Early Game Hands-On Preview
“Think console…not mmo….”
All would-be super-heroes should remember this advice as they approach Champions Online. Yes, Champions Online is an MMO, but the game is much easier to play and enjoy when approached with a console mentality. Due to its reliance on character positioning, fast reactions and selective targeting as an essential part of combat, the game plays much more like an action console game than the average “click and get a sandwich MMO.”
Granted, there are times where combat is more straight forward (i.e.: “ get x and give to y”), but for the most part gameplay, especially when solo, requires a little more thought. Heroes need to consider how they’ll get to their enemy (route) and which ones to attack first. Ignore this advance, and the game becomes a lot harder to play. At first, I felt like it would need a friend just to finish the tutorial, but once I took the console gamer’s approach, it was as if I had pressed the easy button.
Recently, I had a chance to explore the Champions Online Beta and gather my impressions. Do keep in mind, though, that all of these elements are subject to change.
Cryptic Studios is best known for their work on City of Heroes, so comparisons between the Champions and CoH character creation systems are inevitable. Most players could spend hours rolling new characters in City of Heroes. The options were incredible. Honestly, I never had so much fun in that game as I did just making characters. It was fun and intuitively structured. Champions Online has a lot to live up to.
The first choice of any would-be super-hero is what kind of hero they will be. In Champions, they call this the character’s “origin.” Options range from a powerhouse (think “The Incredible Hulk”), to an untouchable (more like “Spider-man”), or anything in between. Whatever origin chosen ultimately sets the new hero’s base stats and dictates what kind of hero they are likely to become. So, if the goal is to have cat-like dexterity or the hit points of the Terminator, choose wisely. While this choice dictates a path, players gain more points over time. That big powerhouse could get a little more nimble, if they don’t mind sacrificing some hit points.
The next step for new heroes is to select a Power framework. These are similar to archetypes in City of Heroes. With 18 power frames to choose from, heroes can choose to specialize in archery, fire damage, martial arts, dual blades, telekinesis, or munitions, among others. Basically, it determines the way a super-hero kicks ass. Again, though, Cryptic has made this system very flexible. Just because someone starts in archery, doesn’t mean they can never learn how to shoot a gun. Every skill and power is available to every player. It enables people to experiment and create truly unique characters. It also doesn’t force anyone to start over to try a new toy.
With the character fully tweaked under the hood, it’s time to get to the fun part: looks and costume! Simply put, Champions will do more than meet the expectations of City of Heroes fans. It will blow them away.
The level of customization borders on ridiculous. For example, there are four different colorization options for each piece. Take the chest gear for example. The game allows details like a knife belt across the chest, but what’s more, enables full color customization of belt, knife blade, sheathe and hilt. It really made the process unique. One of the most impressive features was the ability to customize a piece of gear to show specifically on the character’s right arm, leg or hand and then do something completely different for the left side. Another thing to get excited about is the improved selection of robotic appearances. The attention to detail in this system is amazing.
Customization doesn’t just end at the costume, though. Players can change where powers originate (head, hands, chest, sword, etc.) and create separate builds and roles, which they can easily swap out based on circumstance.
That’s not to say that the system is quite ready yet. A few elements are less than thrilling. The tabs (for head, chest and foot sections) found on the left hand side of the creation area are a little clunky and unintuitive. The interface in CoH was a lot sleeker. While I was impressed with the color options available and the detail available, there could have been better explanation of how each of the four colors alters the design.
There is definitely room for polish and improvement, but with a few months before launch, Cryptic has time. The creation experience presented a fun and dizzying array of options, it just needs more tweaking and a little more elegance to really bring it home.
Inside the Tutorial
Like every MMO released these days, Champions Online features a quick tutorial that introduces the elements of the game.
The tutorial walks new players through a few easy missions, introduces basic movement, interaction with NPCs and quests. More importantly it draws hero’s attention to some of the features in Champions that are new and interesting, especially for those familiar with other MMOs.
I chose to create a character with the dexterity of an Untouchable origin and the power framework of a martial artist with dual wield. I received my first mission from a local NPC and headed off to a back alley to attack some qularr pods.
In combat, abilities stack and rely on each other. For example, my basic attack builds up endurance, which I can then expend by using some of my more advanced and deadly skills. If my endurance gets low, I can just continue to auto-attack with my basic attack skill until I have enough endurance built up to once again try something fancy. Some skills also deal more damage as they are “powered up.” More power equals more damage or time duration.
Another skill essential to surviving Champions Online is the ability to block an incoming attack. When fighting a mob, a special graphic icon will sometimes appear above the enemy’s head. This indicates that they are about to unleash a power attack. Players can (and should!) block these attacks, either by hitting the shift key or clicking the block icon on the hot bar. Trust me, this is a skill you want to use every time you see a mob getting ready to open a can of “whoop-whoop” on you. It can be the difference between immediate death and a minuscule amount of damage.