Champions Online PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Jul 10, 2009
Last night, I got a chance to check out Atari’s upcoming MMO Champions Online—the company held a bash at the historic Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco (They shot Behind the Green Door there!) so game-journalists could enjoy a crazy rock show from Peelander Z, imbibe some spirited libations and play Champions Online. Don’t hate me because my life is awesome.
But lemme tell you about the game. It’s hard to write a preview of an MMO without mentioning the undisputed king of the genre, World of Warcraft—that game is the measuring stick upon which all other examples of the genre are compared—so my preview of Cryptic’s Champions Online will take a look at some of the ways this super-hero based MMO differs from WOW.
The subject matter: There are no elves in Champions Online, thank God. Instead of warmed-over Tolkien high-fantasy like WoW, Champions takes its inspiration from something different: The Champions pen-and-paper role-playing game, which took its inspiration from super-hero comics. So Champions aims to put players squarely in the world of comicbook heroes. And not your current crop of angsty anti-hero types either. Think old-school, cosmic Good vs. Evil action for an idea of what Champions is going for.
Customization: Where WoW has a relatively limited range of character choices, Cryptic’s MMOs are always about customization -- City of Heroes/Villains took MMO customization to new heights, but Champions goes even further than that. The customizing options are literally infinite – any kind of super hero can be created, from hulking huge beasts with shark heads, to retiring, skinny goth chicks with 9 millimeters and bad attitudes. When this game is released in September, I’m taking an entire day to just make characters. The customization features are that deep and interesting. Character creation was so interesting, in fact, that even the concentrated rock and roll power and insanity of Peelander-Z didn’t distract me from creating the super-hero alter-ego of my dreams—I seriously made a character while these Japanese lunatics were screeching out “Ninja High School.” (see picture)
The customization extends beyond the cosmetic, though. Characters have fully customizable skill trees that can change throughout the game. There aren’t classes per se, although the characters did seem to fit into traditional MMO roles—damage dealers, tanks, etc.
Customization even extends to modes of travel. If you want to fly, you got it, and if you’d rather swing from the skies, there is a spider-man-style option. Even burrowers are represented—you can travel underground like Bugs Bunny in an old Warner Brothers cartoon.
Overall, Champions gives you the option of creating a totally original character with his/her own powers, talent, and backstory (if you wanna go that far.). This is much different than walking around Azeroth as one of a million night elf hunters!
Customized Arch-Enemy: One of the most intriguing innovations coming in Champions Online is the “Nemesis System.” Since every Superman needs his Lex Luther and every Batman needs his Joker, your Champions alter-ego will have his or her own arch-enemy. Rather than provide a generic villain, Champions allows you to create your own enemy. You’ll customize his/her look and powers, and as you advance through the game gaining power, your ultimate evil adversary will occassionallt pop up to take your girlfriend hostage, steal your shoes and otherwise bedevil you. The game will keep you from creating a weaksauce push-overs to beat up—your arch-enemy will be suitably strong and will grow more powerful as you do.
Art Style: In keeping with the game’s subject matter, Champions Online sports a bright, vibrant visual style, like a comic book. It’s a welcome reprieve from the many brown and grey video games out there: While not the most detailed graphics out there, Champions’ visuals pop and are perfectly in keeping with the genre. City of Heroes was a good looking game, but Champions looks better.
GamePlay: it's very hard to judge an MMO as big as Champions from a preview – think of trying to decide if Warcraft was good based on the first hour or so you played it. It’s not until you’re several dozen hours into an MMO that it really becomes fair to talk about the gameplay. That’s a huge caveat, but what I saw of Champions seemed spot on. It’s obvious the game is going for a more action-oriented feel than some other MMOs—so expect less time waiting around for powers to re-charge, and more time beating up bad guys.
I also got a chance to check out the just-revealed PvP aspects of the game. Since all characters in Champions are good guys, a little creativity was required to work PvP into the game. There are three kinds of PvP in Champions:
- "Hero Games:" This is a series of events and locations where super-heroes can beat each other up for bragging rights and in-game rewards. Think of it like a gladiator pit where two teams of five heroes fight it out.
- "The B.A.S.H:" A free-for-all, open-world PvP style area where heroes can get together and, basically, street-fight each other any way they want.
- "Apocalypse:" Apocalypse features story-driven PvP scenarios where groups get together to defeat other players in more interesting ways than straight deathmatches.
Platform: I’d love to be able to tell you that Champions Online differs from World of Warcraft in that it is playable on a platform other than PC, but I can’t. At launch, you’ll need to fire up your computer to play the game. Cryptic did say that there is nothing technically stopping the game from showing up on the 360 in the future, and it’s something they’d like to see happen… so who knows?
Overall, Champions Online is enough like other, established MMOs that it feels instantly familiar, but with an intriguing enough concept and innovations to make it feel fresh and leave me wanting more. It’s impossible to know whether Champions will be a fun game 100 hours (or 100 days) in, but I can definitely say I’m eager to find out how it will hold up. I can’t wait to step back into this unique world when it opens up in September.