Champions Online, Part III
bastun_ie concludes his examination of Champions Online.
I lied about looking at the levelling system in this part, as it's pretty much covered in the last. Instead, we'll substitute in PvP, which I forgot about...
So after Millenium City's intro, as mentioned, you get to go to either the desert or the Canadian wilderness. The initial desert quests feature battles against an evil organisation, VIPER, and thousands (it seems like) of Irradiates, mutants caused by the atomic experiments of the past. Also appearing occasionally is Grond, a giant, green, four-armed behemoth. He tends to leap into an area, beat up whatever villains and heroes happen to be about, contribute some witticisms such as "You are as boring as rival MMO!", and leap off again.
I ground through a few levels with missions, and at some stage unlocked the ability to return to Millennium City, which I immediately took up. The mid-teen level missions in MC serve as an introduction to the various districts of the city, and the numerous gangs that are vying for control. You soon learn that outside the high-tech, "City of the Future" superhero area of the Renaissance Centre, MC is still Detroit at heart, and in a pretty poor state.
I ran out of missions (well - those of an appropriate level) in the high teens, and so travelled up to the Canadian wilderness, where Project Steelhead is based, and is being menaced by another criminal organisation, PSI, which is trying to release an ancient demon. And if that wasn't enough, Canadian separatists, the Hunter-Patriots, are also up to no good. Again I ran into the lack of level-appropriate missions problem, and so it was back again to MC, and then back to the desert, for Westworld-style shenanigans - out of control robots from the Western theme-park needed to be sorted out.
The look and feel of each zone is quite different. The graphics are fine, though nothing exceptional. Approaching WoW standards for the most part, but not quite there yet. Think average superhero comic, and you won't go far wrong. And in fairness, Cryptic may deliberately want the graphics to look as they do - generic superhero.
The desert manages to look like desert, and the Canadian wilderness is suitably tundra-like. Millennium City is a little sparsely populated for a thriving metropolis, but then so is every other city in a computer game. And each district - futuristic Ren Centre, dilapidated Westside, modern City Centre, Chinatown, etc., manage to look different.
Lairs - dungeons to a WoW player - haven't impressed me with their look and feel so far. They tend to be a fairly basic series of large rooms connected by corridors. The rooms will have appropriate furniture and decoration - science lab, military warehouse, etc. - and that equipment is handy for some characters with Super Strength. Nothing like a barrel of nuclear waste thrown from 50 feet away to make an impression on a group of mobs... Another criticism is that rooms that are "busy" with scenery really confuse pet AI. One of my character's mystic powers is to summon two wolves to fight by her side (gadgeteer types can also have pets) - and often they'd get stuck. Or, if I used an area of effect attack, which would damage some of the equipment in the area, they'd assume it was an enemy and continue to attack it...
There are two zones I haven't reached yet - Monster Island, I feel, may be in my near future, as a couple of NPCs have started mentioning it. And after that, there's Lemuria. And that's it, at present. More zones are obviously planned for future patches and expansions. And at least each current zone is large. I've still not explored them all, and at no stage have I been forced through a "purple" area on a mission (monsters that are too powerful for your level have purple-coloured names). Having said that - there is a slight shortage of quests. I've never been in the situation where I've had to grind mobs to level, thankfully, but I have had to go look for quests in different areas, once or twice picking up lower-level ones. On a few occasions, my log has been full of quests one to three levels above my own. And while some of them are still soloable, the problem with them is that the mobs tend to drop items that have a level requirement above my own. This has eased since I've reached 21, though, and I'm now getting regular bulletins from Sentinel, requesting my presence to deal with emergencies.
Each of the three zones has a Powerhouse, so levelling up isn't a problem, but only Ren Centre has a bank and auction house. I therefore found myself travelling back to Millennium City quite a bit. Mail can be accessed from anywhere, which is nice. In fact, you can access your in-game mails at any stage - and reply - via the Champions website, which is a very nice touch. Cryptic have also released a phone app that allows the same, as well as seeing if your friends are online. Sending items in your mails, though, needs to be done from a mail terminal, which are generally only found at bases.
Crafting and trade
Shortly after first arriving in the desert, I discovered the profession trainers. Basically there are three available - Arms, Science, and Mysticism. You can only pick one, and each has three specialities. As you fly around the map, you'll notice nodes on your mini-map that can be harvested, such as Arms Lockers for the Arms trade (no pun intended), or Occult Gear for Mysticism. Harvesting these yields base components (and may grant a skillup). Equipment you've looted or been given as a quest reward can, if it belongs to your chosen profession, be "Researched" - basically, it gets disenchanted into components. Trainers teach blueprints to make items, powers, enhancements and consumables out of these components. I learned all I could on every visit, but there was nothing outstanding at my skill level really useful to my character in terms of stats, though the odd consumable for healing was handy, and making my own bags was very useful. The lack of decent craftables may well be due to my choice of specialisation, too... I have access to a type of crafting called Enhancements, which add additional powers to existing onces. Unfortunately, the vast majority seem to add damage types (such as fire or sonic) to bladed weapons and archery powers - which I don't have.
Goods can of course also be sold to vendors, or put up on the Auction House. The AH is weak - I'm used to using WoW's AH, and my banker alts have Auctioneer addons, which tell me how much an item regularly sells for. The basic Champions AH interface, though, doesn't even allow you to sort by price. Search for a common crafting component - Aether, for example - and you'll get several pages of results, unsortable. That means scrolling through each page to find the cheapest lots. Likewise, I found it very time-consuming working out how much I should be putting up some of my loot for. It involved searching for a similar quality item, of the same level, in the same slot, that had huge price variations for no discernable reason. In the end, I gave up. I defaulted to keeping Primary items for auction at a certain low set price, and vendored all the Secondary-slot items I picked up that I couldn't disenchant. Sorry - research.
A staple of the superhero genre is to see two or more heroes battle it out (usually before teaming up to battle the bad guy). Champions allows duelling, and also has an organised PvP system - the Hero Games, which are battlegrounds. You can start PvP at any level - you get temporarily promoted in levels to match everyone else. There are three BGs in the game at the moment. The first I tried is an arena, pitting teams against each other. It was quite fun, and many powers really come into their own in PvP. And because nobody looks obviously like the healer, it can be interesting to work out who you should be targetting. The other battlegrounds available to me are an every-man-for-himself sectioned off section of the city, and a zombie scenario: you are randomly assigned a side, with a group of heroes having to defend a cabin from zombie attack, and the zombified heroes having to get into it. Defeated heroes are resurrected as super-zombies. I haven't unlocked it yet, but another scenario battleground involves a breakout from Stronghold, the prison for super-villains. Participating in PvP awards Acclaim, which can be traded for items, including equipment and costume-part unlocks.
Incidentally, it's worth mentioning that Cryptic uses a micro-transaction system - their 'C-store' sells lots of cosmetic upgrades and unlocks, and other benefits such as additional character lots, character renames, and respecs. I understand that anything that confers an in-game advantage is also available through normal play. You may just have to grind for it...
Social and grouping
The chat interface annoyed me, I have to say, but a lot of my annoyance was probably down to too many years' familiarity with WoW's interface. The chat pane is broken into player, NPC, and combat, and is customisable. The player chat lets you talk to the zone (and, indeed, every instance of the zone), to your SuperGroup (aka guild), your party, or to everyone "local" to your character. The cross-instance chat can be useful - when some missions were bugged last weekend, players in zones where they were working were able to report it so those on the quest could transfer over to a working instance. The disadvantage of cross-instance chat is that in high-pop zone such as Millennium City, there's a lot of it. Some of it of the Barrens chat variety...
I got as far as the high teens mostly solo, apart from the odd group mission, but people I'd been hoping to run into didn't seem to be playing as much, and there were never enough of us on at the same time to form our own SuperGroup. Five are needed to do so, and need to register it at Champions HQ. Because of the "Superhero Registration Act"... So around level 18 or so, I sought one out. Joining a guild gives access to a SuperGroup bank, and the usual benefits of being in a guild - people to help out, swap information, and generally interact with.
So far, my main character, a Darkness-based ranged DPS avatar of a Celtic goddess, has been fun to play, and I've gotten her to level 23 (out of a current max of 40). I've achieved the vast majority of that solo. I've also started an alt, a Strength-based metallic-bodied alien, complete with knockback skills, who is also fun. I'm looking forward to getting to 25, which is when a player gets to create their Nemesis. This is a really nice feature. Every superhero has their nemesis, and Champions lets you custom-build your own. He (or she, or it), complete with henchmen, will show up periodically at some point after creation and begin to cause trouble for your hero.
After that? Well, we'll see. I've two new zones to get to, and a nemesis to defeat. However, I've also got a WoW guild and raid community with real-life friends, and Startrek Online arriving in open beta next week. My purpose in trying Champions Online was to have a look at the genre, and see if Cryptic could produce a good MMO. From what I've seen, yes, they can, and this bodes well for STO. The character creation, especially, is one of the best seen in any game (and the sneak previews of STO's chargen show it's only gotten better). But it's not a game that rocks my world. It's not Cryptic's fault - everything is competent to good, with the exception of the Auction House and some other minor glitches that will no doubt improve over time - but it lacks that certain something that would make me lose all track of time as I ground out the last few XP needed to level. I may make level 40 in Champions at some point, but it will be more a case of dipping in and out of it as a break from something else, rather than "ZOMG must level! Must see this! Must do that!", as was the case with WoW and its expansions. And, hopefully, STO.
Posted by Drew Shiel at January 17, 2010 11:28 AM