Champions – The Pos

happykidAnd now, the positives of Champions Online!

Character Creation – Champions starts off right away with its most powerful positive, an incredibly robust character creator that not only lets you mix-and-match powers to your liking, but has a vast array of tools to custom design the look of your character to be as unique (or derivative) as possible.  It’s not uncommon to spend hours in the character creator, attempting to find tune a perfect look, and players continually come up with new and impressive ways to combine visuals to stand out from the crowd.

Altoholics ‘R Us – Champions really is the altoholic’s dream, as you are always thinking up new ideas for outfits and curious about how such-and-such powerset plays out.  Two weeks into the game, and I’ve already maxed out my character slots!

It’s Got The Looks – Visuals are always subjective, but for my dollar, Champions is a gorgeous game — not just for screenshots, but almost every power has “zing” and “oomph” behind it.  Whether I’m flinging five bad guys away from me at once with force explosion or chopping into a villain with a double-bladed chainsaw, I dig the over-the-top looks.  And if we want to compare to City of Heroes, Champions’ world is light-years more colorful than CoH’s grey cement-on-grey cement style.  There may only be five zones, but they’re all drenched in personality and atmosphere, from the ice zombie romp of northern Canada to my favorite, cowboy robots in the Southwest.

It Feels More Like Superhero Combat Than Anything We’ve Experienced So Far In MMOs – Champions’ action gets called “console-y” a lot, and I’d agree with that sentiment — but, in my opinion, it’s a very good thing.  Combat feels fast, furious, and powerful, the antithesis of painstakingly-careful pulls and down-to-the-second timing of other MMO dungeon romps.  Instead, you take on whole crowds of bad guys and decimate them, well, by being superer.

Travel Powers Galore – Yes, teleport is by far and away the best travel power and needs to be retooled a bit to bring it in line with the limitations of other powers, but I have to say that all of Champions’ travel powers are just plain fun.  Forget other games where you spend gobs of money on a trotting horse and call it a “mount” — here you get an awesome travel power at level 5, and use it extensively to navigate your surroundings.  Champions almost triples the amount of travel powers from City of Heroes (although some are just reskins of others, like the various flight powers), and there’s nothing that makes me feel more super than to see a bad guy charge up for a powerful attack, when I hit the teleport key and whoosh behind him to deliver my own death blow while evading his.

The @name System – Giving players a permanent handle actually works in the context of this game.  We all play on one server, and as such, can always find our friends no matter what alt they might be on at the time.  Plus, I never have to worry about my character name being taken!

It’s The Little Things, Silly – Whether you realize it or not, MMOs need lots of little details to make their worlds feel more vibrant and alive.  You may not notice them as much when they’re there, but you will sense something is “off” when they’re not.  I found myself delighted with some of the smallest details in Champions — the way water drips off you when you get out of water, the sonic boom that comes in mid-flight, being able to toss a lamppost around just for the heck of it, or even hitting the tops of trees and seeing them sway.  You could argue that many of Champions’ features are purely cosmetic — which is true, but no less vital to the atmosphere of the game.  It matters what your costume looks like, just as much as being able to visually modify your powers (hues and where you launch them from).  Maybe flight and fire flight are the same travel power, but it felt greatly different to have flickering flames around me vs. soaring through the air all Superman-like.

Other small features I like:

  • The use of talents and abilities to customize powers is a lot more intuitive and enjoyable than City of Heroes’ enhancements
  • Perks are fun to collect, and they represent currency that can be spent for items and costumes later on.
  • It’s good to see public quests in the game, although I haven’t partaken in too many.
  • Creative enemies with a wide variety of skills — who doesn’t want to be lassoed and branded by a cowboy?  Err…
  • Being able to create an outfit and save it to file, to use or trade at a later point.

It’s Funny – Like the comic books it emulates, Champions has a snarky undercurrent of humor.  Some folks might not like the fourth-wall-breaking, or the pop culture references, but anything that makes me chuckle or laugh in a game is a wonderful inclusion.

Summary of Pos – Champions’ motto might as well be “Freedom!”  If it makes you feel better, we can make that a good Braveheart-ish “FREEEEDOMMMMM!”

Sure, you can put Champions down by stripping it down to its underpants of MMO features, which more or less line up with a lot of what’s already out there on the market.  But if you do that, you’re missing what I feel is its biggest strength: that it gives permission for players to be free.  Free to make who they want.  Free to move up and down and underground, whatever they like.  Free to whip up their own superhero origin story and to secretly feel as if they are the most important champion in the whole dang town.

This is a game where you do a LOT of people-watching, because it’s endlessly fascinating to see what folks conjure up, from the svelte to the abominations, from the freakish to the feline.  I’ve seen the predictable superhero knock-offs, the Star Wars “Darth [NAME]” clones, the references to whatever pop culture thing someone might be digging at the time.  And you know what?  It’s all groovy.  It’s a big, weird, messy asylum of creativity and clashing genres, and it works because that’s how the comic books are.

And even as I acknowledge and frown on the assortment of mistakes and problems in the game, it’s hard to put it down — Champions is fun, plain and simple, and it feels like a breath of fresh air in a field of fantasy-dominated MMOs.

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18 thoughts on “Champions – The Pos

  1. Pete S September 15, 2009 / 10:29 am

    One more Pro I’d like to add to the list: the active blocking system. CO isn’t the first MMO to have it, but it “feels” really good here. Like the Robot Cowboy that lassos you, but with your blocking power you resist his ability to yank you off your feet.

  2. Scott September 15, 2009 / 11:04 am

    I’m still waiting for someone to actually explain what they mean by “console-y combat” other than just saying “console-y combat.”

  3. canazza September 15, 2009 / 11:08 am

    You’re right about the consoley nature of the game. I’ve heard tell that alot of people find it easier using the X-box controller than the keyboard, and to be honest, I believe them 🙂

  4. Syp September 15, 2009 / 11:22 am

    @ Scott – It’s a vast conspiracy to make you wait!

  5. Pete S September 15, 2009 / 11:52 am

    @Scott — It’s console-y because a console controller has buttons, and the keyboard has keys that you press in a way very similar to the way you press a controller’s buttons. So just like with a console, you use your fingers to press a button (or a key) in order to have something happen in the game!

    That’s the best explanation I can come up with.

    Sarcasm aside, I guess maybe the ‘active block’ and the relatively few number of active skills are what make people call it console-y?

    Or maybe it’s because of the travel powers, many of which involved some kind of flight and people somehow equate 3d movement with consoles (somewhere the Falcon developers are rolling over in their cubicles)?

    I wonder though, if Cryptic had never mentioned an Xbox version (and if the game didn’t recognize a game controller so gracefully) if people would be calling it that.

  6. Scott September 15, 2009 / 11:54 am

    @Syp — I believe it, I’ve seen it on 3 blogs now and I’ve asked what they meant by that and never gotten an actual answer.

    Controlling well with a 360 gamepad doesn’t make it “console-y” (if that’s all it means) since pretty much every MMO can be controlled that way. DDO has native gamepad support and I’ve seen AoC, Aion and others controlled with one.

    Out of every MMO I’ve played, WoW is the only one whose *control of the actual character* is responsive as a console game would be, rather than every other MMO out there which isn’t as responsive to varied degrees, but WoW has the tab+autoattack+hotbar spam combat.

    Then again, I often have to wonder if the people who say “console-y combat” don’t actually have consoles in order to make an educated analogy and instead just go off of misguided assumptions?

  7. smalvarado September 15, 2009 / 12:24 pm

    I’ll have to second (or is it third by this time?) the use of the xbox controller. I’m studying animation, and all those micro movements really do a number on my hands. The xbox controller gives my wrists a break, and it makes movement much smoother (try running and doing a fully charged take off without one)!

    @smalvarado

  8. Volf September 15, 2009 / 12:26 pm

    I haven’t tried the XBox controller option yet but I can see how it would be easier so I may look into it. I did go a step beyond default and map my keys to make using the powers easier though.

    I’m definitely in agreement on alot of these pro’s. I like the quirky puns and pop culture references most of the time. I love Grond popping in and out and even though getting one shotted is sometimes annoying, he adds some character to the zone.

    And I really enjoy the attention to detail. The flight powers look different depending on your costume…wings beat in a somewhat natural fashion for the type of wing they are…capes move with the force of wind blowing through them. And the animations are very spot on.

    I think my favorite travel power so far is swinging though. I was a little disappointed in the acrobatics because the flips/handsprings seemed only to work when going backwards, forward was just running and higher jumps. Maybe I was missing something.

    Cryptic seems reasonably successful at correcting the bugs I have experienced so far as well, more so than Mythic achieved with WAR anyway. (I’ll note that I don’t have the performance issues that many are still experiencing though.)

    The content could be a bit more varied but that should come with time. I’m also not yet used to so many item drops giving quests (I usually forget to check the drops for these) so I miss some content that way too.

    As it stands though, I don’t regret getting the lifetime sub because I’ll be filling the extra character slots in no time (3 toons so far…Levels 14, 15, and 16) and enjoying this game for months (if not years) to come.

  9. Buhallin September 15, 2009 / 1:09 pm

    IMHO there are two things that make it console-y:

    1. Reactive keypresses, such as blocking. Console games, especially fighting games, are well known for this sort of thing. It’s gotten really horrible in recent years as “quicktime events” have become more popular. Basically, some button shows up on the screen and you have to hit that button quickly. It’s similar to the “block when you see him getting ready to attack” thing, only with specific buttons in a chain 3+ long.

    2. The charge-and-fire. The limited number of inputs available on a console controller means that they’re often overloaded. For instance, in the new Arkham Asylum Batman game (which absolutely rocks, BTW) the left trigger is used for your gadgets, such as the batarang. Hold it, and you can aim the gadget. Tap and release the trigger quickly, and it flings a quick batarang at a close target.

    Those are ones I’m pretty sure of. The next is hypothetical, since I haven’t actually played it, and I encourage correction if I’m wrong:

    3. Lack of mouse targeting. It seems like they’ve minimized/removed most, if not all, of the ground targeting you often see in MMOs. This sort of targeting is slow and cumbersome with a controller, and its avoidance may not make it feel explicitly “console-y” but it gives the impression that’s the target of the game.

    Finally, I think a lot of it is just knowledge bleed. Everyone knows CO was aimed at consoles initially, and that the game was designed to work with controllers. Hence, the gameplay matches up to that in our heads.

  10. Starayo September 15, 2009 / 1:16 pm

    I liked the drop I got which had the description “Powerful computer hardware – use it to play Champions Online!”. It was sort of amusing. 😛

    I definitely like the humour in this, and my friend who seems to never utter a sentence without a pun would probably love it.

    Sects and the city… Even my mum groaned at that. -_-

  11. Pete S September 15, 2009 / 2:38 pm

    @Buhallin — You *can* mouse target, but they do offer options. You can turn on a setting that has you auto-target anything that attacks you (assuming you aren’t already targeting an enemy) and one that will auto-select an enemy if you ‘attack’ with nothing targeted.

    But these options aren’t unique to CO.

    I really think it’s the knowledge bleed thing. Even using the controller, you still need to hit the keyboard for things you can’t do with the controller.

  12. We Fly Spitfires September 15, 2009 / 3:22 pm

    Awesome round-up, thanks. I think I’ll trade in Arkham Asylum and pick it up this weekend 🙂

  13. Buhallin September 15, 2009 / 3:28 pm

    I figured you could target mobs with the mouse. I was more looking for powers which target ground locations (like Tar Patch or the Rain abilities from CoH) or other environmental areas.

    I know they changed how teleport works to remove the targeting, and reading through the descriptions of the powers everything seems to get thrown at your target, rather than an arbitrary location. Are there any powers that let you target something other than your target mob, or some version of point blank?

  14. Merckx September 15, 2009 / 4:44 pm

    Champions is a good game, but I think I’ll put it on the shelf for a while and see what Cryptic does with it. I think I will enjoy it much more when I get a new computer, (my laptop is just struggling with it). The last thing I want to do is pull another WAR and keep playing after all enjoyment was gone just hoping the next patch was the magic one that fixed everything. Maybe by Christmas I’ll be back to it.

  15. Merckx September 15, 2009 / 5:21 pm

    very interesting I guess cryptic is aware of the problems with champions because when I cancelled my subscription cryptic asked why I was leaving and in the pull down menu they had all your “cons” to choose from. You can check it out if you go to cancel your account and then look at the options. At that point you are given the option to change your mind about cancelling.

  16. Pete S September 15, 2009 / 7:49 pm

    @Buhallin – None that I know of, but there are a lot of powers and I’m not familiar with them all. Closet I have seen is cone-shaped AOEs, but I don’t really know what format holds and roots take.

  17. Rog September 16, 2009 / 2:22 am

    I jump back and forth between the Xbox 360 controller and the mouse-keyboard combo.

    The controller is great for some freedom to get away from the desk and yeah it’s nice for the charge-up Powers. Those plus the active blocking are IMHO what makes Champions combat a bit “console-y”.

    I have a bit of a disability (limited use in one hand) though, so I still find it easier to use a mouse than a controller, so I find it’s easier on my hands to sit back at my desk and play the usual PC way.

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