By Dan O'Halloran
January must have been unofficial superhero MMO month. DC Universe Online launched, City of Heroes offered up double experience weekends and Champions Online has rolled out its free-to-play update. Is there that much metahuman mayhem to battle? Are armies of supervillains blowing up all the national monuments again? Most importantly, did I pick the wrong week to send my spandex suit to the dry cleaners? Not to worry my comic-loving, MMO-playing, superpowered action junkies, The Feed has you covered with an overview of the latest offerings from Cryptic Studios' Champions Online. And if you ever been superhero-curious, now may be the time to take the plunge with no upfront costs.
How Does Free-To-Play Work?
A great deal of the content and features of the game are now free. It won’t cost you one shiny nickel to download the game, create a character and play through the majority of it all the way to the level cap. For the “extras” though, you will have to pay as you go by purchasing Atari Tokens and then spending them in the online store. Some of these items help your character, some open up new content and some are just flashy fun.
Character Creation Limitations
One of the first things you’ll notice with the F2P version of Champions Online is that the character creation process is more limited. Deep customization of costumes and powers has always been a hallmark of superhero MMOs since this same dev team set the the standard with City of Heroes in 2004. In this version, you are limited to eight pre-created heroes with the option of purchasing the ability to play two more. You are also blocked from the unlimited mixing and matching of power sets available to players who still choose to pay a monthly fee or have purchased a lifetime membership.
The free-to-play characters choices includes an ice-based tank, a fire-throwing damage dealer and a magic-wielding healer among others. Sorry, no hammer-throwing god of Thunder. You’ll have to head to the theaters for that this summer. Thankfully, costume generation is still crazy fun. Hitting the randomize button creates all sorts of wild combinations in both color and design. Finally, you get to choose your hero name and write a little backstory if you like.
There are, of course, many additional costumes you can buy a la carte. Want to look like a badass viking warrior? Martial arts master? Steampunk Cyborg? These may have nothing to do with your powers or role in the game, but you sure can look good doing your superhero thing. Need a little help taking down the bad guys? You can also purchase sidekicks to aid you. Which sounds alot better than their usual job of making a rookie mistake and getting captured so you have to pretend to give in to the villain’s outrageous demands only to foil the evil plan at the last minute using only a stick of gum, a can of hairspray and pure, unfettered gumption.
The only powers currently available for purchase are travel powers. There’s some flashy ones like ice slide, rocket jump boots and tunneling. If you want access to all the powers available in the game, you will have to sign up for the monthly fee or lifetime subcription.
Boosters, Expansions and Vanity Pets
One of the common outcries against microtransaction stores in MMOs is that they often contain items for sale that help you get ahead of those who don’t want to pay to level faster. Champions Online is no different with XP boosts, heal packs, energy surge packs and more. To offset the imbalance to those who are paying a monthly fee and can’t get these items in-game, a monthly stipend of Atari Tokens is provided to them to pick up these goodies.
Then there’s the fun stuff. Champions Online offers about a dozen vanity pets that take the form of miniature action figures like pirates, witches and robots ready to follow you about. They don’t help you fight, but who doesn’t like to have an entourage? Also available are devices that can grow or shrink your character, transform them into a werewolf or dress them in Halloween-themed gear. Good for some in-game fun or to customize your character even further.
Finally, there are standard character services such as changing your character name, adding precious bank slots and redoing your power choices. There’s also the Serpent Lantern and Demonflame expansion packs that includes new missions, new costume sets and new vanity pet action figures. Remember, you can play all of the original game content from level 1 to 40 for free. These two expansion packs are strictly more content and a few perks.
A Good Time To Start?
A big content patch also went live last week for Champions Online aimed at easing new and returning players back into the game. Much of the early game has been overhauled with an improved tutorial as well as revamped mission flow. This will allow you to learn the game and get comfortable with your character powers before being thrown in the deep end. Also new and shiny in this update is the user interface. Yes, all the the type is still in comic book fonts, but now the display is in an easier to read format.
F2P vs Monthly Sub
So is the monthly sub just for suckers? Or will buying all you want in the microtransaction store leave you blinged out, but broke? That’s really up to how you play. If you’re new to the game then going with the free-to-play option is a great way to sample what Champions Online has to offer. If you like what you see and think you could get a few months enjoyment out of the title, the monthly sub may be the way to go to get all the character power options, expansion packs and the monthly stipend of Atari Tokens. Or if you are just doing the tourist thing, then the free-to-play option gives you chance to see what all the fuss is about and it won’t have cost you a thing. And isn’t that what all those heroes are fighting for?