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Champions Online (PC) artwork

Champions Online (PC) review


"A while back I previewed Champions Online. At the time I was optimistic about the full version and now I'm not disappointed in the slightest. The completed build of CO is everything I hoped for and more but I don't feel its fair to brandish it as a 'WoW killer' at this early stage. However, the game does provide a tonne of unique traits that should ensure its future survival - even on today's cut-throat MMO market."



A while back I previewed Champions Online. At the time I was optimistic about the full version and now I'm not disappointed in the slightest. The completed build of CO is everything I hoped for and more but I don't feel its fair to brandish it as a 'WoW killer' at this early stage. However, the game does provide a tonne of unique traits that should ensure its future survival - even on today's cut-throat MMO market. Despite dabbling in the City Of... titles, I had no idea that creating and playing as my own superhero could be so much fun, even though there's thousands of other people doing exactly the same thing. The developers have crafted a remarkable style and combined it with some marvellous mechanics to offer subscribers a highly enjoyable experience.

Upon first loading the client I was prompted into the automated patching process. Several hours passed and the game was updated and ready to play. I was immediately thrown into the character creation screen, where I was faced with several notable features. First off is the power selection. Instead of receiving a choice of only 5 or 6 classes, CO presents us with a tonne of 'superpowers' to build our skills around. For example, if I opted to be a master of the ice element, then my future abilities will consist of ice beams and so forth. Likewise, if I chose to be a shady gunman then I would be mainly restricted to using fancy pistols for the duration of my time with that character. Many of you will dislike such specific specialisation and I imagine would prefer many of these powers to be rolled together to create a deeper and more versatile set of archetypes. A huge amount of starting choice is refreshing, but its silly that the likes of the separate single sword and dual swords champions can't be combined into one. Although levelling alternate characters is fairly easy, it would be nice to have more well-rounded superpowers to begin with.

Champions Online has no real 'gear' to speak of. Instead there's slots for upgrades which increase strength, dexterity and so on. This means that whatever clothing and accessories you pick for your character at the start of the game stays with them forever. Fortunately, the avatar maker tool rivals that of The Sims 3's people producer. There's a huge amount of customisation options that are open to anyone, regardless of what main superpower they picked. It doesn't matter whether you're trying to be the next mutant overlord or crazed pyromaniac; you'll find everything you need to perfect your appearance to the finest detail. I'm yet to discover two characters that look even remotely similar to each other. The sky's the limit here and you'll spend a long time designing your character, if you so desire.

After giving my mentalist a wry smile and a beast-like stance, I was plonked down into an instanced section of the main city. Its there, during the peak of an insectoid invasion, that I learned the basic controls and was introduced to the main NPCs such as the mayor and police chief. Amidst the burning buildings and bug-eyed freaks I became collaborated with the unique battle system. This is something that has drastically improved from the beta and is quite possibly the highlight of the entire game.

I assume many of you have played MMOs before. I'm a WoW veteran of 4 years myself. In spite of sticking with the game for most of half a decade, I only possess one maximum level character. Why? Because I've always despised the grinding process. With some classes it took half a minute to whittle away the health of a single mob. Then I'd have to recover my own HP and spend another thirty seconds killing the next guy. As you may imagine, this got boring very quickly. Although there were lots of quests to liven up otherwise mundane mechanics, many left thousands others and I with little or no idea on how to complete them.

CO's levelling system is quite contradictory to what you may expect from an MMO. 3 or 4 enemies of higher experience can be taken on simluateously and health regenerates almost instantly. Missions are a pleasure to participate in since the mini-map clearly shows the general area where objectives can be found. Players are no longer left to guess where the item they have to acquire drops or where the monster they must kill spawns. Completing these quests is rewarded heavily and within five minutes of playing competent gamers will have easily filled their experience bar. Levelling up boosts base stats and also gives more chances at character customisation.

Upon achieving my first level I was given an opportunity to pick new traits. This works like a mix between Oblivion's skill system and Final Fantasy X's sphere grid. Suppose you chose to be a gun-wielding cowboy, there's still the opportunity to pursue alternate career paths if you have the right number of points from levelling up. However, opting for skills that are totally unrelated to your core superpower is ineffective. By employing a little common sense the right ability to pick become apparent very quickly. One of the game's main selling points was the capability to branch out and utilise any powers you wish from the go. This is certainly possible, but the fact remains that pre-set archetypes exist for a reason. Hoarding all of the starting powers is silly. No one wants to group with the bloke who has an interface cluttered with useless skills. Many people are yet to realise the difference between being flexible and being clumsy. Its not uncommon to see champions strolling around with strange assortments of powers that are strong on their own but weak when combined. Such player-induced diversity is unprecedented in an MMO but I've not really met anyone who is talented at playing such a hybrid of heroes.

The developers encourage players to take as many different directions with their advancement as they like, but this mantra is actually detrimental to group gameplay. A bloke with abilities solely in one field is always going to be superior at what he does to one with a combination of types. Thus, the former will be picked first for party missions. This leaves the more adventurous guy out in the cold, unless his build is carefully calculated and rigorously tested. While a certain degree of manuverability is welcome, many players will find themselves overwhelmed and tempted into making illogical choices upon levelling. If your head is currently filled with visions of 12 year-olds who rolled blademasters when first booting the game but now are taking up psychic abilities because they're 'cooler', then that's an accurate representation of what some players act like. This isn't helped by the fact that the importance of building a suitable team champion is never really articulated in the tutorial. Although most group missions consist of blowing all your cooldowns against a giant robot/animal and nothing more, it would be nice if we received more advice on how to form good groups or ways to invest our skill points in the most efficient way.

The control scheme for CO is without equal. Players can use a traditional WoW-like keyboard layout, a FPS configuration or one recommended by the game. It made sense for me to pick one similar to other titles in the genre. I wrongly assumed that a familiar set-up would make playing in this new world easier. However, CO is an action MMO and includes completely new additions to combat like the ability to block attacks. Older interfaces were never designed with such innovations in mind, so trying to play as a traditional style makes for an awkward experience. Even setting up the camera properly can be a pain, especially when the movement keys don't correspond to where my character is facing. The freedom to switch between preferred layouts is welcome, but its obvious that this game was meant to be played with the default keys.

So after sorting out my character, controls and camera I managed to fight back the insect vanguard in the starting area. It was after this when the game really began to grow on me. As soon as I stepped into the main city it became immediately evident that it took a lot of work to create such a lively environment. The colourful and detailed buildings made for an ideal backdrop while I spent hours fighting crime on the streets. NPCs ran around and interacted with each other through natural dialogue. CO is truly able to make players as if they're the city's saviours. Friendly quest-givers admire passing champions while some enemies cower in fear. Its easy to become attached to the world thanks to all of these little extras that have come together to create immersion. For those of you worrying that the entire game takes place in a concrete jungle, I can assure you that there are many other places to visit as your hero progresses through the levels. The city is the main hub, but you'll find yourself visiting instanced hidden lairs and tropical islands - either alone or in a party. I'm not usually a fan of heavily instanced MMOs as I feel they subtract heavily from the social aspect of playing online. Yet CO's instances have brought a terrific standard of quality thanks to some great event scripting. There are still a few 'go kill x amount of this mob' quests, but the presence of epic moments like battling against supervillians compensates for the petty missions. Every little thing you do isn't necessarily directly tied to the protection of the city and many of the smaller-scale errands are presented with a dose of good humour to try and keep things as exciting as possible.

In conclusion Champions Online is a very fun MMO. It's fast-paced enough for even die-hard FPS fans to consider. Conversely, there's some slow, touching moments which are told through scripted sequences and exposition from NPCs. The game includes many innovative features, from total character customisation to blocking. These ground-breaking changes definitely make CO worth the upgrade from the City Of... series. I triumphantly encourage anyone who is sick of cliché fantasy worlds to take a look too.

Rating: 9/10

Melaisis's avatar
Freelance review by Scott Constantine (September 07, 2009)

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