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Robert Lashley: The Test of Time - Champions Online

By Robert Lashley on January 28, 2016 | Columns | Comments

The Test of Time - Champions Online

There are hundreds of MMORPG’s out there but surprisingly few focus on superheroes. The two most well-known are the new defunct City of Heroes and DC Universe online. But there is one other out there still alive and power kicking villains and that game is Champions Online. Yeah, yeah, I hear you, “but Rob what about Marvel Heroes?” I know that Marvel Heroes is a thing but that’s too much of an ARPG than a MMO for this comparison.

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Last time I picked a game for this column it was one that I am intimately familiar with, DDO. This time I’m looking at a game that I have never played before. While I have spent my fair share of time with other Cryptic games, Neverwinter chief amongst them, I only just installed Champions Online for the first time last night.

Before we dive into the game let’s have a little bit of fun with facts time. Champions Online has two notable similarities to DDO, besides the fundamental fact that they are both MMORPGs. Much like DDO pulls inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons, Champions Online also draws its inspiration from a pen and paper RPG product. Champions’ first edition was originally released in 1981 and its most recent revision is 6th edition published in 2010. While D&D would go on to give birth to the Open Gaming License and the D20 system Champions spawned the Hero System. The Hero system focuses on a points buy system which allows players to choose their stats as opposed to randomly rolling them during character creation like one would do in D&D. In addition to having pen and paper roots both games were originally published by Atari and that relationship has produced mixed results, to say the least.

Champions is a free to download but is supported by an optional subscription and microtransactions. The in game store sells things like additional bag slots, bigger bags, cosmetic items, and items that provide temporary boosts. It’s primarily built around selling cosmetic items. Looks seem to be very important in this game. All about those superhero costumes! While it does sell level boosts and random weapons which lead to this inevitable questions of pay to win the shop also features items that have fun silly effects like making your character 15% larger for the next hour.

I’ll admit I started to get the dreads before I even began to play the game but I vowed not to come into it biased. I’ve never been that interested in superhero MMOs, which explains why I haven’t played this one before, but I wanted to atleast be able to say I gave it the good old college try. After going into the settings and tweaking the graphics to max the game actually looked much better than I had expected. Score one for the game.

There are 12 classes available to choose from at creation and I selected the tankiest of the bunch. You can choose either gender regardless of class and then spend time on what really matters in this game. What your character looks like. I kept hitting random until the game gave me one of the loudest, most outrageous combinations imaginable. I think it did a pretty good job.

One of my initial concerns was a game this long in the tooth would look like a muddled mess. Again I was pleasantly surprised when I popped to life in the tutorial zone. The initial training simulation area is alive with other players and filled with bright vibrant colors across the environment. The cel shaded graphics while used as a stylistic choice to make the game look like it has sprung off the pages of a comic book also serve to keep the game from looking as dated as if they had attempted a more realistic art style.

The UI has nice straight lines and is unobtrusive and keeps mostly out of your field of view. The main characters are also voiced for quests. While they don’t always match the quest text exactly they don’t just read the first few words and trail off. A scattering of inconsequential NPCs will have little snippets of dialogue that is not voiced and appears as text inside of speech bubble. One NPC cop was asking another if he ever felt like he was a simulation inside of a simulation. He was experiencing simulation inception. It’s the small little quirks like that which establish the character of this game early on.

You’ll be able to move with WASD, or your mouse, so you can leave your keyboard primarily for combat or communicating. Early on combat revolves around using builder moves that gain power which can then be unleashed as finishers. In addition you can use terrain to your advantage. I was having fun throwing barricades at the invading alien swarms.

I was also impressed at the volume of players that were in my simulation. I spent some time chatting with people I ran into and more than one of them were playing the game for the first time. Another good sign for a 7 year old game. Before I realized it those initial dreads had worn off and it turned out I was actually having fun.

It’s easy to jump into a new game and have fun for the first few hours. It’s that next bit that can start to turn into a slog fest. I’ll spend some more time playing Champions over the coming week and report back in next Thursday on whether or not this game really has stood the test of time.

Robert Lashley / Rob is a Staff Writer and jack of all trades for MMORPG.com. When he isn’t blinding people with the glare from his head in front of a camera you can chase him down on Twitter, PSN, XBL, and Nintendo @rant_on_rob.