Then and Now - Looking Back to Beta
One of the interesting things to look at with the development of any game is if, and more importantly how, player feedback is used in the testing process between the beta and live versions of a game. Closed beta tests are probably the period when feedback has the greatest impact, as developers can still make drastic changes to the game's design without the risks involved after it launches. Recently on the official forums for Champions Online, a thread surfaced calling on Closed Beta veterans to weigh in on the current state of the game and compare it to the beta experience, and give their opinions on whether or not they feel the right changes were made.
First, we'll take a look at some of the key updates to Champions Online between beta and now, and then into what some of the things are that long-time players are still looking for in the game.
While the general consensus is that the teaming aspect of CO still needs improvement, beta testers agree that it's definitely moving in the right direction. With the addition of Crossover missions (which allow players to share missions without interrupting personal progression), increased rewards, and better scaling within the Sidekick/Team Champion feature, the game is more accessible for teams than it previously was, while still remaining solo-friendly for the more anti-social superheroes among us.
This is one of the biggest features influenced by player feedback--and in a very positive way. In early builds of the game, players leveled their heroes by simply pushing the 'P' button. From there, you could select new powers on-the-fly anywhere in the game world. This was later replaced with UNTIL stations (which are now mail stations in-game). These UNTIL stations were similar to the stationary skill trainers seen in most other MMOs.
This change obviously cut down on the convenience factor of the original system, and caused a bit of distress among the testers. Cryptic responded accordingly, announcing a new, dynamic system for power selection: the Powerhouse. Even though this is still designed as a stationary trainer, it offers more functionality than we've seen before, allowing the opportunity to not only see how powers look (a very important aspect of Champions Online) but to physically test out new powers in real combat situations before committing to them.
A major agreement is about the positive impact of the increased difficulty of the game. Far too many powers were "I win buttons" during Closed Beta, and now they're balanced to the point where the game is more of a challenge. This, in turn, has also helped to smooth the leveling curve, as players were getting to leveling 40 incredibly fast because the game was so easy; becoming burned out from the lack of endgame content, which is also currently being addressed.
Every coin has two sides; there are of course some negatives as well. Some pretty big aspects (that interestingly have been acknowledged by Cryptic openly) still need work and haven't been addressed on a large scale since they were first discussed by testers in Closed Beta, despite the open admission that they are very real problems with the game.
CO's technical performance is an issue dating back to the first alpha build. Before, it was chalked up to the beta process and assumed that it'd be taken care of by the time launch rolled around. Ironically, optimization became worse the more time went on, until during Open Beta and the Early Start, the game was flatout unplayable for many people when it shouldn't be, and still is. Problems range from broad server stability issues to specific optimization problems with certain video cards. A lot of these difficulties also seem to be tied to patches; they'll be fine one day and not the next. Hopefully this is sorted out something soon because of course, whether or not someone likes the game, it doesn't make a difference if they can't play it.
While teaming features have gotten some much-needed love, we still need content that takes full advantage of those features. The developers have already shown that they plan to expand on team content and that's a good sign, but the fact that it's taken this long--dating back to alpha testing--has understandably put some people off.
Multiple leveling paths
One of the big concerns during Closed Beta was the lack of "alternate" content. While the desire for branching content was there (and still is), this is more a request for more things to do. As it stands, there aren't a whole lot of options for leveling; it's mostly completing the same missions with each character ad nauseum. While the team at Cryptic has been adding more mission content to CO, they haven't yet added much in the way of alternate missions to level.
A big complaint is that PvP is still incredibly unbalanced. Ranged characters continue to have a great advantage and melee characters don't have very many options to help close the gap. Because of this, players are pushed into certain power configurations and that's causing oversaturation of certain builds in PvP, making it pretty much a one-sided fight all around. The concern is that victory is decided by what powers you have, rather than how you use them, which works against the very design and core purpose of the open framework system used in CO. Instead of fostering originality in playstyles, it's encouraging "flavor-of-the-month builds" on a massive scale.
It's clear from the responses in the thread that while many of the veterans feel that while the game hasn't quite hit its potential yet, it's still a good game built on a great foundation for improvement and growth in the future.