps combat fresh and helps to convey the action of a dust up in classic comic book style.

Once you have gained a few levels and worked through the mission chain in the starting area, you move onto the 'real' game world by choosing to go to the wintery wilds of Northern Canada or a radioactive testing facility in the desert (these maps open up to truly massive sizes as your level increases). When you arrive at your destination you are guided to the Power House where you can pick out the new powers from the levels you earned in the newbie zone. At this point you also choose your travel power to help move you around the world in true hero fashion. Flight is a given but other travel powers include teleportation, rocket boots and burrowing through the earth. The Power House is the only way for you to choose new powers and perks when you gain a level. It also allows you to test your new powers to ensure that you chose correctly. As long as you don't leave the Power House, you can try on new powers, like sweaters at the Gap, until you find the right fit. Once you are happy with your choice of powers, you exit the Power House and confirm your decisions. This is a welcome change from other MMOGs. It's also a perfect fit since here are so many powers you can choose from, your odds of botching your choice are high if you deviate from your power set of choice.

Champions Online could not be called a MMOG if it did not have quests for players to complete. Scattered around the map are quest givers that offer missions that any veteran player should be familiar with (kill a certain number of specific bad guys, find a particular item or escort someone to a location, among others). Public quests that anyone in the area can participate in (similar to what we saw in WarHammer Online) are scattered around the map as well. Also, you can get quests from items that are picked up as loot and my favorite, from people that run up to you on the street with some tip about a suspicious group or building that needs investigating. It's a clever feature that makes the city seem more like a real, breathing entity and helped encourage me to explore more.

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8.0   Very Good

Great character builder, power customization removes restrictions on building YOUR hero, ways of acquiring quests keeps things interesting, pretty colors;

Lack luster PvP, power customization actually discourages grouping, some portions of the game are confusing for new players.


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