Champions Online: how to make a fun game suck
9/12/2009 by: Sandro Vrhovac
Before Champions Online and well depending on its fate maybe even after, the only superhero themed MMO out there was City of Heroes and its expansion/mirror City of Villains. Collectively called "CoX", the game was without typical MMORPG flaws that include repetitive gameplay, certain amounts of grind, badly designed player versus player action and lately very shoddy expansions and microtransactions [buying costume pieces and abilities with real money in addition to normal subscription].
Indeed the CoH/CoV has many bad sides to it but also great advantages. Firstly, it is the only game of this type so that makes it unique, character customization unparalleled in any other MMO ranging from design to power choices, gear with no connection to the way your character looks and huge maybe even too huge amounts of content. Some leave the game due to boredom some stay but the game still has a certain amount of loyal player base. In my opinion the game is still great but frankly the game where a super strength character cannot pick up and toss the car on someone needs updates or replacing.
Enter Champions Online
The time to create the champion is here...
From the loading screen to character creation it all had a very comic book feeling, a lot more than generic one present in CoX and as for powers I felt like the game hit the jackpot. Character creation in Champions Online is very wicked. You get to pick your power theme or choose custom option where you can mix it all up for your pleasure, then choose primary stats and character looks. The great thing is that the game has no standard classes to pick from like other MMOs and you can be what you want to be. Editor allows some crazy combinations for body types ranging from monkeys to tall stretched out characters or even something in between. Everything is customizable so you can make huge beasts with fists the size of mountains or rotund creeps. Costume pieces are lacking in quantity compared to insane amount of pieces present in CoX but are better than them by a mile.
Customization results in heroes such as this one...
In CO you can create insectoid aliens, demons, rats, birdmen, sharks and even Chtulu like creatures along with standard superhero archetypes like cyborg, vigilante or a military guy. In addition, these options are not your standard Star Trek idiocy like gluing elf ears or a bone plate to someone's head; in fact, they are quite monstrous in look shape and size. Even the standard hero types can be made looking interesting due to ability to pick different parts for each hand or leg. Greatness in character customization does not end here for in the end you can also pick almost any name you like, even one that someone else has as ingame names and communication is linked to your account's chosen nickname. At later point in the game (level 25) you can even create your own nemesis, an archvillain that stalks your every move and turns up to kill you at the least expected moment.
Gameplay: is it really that great?
My arch-rival is escaping... and no, I can't do a thing about it.
With all that covered what is the actual gameplay like? This is where the problems come. Back in beta and even to some extent what I saw these few weeks is a two fold feeling: In the early phases of the game - the gameplay was awesome, like something so fun that you never experienced it in a MMO. You pick powers and style that you want without any limitations and go out there kick some villain butt. Every combo imaginable can be pulled off and enemy henchmen die like lambs to the slaughter. You are running around in a setting that looks like it came out of a comic book, play a hero not some annoying typical MMO class, fight with controls similar to a fighting game and battle against hordes of enemies that make this game a perfect blend of City of Heroes and old school Double Dragon beat'em up games. Even the ages old issue of "I'm outta rage, I'm outta energy, I'm outta mana, I'm outta action points" issue is not present due to having a unique energy system consisting of one attack that builds it and other powerful ones that spend it. Classes did not exist but you could choose a tanking, balanced, damage or support role that would give you bonuses and minuses instead. You could go fighting enemies nonstop and generally have a bloody good superhero fun. This was working as intended since the game was advertised as solo friendly and heroic and early access and lifetime subscriptions were being sold like crazy. All in all, this game game us fun like there's no tomorrow.
And then, the game came into retail
It is obvious that Bill Roper of Hellgate fame had its hands in this title
Game comes out. Poof. "We have decided to balance powers, we have decided to reduce the amount of experience the missions give to players due to them reaching endgame too fast, we also found out some abilities were scaling a bit too much so we had to balance them".
The quote above is a carbon copy from statements coming from the producers of previous failed MMO titles. The question for authors is "What endgame?" You created barely enough content to have players reacing level 30, while the maximum level is 40.
The only thing they kept the same (well they say they reduced it a bit) is the god-awful retcon (respec) system and its crazy costs. Now I am not naïve here. I realize some powers were possibly too powerful for an MMO but I kinda figured from all the sales pitches and stuff Jake Emmet said that that was the point. But that is no matter, I admit myself that things like regeneration were a bit too much, hell I have it on my toon and still think it works great. No the problem is that there are a lot of powers in the game at the moment that just do not work or do what they are supposed to do and the cost to change them is too much. The problem is that reducing the amount of exp missions give now creates that hateful leveling gap that you always get in a game when devs decide to pull a stunt like this.
The problem is that the game now may be balanced but it is not the game that was wanted, expected, advertised and for poor souls that actually had to pay for access played for. The problem is that the magic is gone and instead of something cool and new we are left with a typical boring MMO or even worse Age of Conan, Tabula Rasa, Warhammer Online horse dung all over again. I have probably said this too many times already but capricious devs like these simply do not deserve our money and if they do not want to have people reaching end too fast they should not make the games the size of Pinball Fantasy and advertise them as something massive.
In all honesty, Champions Online go down in our books as "Yet Another unfinished MMO title". We have no idea why game developers insist on releasing unfinished games, and hope that they will take a piece of a massive pie that World of Warcraft opened. Last several hyped MMO titles such as Tabula Rasa and Age of Conan all came out with the enough of content for roughly 50 hours of pure gameplay and hope that will be enough to keep gamers paying more than 10 bucks a month until the additional content arrives.
When it comes to the question of World of Warcraft, it is true that the game has massive shortfalls, but at the point of release, WoW came with eight races in two sides, two massive continents and a level 60 cap. From day one, you knew you had from 100-200 hours of gameplay, and that was without instances. We don't understand why game developers don't want to invest as much and create a title that can go and earn millions of dollars [we won't go into WoW's billions]. A shame, really.
Champions Online, City of Heroes, City of Villains, Tabula Rasa, NCsoft, superhero MMO, MMO, MMORPG, MMOG, CoX, Cryptic, Double Dragon, Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, retcon, Jake Emmet, Champions Online balancing changes, Champions Online retcon costs,
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