Champions Online, Part II

The second part of bastun_ie's investigation of Champions Online.

Champions Online is based on the Champions pen-and-paper RPG, first published in 1981 and now in its 5th edition. The Champions RPG is, in turn, an unashamed adaptation of the world of four-colour comics of the 60s and 70s. As such, its campaign world features all the common tropes of the genre - secret societies, evil corporations, mad supervillains, alien invasions - and, of course, the heroes who combat them, complete with their own super groups. This is the world you enter the first time you hit 'Play' in the Champions MMO.

An intro gives you a very quick rundown on the world you are entering, including your starting area, Millennium City. Marvel uses real-world cities, DC uses invented ones, while Champions has a mixture - Millennium City, "The City of the Future", is built on the ashes of Detroit - vast swathes of which were destroyed by the chief Champions-verse super-villain, Dr. Destroyer. The intro tells the player about this and reveals the latest menace to attack the city - the invasion of alien Qularr. All the while, we're zooming in closer and closer to your avatar, and you take control. Your character is revealed to be in a downtown city centre area, which has been sealed off by a mysterious energy field. Plenty of police officers and panicked citizens are in evidence, as they deal with the alien invasion.

The opening few minutes of the game are as you'd expect - popups to tell you the things you really need to know, such as movement controls and the like - but there's nothing unfamiliar if you've played any other MMO. And immediately in front of you is a large public computer terminal, complete with yellow exclamation mark over its head. "SENTINEL", the city's sentient computer system, gives you your first missions, of the "Go and talk to X" variety. One of the first quest destinations is to a MCPD quartermaster, who kindly gives you some equipment. Equipment and loot generally fits into one of three categories - offense, defense, or utility. Characters have one slot for each type, designated as Primary, as well as two secondary slots in each type. Most equipment gives a boost to one or more stats, and increases a character's defence score against both physical and energy damage, and obviously "primary" items tend to be more powerful than secondary items.

The next couple of missions introduce you to the combat buttons - "Those things are Qularr egg-pods - please destroy them!" "Help the police test the power on these energy guns by letting them shoot you while you block." - and suchlike. Then its time for your first "proper" mission - to recover the mayor's city emergency plans and laptop from an abandoned building. This serves as a nice intro to the power of your character. The aliens you face, also level 1, attack in groups of between one and three, and it's gratifying to see that you can easily handle a group of three. You are a superhero, after all. And throughout the game, this holds true - a hero with a decent spec can easily deal three to five "henchmen"-level opponents of the same level as the character. Above "henchmen", there are "villains", who are that bit harder, "master villains", harder again, and named supervillains.

Monsters drop both temporary boosts (to health, defense, attack strength, and energy) and loot. The loot will either be Primary/Secondary equipment, as descibed previously, or a useable item which fits into a trinket-type slot on the action bar. As expected, most such trinkets have expendable charges. The permanent loot is - well, quirky. You might pick up an item such as "VIPER training manual", which will enhance, say, Strength and Ego; or "Amulet of Urizen", which enhances two different stats. I've collected items as odd and diverse as alien body parts, futuristic tech gear, ancient lore, and "combat moves" such as "Reinforced sweep". Everything has a background flavour text, and will be from a school of either Mysticism, Arms, or Science (which is relevant to the crafting system, more of which anon). It seems about 95% of the items enhance some stats and combat scores, while about another 5% will have some additional power - for example, "Random Item related to fire" may enhance stats. but will also add fire damage to certain types of attacks. Like WoW, all items are either Bind or Equip or bound when picked up.

As mentioned in the previous article, depending on your character's framework, some stats are more important than others. However, all are relevant to some degree or other, moreso than WoW. My darkness-powered goddess avatar, for example, needs Constitution to increase her maximum health, and Endurance to increase her energy pool. However, I quickly found I needed other stats, too - Recovery was vital, so that energy pool would be refreshed quickly; I needed Dexterity to have any chance of scoring critical hits; and I needed Ego to do more damage.

Returning to Mayor Biselle, I levelled up, and was given some more missions. These led in a linear fashion - fine for a tutorial - to another area of the city (still under the barrier) till eventually I reached the Champions HQ (the Champions being the premiere supergroup of the setting, a la the Avengers or Justice League. This was my first encounter with an Open Mission - essentially a quest that anyone in the area can help to complete while its ongoing. My earlier missions had led to several encounters with personalities of the Champions world, including Dr. Silverback (a very large, absolutely brilliant, gorilla), and, after repelling a Qularr attack, I entered the Champions HQ where I met the premiere hero of the setting, Defender. Teaming up with Defender, we battled against both aliens and robots in the Champions HQ. Having worked out who was really behind the invasion, we were left with a final battle against a supervillain before freeing another Champions member to destroy the Qualarr mothership and end the invasion.

The above, of course, didn't mean too much to me. I was raised on Marvel, with a seasoning of DC, but I'd never played Champions. So the background and personalities were all new to me. At the same time, I understood exactly what they were trying to do - substitute Superman for Defender, the Justice League for the Champions, and Metropolis for Millennium City, and you've just helped save the city while aiding an absolutely iconic superhero. Not knowing the background, of course, or the personalities involved, it was a little wasted on me. But still fun.

Mission accomplished, I emerged from Champions HQ, to find the invasion over, and troops lined up to salute me as I walked to the Mayor to collect my reward (a level up, a "Perk" (Champions' equivalent to achievements), and the news that I was needed elsewhere). I could travel to Canada, where a demon was awakening, or to the south-western desert, where the radiation-created Grond was causing trouble... I chose the desert, and left the tutorial.

I was quickly transported via superjet-helicopter (and loading screen) to the desert base of UNITY, where I was urged to visit the Powerhouse - the training centre for superheroes. Entering the Powerhouse, I discovered a nice feature that hadn't been apparent before now - the whole world is instanced. Enter a zone, and you're offered a choice of which instance of that zone you want to enter. The choice screen also shows you how many players are in each instance (up to an apparent hard limit of 100 per instance), and, if you're in a guild (or supergroup, as they're called here), how many members of the guild are in that instance. The huge advantage of this, obviously, is no server-side lag in "busy" areas... there is no equivalent to WoW's "Lagaran".

I'd got to level 6 via the tutorial, which saw minor increases in my stats, but nothing more. Now I got to use several level-ups at once. Every level in Champions after the 5th gets you an improvement. This might be a new super-power, a super-stat (a very large increase to a base stat, that scales with level), an advantage (either an increase in level of an existing super-power, or a modiciation of an existing power to provide an additional advantage), or a talent (either a boost of 8 to one stat, a boost of 5 to two stats, a boost of four stats by 3, etc.). Travel powers at level 5 - including flight! - were a surprise to me, who'd last got flight at level 67 in WoW... All of the expected "super-travel" forms are there - flight comes in a variety of flavours, from an innate ability, to wings, fireform, hoverdisk, jetboots, etc., all with their own advantages and disadvantages - as well as superspeed, teleportation, tunnelling, super- or rocket-jump, and, yes, web-swinging. (I noticed one chat mention of Superman being in the game, as noone else could always be in the right place to catch a slung webline...) A "Danger Room" in the Powerhouse lets you experiment with your new powers, and leaving the Powerhouse locks them.

And that's it for now. Part 3, the final part, will look at the levelling system, the available zones, crafting, graphics, the social and grouping systems, and the general game experience.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 17, 2010 11:24 AM

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