Impressions: Champions Online beta

The Mighty Lemma Cryptic’s new MMOG, Champions Online, has had a rather interesting round of betas so far. Lots of systems got overhauled, and what’s there now has been changed quite a bit from what was there before. Interesting times, for sure. Since the NDA went down, impressions have been springing up like mushrooms, and here’s mine.

First off, what’s nice is that – assorted glitches aside – the game is a whole lot of fun. With the City of Heroes Powerset-Proliferation and Power-Spectrum changes, it’s starting to feel like the two are in a determined contest.

As I’ve said elsewhere, Champions Online gives me a very strong feeling that it’s City of Heroes 2 – albeit with a different setting.

Some of the underlying parts of Champions Online seem so familiar that you’d almost swear the two shared some sections of common code. Every part of the game has been rethought and retooled. Zones are much bigger. Instances are less common. City of Heroes has this tendency to feel over-instanced. By contrast, Champions Online tends to feel a bit under-instanced.

Many missions rely on a limited number of things on the main zone map, rather than tucked away in a personal copy of a map somewhere. This can lead to some queuing as you wait for mission objectives to respawn – and hovering around in a queue to rescue someone or disarm a bomb just doesn’t make you feel super.

What does make you feel super is the powers, and overall NPC feedback. First thing out of the tutorial mission, you’ll get to go pick a travel power from one of various forms of flight to super-jumping, burrowing or teleportation. In no time at all, you’re leaping across the landscape, saving the day and executing cool moves.

The areas where your mission objectives can be found are all clearly marked on the maps, so there’s not generally much trouble finding what you’re looking for.

Taking down escaped prisoners at a construction site near the prison

The powers also have simple customizations. Should that telekinetic beam shoot out of your palm, chest or head? You can tweak that. You can also set the power’s colors as you please for most powers.

Being super, to some degree involves looking super. The character designer won’t bother anyone who’s already played CoH, and it takes all of that an additional step. It’s fun to sit down and come up with character concepts.

Of course, for every cool-looking hero concept you see, there’s a Batman, Iron Man, Goku or Naruto running around. Maybe some people have no imagination, or maybe its that the psychological impact of some characters is so strong that we cannot help but emulate them, given the opportunity.

Back to being super.

Even the tutorial rewards you with a sense of having Saved The Day(tm) despite you being only (roughly) level 5 at the end of it, having helped the Mayor, saved heroes (and even maybe a villain), worked with the Champions super-team, rescued civilians and emergency workers, possibly saved a kitty, and generally had a tights-bulging time of things. After that the game then moves you on to a choice of one of two story arcs which also act as additional (though well-disguised) tutorials, before unleashing you on the main map somewhere around level 8 or 9.

There’s a decent sense of accomplishment there too, then everything opens out for you, with Canada, the Southern Desert, and Millennium City all being open to you (subject to your defeat if you get in over your head).

If you’ve got the stats for it, you can pick up barrels, lamp-posts, crates, cars, and even trucks and smack your enemy with them, or throw them. If you’re the super-strong type, there’s always stuff around you can grab and hurl.

Does this power make me look fat?

When you go to a trainer to gain the benefits of a new level, it’s in a sort of a super-gym, called the Power House. Within the Power House, you can not only make your choice, but try it out in a variety of training areas, featuring obstacle courses, throwable objects, target dummies and giant lasers. Not happy with it? Respec the power and pick something else instead, for free, as many times as you please, until you leave the Power House.

Bear in mind that it is possible to buy a power that you don’t have the energy to actually use, so check everything out before you walk out the door.

Overall

The game is brimming with puns and various plays on words, an absurd number of amusing pop-culture references, and a wide variety of things to do that exercise either your character’s toughness or powers – and frequently both, alongside a number of gadgets and devices.

I find the combat fun, the powers interesting, that sense of ‘super’ is there (and doubly so if you learn to maximize the use of your powers). I went in cold, with no idea what I was getting into, and frankly, I had a blast – and I’m still having it.

Playing time: 17 levels, then created another character, who’s presently level 14. Good times.