The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it.

Champions Online

By Climpa on October 4, 2009 in Reviews

Final verdict: D-
Final playtime: Played intermittently for five months

When it comes to superheroes and video games, I’ll be the first to admit that they quite often don’t have a great track record. It’s not that superhero video games are incapable of being competent or even great video games; recently Batman: Arkham Asylum has shown us this, but ultimately it’s more to do with the fact that they are generally a licensed title – farmed out to a developer under pressure to make their release window – and while I’d like to now retort that Champions Online breaks free of this stereotype, sadly it does not.

Champions Online originally started its life as Marvel Universe Online, but after Marvel threw a shit fit at the concept of not being able to wave a magic wand and out-subscribe World of Warcraft’s staggering numbers, Cryptic then turned their attention to the Hero Universe IP, a pen and paper RPG which encompasses all of the usual superhero cliches for D&D nerds. And while I’m sure that attaching the Champions license to the game makes a tiny percentage of the playerbase feel all giddy inside knowing that they can hang out with their old pal Defender, for the majority of players it is negligible. So negligible in fact, that you can often see which characters/situations/etc would have involved the Marvel IP characters before development changed tracks. Sadly it often feels like Champions Online is living in the shadow of a game that could have been.

You know the old expression “It’s all down hill from here”? That was invented in the past just so I could use it today to describe this game. Though if anything it does speak volumes for how staggeringly intricate the character creation is. However even though you can make virtually anything you want, with vast amounts of customisation and choice, you’re probably going to find that around about 80% of the people you meet fit into one of the following categories:

  • Furries
  • Iron Mans
  • Mysterious trenchcoat wearing dual handgun users
  • Slutty female characters with angel wings/devil tail and little or no theme to their costume

You’ll also find that there are two ways to play the game as far as power selection goes:

  • Create your own character and stick to a theme that you find works well given your backstory and traits
  • The “right” way

Sadly there is a definite imbalance as far as power selection goes, resulting in a lot of people – particularly PvPers – choosing the same handful of powers so that they can achieve victory. And though it’s nice to know you have the option to do so, immersion can break easily when you see people who have the most powerful gun, an army of robots, psychic powers, dual swords and laser eye blasts at the same time. It would be nice if the developers would somehow incentivise sticking to a theme without disallowing hybridisation all together.

As far as the game itself goes, it’s the standard MMO affair of quests that involve collecting or defeating X amount of Y’s with the occasional boss fight or instanced encounter. Unfortunately the game runs out of quest content somewhere around level 30, leaving you to grind mindlessly until you’re high enough to do the next set. And while admittedly the combat in the game is a little more fast paced than most, it still just feels like World of Warcraft with a City of Heroes spin to it. Only instead of mounts you get to fly, run at super speed, teleport, tunnel or swing from place to place.

Champions Online was showing some great potential during closed beta, and there’s still the possibility that it will one day be a formidable name in the highly contested MMO space, but ultimately the game has been pushed out the door unfinished, creating a “For Pay Beta” situation. Given another 6 months of development time, this game really could have been something, but we’re one month after release at this point and they’re only just going to be adding in a dedicated healing class at the end of October – not to mention a near total lack of any endgame content. I’m aware that Molten Core wasn’t in WoW at launch, but when you have such a low level cap that people can hit it within about 3 days of release you really need to get your act together. And I don’t mean “make the grind longer” because they already did that with a total reduction to all exp gained the day of launch (resulting in the aformentioned content gap).

Also having a subscription as well as microtransactions, without an option to play for free, is a total dick move.

Final Verdict: D

Final Playtime: Five Months.

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