Saturday, October 3, 2009

Champions On-Line - First Impressions

Champions On-Line started up earlier this month - the second attempt to create a superhero-themed MMO (The first being City of Heroes) and the first to be based on a pre-existing property.

I played CoH from day one onward and was a fairly active player on and off for the last few years so I was rather anxious to see what might be done with an improved graphics engine and years to improve upon CoH, for the team that made Champions is the same studio that developed CoH As such, I feel fairly qualified to appraise Champions in comparison to the old guard.


Some critics accused City of Heroes' costume-creation utility of being more fun to play with than the actual game. While I don't think that's true, CoH did offer players a wide variety of options in clothing their characters. Champions is similarly well-equipped... for the most part.

Champions does give you options. A LOT of options. There's all sorts of hair-styles, mask design, emblems, patterns - even optional textures such as leather and metal to make different parts of your costume look, well... different. You can even change your costume up so different gloves and boots have different colors if you're going for a Harelquin effect.

The one drawback is that despite all these options, things seem somewhat limited in certain regards. For instance, there's not a lot of options if you want to create a superheroine who looks sexy without looking trashy.

Created in about two minutes, trying to emulate the Star Sapphire uniform.

Let's say that - by way of an example - you're trying to make a Black Canary style heroine. It's trickier than you'd think and a lot harder than it should be.

If you want the classic costume, there's no strapless bustiers that don't either expose the belly...

...or have girly ribbon trim on them.

And the one corset is of the "round the waist, not pushing up the goods" variety.

However, putting together a decent Red Sonja was pretty easy.

This was the closest I could get to a Classic Canary, minus the leather jacket, after an hour.

There's five different types of bras (some of which require double-stick tape to hold anything) and several options for garters on thigh-high stockings. Despite this, there is no way to have fishnets on a bikini bottom unless they are thigh-highs... or coming out of bike shorts!

Admittedly, this does kind of work in a Golden Age way...

The options for men aren't much better but for entirely different reasons. You are offered a choice of various builds and body types, but because of Champions' cartoonish style you need to do some tweaking if you want anything other than a big, square-jawed, Bruce-Campebellish bruiser.

To give you some idea, this fellow is the default "slim" hero.

Granting that this is a superhero game and that overblown musculature comes with the territory... well, some of these basic builds are just ludicrous. I discovered this the hard way as I attempted to make a Green Arrow expy.

Ollie may have overdone the weight-training just a bit.

The end result of 15 minutes of playing around with the sliders.


Gone are the preset classes like Tanker and Scrapper. In Champions, there is only your power set to determine what abilities you have and whether you are a ranged or melee fighter. This is a bit of a difference from CoH, where all the character concepts and power concepts are fragmented and limited to certain classes.

Another nice touch is that while you can choose one of the major power sets at the start, you also have the option of choosing one power from two differing power sets at the start. So if you'd like to have fire powers AND martial arts training, you can do that.

For the purposes of this article, I decided to try my hand at making a Black Canary equivalent. Unlike City of Heroes, there is no "sonics" powers set in Champions. Gadgeteers, however, can start with a sonic blaster weapon. And martial artists get a high damage kicking attack early on.

Sounds like a winner, especially since one of the other big selling points of the game (one which is quickly being adapted for City of Heroes is the ability to determine what part of your body different attacks come from as well as the color of the energy released. So if you want to shoot green flames from your mouth instead of the usual red flames from your hands... you can do that.

Well, almost. It turns out this feature is limited to certain powers and the game won't let you redirect your Sonic Blaster so it looks like it is coming from your head.

It's just not the same...


On the plus side, the graphics are a HUGE step-up from City of Heroes. The game honestly does look like a comic book come to life, with your characters standing out from the backgrounds in a manner similar to other recent animated games (The Simpsons, Harvey Birdman, Family Guy). The fonts for when you do damage to an enemy are suitably cartoonish and this still shot of my Sheena-expy character (The Jungle Princess) shows a detail my eye didn't quite catch until I saw it - speed lines when your character attacks!

On the downside, this stylization doesn't lend itself well to creating particularly realistic depictions of the human form. In fact, if you don't do quite a bit of work, most female characters will end up look like a blow-up doll. The male characters don't fair much better, with facial hair looking very cartoonish. Of course that IS the style of the game but it's a bit jarring for those of us who don't want our goatees jutting out half-a-foot from our chins.


Gameplay is a snap to get into. You're given your choice of several default keyboard/mouse configurations at the start (including one based on City of Heroes and the layout is customizable beyond that.

One idea that is taken from CoH that is developed futher here is the idea of powered attacks and combos. Limited in CoH to some of the newer power sets, abilities such as Darkness and Archery allow you to, by holding down the attack button, either build up more powerful energy blasts before releasing the button or unleash an increasingly more powerful volley of shots. Combat is a real thrill and grinding for a particular enemy is rarely dull.

On the flip-side, the game doesn't require nearly as much strategy as City of Heroes. Partly because you gain new powers so slowly and partly because the interface - console friendly as it is- reduces most actual combat to a button-mashing fest as you desperately try to refuel your energy so you can do the powered-up attacks.


This is the one area where, bar none, Champions Online does improve on City of Heroes. This is not to say that the opening area of City of Heroes is bad but it's just not quite as high action as the opening of Champions.

In CoH, your character is trapped behind enemy lines as a mutagen contamination has infected various homeless people and turned them into crazed maniacs.

In Champions Online, you fight alongside The Champions themselves while fighting an alien invasion!

It just doesn't compare really.

Overall, despite some reservations about the costume system, I'm enjoying Champions On-Line so far. I'll report back again in a week or two and let you know if the game holds my interest past the early stages.

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