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Preview: Champions Online

11:40 AM on 07.13.2009 // Ben Perlee

I'll be the first to admit: The idea of being a superhero has been a stupid little fantasy of mine many times in my life. Who doesn't want to be able to have amazing powers and do awesome things, preferably with a theme song? Spiderman, The Hulk, Batman, Wolverine, and Storm, all stand up as the ideals for many generations of people. They are our heroes.

So let's be real -- anyone who doesn't want to fly or shoot lasers from their eyes or summon the bestial strength of a gorilla has serious problems, and probably should not be your friend.

So it's people like me that Champions Online is appealing too. Developed by Cryptic Studios (the team behind NCsoft's City of Heroes), Champions Online aims to to take the superhero MMO formula originated with City of Heroes and expand upon it. Promising to be the deep “super” customizable MMO experience, Champions Online brings the heroics to a very deep level.

Hit the jump for my impressions.

Champions Online (PC, Xbox 360)
Developer: Cryptic Studios
Publisher: Atari
To be released: September 2009 (PC) Xbox 360 TBA

The Champions IP -- or those not nearly "nerdy" enough -- is a dice, pen, and paper-based role-playing game from the 1980s. The game gives players deep customization options, and Cryptic is really aiming to recreate those same options, but in a visual and action-oriented manner. The team wants you to be able to create any character you want, with any awesome superhero name you want (no more "Superdude1987"), and to have your hero look just as he or she should.

How do they do this? Well, the create-a-character mode is really, really deep. With sliders ranging from how far back your muscles are cut, to how far your cheek bones arch, there must be close to a 50 or 60 sliders to design your dream hero. It's very, very deep, and I'm reminded of many of wrestling titles, offering deep customization... except it's in an MMO.

Even the powers can be deeply personalized. Emanation points (where powers shoot out from) can be changed to different parts of the body, and the colors of those abilities can be changed as well. Most everything is completely customizable, and while Cryptic offers 18 basic power sets (i.e. fire, ice, supernatural, gadgeteering, martial arts, super defense, etc.), any power can be placed on the character. Do you want a dude named Freezerburn with fire/ice skills, an ice slide that's yellow, and green fire that shoots from his eyes? It's all possible in Champions.

Even traveling in Champions Online is specialized. Teleportation, flight, hover boards, ice and fire slides, mechanical boards, digging, and a whole lot more are movement options at your disposal. Fun little features, like being able to do the Soulja Boy dance, aim to keep this game grounded in fun.

However, your hero isn't the only character you will create. Champions Online will force you to design your hero's arch-nemesis, a boss character with just as much customization as your hero, integral to your individual storyline. Interestingly, you can be lame like Batmen towards the Joker, and let your nemesis live after every fight. Or you can be awesome and wipe him/her out. You'd like to kill your archenemy? Well, you'll get the chance to make a new one, up to 18 in total.

I spent about 20 minutes with this mode, playing around to create (of course) Mr. Destructoid. In my moment of creativity, he was a gadgeteer/gun class, as only Mr. D could be so badass. Unfortunately, since I couldn't find the clothing options for anything other than “skintight,” and there isn't exactly a smoking robot head (although Hamza will be excited to know shark-men are very easy to make), the creation I came up with looked more like a Tony Stark/mecha love child. Oops.

Gameplay-wise Champions Online has been designed to be an action MMO. Sure, the interface and controls are very typical for the genre (unless you use the control pad, or switch the controls to a shooter or action style), but the action much faster than your typical MMO. Attack commands issue almost immediately, and defensive action commands and maneuvers are very important for survival.

I've been told that while the soloing stuff is a big portion of the game (and missions are scaled depending on the number of both NPC allies and other players), the higher level stuff is almost impossible to beat without a max squad of five players, and the drops (which are designed depending on your character types) are different depending on the number of fighters.

PvP is an interesting affair. Players can have “duels” at any time, any place. Once a fight has been agreed upon, a rocket will drop down to the ground, either creating a battle dome for ground battles, of a sphere for aerial battles, and players can duke it out for funsies. Experience can be earned in PvP, and certain drops can only be gained in this mode. It's an “unsanctioned” battle that's compared to a sumo match, as once one player leaves the arena, the other wins.

Also, there is a special mode called the "Hero Games." Portrayed like a UFC match, (but still consistent with the Champions canon), players can fight in officially sanctioned duals (much like the duals mentioned above), but made official events in the game world, as opposed to the random battles on the streets.

Even more interesting than the "Hero Games" are the "Apocalypse" maps. This PvP game mode is not typical for MMOs. Rather than just duking it out, players of 5v5 have goals to win a battle. For example, the "Apocalype" map they had on display, "Stronghold Prison," was a 5-on-5 battle between villainous prisoners trying to escape and defensive heroes. Each side is charged with killing NPC heroes on either end of the prison. Complicating things are long corridors filled with turrets that shoot stuff to slows you down and limit your traveling skill. It's a very chaotic mode that relys on a lot of teamwork. Without it, you'll be like me, and die a lot.

Champions Online impressed me. Graphically, it's a super colorful cel-shaded world that looks to offer a whole lot of action with a different change of pace, compared to many other MMOs. It seems that Cryptic reviewed their experience with making superhero MMOs, decided what needs to be improved, and went about improving it. With a solid action style, a desire to let you create any superdude you want, and the hush-hush 360 version (very exciting!), Champions Online might be the MMO to check out this September.

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Ben Perlee,
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