Champions Online Beta Impressions

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I’m a big fan of MMOs. I played Star Wars Galaxies almost every day until Revenge of the Sith came out, and brought with it the Trials of Obi-Wan Expansion, which totally ruined the game with dumbed down controls and even more powerful bugs than before. After that, I started playing World of Warcraft, making first a Mage, then a Paladin, and finally a Death Knight. With Star Wars: The Old Republic and the newly announced World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, looming in the distance, I took it upon myself to try out one of the smaller MMOs on the market.

Cryptic Studio’s Champions Online, based on the pen-and-paper RPG, launched an open beta last week for those of us who had either pre-ordered the game or have a FilePlanet subscription. Not exactly “open” in every sense of the word, but at least it gives people an opportunity to try out the game before they lock into a monthly subscription. (And only for the low, low price of $49.95!)

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cryptic Studios, these are the people behind City of Heroes/Villains and the forthcoming Star Trek Online. They have the pedigree of a successful MMO crafter behind them, but does Champions Online have the hooks necessary to combat Blizzard’s juggernaut?

Champions Online did not burst onto the internet ready to take on all comers. Despite being in a closed beta since November ’08, Cryptic was apparently unprepared for the amount of people who were ready to try out the open beta. An apparent error with the distribution of files in the download client caused the patching process to be all kinds of crazy. People on the official forum reported patch sizes ranging from 512kb to 3mb, with the download process stopping and starting randomly.

Fortunately, Cryptic was quick to correct their mistake and one day after the official launch, Champions was good to go! Upon booting up the game, you’re taken into the character creation screen, where you’re given an almost dizzying amount of choice for the construction of your very own hero. You pick from your standard array of super-hero powers; i.e. fire, ice, psychic, bladed weapons, guns and the like. Once you’ve got that locked in, you can begin to change you champion’s physical appearance. The sliders in the game adjust everything from foot size to your forearms, and as amusing as it is to have a Hulk-sized hero with tiny feet and a gargantuan head, most of the players in the beta seemed to skip over this. With the huge amount of customization available in the costume department as well, it’s as if Cryptic went: “You thought City of Heroes had a lot of choice? Take a look at this, suckers!”

If you’re into this sort of thing, you can spend a lot of time forging a very unique hero. I saw a lot of cool examples in the beta (including a spot-on Master Chief), but I also saw some people who skipped over the process completely. I guess it stands as a testament to the ease of this process where you can go all out or just forget it entirely.
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I fashioned myself a red-and-black Iron-Man suit of armor, christened myself “Deathpond” and picked the single-blade power set. With my hero ready for some action, I dropped my avatar into the tutorial level. The tutorial is set during an alien invasion of Champion City, and is meant to ease you into the game. In this aspect, it falls short of its goal. The mechanics of Champions is a heck of a lot more confusing than the setup in World of Warcraft; you don’t pick up the game play style intuitively, you have to learn how to play on your own.

I picked the active control style for Champions Online, which promised me that I would have a “High-Octane” combat experience. You can also pick the standard MMO-dance control scheme, but I didn’t really notice much of a difference, despite that fact that I was able to block some attacks. The active control style also lets you charge moves if you have enough momentum built up by holding down the corresponding keys, but this was not functioning during my play through.

I also found the user interface to be very cluttered. The quest log opened up right over my back pack, and I was at a complete loss as how to move the interface short of changing my resolution. The back pack isn’t that easy to decipher, either. I would have preferred to have some sort of manual to understand all the different stats being affected by items, and how they contribute to your character. Stuff like Strength and Constitution are easy to understand, but stats like Ego are a little harder to place. If this is your first MMO, prepare to spend a bit of time being a little bewildered as to what goes where.

Questing is a different story, fortunately. Your mini-map projects a green circle over the area of the quest, and once you’re there, the area is stocked with the enemies you need to kill, or the items you need to collect. No waiting around here, the quick spawn times guarantee you’ll be on your way in a jiffy. I did run into some quests that were just plain bugged, and had to move on without completing them. This is an old MMO problem, and it’s kind of disappointing to see it continue to plague the genre.

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The art style for the game is fairly unique as well. It boasts a very defined cell-shaded style, which lends itself to the comic book setting of the game. While the player avatars fit this style nicely, it doesn’t translate well to the environments. Champion City seemed kind of bland in comparison to the colourful characters running around in it.

Alas, Champions Online did not grab me in a meaningful way during my time in the beta. For an MMO, Cryptic didn’t place a lot of emphasis on working with other players; I happened to be playing along with a friend of mine, and even for quests that ostensibly needed upwards of four people to complete we were able to slog through by whittling the boss down as much as we could, then re-spawning at the beginning of the instance and picking up right where we left off.

Champions seems to lack the two most important aspects of a successful MMO: a compelling end-game experience and the ability to see your character become noticeably more powerful through meaningful loot. The max level cap is forty, and according to scuttlebutt on the forums, there is no end-game content planned as of yet. With the lack of image-altering loot, your character is always going to look cool, and a costume change is easily facilitated by the ridiculous amount of money you pick up through quests.

Unfortunetly for Cryptic Studios, Champions Online probably won’t make the splash in the MMO scene they were hoping for. Maybe this will change in the full product, but with the open beta coming three weeks before the full release (and the final build has gone gold), I think this is a case of the developer running out of time to deliver a polished experience.

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

10 thoughts on “Champions Online Beta Impressions”

  1. I’ve heard about this on the PC Gamer Podcast, and they think that the people who will play for the beta will do a way better job of reporting bugs and doing there jobs. In my opnion, you shouldn’t pay to play a beta. Your basically paying to help them. Sure it may be fun, but your losings money working.

  2. Nice write up! It’s nuts that they don’t have an endgame planned. I haven’t played any MMO’s really, but from what I understand, isn’t that the point of getting up to the higher levels?

  3. I played the Beta as well, in fact I was the side kick to Deadpond… the famous Red Fox Cyborg Ninja! I found the experience very similar. As cool as my character was, I was sad that he would basically be as cool as I made him. No gear would set me apart from others, so one could ever say, “Oh! He has T8.5 gear, he’s L33T!” Really, it was City of Heroes 2 with a new engine, a complicated gear system and the ability to fly around earlier.

  4. @ N00b-0-rAmA: When I originally signed up for the beta, I assumed it was closer to being a demo build than still being worked on. Obviously I was wrong. There’s also a little bit when you enter your pre-order code where the website does a shady sell with their lifetime subscription deal. Definitely something strange going on at Cryptic.

    @ Eddy: Yeah, end-games are extremely important to MMOS, as they are to all games. In World of Warcraft, that’s how they continue to get you. Once you’ve reached the level cap, you’ve got to have something that keeps bringing you back until the next expansion. The end-game fills this role, and Blizzard has perfected the art of staggering max-level content. I mean, the toughest dungeon of the Lich King expansion didn’t release with the actual game, and they haven’t even touched Icecrown yet. With Cataclysm on the horizon, I bet Blizzard has a few more tricks up their sleeves to get people to continue paying that $15 a month until it hits.

    @ The Nage: This my aforementioned buddy who played the beta with me. I’m a casual MMO player next to him, this guy main-lines Yogg Saron, lol.

  5. Unfortunately, WoW has set a pretty high bar for other MMO’s to try and jump over, and quite frankly Mitch, it’s probably going to be a long time before anybody develops a game that can do it.

    Champions seemed like an ample candidate for that at first, but let’s face it, with a shotty Beta release and no clear direction, Cryptic is going to have to face the fact that they will probably continue to suckle at WoW/Blizzard’s nip for a while until they clean up their act, fix what they’ve already done, and deliver something awe inspiring.

  6. Mitch: Great write up man.

    I’m not much of a RPG/MMO player myself in general. Usually its because I dont care for Magic and Spells and that type of myth crap (WoW). So when I heard about this I was a little excited, Super Hero’s could be cool.

    Unfortunately, the way you described it is exactly why I haven’t invested any time or money into any MMO’s before. Especially if I have to pay a huge price tag per month.

    I’m still hoping that a great MMO will come out that enough of you guys can give praise to to make me want to give it a shot.

  7. I dont think any MMO can beat wow with the current state of technolegy but when we can get headsets with screens in them (go The World (its an anime)).

    But i felt the need to play a mmorpg and was tossing between re-apply for wow or choose that new game in fact by the people of city of heros NCoft called Aion and i just clikced with it cos its prettier then wow. And i think blizzard dont need another expansion and shouldnt as i know all the lore, but offtopic what is it guna be called just so i can cuss it propely.

  8. Actually, Blizzard annouced at Blizzcon that they had a new secret MMO on the way. Set in a new universe too…So who knows, maybe Cataclysm will be the last WoW expansion pack. Gaming people have said the only company that can kick WoW off the top is Blizzard anyways…

  9. Amen Nage, keep it in the family. That is true on so many levels. I just can’t see any company, unless a conglomerate of other A-Class developers, being able to knock Blizzard of it’s high-horse.

    And floorspider, you make some great points, but please run a spell-checker next time you post something.

  10. Just as I posted the last one, I went back on my statement.

    Floorspider, please find my typo. Consider this a “Where’s Waldo” sort of exercise.

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