I 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!
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.