Monday, August 20, 2012

Discussing MMOs: Champions Online

After WoW, I took a break - most of a year. The next MMO I played in was Champions Online, in large part because I had been hearing good things about it and I am a big fan of superhero-type things. Champions Online (or CO) is based in a setting created in a tabletop RPG - the Champions game. So most of the signature heroes are unfamiliar to mainstream comic readers; even I had little idea of who or what the named character were. CO's graphical style is very comic-oriented; the characters look like they just leapt off of the pages of a comic book, which was an interesting change after playing WoW. Now, while CO is currently free-to-play, and has only a limited amount of set archetypes that free-to-play users can use when creating characters, when I joined character creation was still very customizable.

One of the biggest things I noticed about CO was that you basically designed your character's look (for a large part of the game) in character creation. Costume, body armor, body shape, even whether your character looked human, animalistic, or alien, you determined all this stuff in creation. There was no big worry with having to find the right dropped equipment to clothe your character so that you didn't look like a jester, as happened in WoW; you could add or change your character's costume later, as some options for clothing only became available through play, but for the most part, the way your character looked in creation was how you wanted it to look and how it would stay. I am a big fan of things like this in MMOs; part of what I want in a character is to look cool and thematic, not like I just assembled my outfit by picking up random things out of a Goodwill container. You could even change some really small, and yet important, details - you could have energy blasts come from your head instead of your hands, or you could change the color or look of your projectile attacks; you could make a character that looked like a gorilla walk and run like a gorilla rather than a regular human. All of these little details made it feel like you had a great deal of control over your character, and that the game was empowering you to do what you wanted.

The variety of powers you could choose with your character were also pretty astounding. There are six general power sets - Energy Projector, Technology, Martial Arts, Mentalist, Brick, and Mystic - and each power set has a number of power groupings within it - Technology, for instance, contains Archery, Gadgeteering, Munitions, and Power Armor. you could mix and match between any of these power sets, though some power sets were seen as 'optimal' for purposes of PvP play, or grouping for instances, but other than that, you were free to choose any powers you wanted. Not only could you have a wide variety of powers, though, but each character got to choose their own method of speedy traveling. Where in WoW you had mounts, which would increase in speed as you leveled your character, in CO you got travel powers. You could fly, travel at superspeed, make giant leaps, swing around (not unlike Spiderman), teleport, and travel in a number of other ways. All of these added up to essentially the same thing, but was just one more point of customization that helped make your character unique.

The third big innovation I found in CO was the Nemesis system. All good superheros need a villain - Superman has Lex Luthor, Captain America has the Red Skull, Batman has the Joker. In CO, you got the chance to give your character a nemesis, too. Once your character had advanced enough, you were given the choice to create your character's nemesis - you chose his powers, who his minions were, what the nemesis looked like, and why they were your character's nemesis. You would then eventually go through a series of encounters with your nemesis, popping up at random through gameplay, eventually ending up with you sending your nemesis to jail - at which point you could create a new nemesis, or choose to keep re-using the old one. Again, this made it feel like you had some real control over your own story, and even if the greater world never saw it, you knew that even if you changed nothing else int he game world, your nemesis could be jailed - and stay there. Well, until his inevitable prison break, of course.

The big problem I had with CO was just that, at release, there was simply not a huge amount of content to play through. The developers packed a huge amount of material into the few areas they did have on release - Millenium City, which unlike the cities in WoW, was gigantic and had a ton of content to do, the Canadian Wilderness, the Desert, Monster Island, and the underwater area of Lemuria - but compared to the amount of explorable areas in WoW, it fell quite short. Exploration, as I noted in my entry for WoW, is one of the things I really like to do in MMOs, and so the paucity of explorable areas really bummed me out. It also meant that there was a very clear progression of areas, and there wasn't really any way around that; from Millenium City, you went to the Canadian Wilderness, then to the Desert, then to Monster Island, then on to Lemuria. I hear they eventually added other areas, but that was after I had stopped playing, sadly. It also didn't help that, while I had friends and acquaintances who played WoW, I knew virtually nobody in CO; not having anyone to banter with really hindered my enjoyment of the game. After a few months of play - far short of the years I played WoW - I dropped out of Champions Online.

Next up: DC Universe Online.

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