I feel I did a fairly good job of reviewing Champions Online in my previous article that recapped what I thought of the beta. However, I wanted to add some points to what I thought of the first week and a half since the game has gone live. I have learned a lot about the game and found out a few more of their features. Plus, a new character under the belt has also given me some new perspective on the game.
The first thing to note is that I did eventually figure out how equipment is slotted. You have Offense, Defense, and Utility categories which are then split up into Primary and Secondary. While this whole scheme makes sense, it obviously isn’t extremely intuitive how it is currently set up. I have not as of yet completely figured out the usefulness of all the stats that you get in the game. I know Recovery decides how much base energy your character will regenerate to without the need of attacks, Dexterity offers frequency of criticals and I know something like Presence might help with the effectiveness of criticals. However, how Presence, Ego and Intelligence works towards my character is still something that I am unsure of.
Something else that begs my attention is my complaint on the instancing, limiting zones to only 100 players. Given the size of the zones (and they are huge), I still believe that 100 might be a little too limiting. However, it has become apparent that this isn’t a huge complaint largely because there is only one real server cluster. Unlike most MMORPGs that run with several different servers (something like 50 in WoW), there is a single one in Champions and then they deal with this issue by instancing the zones. So realistically you could talk to anyone who is online at any given moment regardless of what instance you are in. Something that isn’t really that easy on any other game. This also means that there is only one server for an alliance too so you have a greater pool of players to possibly know. It is a cool concept really. I believe how they deal with the naming issue is they allow you to name each character whatever you like, but the player’s name is tagged by the account name. So my name when you add me to your friends list would be Razak@Razak. I actually kind of like this as it allows you to name your character whatever you want.
One thing I have to say now that it is live is that I’ve had a whole lot more fun with it. Whereas before I didn’t think it was an awful game, I didn’t really feel like picking it up and playing. Now, I find myself having a hard time putting the game down and I often want to play when I’m not. I think there are a number of reasons for this change. One is that I feel more invested in my actual character. I like the look and feel of him far more than my beta character and instead of choosing a default archetype, I chose each individual skill to go with the look of the character. Those skills I think also help in and of themselves as during the beta I played a single-target fire thrower, and now I play an up in your face area of attack fighter. I think this play style might suit me better but also seems overall more powerful as well.
During the pre-launch time, Cryptic threw an event for those EB pre-orders who were playing during that time. This gave us the first chance to see what might be in store later in the game with in-game events. This particular event was a Quular invasion on a couple of the newbie zones periodically throughout the day. I think if you asked most anybody within the game about these events you would hear that not many particularly cared for the event. Basically every now and then (seemed completely random) the aliens would attack and new creatures would spawn until the alien taskmaster was killed. Unfortunately you got a perk for killing him so the event was done within a couple of minutes, and then you had to wait for the next one. Well this could be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. Now you got more perks if you killed more aliens during these events, at 100 and 300. I can’t even recall if I got 100, I think I gave up. I spent a lot of time trying though, but each pop I would only get 3 or 4 kills before the leader died. I did get the leader credit though so I guess that is something. I do think the event offered what Cryptic COULD do, but lets hope future events aren’t done as badly as this one was.
Another thing that I found out were “Public Quests” that I had read about in a number of reviews, but hadn’t understood what they were talking about exactly. Essentially they are exactly as they sound. In certain areas there are quests that anyone can help complete. I’m not entirely sure how they work except to say that once completed there is like a 5 minute cool down before they start again. I don’t know how players are rewarded for the quests or even if they are. And I’ve helped complete a few of them. Still, I like the idea, though I think the timer is too fast. It seems ridiculous that inmates are escaping from prison every 15 minutes. I’d rather these events run 2 or 3 times a day instead of the frequency they currently have.
Even though there are these public quests, it oddly seems difficult to get together with other players. Most quests seem geared towards single players. Even the ones with a recommended 2 or 3 players, most of them I could accomplish by myself. When I couldn’t, there was an /lfg command but I couldn’t figure out how to find other players outside of yelling in zone chat.
There is potential in group play however. The game is completely scalable to groups. If your group is doing a mission together that goes in an instance, the encounter scales to your group. If you are just enjoying some overland missions, the game features a very smart BAF (Bring a Friend) system which only activates when a group is playing an underpowered group of villains. The problem here is that it seems to need adjusting. More often than not one will go BAF, and that group will BAF and so on and so forth and sooner than you realize you are fighting 20 or 30 opponents in a 3 man group and clearly over matched. This actually leads to a system where you don’t want to group overland only because you tend to get your butts handed to you regularly. Now this is quite a change of pace for the modern MMORPG, but still a bit of a downer since this game leans away from instancing (good thing btw!).
The first week really came with a lot of game news too. At launch they launched a new controversial patch to the game which buffed up Henchmen’s offense and nerfed the defense of Heroes. The reasoning for this was because players in beta complained that the game was too easy. Well this did definitely make it hard, in fact a little too hard at times. I actually think they did need to up the offenses for the Henchmen a bit because they were weak. But I must say that the problem with also lowering the effectiveness of defense was that the Villains and Master Villains were balanced fine before and now they are often far too difficult. They either need to lower the offense of Villains or they need to raise the defense of heroes just a tad.
Cryptic also released their first batch of micro-transactions. They have stuck to leaving it only cosmetic in nature. For a small amount of money (I think it turns out to be around $.75) you can buy an action figure. These things are already in the game, but there are more unique versions that you can buy. What is an action figure? Well I don’t know. Basically a vanity pet that doesn’t do much of anything interesting. I don’t think that Cryptic will find a lot of money in this. I could see maybe buying a couple of them, but I just don’t see many people doing it. I fear that in order to get our money, Cryptic will need to make new costume parts but I bet that even this (cosmetic as it may be) will draw a lot of complaints from fans given the reliance of the game on customizing your costume.
Last but not least, their announcement of the first content update. I imagine that this update is set to go live in mid to late October given its Halloween like theme. But on the first full day of launch, Cryptic set the tone by announcing what is a fairly full featured update. They will be adding a new villain type (werewolf), a new skill power set (celestial) which concentrates on buffing and healing, lycanthropy and zombism (you become a zombie if you get killed by one), and what I assume is going to be an event to kill a new foe. All looks pretty cool, and look forward to it.
To sum it up, I do think that Champions Online has a lot of promise to it. Cryptic seems to be wanting to support it going forward, I think the large part of it is whether they will be able to keep their customers attention to do it. When City of Heroes first came out their content patches seemed to come every 2 or 3 months, now they are about 2 times a year. So we’ll see how it pans out and whether they can fix the issues that are there in the meantime.