Sunday, November 8, 2009

Champions Online


Champions Online is a brand-new superhero-themed MMO from Cryptic studios, the makers of City of Heroes and City of Villains. Before you invest your precious time and money in filling out your spandex, check out what we found out when we took it for a spin.

Before you even start playing Champions Online, prepare to spend at least an hour designing your character. Of course, you could just generate a random hero and jump right into the action, but with customizing options this deep you're not going to want to. You'd be hard-pressed to find more customizable characters everywhere. For the sake of maintaining street cred, we won't admit just how much time we spent picking out matching upper and lower arm adornments. Hint: it was a lot, and our hero looks fabulous. There are characteristics and power frameworks to customize, too, but really, it's all about your hero's appearance. Make a redneck voodoo space fish or get like a player I saw online and toe the copyright infringement line by building your own "Wolvereen." To get an idea of just how customizable heroes are, head over to Champions Online's Rate My Champion, a Hot or Not for the virtually super-powered set.

You've finally settled on a custom color scheme—and don't worry, there are tailors in-game to adjust your look when your thigh-highs become last season—now it's time to jump in. You'll begin your journey in Millennium City, conveniently under alien insect attack. There you'll be able to master the basics of heroism, which might be a bit challenging for a noob. While there is an in-game map, the objectives themselves aren't highlighted but rather given a general range. This can lead to some serious confusion. However, there are enough people on the servers that chances are you'll be able to simply follow others who know what they're doing. After awhile, you may begin to notice that enemies, locations, and objectives become somewhat repetitive. This feeling will not go away. With such rich lore to access, it's a shame that we have yet to see more truly wild and creative battles.

After you've taken out the trash in Millennium City, you're given a hero's congratulations. I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually felt proud walking my hero down the marble steps and receiving a synchronized salute from the government's top brass. It's about time I was recognized for my ability to make it to Level 7. At the bottom of those steps, two heroes await with more news of evil-doing. There go my Disneyworld plans. Ugh. Anyway, you'll have to choose between fighting radioactive mutants in an apocalyptic desert or defending Canada, where you'll meet the maple leaf-adorned superhero, Justiciar. Don't worry, if you pick the mutants you can still get to Canada, and vice versa.

This is where you'll really get going on the path to heroic independence. You'll be given the opportunity to link up with fellow heroes to form a team (similar to parties and guilds in other MMOs) and complete missions together. Shun cooperation now and be sorry later: joining forces is a necessity when embarking on a Hideout or Lair invasion (analogous to a raid). Worried mamas, take note: Lairs last up to about 2 hours maximum. Between missions, head over to The Powerhouse, select a trainer, and learn new abilities. Exploring what The Powerhouse has to offer is one of the game's finer experiences and the single best way to feel like a superhero in this game. Purchasing the ability to fly, rocketing straight up into the clouds, and hovering in a state of relaxation while you watch your fellow heroes fight tiny battles makes you feel worthy of the title superhero (which actually never appears in the game, because Marvel owns that trademark). Every new ability you acquire gives you that feeling all over again, from new kicks that make you feel like you could take on Bruce Lee to healing abilities that make you believe you could be more than a mere mortal.

You'll also need to choose your hero's school at this point: Arms, Mysticism, or Science. Each school has three specialties to choose from. As a member of the Arms school, you can specialize in Ordnance (creating practical gear), Alien Metabolism (expressing alien biology), or Fighting Styles (learning martial arts styles from a variety of backgrounds. If you choose Science, you can learn Inventions (create inventions that improve your stats), Mutated DNA (mutate yourself internally and externally), or Exposures (expose yourself to helpful radiations). As a Mystic, you can focus on Enchanted Gear (creating armor and magical equipment), Arcana (spells and enchantments) or Avatars (develop innate god-like powers or receive powers granted by god-like beings). As always, you can switch your specialty or school at any time during the game, but you'll be forced to lose all of your progress. It's this kind of freedom that makes Champions Online really shine. You'll have access to the entire world right from the beginning: no closed off zones at all. Once you gain the ability to fly (or teleport, tunnel, and so on), you can point your cape in any direction.

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