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A Superhero's Discontent

Jaime Skelton Posted:
Columns Player Perspectives (Archived) 0

The first two months of Champions Online have been filled with as many explosions as an action movie. There's a loud voice of discontent among the Champ's community, a strong voice of defense for Cryptic, and a lot of confusion about the game's intended design. The mud-slinging has gone far beyond calling the negative voices in the community "whiners." In fact, some complaints have gone far enough to place the blame for all ills on the heads of specific developers So, why are the newest superheroes on the MMO scene so upset?

The spark that started the fire would likely be to look at the initial Retcon system, just before CO launched. Retcons (for those who don't follow Champions Online) are character respecs. Unlike many games that offer a clean wipe on a respec, or allow you to choose what you want to unlearn, retcons are progressive in Champions Online - you pay money for each step backward in your character's development. Initially, this retcon system was limited to your last 10 powers, meaning a mistake in building at level 20 could not be rectified at level 40. Your only options were to live with the power, or re-roll a character.

A panic arose in the community. Then went out the battle cry: "Champions Online will fail without full respecs!" Beneath all the heat of the debate were two camps. There were those who thought 10 points were fair, and, if that wasn't enough, the player needed to learn to research their character concept better and re-roll. Then there were those who argued that Champs had built a system that required respecs, and forcing permanent builds on a time-invested character would result in a mass of canceled subscriptions. But, as Cryptic reassured, full retcons would eventually become available and the community settled.

For a little while, at least.

As players started reaching max-level during early access, and even during the first week of the game, a new worry arose: what was left for a game in which players could reach level 40 so easily? After two months, the "life after 40" issue isn't looking better to the community. Content at level 40 is very limited, and in some aspects a grind, leaving players who reach the level cap few options other than to re-roll a character - they will go through the same missions with little variation or new things to see. There are a lot of issues under debate here: whether a new MMO should have end-game content ready at launch, whether end-game should be the destination, and what kind of content should even be at end-game when it's reached. Once again, the attitude of "re-roll or go home" was voiced in these discussions.

Then the C-Store updated its item listing on October 19, and there appeared what was in the hopes of some, and the fears of many. They made a full character retcon available for $12.50. It isn't that the community was opposed to a full retcon at this point - its tone toward that has changed some in the past two months - but rather, that the cost seems outrageous, comparable by only a few dollars to the monthly subscription fee itself. Although the fact remains that players can retcon their way back with in-game money, and Cryptic has said that they plan on offering a full respec at some point (likely to level 40s), the anger is directed instead at the cost. The community (and those outside of it), had been concerned about the double/triple-dipping scheme of a box charge, plus a subscription fee, plus micro-transaction. Their concerns were now being realized. Although the heat has died a little on this discussion, there is still a great worry about a $12.50 charge for something that's reported to be somewhat easy to obtain in-game.

To add one last log to the pile, enter Blood Moon, a newly launched "expansion" that came with a great deal of hype. Yet the expansion was launched with a two hour timer on public missions (now reduced to thirty minutes), little documentation for players wanting to begin the event, and the same map utilization for all thirteen of the Undead Heroes that served as the perks that lead up to unlocking the new Celestial power set. Many players have voiced feeling cheated that the content update offers them little in terms of permanent content, and is a slap in the face for those waiting for current issues to be fixed.

From an outsider looking in, the issues with Champions Online look damning. What's more interesting to me, however, is the way the community is forming, growing out of its infancy, and defining, albeit somewhat slowly, what it wants.

The issue of retcons is interesting. Certain players have expressed rather vividly that they not only want, but expect, the ability to freely retcon a character at a moderately reasonable cost. There's no reason to expect that out of a game that didn't promise it from the start, of course. These expectations come from previous experiences with other MMOs. The idea of a free respec isn't an industry standard, either; many games possessed linear character progression with no roll-backs, a few do charge item shop fees for respecs, and some have a very limited system which does encourage frequent rerolling and alts - without complaint from their respective communities. It's hard yet to say which way the game will turn, toward end-game content or toward the character journey to max level, but it does seem that the community is leaning toward the support of the journey, and not the destination.

Despite the mass of trolls lurking the Champions Online forums, there are a number of thoughtful supporters of the game. Although some seemed concerned that the player base is playing the middleman too much, the fact that Cryptic does respond to the feedback from its player base does indicate a good start to a healthy community relationship. Here, too, early expectations come into play. There is a strong expectation that Cryptic will listen to and address the feedback put out by the community, and when they do not, or take longer than the community expects, the community expresses a kind of "I told you so" indignation.

At this point in time, it's hard to tell if the community is going to support Champions Online and help build it into a solid game with a good community. There are simply too many early nay-sayers to tell, and only time will tell if the game - and its community - can work out its issues. If it does, though, I think the Champions Online community will be strong, active, and around for years to come.


Jaime Skelton