Posted in Champions Online, City of Heroes

Throwdown: Champions Online vs. City of Heroes

Step-Brothers-movie-07Fans of Champions have been violently allergic to (frequent) comparisons of CO to City of Heroes, wishing that this game could be taken on its own merits without contrasting it to anything else.  But that sort of fanciful thinking exists only in a cold, hard vacuum, and while Bio Break does love a moment here or there in the depths of outer space, we recognize that comparisons are inevitable and sometimes necessary to formulate opinions and to gauge worthiness.  After all, your time is a limited quantity, and you want to make sure you’re playing what’s best for you.

So why not compare the two games, just for fun?  After all, they’re both superhero MMOs, they were both developed by Cryptic, and they both share enough of their makeup (and art assets) to be step-brothers.  Oh, and I’ve played both (and in the same year), so there’s that.

Costume Creator

This feature is one of the most touted and celebrated of both games, as just about everyone loves the freedom to tweak and customize their character to give them that unique (or, hey, copycat) look.  While Champions has more “crazy” options, including a lot of additional polygons for above-costume pieces, CoH wins this handily.  CoH’s creator has more options (several of the cooler ones which did not carry over to Champions, for some reason) and an easier interface.  I can see this tipping the scales in Champions’ direction if they started pumping out a lot more art work and streamlined their sometimes-confusing dropdown menus.

Power Selection

CoH offers a mix-and-match between whole powersets, letting players choose a primary and secondary.  Champions, on the other hand, allows characters to be built with powers picked from any set, restricted only by their tier system (which favors powerset focus, but doesn’t demand it).  Even with CoH’s ongoing “powerset proliferation” (which sounds very unsanitary, in my opinion), Champions wins by a complete knockout.

Power Customization – Visuals

One of Champions’ big selling points for powers was something CoH fans had been clamoring for years — the ability to change power colors and also move their origin point (head, chest, fist, palm are the typical options).  Of course, right when Champions launches, CoH’s “coincidentally” announces that they too are going to offer tweakage to power colors and whatnot, so I guess this point is moot.  I’ll give it as a Champions win, because NCSoft never bothered to have this in the game until the competition showed them that it was important to their customers.

Power Customization – Stats

I never, never liked City of Heroes’ enhancement system.  It was obscure (especially back before they would let you know the numbers behind vague details like “medium” and “very long”), annoying to maintain, and abstract.  They’ve recently improved with with enhancements that never would become obsolete, as well as several combination sets that would give players cool bonuses.  Still, I vastly prefer Champions’ talents and abilities, which give you a straight-forward choice of how to improve your stats and powers, so this is an easy Champions win per my tastes.


I still haven’t gotten the hang of Champions’ multiple “builds”, which let you swap between a balanced, tanking, support and defensive roles.  This is partially due to the fact that each build has their own equipment loadout, which complicates the setup somewhat.  At least CoH was pretty easy to understand in this regard — if you were a Tanker (or Bruiser), you tanked.  If you were a Defender, you were support.  If you were me, you died a lot.  So barring a miracle that Champions’ build system clicks with me, CoH wins for clarity.


This is probably where the two games diverge the most.  97% of CoH’s action takes place inside instanced buildings and structures; I’d say that 90% of Champions is an outdoor romp.  CoH encourages grouping for their missions, Champions skews more toward soloing.  I never felt as though I had to take any quests in CoH as long as I found a group running something, but questing in Champions is an absolute necessity.  The question here isn’t whether which one is better, because it really boils down to preference and playstyles, but for me, I enjoy being able to go off on my own in Champions and explore the world, with a side order of grouping once in a while.  So… tie?  I guess?


I’m not big into PvP and never really played it in either game.


CoH’s combat is more strategic, particularly with activation times, lengthy cooldowns and the ever-present problem of the slowly regenerating stamina bar to worry about.  Still, CoH’s combat always felt fast-paced and fun, but this is eclipsed by Champions’ lightning-quick action, where you’re never waiting around for a power to recharge, but you always have something ready to go.  I like both, but Champions wins due to its virility.


This is a tricky beast.  I’m not hearing a lot of great things about Champions’ end game, but I’ve never heard anything great about CoH’s end game either.  I think that simply due to how long CoH has been out and updated, and how skimpy Champions’ zones and quests are as of now, CoH wins the weight war.

Badges vs. Perks

Both games have an achievement system of sorts, and both work more or less alike.  The difference here is that I found CoH’s badge system to be clunky and unappealing, which might well be just one of those pesky personal preferences, but it wasn’t the most awesome of awesomes.  Champions’ perks, on the other hand, have a better interface and offer more substantial rewards as you can trade in perk points for goodies.  So, yeah, Champions wins.


This is kind of a catch-all category for how alive and notable the world, quests and NPCs are.  I loved CoH’s vomiting zombies, but I also adore Champions’ Walking Dead summons.  That sort of thing.  Champions has more voice-overs, which is a nice touch, and both games make limited use of cutscenes and NPC speech bubbles.  Superhero games naturally promote larger-than-life personalities, settings and events, and I’m going to give this one a tie because both titles exude flavor and pluck.


This might not be fair at all to CoH, because they’re obviously operating with a much older graphics engine, but that’s the way it is.  Champions simply looks better, particularly with the semi-cel shaded design, and — most importantly — the Champions world is colorful and inviting, whereas CoH’s is a load of grey cement next to brown buildings.  Easy win for Champions.


There’s a lot of great things to be said about both MMOs, and a few negatives that plague each of them.  Because Champions is struggling in its infant stage with limited content, unbalanced powers and other bugs, CoH holds its own (or comes out a bit ahead) due to its maturity and growth over the years.  But I can see Champions sprinting far past CoH in the next year or so, once Cryptic starts adding lots more to the game and outpacing the future growth of NCSoft’s dev team.  So for now, either title is a solid pick, but I’ll put my chips on Champions as a bet for tomorrow’s supremacy.

18 thoughts on “Throwdown: Champions Online vs. City of Heroes

  1. The PvE in CoH is crap and is one of the main reasons I lasted about 4 days. Enter instance grind x amount of mobs hand in, get another quest almost identical and head to almost the same warehouse and kill x mobs which you guessed it look the same …… but theres more of them.


  2. “Power Customization – Visuals”
    You can trace this back a long time in City of Heroes, with the dominant problem being the need to re-code most of the graphics system to accommodate it. Which is done and in-game, not “announced.”

  3. As with Zubon, the original Cryptic, not NCSoft, design of the game did not allow for customized powerset colours. If Paragon Studios are to be believed, it’s taken at least a years worth of work after the departure of cryptic to get it in game.
    And they’re not done yet either, pools are apparently going to be colourable next issue.

    Two further aspects to be considered going forward, CoH has City of Villains, for when you don’t want to be a paragon of virute.

    Secondly, the second expansion, Going Rogue has been announced and will bring in further features. Personally Im excited about it but also a little worried.
    We’ll see how it meshes with the new Super Sidekicking we have going in CoH

  4. I never managed to get a character past the mid levels in CoH before the tedium kicked in. I’ve hit the same point level wise with Champions, but as of yet I’ve not grown tired of the game.

    As to that meaning Champions is better? I don’t know, it’s certainly easier to dip into. Champions for me is working really nicely as my second active MMO for dabbling with and just having fun on. No hassle, just a bit of a laugh.

    Not sure about it as a serious full time MMO though.

  5. I would say that one category missing from the list is Grouping, which CoH wins for now. Champions is currently running with an odd threat system, which although Cryptic plans to change, is still a damper on groups for the time being. CoH also has the marvellous group-sharing of quests that works so well.

    On content, although CoH has more of it, so much is based on repetition. How many times am I rescuing the Police Chief’s hostaged daughter? As much as CoH has been criticized over the years for that, Champions could use a bit more of it to pad things out.

    I will say, speaking for myself and most of the members of my guild, that Champions overall is a lot more enjoyable than City of Heroes was. City of Villains was such a carbon copy disappointment, that factors a lot into it. I’m also disappointed with Paragon’s idea of player-made content, it seems like such a gimmick.

  6. One thing that I think CoX has going for it are the “Paper Caper” or “Police Radio” missions. They help fill in the gaps when you don’t feel like street sweeping or doing TF missions. Plus, they give pretty good benefits as well. Jump Packs, Jet Packs, Flash Grenades, etc. and they also dropped salvage, recipes and enhancements. Champions could really use something similar; they already have “Socrates” why not push it up to the next level and have it give those types of random missions?

  7. I think your comparison is pretty much spot on. I have made countless toons in CO, and really want to like the game, but I keep deleting them when they get boring in the mid 20s.

    Is making a fun superhero game really that hard? I guess so.

  8. @James: Have you been above 20 though?

    My take is that the game jumps into higher gear after 25 and again at 30ish (once you get over the mission gap at 31).

    Seems such a shame to see a lot of folks keep rolling toons just up to 16 or so and reroll. They’re missing the better content that way.

  9. I’ve been above 20 several times (as my post states), but I haven’t seen content above 25, in character levels anyway. I’ve done several lvl 26 missions as a 23. I played the Nemesis stuff during beta at lvl 40, does it really make the game that much better?

  10. @James: I’d say so, it’s not just the Nemesis quests though. The mobs get a lot more variety on Monster Island for instance and the questing there has a lot more flavour to it, even tho some quests are frustratingly broken.

    Character-wise, you really come into the best combination of powers around 30ish too.

    Jumping to 40 during the Beta-end event really wasn’t the same at all, no progression. I don’t know about you, but I slapped together a bunch of powers and fought mega-destroids that didn’t do much fighting back.

    It seems odd to me this happens with a lot of MMOs, people peg it one way based on low level content. Most of them start slow and mid-range levels are almost always where it drags on.

  11. I just hopped back into CoH for a month, thinking I’d get a head start on the double exp weekend, and I thought I’d add another comment to this entry.

    While I understand your rating CoH’s costume editor the winner because of options, I have to say CO’s costumes and models look *so much better* than CoH’s that I find it hard to play the game anymore. After having another look at the CoH toons, I’d have to give the costume creator in CO the edge, just for quality visuals.

  12. So, I’ve been late to the MMO world these days. I’ve just recently entered the superhero genre, and am a bit less than pleased with what I’ve found thus far. I don’t have a good mind to back myself up with, so I’ll put this in simple speak:

    CO could not hold down graphics or game play wise. I couldn’t tweak my system enough in order to play with those eye-pleasing visuals I was promised. And I’m REALLY up to date! Game play wise, I was just not used to MMOs with little interaction between players. I couldn’t put forth the amount of effort required to carry out quests on my own, and did not find any entertainment in the storyline.

    CoH, on the other hand, I have heard great things about and am downloading as we speak. I feel like a laggard, but CO has nearly forced me out of their MMO community with such laughable…well, everything. At this point I feel that any superhero MMO could surpass CO. I’m desperate.

  13. Wha…? Are you serious?

    Umm, all I did was log in and the game was gorgeous. Some slight tweaking later and CO makes CoH look like EverQuest. There is no way your system is “REALLY up to date” if you think CO has bad visuals. You’re even more disillusioned if you think CoH will be better…

    Also it’s pretty lame to label a game as “laughable” because you are too bad to play without a group. Just sayin’.

  14. I wish the trial for CO was a lil bit longer so i can judge the main gameplay. unfortunately (like a lot of MMOs) the game is overestricted. TBH i played CoH/CoV for about a year and never took 1 char past 30 purely as i felt getting my teeth pulled would be more amusing. Its got an amazing grind attached to everything.

    CO felt polished and fun, plus the GFX were quite stunning.

    Just waiting on getting paid and im gonna sub.

  15. Just in case you haven’t heard, CO is going F2P in early 2011, so you can check it out again.
    Anyone has “betaed” DC Universe ?

  16. well if you ask me I would say City of Heroes, but if you ask my buddy he would shove Champions down my throat (which is slightly annoying), then we come to my best buddy and perhaps the one with the most radical idea of all of yours City of Villains is the game he supports (yes I realize that City of Villains was combined with City of Heroes but this guy supports that they are separate) his reasoning? he often brings up the fact that in City of Heroes (assuming we are just talking Hero) and Champions you have to in his words “save the old lady from the mugger while in City of Villains you can beat up the mugger get the ladies praise then mug her yourself” so I guess really its the moral freedom of the matter.

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