Currently, there is a very large and vocal group of people who view Champions Online as a disappointment for dozens of documented reasons. There are some major issues with the game itself on a functional level relating to the game's progression, elements and mechanics. It is widely agreed (and, to be fair, has been openly admitted by Cryptic Studios on more than one occasion) that there is not only a lack of content, but a lack of diversity in CO's content.
What does this mean for the future of Champions Online? Can it bounce back from the widely demonstrated distaste seen not only in the general population of MMORPG players, but within its own community, where the unrest seems to be strongest? Or is the game doomed to fail, having suffered major issues and controversy from the very moment they switched on the live server with the now-infamous Day One Patch?
It's no secret that Cryptic is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to which direction to take in terms of updating Champions Online. No matter what they do, they'll face criticism. They're faced with the two issues of implementing major fixes and balancing, and adding new content. The fact of the matter is that they'll have to make a decision as to which of these priorities to throw their weight behind, if at least for a short time. Trying to balance both equally at the same time will only result in small short-time progress in both paths, and I don't see that paying off from a player-retention perspective or within the game itself.
It's not as if every MMO doesn't have both of these never-ending tasks to deal with, but the fact is that with CO, both of these issues are so essential to the survival of this game that they're equally important right now. The downside is that they both take an immense amount of work and time to be done the right way.
In short: something big needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. I think that the focus should lean toward content and features. Give us more to do, Mr. Roper and I don't just mean more ways to level. Here's what I think the five most needed additions to Champions Online are:
#1 - Introduce more zone-wide events
The Blood Moon Halloween event recently ended, and I think the greatest thing to come out of that wasn't necessarily the content it provided, or the rewards that came from that content. It was the sense of community gained from everyone in the zone interacting with each other. For two weeks, Zone Chat in Millennium City was filled with players calling out countdowns for the undead hero portal timers, organizing teams for going into the crypts, and forming hunting parties for Takofanes. With 13 hotspots all over the city on rotating 30-minute timers, there was a lot of coordination going on with everyone looking to find allies to work with in the open world in taking down the zombie hordes that were attacking all over the city.
For the first time, it felt like the community at large had a common goal; a purpose. More events like this would only do more to bring players together in not only these zone-wide events, but in general.
#2 - Add special supergroup features
I have no doubt that supergroups are a major topic on Cryptic's development table. With supergroups being one of the biggest aspects of their previous MMO, City of Heroes, it almost goes without saying that the development team will eventually give them the attention they're begging for. On the other hand, that's the very reason I've decided to bring it up now. Champions Online launched with no supergroup features. Right now, they're little more than another friends list and a title under your name. It's a bit confusing why something so big in their first game, namely the supergroup base feature, is nowhere to be seen.
#3 - Drastically increase the number of team-based instances
This is kind of an extension of number one, with the focus being teamwork. The only way for an online game to feel like a living, breathing world is for there to be meaningful interaction between its players. While players do of course run their own events, it feels a bit hollow unless that aspect is there in a big way within the design of the game itself.
The villain lairs in Champions Online serve as team-based instances. While they're great, there are only a handful of them. I'd like to see not only more of those, but variations of them--team-based bank robberies, as one example. The bank robberies currently in the game can easily be completed without a team; I'd like to see major heists and similar world event instances that require multiple heroes.
#4 - Enhance the lower level experience
Between the tutorial and the crisis zones, there's a lot of action and story packed into the starting levels of Champions Online. However, between the crisis zones and level 25 (the start of the Nemesis storyline), there isn't much of note going on. The game experience takes a severe downturn in between levels 10 and 25, and that gap in quality content turns a lot of people off who aren't willing to wade through those levels to "get to the good stuff." Nemesis, Lemuria, five-player villain lairs, Monster Island, new PvP scenarios: all hidden behind the level 25 gate. The best content in the game comes rushing at you after you deal with a storm of the worst. Even the most inventive aspect of the recent Blood Moon event, the Werewolf/Hunter PvP, was locked behind level 31, which didn't do much for players who picked up the game during the free weekend, as level 31 isn't easy to reach in just a couple of days for someone new to the game.
If some of that dynamic, exciting content was present earlier on, it'd serve to not only make the experience more exciting for new players, but it would work wonders for player retention, since creating alternate characters and replay value are such big aspects of not only Champions Online, but any MMORPG.
#5 - Implement more selectable game modes in PvP
Again referencing the Blood Moon event, Cryptic introduced the Werewolf/Hunter scenario and the Zombie Apocalypse as two PvP game modes. In Werewolf/Hunter PvP you choose a side and are granted a specific set of powers to go hunt the other faction. The Zombie Apocalypse is a Last Man Standing scenario, with players starting out as a hero or a zombie (if the hero team is full). The goal is to last as long as possible against not only Player Zombies, but a horde of NPC zombies as well. As Player Heroes go down, they respawn as zombies and are tasked with taking down their former allies. Both of these PvP setups change up the gameplay a bit, and are a change from the standard fights between players.
Online multiplayer shooters sometimes offer multiple game modes for competitive play, why should it be any different for MMOs? In fact, with the way MMOs are designed, there are even more possibilities in that regard. The great thing about this is that in Champions Online, the foundation is already there. Not to mention that the Hero Games PvP queue window itself is practically begging for more selections to choose from. Not only would more options serve to keep PvP fresh and exciting, it'd almost certainly attract people who don't normally PvP and, again, bring the community that much closer together.
Champions Online is a great game with even better potential. Unfortunately, with the ever-rising standards of MMO players and the onslaught of new MMOs approaching (one of which is from Cryptic Studios themselves), the luxury of a long period of time to maximize that potential doesn't really exist. Like I stated earlier, something big needs to happen and it needs to happen soon, if Champions Online is to survive not only the wave of new MMOs, but the direct competition from the upcoming DC Universe Online and the as-of-yet unrevealed Marvel Universe Online down the road. Sure, those games might still be a little far off, but retention is key here. Building a strong, loyal player base early on is important in maintaining the longevity of any game, and having exciting, varied content is the way to keep people playing for years to come.