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Champions Online isn't bad at all

Zenoth

Diamond Member
Jan 29, 2005
5,081
103
106
Yeah, since it arrived on Steam a few days ago, I wasn't sure about it, I was hesitant, but I gave it a try and... well, I'm pleasantly surprised really. It's nothing mind-blowing or genre-defining, but it's quite a solid game, good polishing for the most part. I've created one Champion so far, I made it to Level 12 since the past two days or so, and what I can conclude out of my early experiences is as follows:

PROS

º The character creation is fun, and quite frankly I've never seen a game with so that much variations and character parts to chose from to create your own. I think that this is most likely one of the main aspects of the game, with good reason. There's dozens of sliders to temper with, from the size of the hands to the character's height and the body mass, to the eyes and lips and everything you'd expect from a character creation phase in such a game, and more. Then follows the costume and the unspoken number of things you can add to it.

It's just really cool and I literally spent around an hour and a half to come up with something for my tastes. And that's just the free parts, because there are even more vanity parts to chose from if you give some money (micro-transaction based, apparently, via Atari Tokens), and I do mean many more, but even without those extras the default customization variety is already well beyond most character creation phases I've seen in many years. The credits need to be given to the developers for doing that much, thumbs up to them.

º The game world, the design of the city, most locations look unique, levels are multi-layered (I.E from questing on "normal ground" to jumping on and from roof-tops to roof-tops, or accessing sewers or entering warehouses, etc). There's a good sense of a "breathing world" going, it's not revolutionary and I do believe that Grand Theft Auto IV has it better for that particular aspect, but it's still well done, it serves its purpose and there's enough moving around to give that minimal amount of illusion that you're playing in an active city.

º The quests (and the story) are actually alright, some so far were fun enough, although relatively generic and mostly similar to other MMORPGs I've played, but it's nothing exaggerated (the quest-related grinding is kept to an absolute minimum compared to other similar games I've played), and by that I mean that so far I haven't had to collect 100 briefcases from 100 bandits that would have had me grinding such a quest for an hour, and wasn't asked to activate something like a dozen generators to activate some bridge or something along those ridiculous lines of tasks that other similar games often force you to deal with (and more often than not never make any sense whatsoever, or just seem to come out of nowhere, like a farmer asking you to extinguish a specific number of small fires in a specific number of brushes or to investigate the death of his cattle which ends up in killing around 50 wolves... you know, idiotic stuff like that).

So far I've had to recover a small number of items (and not all quests are like that), usually never more than around 10x or so of 'x' or 'y' items (magazines stolen by bandits, or briefcases in a warehouse guarded by a small number of mobs, etc), often just there, on the ground, or barely hidden in warehouses that you have to barely "explore" (they're quite linear, but their design is unique enough) to find them, I mean it's nothing to sweat or get frustrated about, it's straightforward. I also had some escorting missions which I usually despise (in any genre), but at least they were well done (and not timed, that's also very important) and they weren't long, nor even difficult. For instance, I saw a cop on a corner of a street and his quest consisted of escorting him to some bandits territory where he could "asses" the situation, but he needed protection, the quest was short and I only had to deal with maybe 20 mobs at most which I disposed of easily enough, then around five or six streets later the mission was done (the cop needed to stay alive, obviously).

There's a main plot to follow, and it starts with the "main" character (after the tutorial zone is finished that is, and that's when you enter the "main" city for free roaming and questing), called the Defender, and basically we have to investigate, sort of, why some invasion happened and who is behind it. I won't spoil it, although it's not like MMORPGs tend to have impressive and complex story lines, and the story in this game while being decent at least for an MMORPG is still nothing to pay much attention for, unless you can never get enough of generic story lines set in a world of super heroes that would fit in around a dozen DC Comics-like issues. But anyway, it's decent and there's even some touches of humor thrown in here and there.

º The tutorial/beginner zone was easy, short (I finished it in about two hours or so), straightforward, as it needs to be for its role. Just enough to allow you to get familiar with the interface and how the combat system works. If you've played MMORPGs before then you'll familiarize yourself with it fast, skills are assigned to the number keys, we move with WASD, jump with the space bar, and so on and so forth, I mean even off-line RPGs have either identical or very similar interfaces, such as Dragon Age for instance (and countless others, it's a very well known interface by now).

So in that zone we have just a few quests and then it leads to a mini-instance that I myself took on alone, no teammates needed (good thing, since it's a tutorial zone, you wouldn't want to force players to team up with others to get out of there). You meet that Defender guy I spoke of earlier in that instance, he helps you for most of it and then voila, you're done, you can move on to the main city where everything and everyone goes (there's even a welcomed warning before leaving the tutorial zone that you should of course make sure that you finished your quests there before moving on).

º The art style of the game, I appreciate it, it reminds me of Borderlands, to some extent, especially due to that anime-style outlining around the characters and most objects, which by the way CAN be turned off. But yeah I like how colorful the environment is, generally speaking, at least the main "hubs" location (vendors, trainers, etc, all located pretty much in the center of the city where you start when you get there after the tutorial). The scale of the city (buildings, skyscrapers, etc) is good, it helps with the immersion factor, in my opinion. Also, there's a day and night cycle and the lightning and shadows effects during day time as the sun moves in the sky is very pleasing to look at (more below).

º Generally, the graphics (globally, I mean from polygon counts to colors palette and art style, along with more technicalities like the draw distance and textures quality) are good, better than I actually expected. I tried to run it on maximum settings and whether or not it was due to lack of optimizations I couldn't run it under such settings smoothly (wouldn't get past the 20 FPS marks in most places). So I tempered a bit with the sliders in the video options (advanced options activated) and reduced some effects to finally get to around 35 to 45 FPS in most areas which I find comfortable. But anyway, unoptimized or not, or my GPU being too slow for maximum settings or not, it doesn't really matter, the point of this is that the graphics are good, at least in my opinion.

º Animations are also good, from walking/running/jumping/flying to combat and to emotes (dancing, flirting, waving, taunting, and so many more, which is another plus in the game, being the very number of unique gestural emotes the characters can perform). I myself took the "traveling power" of acrobatics (I think that was the name), since my character is a female archer, so I thought that going for that instead of the cliché flying or super fast running would fit better (not that I wouldn't like flying, but I'll try that for another character perhaps) and man... it's fun.

She performs variations of gymnastics-styled pirouettes (with of course the obligatory heroine dosage thrown in for exaggeration's sake) and jumping from streets level to the next roof-top isn't hard, I just need to find nearby platforms to reach any high points I want and it's done, with style. I especially like how characters leave a small crater on the ground as they fall back. I must say however that even though most of the animations are good that some of them would still need more polishing, since some animations aren't very friendly as far as hips movement/rotation is concerned, but it depends on the movement style (such as strafing during combat, don't get me wrong it's nothing like Morrowind or Oblivion's level of animations absurdity, but it's not exactly good-looking either).

CONS

º The music in this game is seriously boring, especially unfitting, but I guess that this is subjective to the extremes. I would have expected something that would sound and invoke a context in which super heroes try to bring justice to the guilty... you know, hero-style themes in the veins of Superman or even Pixar's The Incredibles, I even had some of the tracks from Jet Force Gemini in mind being able to fit this game because I just played it like a week ago and I immediately thought about it (seriously, search on YouTube for JFG's main theme at the main menu, stuff like that would be superb for this game), there would have been many possibilities to give a proper OST for this game. Nope, instead we're stuck with something that just doesn't fit, nor would I think its OST being able to fit anything else. It's just bad and I had to turn the music off since it actually started to get on my nerves.

º The actual combat in this game is both "alright" and awkward, sometimes frustrating. The problem I have with it is the enemies "tracking" system. More precisely what I mean is that WHATEVER you try to do, especially however you try to move you just cannot "physically" avoid enemies' hits and firing. It gets to the point where, for instance, I had to kill a few escaping prisoners at or near a construction site (to the west of the city), some of those prisoners happen to throw Molotov cocktails... BUT... not ANY kind, their cocktails are HOMING... yup, that's right.

I mean, literally, they are. My own character is an archer as I mentioned earlier, and I often use my acrobatics to move and kite around mobs BUT it's actually useless, tactically-speaking, it's just there for the visuals (moving during combat, I mean), the ONLY advantage I actually have by moving and keeping my distance as the archer that I am is because some mobs will try to attack me in melee, in which case it IS an advantage since of course they can't actually hit me. But, other than that EVERYTHING that the foes in this game have at their disposal that happens to shoot *something* at you, be it firing their guns or energy beams to cocktails or whatever they have WILL NEVER MISS YOU.

Let's take Dragon Age 2 for a moment and let's look at its combat. Those who have played DA2 know that if you move your character "out of the way" before an enemy swings at you that you can actually avoid being hit, physically, which is NOT directly linked to your stats... you just... you know... move the heck out of the way before the sword ends up where you happened to be to avoid being cut in half, now THAT kind of combat system allows you to move around for a reason, because as another example you could... say... move out of the way before an Ogre charges at you, if you move out of his way he'll just charge in nothingness and he'll miss you, which is when you can attack him from behind and land a couple of critical hits. Well, in Champions Online the only dodging and avoiding that actually exists comes from the stats, for instance having 'x' % of chance to avoid hits because you have enough Dexterity (pure example)... BUT visually on-screen AND physically it just serves no purpose, unless perhaps you happen to be an archer like me and sometimes can stay out of the way if a mob tries to get in melee.

Well, THAT part of the combat system is annoying. I do live with it for now, but seriously, when you see some bandit throwing a Molotov cocktail at you and when you see that very cocktail abruptly readjust its own arc in mid air because you just moved so that it still lands on your feet is absolutely ridiculous. Not only that, but energy beams as well, you know a straight line of energy coming out of any energy weapons, well some mobs have those, and sometimes I actually kite around them and guess what, the beam's trajectory literally breaks out of the gun and angles its way to your character even though the enemy itself isn't even looking at you, it's auto-aiming on steroids, to absurd levels.

º The city is big, and it's a breathing world, as mentioned earlier, so there's citizens walking and jogging around as you quest, similar to Grand Theft Auto... but you and all the players in the game happen to be a hero. When you leave the tutorial zone you happen to be the new champion because you helped the city by getting rid of the initial wave of the alien invasion.

So... that means that all the citizen in the entire city not only know you, know what you've done, but actually care about you, and care enough so that EVERY TWO MINUTES you'll have an annoying (not annoying at first, but it gets annoying fast) random joe citizen jogging its way to you to "thank you my hero for what you've done!" or to let you know that "I feel safe now that you're here amongst us!"... and not only that, but they will get to you by ALL MEANS, if you happen to be AFK on the top of an 18-Wheeler's container you'll actually see a citizen running and jumping its way onto the vehicle and on the container because they're that desperate to let you know that you're THAT awesome.

º Enemy's A.I, or lack thereof, but I guess that it comes with pretty much all MMORPGs. Like in most similar games enemies are confined in their respective radius of action, within which they rarely move or patrol (some do, but they are rare, and they're usually the same ones), there's not much going on, barely any animations to at least give you the illusion that they speak with each others when there's more than one, barely... but that's outside combat. As long as combat A.I is concerned it's just as bad, and even worse when it comes to following you if you try to "escape". If you attack three mobs for instance whom happened to be idle before you attacked them then of course as expected they'll run at you and immediately attack you, that's fine.

BUT... let's say you're getting owned and have to escape (the auto-aiming never helps), and let's say that you were fighting on a street and you think that jumping on the nearest roof-top is a good idea... then you're wrong. The thing is that as long as the foes you've engaged happen to be within their "aggro/action" radius then any layers and any platforms of the area they can act in will NOT stop them. Some would say that enemies being able to follow you wherever you go is good A.I, and not "bad" A.I for this point to end up in the CONS section of this review, and on principle itself I would agree, but you guys have to see it in action to understand why it doesn't make sense most of the time. It's related to the means they use to follow you, how they move around (and sometimes how they literally don't even move per se, their body literally being teleported behind or in front of you) and what are the paths they suddenly seem to find that you wouldn't be able to use yourself to get a chance to catch up on you.

I'm having a hard time trying to describe this in details, but basically the rule is this: if you want to escape enemies in this game then you have to move out of their own zone of action for them to lose aggro and run back at their initial idling positions, otherwise if you just jump on a roof-top with the intention to escape but doing so from within their zone then you're toast, forget about it. Just move out of their radius in a straight line on flat ground and don't use platforming to get to higher points to escape. To better understand this you guys will have to play it and get in near-death situations, even on purpose just to test this (fortunately enough the spawning system is good enough, and spawning locations are numerous enough in the city so that if you die you won't have to run or fly miles to get back to where you died).

º The inventory system, or more precisely which items your character will be wearing, their descriptions, where they go and how you determine if this or that item you just found is actually better than the one you're using, is vague and visually confusing. To determine if the item you just found from a mob or just gotten as a quest reward is actually better and that you should equip it then of course you hover your cursor on it and it will "compare" it to the currently-equipped item of the same type (or the same item slot anyway). So far, that's basic and that's cool. But the problem is that when you compare items then instead of telling you how better your newly-found item is (if it is indeed) it instead tells you how worse the currently-equipped item is in comparison to your newly-found one.

The matching stats of the items are compared, and then your currently-equipped item will end up with either positives or negatives stats between parenthesis to the right side of the actual item stats. So that means that for instance if your newly-found item happens to have 3 more Dexterity points but also has 5 less Endurance points than your currently-equipped item then on the right side of the Dexterity and the Endurance stats of the currently-equipped item you'll respectively see this: (+3) in green (because your new item has 3 more Dex points) and (-5) in red (because your new item has 5 less such points).

It's confusing at first, believe me. I explained it here and if you never played the game at least you won't have to figure it out by yourself like I did. The ONLY clear thing that at first I clearly understood as an indication that my currently-equipped items needed to be replaced with better ones was due to their actual levels, it's clear enough that by character Level 10 if you still have starting-zone level items on you that something is wrong. But that ain't the entire story either. The thing is in this game you don't just have item types, like guns and armor, but you also have what are called "Mystical", "Arms" and "Science" types, but I won't describe that here since it's well-enough described in the game itself by the trainers and their own dialog tutorials (as a fast example, Science items give a lot of Dexterity and Intelligence, which is good for characters like Archers, which I am, but that's just an example, I for one ended up with Arms and Mystical items everywhere in my items slots since I had absolutely no idea what it was all about when I started, which caused my stats to be screwed all around).

OVERALL

I'd say that Champions Online has its fare share of issues, but generally speaking it's quite a solid, amusing time-burning MMORPG, and... hey, it's free. Don't mind those micro-transaction Atari Tokens-based exclusive items and such, it ain't very important (most of it is vanity stuff, new costumes, accessories, etc). It's enjoyable and out of the Free-To-Play MMORPGs I've played so far I'd easily place this one on the top five list, in fact I'd say that this one is most likely my second favorite F2P MMORPG at least from the ones I tried myself (and I usually dislike those). The thing is that this game as I understand it was subscription-based some time ago and it had been so for quite some time, so it might explain why Champions Online is certainly more polished overall than similar F2P games (most of their time and budget must have been thrown to the character creation part I swear).

So far, and I haven't seen half of it yet, I sincerily believe that this game is worth a try, I recommend it on the mere merits of being free, at least, if not for having fun just coming up with your inevitably unique-looking character(s). I'd score it a solid 6.8/10, it's "good". Just removing that stupid auto-aiming from enemies and making movement useful for combat would bring the score to a 7.5+ for me, easily.
 
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Spoooon

Lifer
Mar 3, 2000
11,562
201
106
I think it's pretty fun with friends. It's not very challenging or frustrating and leaves you with time to chat and what not.

Inventory gets freaking crazy. Hard to figure out at times which item is better than the other.

If I remember right, jumping or flying to a roof or something used to break aggro. So you couldn't pull a bunch of enemies and then nuke them at your leisure.
 

RisenZealot

Member
Jun 8, 2011
81
0
0
This was a really awesome write up man. Thanks for taking the time to do it all. From the way it sounds the only game I can think of that might be able to touch this as far as character creation and design would be All Points Bulletin. I'd check that out too if I were you.
 

kamikazekyle

Senior member
Feb 23, 2007
538
0
0
I played the game back near release and for a while when it was still for-pay. I actually liked the game and was also a fan of City of Heroes. I felt like Champions was a bit more refined the CoH (pre-expansions) and meshed together a bit better. However, it was freaking *desolate* during those days. I eventually gave up since it felt a lot like paying a monthly fee for single player game. I haven't picked it back up since it went F2P, however.

But, after going back to CoX after all the expansions and after Champions, I prefer the archetype variety in CoX (go masterminds!), but the power structure in Champions. But each had their own flair.

I might give Champs a go again now that it's F2P. Even if I don't do any of the premium content, I'd feel less bad about population levels assuming I didn't have to pay a monthly fee.
 

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