Revisiting Champions Online

So here we go with one of my 2018 resolutions, which is to “revisit and review” one old MMO and one new one (to me) each month. I’m kicking off this series with a brief look at Champions Online, because a Massively OP Podcast listener brought it up last month and got me thinking about this game — and why we City of Heroes vets aren’t necessarily shoo-ins to play it.

Oh, I’m sure some are. But the superhero diaspora didn’t result in everyone going to the same MMO, even if the logical choice was another comic book MMO developed by Cryptic. Champions Online always struggled in the shadow of City of Heroes, and while it did develop its own identity, the core gameplay and neglected development worked against it in the long run. Champs failed to gather and sustain a healthy playerbase, instead settling somewhere on the fringe for years now.

I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes that Champs made was not fully embracing free-to-play. It tried for a halfway measure, taking away one of its core strengths — allowing players to mix-and-match powers to make their own unique build, instead giving free users prebuilt templates that weren’t as personal. As such, trial players didn’t feel like they had such a strong personal investment in the game and didn’t stick around for long. Just my perspective.

That isn’t to say that the game is a wasteland. I found many wonderfully weird superheroes wandering around when I logged in with my new character, Goober. Since I had a single freeform character slot (the $50 alternative to a subscription if you wanted to make your own unique build), I spent 45 minutes or so creating a bizarre tragedy of a hero. Goober is some sort of lizard-fish thing, with fins everywhere, too-long arms, and green skin. Yet I found myself warming up to the weirdness before long, especially since I typically create as attractive and cool-looking of characters that I can in games like these.

It should be said that Champions Online’s character builder is still as robust and addicting to use as ever. Probably more so, with all of the options that have been tossed in since last I played. I’ve always been partial to Champions’ visuals over City of Heroes, and the cel-shaded style still holds up. It does look a little artificial in the faces, but the bold colors distract from that detail. I was also impressed by how many powers there are from which to choose. Travel powers alone number into the dozens, although many are locked behind store purchases and who knows what. I wouldn’t mind trying “inky ooze tunneling,” though.

In the end, Goober became a boomerang-using, chain-flinging vigilante for justice. Nothing fancy, but fun even so. I don’t often get boomerangs in MMOs or other video games.

Pretty!

As a Detroit resident, I always get a kick out of this futuristic revamp of the city. And the mountains in the background across the Detroit River, because I guess Canada has a landfill problem or something.

Going back to Champions for a night was worth it for superjump alone. There is no travel power that ever pleased me more in any superhero game than this. Flight might offer more freedom, but there’s something thrilling about literally jumping over buildings and slamming down to make craters in the sidewalk. It’s a plus if you’re doing this as some sort of mutant fish monster.

As much as I liked the travel and the visuals, Champions fell short in other areas that I am only all-to-familiar with from previous sessions. The controls and combat continues to feel… off. A little sluggish. It’s just not as tight as it should be, and that held me back from really getting into the quests. While I did appreciate the auto-attack for the basic builder, the whole builder/spender mechanic was just as much of a dud as it ever was. City of Heroes’ time-recharging powers were much more enjoyable to use, in comparison.

I ran through a half-dozen missions and a story instance, and it was generally pretty basic and straight-forward. I appreciated the effort of using cutscenes, but the voice acting, lip synching, and animation were all lacking. And the whole deal was just kill, kill, kill. At least the screen gave me a handy navigation arrow that always pointed to the next objective.

Oddly enough, the most fun I had was the ability to pick up and throw environmental objects, like chairs, cars, and parking meters. Kind of feel like the city would frown on me tearing up public property for an attack that didn’t do much damage, but sometimes you just have to do something simply for its own sake.

I do want to say that in this series where I look at other MMOs, I’m leaving it very open-ended as to how long I want to play and if further sessions are warranted. Revisiting Champions brought back a lot of memories but didn’t really reel me in or introduce any new fun surprises since last I played, so I think this’ll be it. At least for now.

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