Initial Review

reviewI recently made a response on one of Keen’sposts, that made me realize that I think I can speak with enough specifics and authority on the subject matter, that a “first impressions” review of Champions Online would be merited, and not just me gushing with new shiny, fanboi love. I think I’ve experienced enough different aspects of the game, and been exposed to a good amount of systems for me to be able to see how the game is going to preform as I make my way through it. For those that want just the bare-bones opinion, or a TLDR version if you will: I like the game, there is a whole lot going for it, but I still don’t think it will be a giant success. 

It should be noted before I begin, that I did like the City of games. I didn’t love them, and I never kept a subscription with them for longer than two months at a time. It was a marginally fun game, with a great character creator. Big ideas, and whirling concepts for my hero du jour, but I never got a character much past the 30s if I recall correctly. There were some inherent problems with the game that made it so my attention was never grabbed and held onto for long. Particularly, combat never really felt fun to me. It never seemed to me that attention and balancing skills was needed in the game, it was always target an enemy, throw everything you had at them, and then move on.

The lack of dynamic power resource was probably the biggest problem for me. Endurance in CoX fealt like AP from WAR, only less important, in that management of it as a resource was never even something that entered my mind when I played a Blaster, a Stalker, a Brute, or a Scrapper. Maybe I just picked the right classes and builds for them (Energy/Energy, Nin/Nin, Dual/Fire, and Katana/Regen) or maybe I was playing it wrong, but running out of steam never fealt like a problem or something that I had to actively think about.

There were a series of other issues with the games that held me back from making it my “main” MMO, heavy instancing, not enough diversity in power selections, and lack of any type of gear progression. The later introduction of their crafting system helped to alleviate the last issue some, but by that point, I always felt too far behind the curve to be able to figure it out and be an active part of the game. Also, the game as a whole, never felt like a world to me. Every different locale seemed similar to the one previous. The different cities all looked the same, the forests all were similar, the building missions all were copy and pasted instances of the same interiors, as were all the caves, and other missions. There was too much uniformity in the game for me to feel as if it was a living breathing world. Still, it was a better than mediocre game, and I always had fun for the month or two I was playing within it.

So, now that you know where I’m coming from in regards to the spiritual successor to Champions Online, I can start to give out my opinions. There are a lot of reasons I’m really enjoying my time in this game at the moment, and why I think I may enjoy my time for a while to come. Of course, I  have concerns and wish a few things were done differently, but for the whole, this is a solid game from what I can tell, with much greater appeal to me and those who seek the type of gameplay it provides. That last bit is very important. If you’re not looking for the type of gameplay that CO has attributed itself to, you are not going to like this game, at all.

Champions is an action-based MMO. It boasts active-participation and attentive response as heralds of it’s combat system starting at an early level. This is not a game where you keep focused on the health bar of a target, instead of the target itself, and going through a key rotation you have set up on your hotbar to inflict maximum damage. If I had to boil down combat differences between CO and most other MMOs to two sentences, that would be how. However, I don’t have to, and I have no intention of doing so. As a gamer, and in trying to explain to my audience why my opinions are what they are, I want to make it clear my reasoning behind such.

defenderSo what exactly makes the combat in CO active and responsive? I’ll start with the base concept of energy and powers. When you first start playing the game, you can choose from a series of predetermined powersets that will give you two powers, and stats that should work well for what those powers do, or you can personalize all of these things. Either way, you’ll start with two abilities, one will be an energy builder, the other will be an energy spender. Your energy recharges to a base minimum that is indicated by a yellow marker on the energy bar of your HUD, and you use your energy builder to push it past that. The energy builder is, for all intents and purposes, an auto-attack, you toggle it on, and forget about it from there, just letting it do it’s job. However, your energy bar becomes important to keep your eyes on as you go through the levels. Different powers spend different amounts of energy, usually in significant chunks, so while energy builds relatively quick, it goes out as fast as it comes in. This means being always aware and balancing usage with spending.

Of course, how these powers spend energy can vary between them. Some are called “taps”, which is just a power that fires off with you hit the key corresponding to it.  One press, one activation. Some “taps” can be charged. This works by holding down the button for the power. When you hold the button, you’ll see a triangular meter in the bottom center of your screen start to fill up, you can release it at any time, or wait for it to cap out. The power will then go off at a power level, and energy cost according to how charged it was. I said it on my post to Keen, and I’ll say it here, this is one of the best introductions to the MMO gaming world I have seen in a long time. As anyone who has read here for a while knows, one of my favorite quotes is “Options are good”, and this charging system is the essence of option. Coupled with this, is the build animation along with the charge, and you have a very cool system for in-game play.

That for the most part covers energy-using combat abilities that I’ve experienced so far, taps, charges, and maintains. If that was all there was to the combat system, I might not be as impressed by CO as I am. Happily for me, there’s more. In CO, we are also introduced to blocking and escaping. In the first 5 minutes of gameplay (less if you don’t read), you’ll get a mission to show you how blocking works. You will find that enemies you fight will sometimes have an onomatopoeia in a comic bubble over their heads (i.e. BLAM!, POW! think old-school Batman series), when you see this, it’s time to block. If you don’t, you’re taking serious damage, and most likely either thrown across the room, or put on your ass. Blocking will save your behind. Escaping works in much the same way. In WAR, have you ever been rooted by an Engineers barbed wire, and wondered why you can’t cut your way free, or stuck in place by a Sorceresses ice cage and thought it ridiculous you couldn’t break free? Well, in CO, freedom is yours. When trapped,  held, stunned, or whatever, you’ll see a message pop up on the screen with a green bar above it, telling you to  hit the “Z” key to escape. By hitting it repeatedly and quickly, you more rapidly lose the affect of whatever has you debilitated.

These concepts to me add more depth and fun to the combat system than I have ever seen in any previous MMO. Playing this game means that the player will have to pay attention and be aware of what is going on to preform at their peak. Sure, that power armored Iron Man knock-off can decide that lazy is the way to go, and ignore his block key, take the full damage, and then be prone. Or he can choose to let the timer run out naturally on Psimon keeping him trapped in place while his cronies beat the tar out of him. He has those choices, those options, but he’s going to be worse off if he doesn’t take advantage of the tools made available to him. So, I’m of the school that believes that active play, and attentive responses to a mutable battle field means fun, and this game has it in spades.

millenium cityThat segues nicely to my next topic. A battlefield full of weapons. In CO, almost everything you see can be a weapon, or interacted with in some way. As you walk through the tutorial, the objects that you are used to overlooking take on a new light. That mailbox on the street corner, why that’s just a child-sized, metal projectile waiting to happen. Those cop cars that the enemy has taken cover behind can be happily destroyed, or hell, picked up and thrown at those foolish enough to use law enforcement as cover. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the game-world is littered with potential weapons, waiting to happen. There is something visceral and rewarding in hurling a stage coach at a batch of ghostly gunmen, grinding their misty bones into the ground.

All of the above is only the gameplay, and some of the mechanics behind it. An MMO is more than that though, it’s the world in which it resides, the people that play it, and the connectivity to the community.

As I’m sure anyone who is (still) reading this, long diatribe of mine is aware, CO is a single server game. This is accomplished through instancing of zones. Ewwww, instancing, I know it’s an evil word. Maligned by MMOers everywhere as a terrible idea that breaks immersion and destroys any sense of community. That was my opinion too, it’s part of what I disliked about CoX and DDO, the overwhelming majority of missions were instanced, and took place “outside” of the game world. Which makes you feel all alone and seperate from the other players in a quest/mission based game. If I get sent on a task to go kill 10 rats and collect 20 weebles, and those rats and weebles are found in the sewer that I access all by myself and is annexed from anyone else’s entrance, I’m not really feeling the MMO vibe. However, if those 10 rats, and 20 weebles are in the zone I’m currently in, with 150+ other players, does it matter that there are 30 other identical zones with just as many people? Isnt’ there a population cap that removes the stigma from instancing? I made this point on Keens post as well, but is there a difference between an arbitrarily (or hell, purposefully) placed limit to the number of people in a zone, and the organic limit at which a game can function before crashing. Either way, it’s still going to stop X number of people from playing the game, either by making a new instance, and redirecting people there, or crashing the zone and kicking people out of the game. Both are a limit, but one is disruptive to enjoyment. Obviously, this is a sliding scale, if the cap is put at 24 (like the tutorial), this is a bit disappointing, but if the cap is 150 to 200, do you really  notice the difference? For me, no, I don’t.

So, to me, the world felt alive, people were everywhere, the world was interact-able, and the combat is fun and active. This is a great game from everything I can tell. There are problems, I seem to have a bit of stuttering at times. The game runs perfectly, except sometimes I will be running somewhere, and then hitch back to where I was 5 seconds previously. It’s odd, and it’s something I noticed happen to me all the time in CoX, but I have no idea why this is. The crafting of the game seems a bit simple, but I haven’t truly looked into it. I grabbed one of the three options and basically ignored it from there. My plan is to focus on it a bit more later on. I’m also concerned about end game. We aren’t given high level characters to see what there is to do, once we reach the level cap in this themepark game. I also haven’t heard a whole lot of conversation about what it is the developers intend for us to do there, so that has me biting my nails a bit. Maybe the want us to play in the arena, which concerns me.

And so, the biggest lack for me in the game, is true PvP. Oh, my sweet, sweet love, PvP. I crave competition and head to head confrontation with people. I know this game has the hero arena, and I have spent a couple hours in queue for one, and saw one opportunity pop, but I didn’t have a good way to extend the time, and ended up missing it. In general, I don’t like arena-based competition though. The similar e-sport of WoW held little to no appeal for me. I like open range, group conflict. Basically, what WAR has is amazing, and so much of this games PvE game is what WAR should have had from the start, that I wish there were PvP zones in CO, but given the lore, current game options, and focus of this game, that’s something I’ll have to do without. Maybe the Hero Games will be fun we’ll see.

polishLastly, yes really, lastly. This game is polished. It is slick. It runs magnificently all the time (other than previous mentioned occasional hiccup). Responsiveness is immediate, interaction with objects is quick and smooth, animations are crisp and precise, and the art looks great. The UI functions quickly and accurately, and the game really does just shine beyond what I have seen in any other game launch. Still, this is not a game for everyone. If you are used to the traditional MMO conventions and how the combat performs, you’ll not necessarily enjoy this. If you are  a console fan, and enjoy quick, action-based gameplay you’ll enjoy this. Also, if you’re not a comic book fan, you won’t like this. If you don’t like comic-book art, you won’t like this. There are a lot of things that the typical MMO players don’t necessarily enjoy in their games that CO uses, which is going to keep this a niche game. I may be wrong, but I have a hard time seeing it go elsewhere.

So, if you’re still here, I hope you enjoyed. This is about 2500 words, which is my longest post ever. See you in game, feel free to find me on Three@shadowwar or Zephir@shadowwar.

About Shadow
Making serious business out of internet spaceships.

16 Responses to Initial Review

  1. pitrelli says:

    This post reeks of awesomeness…. No really it does, and no its not just because you give Champions a favourable ‘review’ but more because you have taken the time to understand and interact with the game and explained it well including where the game has its faults and let downs.

    Very well written piece 🙂

    I’ll be linking this from my blog

  2. theerivs says:

    Wall of Text crits Riv for 2500. LOL!.

    Seriously though nice post, I almost gave up on this game when my original client is hosed. I reloaded the client, and will give it another go this weekend.

  3. Pingback: If I was better writer…. « Kill that Cheerleader

  4. Nice to see something positive coming out of the blog-o-sphere about CO. I’m with you, Shadow. I think CO is fun and the combat is a nice change of pace from the usual ad nauseum.

  5. Wall of Text Crits You For 2500… waffle someone already posted that!

    It is a good review though, and I appreciate you taking the time to write it. Reading up on Champions helps me figure out if I made the right choice between it and Aion, and after reading this review, I think I did.

  6. Pingback: Champions: Yeah, People Actually LIKE The Game. Go Figure. « Bio Break

  7. Slymie says:

    Good to see someone giving the game a fair review.

  8. pitrelli says:

    I would say its a fair review as it looks at alot of things in detail both good and bad. Also it doesnt reek of troll hate or fan boi love. Its certainly the best ‘review’ I’ve seen so far.

    Anyway Bloggers are fickle people, I take anyones opinion with a pinch of salt. If I want to try a game I try it.

    • Slurms says:

      I won’t disagree with it being one of the best reviews out there. It is. But fair isn’t a word I’d use for anything based on opinion. You could say Keen’s review is “fair”, but it’s almost a polar opposite of this review.

      • shadowwar says:

        I’m waiting for Keen to give reasons and specifics behind his conclusions before I get even close to calling it fair. Until that happens, it’s purely an opinion piece.

      • Slurms says:

        They’re all opinion pieces.

        • shadowwar says:

          Yes and no. A review IS an opinion piece. The difference is that a review atually looks critically and analyzes the subject matter, explaining the systems or operation of the subject. It will then go on to give the author’s opinion and conclusions based upon function and impact as they percieved it.

          Just minutes ago, Keen said he doesn’t like writing about just “feelings” and likes to give specifics. That’s the important determiner between just an opinion and a review as I see it.

  9. Slurms says:

    I don’t disagree with you, reviews (especially those by bloggers) are always opinion based. It’s the persons interpreteation of the subject matter. What I’m arguing is that you can never say that it’s “fair”. Fair means it’s free from bias…and I don’t think any of us can honestly say we are unbiased when reviewing games hehe.

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