Learning to Play
Once you select your instance, you'll enter the game world and be treated to an in-engine intro that depicts the carnage and destruction taking place in Millenium City as the camera weaves through the buildings and eventually centers on your character. Millenium City is being attacked by the alien Qularr (Rikti anyone?) and is in desperate need of a hero. With the Champions being the first targets in the Qularr assault, they are nowhere to be found, so the responsibility lays on you to save the day.
The tutorial consists of some pretty basic quests that will aid in acclimating you to the various game mechanics, including combat and blocking, open missions, instances, object interaction, etc. Once you've completed the tutorial, you'll have a choice between two starting zones: The Desert or the Canadian Wilderness. Whatever your choice, you'll be stuck there until around level eight or so. Once you arrive at your destination of choice, you'll be around level five and you'll be introduced to an area of the game you are sure to spend a lot of time in: the Power House.
The Power House
The Power House is where you go to train up in Champions Online, and on your first arrival you'll have quite a few things to train up. One of the more notable choices you get to make early on is your travel power. Unlike City of Heroes, you don't have to wait until Level 14 to make that choice. And the folks at Cryptic Studios truly expanded on the options here as well. You'll be able to choose from comic book staples such as flight, super speed, teleportation, and leaping, but you'll also have some more exotic options such as tunneling, swinging, ice sliding, etc.
The real beauty of the Power House though, lays in the ability for players to run all of their power choices through the paces. The Power House is equipped with a number of rooms that allow you to test every potential power out to see if you like it, before you actually commit to it. Some rooms contain dummies for you to blast and punch around; while others contain giant lasers that function well at testing different damage mitigation powers. You see, power choices aren't permanent until you leave the Power House, so you can sit there and respec in and out of powers and test them to your hearts content. Once you do leave however, you'll still be able to respec locked in powers at a cost, but only up to 10 steps backwards. As of this writing, full respecs are not available in any form.
Combat in Champions Online is far more action packed than what you may be used to in most MMOGs. One basic difference from most games is the simple addition of active blocking, which is a skill you will definitely want to master. Enemies have certain tells that pop up over their heads alerting you that a heavy hit is coming, and more often than not this would be a good time to block. Some enemies, and of course players, won't have a little popup over their heads, so you'll have to pay a bit more attention than you may be used to in order to anticipate attacks.
The flow of combat is also inverted in comparison to most MMOGs on the market. Instead of having X amount of endurance (mana) to spend on your abilities, you only regenerate a portion of your maximum, and this is known as your endurance equilibrium. The rest of your endurance must be built up by use of an endurance builder attack. Every character has one endurance builder attack, which goes into the first slot on your hotbar. This attack can be fired manually or can be toggled on as a pseudo-auto attack. The flow of combat involves building energy with this attack (or through other means) and then spending the endurance you've built up on more powerful attacks. Blocking ties into endurance building as well, as blocking attacks grants you certain amounts of endurance based on the amount of damage blocked.
You won't be standing around attacking things either, as attacking on the move is fully supported and even encouraged. Indeed, many of the NPCs will employ this tactic as well, doubling back trying to kite you or just moving around as they fight.
Builds & Roles
Cryptic Studios has taken a unique spin on the issue of the Holy Trinity of healer, tank, and DPS with Champions Online as well. The system they have implemented to address this longstanding issue is their builds and roles system. As your character levels up, you will unlock access to up to four builds. Each build can be setup with different gear sets, hotbar power setups and lastly, differing roles.
What is a role then? Roles are kind of like stances, and there are four of them in the game Balanced, Offense, Defense, and Support. Each build can have a different role, so assuming you take the right powers, a single character can fulfill just about any needed role in a group with a simple click of a button. Switching builds has a short cooldown so the system is pretty flexible, and each role alters the gameplay experience considerably.
With each role comes access to different passive power slots as well. Passive power slots are singular slots that appear above your hotbar, and can be slotted with powers that affect you, well, passively! Each role has its own limitations on what can be placed in its passive power slot. For example, a if you're in an offense role you cannot drop in n a defensive passive into your passive slot. So you cannot say, be in an offense role and run around with Invulnerability going.