An image of my main hero, Arare, from the login screen.
The Free Day Or So...
So Champions Online had a free weekend, which I found via Steam. It had intrigued me earlier, but not enough to actually buy sight unseen, so I decided to go ahead and give it a try. I downloaded the client through Steam on Friday afternoon, Sunday morning I was done patching and had a chance to get in and play around.
Yes, that was over a day of patching. The total patch size was 2 gigs, my pipe can handle that in about an hour or so, therefore I can only assume they were pretty hammered for bandwidth at the time. Not to be too much of a Monday morning quarterback just yet but... why did they advertise it on Steam without the ability to have them handle patching? No offense to the people at Cryptic but Steam's account numbers most probably dwarf theirs by a significant margin. I understand the concept of wanting to get lots of people to try out the game, but I don't think slashdoting yourself is really all that helpful overall.
The Point: Irony
Thing is, after one day I'm pretty well convinced that Cryptic has managed to land me in an ironic situation. Truth be told, the game is a blast to play so far. In fact it's so fun that if they had a free trial to begin with chances were I would have bought the game, but since I recently bought Borderlands, I'm now too broke to afford the initial $
So what is it that Champions does oh so very well? Could it be their itemization makes Diablo players salivate? No. Do the missions create those same sorts of free form, randomly RPing groups that CoH did so wonderfully? No. Well does it tell an epic one of a kind story that grips you by the nadgers and won't let go? Hell no. The place where Champions really shines, above all else and in a way that puts most MMOs to shame is... playing the god damn game.
Seriously, that picture up there is of an acrobatically inclined, beast stance, guns akimbo hero. I spend the entire time madly jumping and running around my enemies spraying them with bullets and then closing in for the occasional "gun ballet" kick to the balls. Equally as fun is one not pictured here where they have dual swords for their energy gain power and a psychic sword for their real damage output and are also acrobatic.
What More Is There To Say? Plenty.
Yes the game is fun to play... at least up to level 11. Within that sentence was contained what seems to be Champions greatest flaw, character levels. The great Achilles heel of their design is that they begin with fun game play and then level people out of it. My main gunslinger is already suffering from a major stats problem. Their recovery stat is falling behind a laundry list of other important stats meaning that my energy bar is getting to the point where only about 25% of it is capable of regenerating outside of combat. I've found ways of dealing with it so I'm not a cripple but without a few other fortuitous decisions my character would likely have already found themselves a hopeless gimp.
It leaves me wondering time and again, why? Why does this game have character levels at all? There are plenty of other forms of progression they could have gone if they just wanted stickiness, supergroup levels, alignment with various organizations, storyline, equipment, nemesis levels or even a sort of "gotta catch em all" for powers and costume bits. So why, with everything they already have and everything they could have done just as easily, did they choose to make the game with character levels? This is an honest question by the way, I sincerely do not see any way in which that decision assisted their design. In fact the more I look the more ways I see that it hinder it.
And The Rest...
While levels may be the designs fatal flaw, performance in general tended to be a rather thin line. Considering I only had one day in which to experience it, there certainly was a lot of rubber banding and just straight up lag. Never quite to the point of being enough to quit over, but enough that over time it would certainly grate on the nerves.
Level 10 PvP had a certain binary quality to it the few times I tried it. Generally one team was fairly well organized and moved as a group completely dominating the other group with extremely low, or no, casualties. I wouldn't write off the PvP completely, it is still interesting to see how different powers mix and compete, but I wouldn't rate it as more than a sideshow. Also I only saw the "cage match" style so perhaps the other style is a significant bump up.
I can only repeat what many other internet commentators have said, "lots of potential but fatally flawed." Somehow Cryptic managed to take some of the magic little bits of CoH, like that first time you fly, and turn it into truly fun game play. Then, in the same breath, they managed to grab some of the very worst parts of RPGs in general and mixed those right on in. The great tragedy of it all is that while it's initial potential completely blows you away, the fatal bits are so fundamental that it's simply far too late to change.