Champions Online Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Sep 08, 2009

From towering robots and hunched-over beasts to winged angels and horned mutants, you have the freedom to create just about anything you can imagine. Does the gameplay inspire the same level of creativity?

The Pros
  • Fast-paced action
  • Impressive character creator
  • Vibrant, cel-shaded visuals
  • Promising potential
The Cons
  • Repetitive quests
  • Eight characters per account
  • Balance issues
  • Basic PvP
  • Confusing crafting system
  • Terrible voice acting

Designed by the company originally responsible for the City of Heroes franchise, Champions Online dons the mask, cape, and spandex again for more massively multiplayer mayhem. Chief among its standout features is the level of customization you have over your hero or heroine. Instead of merely spending hours getting just the right look for your crimson-codpiece-clad crime fighter, you can craft new items, acquire a variety of powers from multiple disciplines, tweak their (or a weapon's) appearance and animation, and go beyond the rigid class structure found in competing games. From towering robots and hunched-over beasts to winged angels and horned mutants, you have the freedom to create just about anything you can imagine. Does the gameplay inspire the same level of creativity?

Champions Online

It's Clobberin' Time

You begin your superhero life in Millennium City, which is under attack from an insectoid race called the Qularr. There isn't any alone time with a mentor, showing you the ropes as a superhero and letting you come to grips with your newfound powers. Instead, you are thrust right into the action with the buzzing and bustling of a city under siege. Other areas follow a similar format, offering a community-level quest that involves beating the stuffing out of enemies, collecting doodads and whatnots, and/or defending a hotspot for a certain length of time. At the end of each event, you'll see how your superhero stacked up against others and maybe earn a reward or two.

Other quest types will be familiar to online RPG veterans. You'll gather this many items, kill x-amount of enemies, rescue certain people, and venture into dungeons called lairs. Quest givers, called contacts, have punctuation marks floating above their heads and dole out experience points and stat-boosting loot. While the quests are hardly original, initially there are plenty of things to do to make it feel like you are moving forward with your character instead of grinding experience by killing random mobs. The seven themed regions (snow, city, underwater, desert, moon, etc.) are diverse enough to make you want to explore every nook and cranny, but truth be told, the action doesn't deviate much from region to region. The majority of mobs, for example, can be defeated by alternating between one or two select powers and a blocking move. If you are hoping for strategic battles that will require the full use of your hero's abilities to win, you'll likely be disappointed with Champions Online's combat. It is, however, very solo friendly, which some will appreciate.

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Fulfilling Your Destiny

While the combat wades toward the shallow side of the pool, the game can still be fun to play. Again, the lack of traditional classes means you can create your hero the way you want instead of following a narrow tree. Champions Online offers six different frameworks to build your characters, including might, psionic, martial arts, tech, magic, and elemental, but there's nothing preventing you from mixing and matching powers within these frameworks. Another bright spot is the inclusion of perks, which are achievements you complete by defeating enemies, meeting certain characters, exploring areas, and so forth. Perks unlock roles for your character (such as support or offense) as well as costume pieces, pets, titles, and other bonuses. Once you hit level 25, you'll create an arch-nemesis that will become a burr in your britches throughout subsequent quests and lead to character-specific missions.

Champions Online

Divvying Up the Action

Players accustomed to games like World of Warcraft will be surprised to learn that Champions Online doesn't tie you to a specific server, as regions are essentially large instances with a small population cap. Each time you visit a new area, you choose from a list of instances, which serves as a reminder that you aren't playing in a seamless world filled with thousands of players. While you'll be able to see which instances your friends or guild members are currently playing in, it's possible that you won't all be able to meet together in the same area. The limited instance size means it will be more difficult for solo players to find groups for certain quests. It also should be noted that Champions Online feels like a player versus environment game first, and a player versus player game second. The latter takes place in small deathmatch-type arenas where the goal is to eliminate the opposition as quickly as possible.

One of the more controversial design features of Champions Online is the use of "cryptic points" to purchase items on top of the monthly fee. In essence, the developers are taking two bites from the same apple, and you're the Red Delicious. At the time of the game's launch, this content consists of pets for 80 points apiece, which translates in the real world to $1 per toy helicopter or mini companion. Is this process a little cheesy? Yes, but if, as the developers suggest, it's needed to ensure high quality support, then let the nickel-and-diming begin. Just keep it to the areas of cosmetic costume pieces and fluff, or the community blowback will be strong enough to create a tornado. 

Champions Online

Hero or Zero?

Champions Online is a colorful, action-packed title with the finest character creation system yet seen in an online RPG. The repetitive quests, instance population caps, and dearth of group-oriented content are disappointments. There are also the expected issues for a new game, including balancing problems, powers that aren't doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, frame rate issues, and some content gaps. The good news is that these titles always improve over time, and during its first week, the developers have already announced significant patches to address some of the shortcomings. In its current state, Champions Online improves upon the City of Heroes franchise but lacks the all-important "addictiveness" factor to propel it to must-have status. A few more months of polish are needed to convert nagging doubters into true believers.