Disassembled: A Review in Pieces – Champions Online

Welcome to the first of many reviews in pieces. The basic premise here is that I am going to be taking a game, most often an MMO, and reviewing it as I go. You will follow me through my reviews, around ten levels at a time depending on the game, and at the end I will condense it all into one final review.

For the first issue of Disassembled we are going to be reviewing levels 1-5 of Champions Online with levels 6-10 coming tomorrow. If you have been following the blog you might have noticed that we already did a comparison between Champions Online and City of Heroes. I thought about continuing the comparison through the levels, in five level increments, but I realized that the core things that separate the two games wasn’t going to change that quickly. Instead I came up with this. Let’s hit the jump and get into this review of Champions Online: Levels    1-5.

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The first thing we need to mention with Champions Online is the character creation system. Like all Cryptic games the character creation is amazing. The obvious comparison is City of Heroes, a game made by Cryptic as well, but at the moment Champions Online doesn’t have as many choices. That’s not surprising though as the game has only been out for a few months. Another reason why it’s not surprising is the cash shop, containing 12 sets of costume pieces at the moment. While that is not necessarily a bad thing I find it hard to swallow when a company wants me to purchase their game, pay them a monthly fee AND have me buy content piecemeal. It’s not a deal breaker, and I would feel much better about paying into it, if they let me download the game for free with a subscription + mini cash shop like they have now.

After you have spent hours in the character creator, tweaking sliders and picking power sets, you are thrust into the five level tutorial zone. Responding to player complaints that the tutorial zone gets boring after several playthroughs Cryptic added the ability to skip the tutorial zone and enter one of two second stage “crisis” zones. This allows you immediate access to your travel power which is one of the best aspects of Champions Online, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get into the tutorial zone is that the game is beautiful. This will of course depend on whether or not you like cell-shaded graphics. If you do you will be treated to a sprawling city block that is under attack by alien forces. That is about the depth of the story for this tutorial section but that is easily overlooked once you get into the combat, the games strong suit.

The writing is cheesy and evokes a Silver Age of comics feeling which I found charming but others may simply find it childish. For instance one of the early quests finds you helping police officers test their weapons, by blocking and letting them fire at you. This is used in the game to teach you how to block, a useful thing to know, but the story reasons for having you do it are shallow and silly, not to mention it should be deadly if your character is not invulnerable.

They quickly get you into the combat and attempt to keep you there, and as long as you can overlook the cheesy quest fluff you’ll have a great time on your first playthrough. There are a large number of other heroes around as you would expect in an MMO, but just like in City of Heroes it seems out of place in a superhero setting. Should there even BE an alien invasion when 90% of the population of earth can fly and shoot lasers?

The sound is also well done. The music is cheery but urgent and you can hear alien aircraft flying far overhead. The sound of sirens accompanies the action on and off while the actual sound of your fighting, whether it be energy beams, punches, gunshots or explosions, is almost non-stop. The sounds of your attacks aren’t as impactful as you would hope, but they do an adequate job.

The tutorial missions themselves do a good job of guiding you through the user interface and leveling up but it does NOT help you figure out some of the more subtle aspects of the game, such as power color customization and what stats you should be focusing on for what type of character you want to play. In fact, other than teaching you how to equip an item, they don’t mention anything else about them other than to shove many different types at you in the hopes that at least one will help. This is probably partly due to the fact that there are no ‘roles’ or ‘classes’ that you pick from at the start of the game. You can give your superhero any power set you want and unfortunately that also means that you can gimp your superhero in many different ways.

The most exciting change to combat comes in the form of regaining health and energy. All characters start with a channeled ability that will regain their energy while continuing to attack whatever they are targeting. Often when you kill an enemy they will drop small blue, yellow or green icons. If you grab these icons they will refill your energy/health or give you a small defensive buff for a short time. When fighting a group of enemies this can save your life multiple times over.

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The edition of a block button which must be held down to reap the benefit, and enemies with charge attacks that encourage the strategic player to use it, really helps set the combat apart from most other MMO’s on the market.

The equipment system is very different from other MMO’s, and even a departure from the power upgrades of City of Heroes. While the feature is adequate it leaves a lot to be desired. You have offensive, defensive and utility slots, one of each for your main three slots, and two each for secondary. The inventory system is like all other MMO’s having bag slots and a certain number of items you can hold per bag, though it is perfectly adequate and there was no reason for a departure.

To Cryptic’s credit there are no quests in the tutorial area that teach you how to use the cash shop, and there are no in game mentions of it that I could find. The cash shop itself is exactly what a cash shop for any game, especially a pay to play game, ought to be. It is all fluff. There are costume pieces which look as good as the ones already in game, emblem sets to add sci-fi or beast related emblems to your chest or back, and even “action figures” which are Champions Online’s version of non-combat pets. For a mere 80 Cryptic points ($1 as my math has it) you can purchase an action figured based off of one of the “main” superheroes of the Champions Online world. For the same price you can also purchase one of seven other action figures ranging from an army man toy to a toy plane, but they don’t look nearly as good as the ones based on the top five. Check out the cash shop items here.

I don’t believe any subscription MMO should have a cash shop in the first place of course, but since they are all going to start doing this anyway at least they are starting cheap.

Rating for levels 1-5:

Gameplay: 9.6 out of 10. Intensely fun combat that advances the genre. It is plagued by small bugs and a wonky targeting system.

Graphics: 9.8 out of 10. While not ground breaking the graphics are beautiful and the cell-shading and vibrant colors evoke the comic book feel of the source material.

Sound: 7.5 out of 10. The music is great. The sound effects lack the punch you would like and you will hear the odd loop in the background if you stand in one place too long.

Unique: 8.5 out of 10. While not a complete departure from MMO staples the combat is different enough to pull ahead. Changes aren’t always good and the “equipment” system leaves a lot to be desired. The setting and the graphic style are a refreshing change of pace for the MMO genre.

Overall: 35.4 out of 40. Amazing. Download the demo today.

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