Posted in Champions Online

Champions – The Negs

waldorfI had a half-baked Champions Online review in the works, but franky, the idea of trying to do a comprehensive review based on the first few weeks (plus beta) of an entire MMO just bogged down after a while.  So I thought I’d make it easier, and more interesting, on myself by breaking it into two quick-n-dirty articles, one focusing on its negatives, and one of its positives.  Might even just do this from now on for other MMOs.  Never let it be said that Syp doesn’t take the easy way out!

I wanted to start with Champions’ negative qualities, drawing heavily from two articles that I actually quite agree with: Eurogamer’s review and an article over at Trembling Hand.

Negative: Confusing Character Creator – Now, Champions gets a lot of well-deserved kudos for its awesome character creator, but this system is not entirely without fault.  There are so many options that are buried within various menus — and some which only show up if you’ve selected other menu options — that you could be digging around for hours trying to find the right selection that you need.  It makes building the toon you want more time-consuming than it has to be (for my money, City of Heroes organized costume options wonderfully).  I’ve heard this complaint time and again, and experienced it personally on several occasions.  It needs to be clearer.

Negative: Champions Fails To Properly Promote Teaming – Initially, as a console-ish MMO that lets you hand-craft a character with a custom set of powers alongside four “builds” you can switch between, Champions is a jack-of-all-trades, master of all title.  And because of this, there are few if any reasons to team up in the early game, as you can reasonably solo most content (even some of the “group” content, if you know what you’re doing) without finding companions.  Big dungeons (lairs) only exist in the second half of the game, by which point most folks will probably have settled into the solo mode and be reluctant to break out of that.

Negative: Five Zones, One Path – As Eurogamer pointed out, tutorial and crisis zones aside, Champions launched with only five (big) zones, and just enough content so that you pretty much have to do everything to be able to level up — forcing you to run the same content with the next sixteen alts.  Five zones does seem pretty skimpy, no matter how large or well-done they are, and here is hoping that Cryptic starts adding more, soon!

Negative: You MUST Quest to Level – Now I have little knowledge of how much XP the Hero Games PvP awards, but I know that in PvE it’s either do quests or do quests.  Grinding is simply not an option, as the XP rate for a downed mob is a pittance comparied to what you need (for example, the other night I was one bubble — 5,000 XP — from leveling; in a group of 3, each kill at our level netted us 8 XP.  You do the math.).

Negative: Inscrutable Stats and Gear – Champions has too many stats that are too confusing to remember which does what — it’s simply not intuitive.  What’s worse is that each piece of gear typically comes with about 4-10 stat modifiers that is all in small little increments.  Although stats are undoubtedly important, after a while I simply stopped caring about them because it was all just a bit too obscure.  Cryptic needs to simplify and clarify these.

Negative: Power Selections and Respecs – I’ll be honest, I absolutely love the fact that you can mix-and-match powers to make a unique character, but that comes with a dark side — there’s almost TOO many options, many of which could result in gimping your character later on.  This is made worse by the currently high cost of respecs (“retcons”) which punish players for not knowing what combinations of powers work or not.  This is a game that is in DIRE need of a character planner application, something I’m sure we’ll see before too long.

Negative: That %#@$ Tutorial – I’ll admit, the tutorial isn’t completely horrid… the first time you do it.  It’s a bit heavy with info screens and sometimes frustrating when you’re competing for mobs and clickies, but it progresses well and gives you a nice slice of the game at large.  But the problem is that you have to run it with EACH and EVERY character you create, which tends to be a lot since Champions strongly appeals to the altoholic side of us.  And by the sixth time I’m doing the tutorial, my soul is just keening for rescue, my eyes are glazed over, and I simply hate jogging (slowly) around with my two powers, doing the exact same thing as last time.  The tutorial needs to be skippable after the first or second time you run it, period.

Negative: Lag and Performance. Readers of this here blog know that I have had, and continue to experience, significant framerate issues — something that Cryptic has said they’re working on, but I’ve yet to see any significant results.  There are also reports of rubberbanding and general lag, all of which downgrade any sense of fun.

Negative: Nemesis Comes Too Late. The Nemesis system is one of Champions’ big selling points, and yet Cryptic squanders it until you hit level 20ish.  I don’t see why you can’t create your character’s nemesis at launch, and then tie that into the tutorial somehow — your “origin” story, perhaps.

Negative: UI Issues. I generally like Champions’ colorful UI, but I’m always grasping for what screen shows me my powers, versus my perks, versus my social menu, versus my character.  It’s been cleaned up from beta, somewhat, but it’s still a bit unwieldy and non-intuitive.  The guild roster and friends roster aren’t entirely working correctly, sometimes not showing people who are online, and not letting  you sort who’s online/offline as well as you’d like.  Finally, powers don’t always go off when you click them — sometimes there’s UI lag, sometimes not, but the truth is that it’s just not as responsive as it needs to be.

Negative: Poor Instructions – Cryptic’s approach to teaching players about the game comes in three varieties, all equally bad.  The first is to muddle through the countless info screens in the tutorial, which — let’s face it — nobody does.  The second is to swallow the fact that they were too cheap to print out a manual for the game box, and instead ask you to hunt around on their website to print out and read a PDF copy.  The third is to just try to figure it out as you go, asking everyone questions and hoping they have the answers.  Champions simply needs more — and better — ways to teach players about the game.

Negative: Casual, Yes, But TOO Casual – I always described City of Heroes as a lake miles wide and only inches deep; you got frustrated when you tried to take it beyond the casual level and get into the “meat” of the title.  Same goes for Champions.  It entices with a great blend of casual gameplay, but fails to follow up with any measurable “meat” as you progress.

Summary of Negs – From a negative view, I will concede that Cryptic really, really needed to put more time into this title before releasing it.  This is apparent when you consider that for most all of the summer, there wasn’t a lot of good vibes coming from this game, a feeling which only started to swing in the other direction after a series of pre-launch patches.  This isn’t even to mention the big “Day One” nerf across the board, which shows that something went really askew right before launch (and most likely during the headstart) that prompted Cryptic to take such drastic measures.  As with most all MMOs, you know that the first few months are going to be rough and sweaty — the question here is how quickly will Cryptic add new content and shore up its weak points.

15 thoughts on “Champions – The Negs

  1. We just talked about Champions a bit on the last podcast (episode 7) and I mirrored a few of your points. In my opinion, Champions could turn out to be a great game, but they are in the same boat that Mythic was in just after launch; there’s problems, it’s just a question of if they’ll get fixed before people lose interest.

  2. I can argue with a few points but pretty much spot on. I think that if they address a lot of these issues in the first quarter of their release Champions could become a very solid if not great game. The foundation is there and it certainly needed more attention and polish before release (thank god they delayed it to September, can we imagine what this would have been like if they went with that July release?)

    Still I have faith, Cryptic instituted the ‘Issue’ system that CoH still uses to this day with solid content updates in a regular fashion and I hope they continue to deliver that kind of content. I am pleased with what I’ve been exposed to and certainly am interested in what’s coming down the road despite the faults.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly about the UI being unresponsive. It basically takes a click-spam to activate any of the change-zone buttons, and I’ve noticed quite a bit of UI lag when it comes to blocking.
    I can confirm that there is some terrible lag in game sometimes. I’ve played games like WoW with high latency before, and never experienced the rubber-banding in CO , yes it was nigh on impossible to play WoW with that high a ping, casting time was effectivly doubled, but movement was fine. WoW appears to defer positioning to the Client-side to an extent in terms of high-latency (Which is why there are so many speed hacks in circulation for it)
    The rubber banding caused by high latency in CO is litterally like sitting at the end of a rubber band with someone extending and contracting it quickly. When it’s bad, it can make you feel quite ill. Lucky for me it doesn’t happen that often, but my friend does (he shares his net connection) and he’s had to stop playing purely due to the rubber-banding effect.

  4. “Champions has too many stats that are too confusing to remember which does what — it’s simply not intuitive.”

    This is something that grows out of one of my great disgusts with Champions – it’s not Champions. In the actual Hero system, each of the attributes has very clear, precise benefits. Unfortunately, by the time they gutted the system for the online version there wasn’t much left for the attributes. It seems like they wanted to keep them, so they threw a mishmash of characteristics which related to each attribute. The result is confusing and nonintuitive because it’s a poor, kludged-in attempt to make attributes more meaningful.

    “What’s worse is that each piece of gear typically comes with about 4-10 stat modifiers that is all in small little increments.”
    I seem to remember Age of Conan doing this. You’d think ANYTHING that game tried would have a big, glaring “DO NOT GO HERE” sign attached to it by now.

  5. Agree a lot with most of your negatives here. My only exceptions would be:

    1. I’m personally not having any lag or performance issues, but I have heard people are experiencing it. That really sucks, cause performance and lack of lag is something that seems to be a pretty high positive in my personal experiences so far.

    2. They added a “online game manual” button in this last patch, but I have no idea how good it is, as I have not messed around with it yet.

    3. The UI did take some getting used to, but the more I play I seem to be adapting to it more and more. Again, I also don’t have any UI lag that you mention, so I guess I’m lucky in that regard.

    4. I’ve never really liked “grinding” mobs, so for me I like the idea that questing is so important. My only problem is that I wouldnt mind rolling alts, but I’ll end up following the same quest paths, and for some reason that doesnt interest me. I’m guessing at that point I’ll be going off to Fallen Earth or Aion or DDO.

    I played a lot of Vanguard, and one thing that game had going for it was all the classes (like CO) were pretty unique, but they had a BUNCH of content and starting areas, so you could play the game with at LEAST 3 or 4 characters and not have to repeat much content if you didnt want to.

    All in all, pretty honest assessment of the negs though, and honestly these arent game-breakers for me. I’m enjoying CO and think it’s pretty good so far 🙂

  6. Re: stats

    I like all the stats. The gamer in me likes that I can pick all the right gear and make the exact character I want, or optimize her to suit my play-style.

    What’s needed is a system that lets the casual gamer build an effective hero without worrying (too much) about slotting the right item for the right build.

    Which leads me into the concept of builds/roles. It’s an awesome concept for a “classless” MMO like Champs, but it’s hard to grasp and seems like too much work to build a separate hero for teaming when teaming isn’t really encouraged.


  7. Fallen Earth has added a kind of ‘guidance system’ to its character management. I wonder if CO could steal this idea in some way. The idea is you pick a role (crafter, or tank, or rifleman, or whatever) and the system puts indicators on your stats showing how high they “should” be at your level in order for you to fill that role.

    You can take that advice or not, as you see fit. But at least it gives a new player some ideas as to what they ought to be aiming for.

    My biggest gripe is probably managing all the drops. Hang if off “Negative: Inscrutable Stats and Gear” but I feel like I have to take a break every 20 minutes to filter through my inventory and decide what is worth keeping and what is worth selling.

    This is a pain because there are 6 kinds of slots: defense, offense and utility, each in a primary and secondary variety. And you can’t (or at least, I can’t) just glance at an item in your inventory and know that it goes in a Primary Offense slot, or a Secondary Utility slot. So I have to mouse over each one, see where it could go, and check what stats it effects, and compare it to what I have equipped…

    The drop rate is pretty high so inventory fills up pretty fast.

    Anyone play Too Human? I’d love to see Cryptic swipe it’s inventory system, which let you set a ‘threshold’ of loot quality, and anything below that threshold got converted to currency on the fly.

  8. I understand why the Nemesis comes later, now that I have one.

    You get ambushed often.

    The ambushes are a hoot, but if that happened at lower levels it would not only be interruptive (getting slammed around randomly at level 10? Ugh, no), your character wouldn’t be well enough equipped with abilities to handle it yet.

    Basically, expect adds of 3-5 mobs during your outdoor fights, at least 10% of the time.

    They could have started it as early as lvl 20, but below that IMHO would be too soon. I know people are eager to see their Nemesis fights, but frankly I wouldn’t want Cryptic to nerf them down to the easy-mode necessary for lower levels.

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