When Champions Online first came out, it strove to be the premier action-RPG superhero MMO. Like many MMORPGs that have come out during the last few years, Champions Online was met with a difficult launch and a rough first few months. Since that time, Cryptic Studios has worked hard to improve the game and add more content, making significant improvements in many areas. The biggest change, which popped out immediately upon login, was that the game has switched to a free-to-play system, with perks being given to premium subscribers. The difference isn’t major if you take out cosmetic perks; free-to-play subscribers are able to play the whole game, aside from the adventure packs, which are purchasable.
Champions Online keeps with its theme of being an action based RPG, which places the player instantly in a role where they feel they make a difference as a super powered hero. From first login, the player gets a sense that they’re something special in the world, and that’s without even leaving the character creation screen. But is this true if everyone is special in that world?
From what started as an already robust character creation system, changes and improvements have been made to make it even better. Back when Champions Online first came out, making a character, in terms of gameplay, was very hit or miss. The “class” system allowed players to do pretty much whatever they wanted, which led to a few very overpowered builds and a lot of broken ones. Upon switching to a F2P system, Cryptic added a variety of pre-built classes at the creation screen, with a “freeform” build available to paying subscribers. The prebuilt classes are made up of the various power sets available, and have been organized into tank, healing and support, melee or ranged DPS, and a few mix and match classes being able to fill multiple roles. Since they’re already pre-built by Cryptic, balance issues among these classes are much less of an issue, at least in PVE (I’ll get to PVP later).
Moving from class selection to the costume maker, changes have been made here, as well. The C-Store costumes available for purchase have been streamlined into the costume creator, allowing the player to see all options available to them instead of just things they’ve already bought. Un-purchased costume items can be bought directly from the character creator, which is either convenient or an annoyance depending on how you view the C-Store in general.
Upon finishing my character and moving into the tutorial, I can see that not much has changed. Though the tutorial has been changed to be more user friendly in a learning sense, combat plays roughly the same, with fights starting and ending quickly, which is desirable for such an action focused game. Powers worked roughly the same as my last visit to Champions Online, though there had been some tweaks to make them more viable in combat.
I saw the most significant difference with melee power sets; power sets that were extremely hard to play at launch. With melee power sets you had to be close to your enemy in order to use your energy builder and gain the energy you needed to use powers. This, however, was often difficult as enemies would try and get out of melee range. The change now lets the energy builder give energy, even if you’re outside of melee range, allowing for powers to be used even if your target is fleeing.
The tutorial zone also really gives a feel for the game in terms of aesthetics. Since launch, nothing has really changed in terms of appearance or sound. Some menus have been redone to be more visually appealing and the UI has gone through some minor tweaks to make it easier to use. Other than that, the game still has a cartoon-y feel to it, giving a sense that the player is actually in a comic book rather than a the real world; I, personally, enjoy the comic book feel, but it comes down to a matter of preference.
Outside the tutorial, zone progression has been changed in order to allow for easier leveling. Players are now dropped into Millennium City instead of a crisis zone where they spend their first few levels outside the tutorial to gain a better understanding of their character. After milling around the city fighting various gangs, players are sent to the various crisis zones around level 15 where petty gangs are replaced by monsters and evil organizations. This type of progression continues in a tier-like fashion, with the player’s nemesis coming in at level 25, Monster Island, a large overland zone, at 27, Lemuria, a mass underwater zone, at 31, and Vibora Bay, a voodoo-esque city zone, at 34, and finally UNITY missions, which are epic dungeons, at 40. This makes sure that players always have something to do, which was an issue at launch with players frequently running out of level appropriate quests. The class-building system, the personal nemesis, and the combat system are all nice new takes on standards in the industry. But the rest of the game feels very much like Everquest in tights.
With all the new quests, new progression, and a new zone all being added in such a short time, bugs popped up somewhat frequently and with great annoyance. Heavy lag, graphic glitches, and even server disconnects proved to be mildly irritating at best and made the game unplayable for hours at a time at worst. While Cryptic is working on these issues, it’s a slow-going process, and since they’re still trying to add more content, resources are spread thin to work out all the kinks that tend to arise in these types of games.