Preview

Champions Online

Jen's alter-ego takes to the skies

Pretty much everyone has wished they could be a superhero at some point. Not necessarily because of the ability to save the world or to be able to rescue a kitten stuck up a tree, but rather because it would be ridiculously fun to be able to fly around the world within a few minutes or to be able to shoot laser beams out of your eyes. Admittedly I'm not sure what purpose the laser beam thing would really have (heating up food maybe?) but that's not to say I don't want the option of doing it. Unfortunately I, along with presumably everyone else, wasn't born on another planet and transported here; nor was I bitten by a radioactive spider. So for the foreseeable future, I'm stuck with living my superhero dreams through games with Champions Online looking to fulfil as many of my dreams as it can manage.

The Superhero MMO has been done before with City of Heroes and City of Villains but their developer, Cryptic Studios, look to build upon this success with the addition of Champions Online. Despite having some great ideas, City of Heroes never quite managed to be the success that in many ways it deserved to be, with subscription figures hovering around the 100-150,000 mark during its history. At five years old, it seems like perfect timing to switch the attention over to Champions Online and hopefully satisfy those who want an MMO that isn't just about elves and trolls. I'm pleased to report that initial impressions certainly look very promising.

As many MMO players know, although there's usually a range of choice in regards to what type of character you can choose to become, it does get a bit limited after a short amount of time. Often there are only a set number of different faces to assigned (for example) and only 6-8 classes to choose from. Have no fear; there are so many variations available in Champions Online that I think it might actually be impossible to run out of options. You can adjust pretty much everything ranging from your hero's mouth width, body mass and every little minute detail about the hero's costume. There really is a ridiculous array of options but I actually found it quite nice to see.

Considering an MMO is all about 'becoming' someone else, you should be able to adjust everything possible, and at last a game like Champions Online has achieved this. There's also a randomise button if you're not so fussed about giving your character the personal touch, and this button creates so many fantastic creations that it is good to see. Besides the look of your character, there is also the array of frameworks on offer. These frameworks are Champions Online's equivalent of the class system seen in other MMOs. There are 18 frameworks to choose from as well as a custom framework meaning you can adapt things to however you want them to be. The frameworks determine the type of weaponry you can inflict upon your foes and general statistics, as well as certain skills exclusive to the framework such as the ability to inflict damage upon numerous targets at the same time. The custom framework gives you ultimate control over things by enabling you to choose what powers you want as well as an 'innate' ability. It gives you the most flexibility certainly but I found it was initially simpler to choose one of the pre-built frameworks. At least until I'd got to grips with exactly how the frameworks affected my development over time. It was refreshing to see such an unpatronising attitude towards frameworks/classes and certainly has a lot of potential to ensure that all players can play the exact type of character that they have always wanted to, whilst avoiding being pigeonholed into one predictable class such as the tank/healer type system of other MMOs.

Upon entering the Champions Universe, things should become immediately familiar to MMO players and even simple to learn for the inexperienced gamer. I found the controls very similar to World of Warcraft's which made it extremely easy to adapt to. The somewhat generic story unfolds via talking to NPCs who also provide quests, very typical MMO stuff. Some of these quests are instances which should certainly help affairs once the game is released and becomes busier. There are also promises of dungeon-based instances which should appeal to those wanting to conduct mini-raids, always a staple in any MMO. The main difference between Champions Online and other MMOs is its combat. The game is very action focused, and at times felt more like a button masher than an MMO.

As Champions Online aims to be released on the Xbox 360 as well as the PC, it makes sense that the controls are simple and seem to be well matched to the use of a gamepad. It did feel a little simplistic at first, with mainly the need to fire the character's main power to build up equilibrium (a form of resource in this game) which can then be used for other powers. So it did initially seem like just a matter of hammering a few buttons repeatedly - but then again this worked quite effectively. One unique feature is that of the blocking system; yes you can actually block attacks, a rare thing to see in an MMO. At times, it was easy to forget to do so but I can see a lot of potential in the system in larger scale battles. Eventually, even the best player is going to die at some point and Champions Online deals with it in the typical manner of respawning at a designated spot.

Rather than losing experience points, the downed hero's upgrades (equipment essentially) become degraded eventually requiring repairing so that they can be used again. The most interesting feature in Champions Online that I was unfortunately unable to witness was that of the Nemesis system. At Level 25, players will be given the ability to design their own arch-nemesis because after all, all heroes need a nemesis to contend with. There will then be occasions where your nemesis confronts you and you have to defeat them; a nice story arc that looks to have some potential. There are also promises that you may come across other players nemeses which could be interesting to see further on in the lifespan of Champions Online - once more high level players are on the scene.

In many ways Champions Online is quite generic, but it looks to combine many of the best elements seen in other MMOs which suggests it could do very well. The MMO genre is quite cluttered at the moment, particularly with MMOs struggling to compete against the might of World of Warcraft, but Champions Online appears to be trying to offer something a little different. As much as I am a big fan of World of Warcraft, it is nice to have a change from elves and dwarves and the idea of being a superhero is irresistible, as I am sure it will be for others - especially comic book fans.

The custom frameworks of Champions Online look to ensure that the game will be solo friendly, another huge plus point that suggests it will do well at appealing to a different audience that is longing for a new MMO. It's early days for Cryptic's opus with its fairly limited beta still underway at the moment, but it will certainly be interesting to see how things develop once the masses are let in and groups of superheroes are uniting to take on the evil Doctor Destroyer. Champions Online certainly has the potential to be a Superman, rather than a Joker.

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