Ah, the MMO. It's a tricky beast, alright. Making one seems to be such a delicate process. As developers and publishers try to replicate the immense success of World of Warcraft, we've seen few succeed and many fail. City of Heroes, an MMO by Cryptic Studios, could probably considered one of those small victories. It helped the genre to toss aside its identity as being nothing but swords and sorcery, and was a really great game too.
Now Cryptic has taken the CoH formula and attempted to improve on it in their newest game, Champions Online. Is it a worthy successor? Hit the jump for my impressions.
NOTE: As of this date, I have not reached the level cap (40), so I have not been able to test the endgame content. For this reason, I have not included a numerical score.
Champions Online (PC)
Cryptic has done a wonderful job of taking the superhero mythos and making a believable world out of it. The areas to play in are huge, and once you have a travel power (such as flight, super-powered jumping or tunneling), you can rise up above it all and take it all in. The sounds are also pretty great, with music and sound effects that resemble the sort of things you'd hear in a 90s-era comic book cartoon. Most of the MMO staples present are molded to fit the superhero universe; guilds are supergroups, parties are teams, equips take the form of DNA mutations, and so on. And then there are all the heroes that constantly zip and zoom around it all.
The action isn't near the level of any action-adventure title, but it's a lot more dynamic than your typical MMO fare. Grinding, however, can wear down the most fun combat system in the world, and Champions' is sadly no exception. Initially satisfying as the combat may be, the sheer amount of grinding necessitated by the game's structure turns it into a chore after a few hours of sustained play.
While they last, quests are the usual fare: an NPC tells you to kill X amount of monsters or rescue his or her buddies. There are also open quests, which anyone can hop into and complete at any time, and story quests that round out the exploration of each area. These different quest types break up the monotony, but not by much. All of them are there mainly to help you avoid the grind, but don't do a very good job of compensating you for your time. The money earned is fairly useless, as there are no items to buy other than crafting materials and costume changes, and the equipment you get is soon replaced with more equipment from the next quest.
The game's nemesis system is admittedly pretty interesting. At level 25, the player can go back into the character creator and make a personalized nemesis for themselves. From that point forward, they will send their lackeys after you time and time again until you eventually have a showdown with them. This sounds really cool, even if you don't get to control your nemesis, but...you have to reach level 25 first. And it's really hard to get that far.
Quests don't immerse or reward you enough, and exploration often just gets you killed, causing you to lose your Hero Stars and become less powerful. You have to stick to certain areas, do all the quests mainly for experience, and then grind on the enemies there before venturing off somewhere else. You can also level by participating in PvP, but not everyone likes that sort of thing, and those who do may find that, again, the payout just isn't worth it.
If personality is something that is very important to you, Champions may very well be the MMO of your dreams. There is no danger of wading around in a sea of similar looking characters, or even similar functioning ones, for better or for worse. But there is too much about the game that is unbalanced and confusing at the moment. Those who currently play other MMOs may find very little incentive to switch. Hopefully, as the game grows and changes, the actual gameplay will match the grand, enjoyable world it occupies. Right now, however, the confusing upgrade system and unsatisfying grindfest structure prevent me from fully recommending Champions Online.
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