Tights Deadline: Champions Beta Impressions

By Kieron Gillen on May 11th, 2009 at 2:16 pm.

The power of electric body odour is the best.

The weekend before last Cryptic opened the doors of their Champions Online beta to the gentlemen of the press, and let them have a crack. And lo! a crack was had. Well, John and I did, anyway, and then John gave up after the interface annoyed him. He intended to come back later in the week, not realising that it was only open for a few days. I, on the other hand, persisted manfully, and managed to play the tutorial section and get to level five before I had to go and hammer together some shelves or something. This proves that time limited previews for journalists are a little rubbish for time-limited journalists. But I did bring back some opinions which I present herein…

Firstly, the character generator is a marvel. Admittedly, it’s an expected marvel. The City of Heroes one remains a wonder of the world, and this is a continuation of everything we’ve previously seen. So while elements we’ve previously talked to the team about, like the ability to choose the physical stance of your character, are new, they’re logical extensions of what’s come before, rather than a fresh start. Less total reinvention of the concept, more renovation. Which is, I suspect, fine. The key attribute of the system is how it allows you to meaningfully personalise the mood of your adventures, rather than playing another identical orc. Knowing that I could blow hours on this alone, and also knowing that we weren’t meant to take screenshots so I couldn’t amuse our readers by making a gallery of grabs mocking my team-mates, I made a thinly veiled version of Marvel’s top-godly psycho Ares – because you can’t copyright greek gods, right? – and set forth into the world to fight crime and similar.

Okay – I said “less total reinvention”. That’s a fair thing for the opening of the game. When Walker quit, he commented that it appeared to be the same street as City of Heroes’ introduction. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. There’s a lot more life here than the street scene of City of Heroes, with this taking place during an alien invasion of the city. Drop ships fly in down the road, to be engaged by friendly troops. The string of missions introduce the game’s key-concepts. The one which immediately is somewhat different is towards the climax, with a Warhammer Online-esque group mission. The Champions’ base is under attack by waves of enemies, with you having to defend, collect parts to repair a cannon and then defend it as it sets up. Since the server was quiet, the task came down to myself and an ape-gentleman, plus a mass of NPC helpers. The actual final step is a CoH-esque instanced area, stepping inside base to fire the gun which repels the invasion by firing a demigod – not me, alas – as an enormous cannonshell into the opposition. It’s far from the traditional repetative instances, however, putting you with an NPC hero who leads you along the way, fights with you and actually talks to you to help forward the narrative. The section ends with a celebration as you leave the base, everyone cheering you. Which is only right, because I am awesome.

The big change happens then too. As I climbed the first five levels, I found myself somewhat annoyed I hadn’t seen a trainer yet. While the opening section was a quick 30 minutes or so of play, not feeling any real progress seemed odd. Except the game was saving itself up for a big reward. Choosing a new power and a stat boost is one thing – but the real bonus is the choice of a travel power. Yes – rather than City of Heroes approach of slogging it out into the teens before you get an ability to let you speed up, here you get given one from the off. I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the selection. After some chewing it over, I go for swinging and proceed to discover it’s not exactly an ability which works well indoors. That said, looking at the latest video, I kinda wish I went for the tunneling ability which caught my eye.

That’s proper mental.

I didn’t really get a chance to examine character builds. Your first choice isn’t actually your powers, but rather your statistics, with a selection of choices which lead to a set approach. You then toddle off into initial powers – but it’s telling that your character class doesn’t actually start with a role. My dual-blade slasher’s said that its role was basically still a general one. When getting the choice of a second power, I was presented with a number of options rather than just something which you have to take. I’m interested in the flexibility of the system, which has the tricky problem of trying to include the freedom of the mother-pen-and-paper system in the game proper.

The biggest change in terms of an MMO convention being inserted into Cryptic’s design is that of equipment. While you have relatively few slots compared to something like World of Warcraft, you do find and put on equipment which gives you a statistic boost, and help define how you conceive the characters. The statistic boosts you desire seem to be more varied than just hammering up the strength if you’re a fighter. Some of the mental statistics seemed to do things like boost chance of critical hits, which implies there’s going to be some subtleties there. The other big change is multiple uses for the same power, so as well as doing a basic attack, you can often hold down for a more devastating one. At least on my slashing lunatic, there was also chain attacks, meaning that I got a different animation – and presumably a damage bonus – if I timed the re-activation of the power correctly. With the opening section with you having two basic powers – the basic one which builds up your endurance bar and the fancier one which uses up the previously gathered endurance – this increase in complexity was welcome. Until I realised it, I was thinking it had started its complexity a little low.

(Which is an interesting thing about MMOs, I think. With us all having hundreds of hours beneath our belt, starting any other MMO and playing the opening levels is increasingly grating. Of course, you suspect a developer is screwed. They have to introduce the game to new players, but they risk boring the veterans. I suspect people will be including a SKIP FIRST 10 HOURS OF TRAINING sooner rather than later…)

But I wander off topic. Champions seems to be coming along nicely. It hasn’t presented anything which we weren’t expecting in its opening moments, but pushes on from Cryptic’s previous game in a determined fashion. There’s still their ability to add atmosphere to an MMO. For example, I especially liked their use of superstrength. Yes, you can pick up heavy objects and throw them at people – or even less heavy objects if you’re normally strong. But they also include civilians trapped beneath concrete who you can free by hefting that slab. It’s a standard MMO-esque mission – rescue people – but integrated in a way which doesn’t break its fiction. Hopefully Champions will continue that fine-eye for dramatizing its genre.

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34 Comments »

  1. Torgen says:

    I’ll have to at least take a look, even though I hate Jack Emmert’s pompous guts. (I never thought I’d say that, given how adept Emmert is at driving away customers.)

    Matt Miller, who took over at City of Heroes after Cryptic sold it to NCsoft, has recently become a carbon copy of Emmert’s intolerant, tone-deaf behavior to their customers, threatening to retroactively delete characters that violated a new, undefined anti-power-leveling policy before it was declared.

    It looks as if I want to play a non- “elf and fairy” MMO, I’ll have to put up with a little tyrant. May as well do it in a game that I haven’t seen everything in yet.

  2. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Massively looking forward to this game, CoH was the only MMO I have ever put serious amounts of time into and I suspect it may be a similar situation with this one.

  3. chris says:

    I have to say that I’m a little “meh” feeling about this game. I’m a big fan of CoH. I was in the original beta and have subscribed to the game periodically since it launched. What I’ve been reading about Champions has left me feeling like I’m looking at CoH 2.0 or at least a very similar modern version of the game. I’m just underwhelmed that there are so many similarities and nothing that appears to be very revolutionary.

  4. Zyrxil says:

    Complexity’s welcome, but I think Cryptic’s main focus should be content. I quit CoH after 3 months due to two reasons:

    -It was the absolute king of repetition in the MMO market, and for an MMO that’s saying something. All there was to do is to go on task forces or missions in the same few environments over and over.

    -After a while the game just reminded me of how bad the writing is in Superhero type comics, and the fact everyone was a hero just made it worse.

  5. Ian says:

    I’ll have to see if it insta-grabs me better than CoH did once there’s a demo to try. In a way, I hope it doesn’t. I’m already struggling to find time for new games with playing new group stuffs in WoW, I don’t think my wallet or my free time will take kindly to a second MMO.

  6. schmunkel98 says:

    Zyrxil hit it right on the head. The same sewer, office, lab, and cave missions got to be old fast in CoH. Also, they had no end game content once you hit max level. As much as I think a super hero MMO is cool, I have yet to see anything about this one that makes me want to come back.

  7. Quests says:

    Yay, another clone, same levelling system and string of collect stuff quests.

    The guy even EXPECTS to see the usual trainer, like it’s normal that every game works the same way.

  8. TheFatDungeonMaster says:

    CoH was nice, but it would be even nicer to side step from the usual mold of todays MMO’s, as was said by previous posters.

  9. anduz says:

    I must admit I’m amazed at how little appeal this game has on me.

  10. Tei says:

    That tunneling power is really nice. Quick!, add it to CoH!.

    Is that “real” combat? it show more like poses or cutscenes or something.

  11. An Innocuous Coin says:

    I’m still a bit worried about Emmert being at the helm of this (a good impression he did not making in handling CoX) but this looks like its shaping up to be not just City of Heroes/Villains with a new paintjob and some expanded character customization. Which is good, of course.

  12. PleasingFungus says:

    Looked like real combat to me. Way too clunky to be anything else.

  13. HolyShitMatt says:

    Since The Secret World was announced I find myself less interested in MMOs that do things only a little differently. CO may turn out to be a fine product but it’s just too much of the same for me.

  14. Tei says:

    @HolyShitMatt: So you are waiting for a videogame that will be release in +6 years? maybe you can.. you know, buy other games to play in these 6 years, while you want for the second comming. And you know,… all Funcom MMO’s suck the first 2 years… soo..

  15. TooNu says:

    This is just going to be pure fun from the get go…I mean after the first few days “OMG FIX TEH LAG DEVS FFS!” that you always get with any MMO.
    After that initial shit-fest it is going to be quite a nice pleasany game. I have one question though, badges…is there a badge system like in COH? Or achivements like there is in WoW?

  16. Zyrusticae says:

    @TooNu

    There are achievements in the game (called “Perks” for some reason heretofore unknown to me). Naturally, completing a certain set of perks will grant you titles and so on and so forth.

    That’s all I’m going to say for now. As I am in the beta, I must be rather cautious about mentioning things that have not been revealed in the various Q&A sessions on the site…

  17. TheDeadlyShoe says:

    Looks pretty good to me.

    Never understood the anti-Emmert brigade.

  18. Lobo says:

    -Quick FYI, the term “Perq” (short for perquisite) is used in the Champions/HERO system pen-and-paper roleplaying system; thus its use here.

    Lobo

  19. Bad Magic says:

    I am still quite excited about the release of this game, I would love to see more footage or even give the Beta a go. Some of the concerns brought up are reasonable, but I’d say Champions Online has more appeal for me than any other MMO on the market. CoH did get repetitive and the efforts to flesh it out were retrospective and not too strong but CO is a brand new project and I think the superhero theme has more potential for fun than a generic fantasy world. Time will tell, until then I’ll reserve judgement but remain optimistic since I do like what I’ve seen – but let us see some more!

  20. -Spooky- says:

    Same style like CoX (Heroes / Villains), fast gameplay and a pen n paper system. I bet Cryptic did a good job :)

  21. Bobsy says:

    Tunnelling looks ridiculous fun. It is entirely mandatory to say, every time you pop up, “I knew I shoulda toined left at Albakoikee”

    My concerns for this are simply that the combat doesn’t feel tactile enough after the good, solid CoX biffery we so enjoyed, and that it manages to break out of the repetitive funk that still drags down CoX. The insistence of instancing almost every mission meant that you got very tired of seeing identical offices over and over again.

  22. palaceman says:

    Torgen,

    You may be pleasantly surprised by CCO Jack Emmert’s new disposition. Recently in a dev diary he admitted some regrets including a little bit of pomposity with COH’s launch. We won’t know until Champions launches; but he has acknowledged, some of the same things that bother you, as regrets of his.

  23. Torgen says:

    @palaceman,

    I think he was just miffed in CoH because most of the players could play the game better than he could, which started him on his big “Vision” thing on how the game would and would NOT be played!

    I grouped with him in beta, and the rest of the players and I kind of looked at each other uncomfortably (as much as one can with a cartoon avatar) when we realized he really had no idea how to play.

  24. Zimbabwe says:

    Honestly, this doesn’t look like a CoX clone to me. I’ve been following this game’s development for a while, and though the initial reaction will invariably be “oh god, an MMO” and “more superhero types”, I think this review kind of drew on that pessimism and in doing so created a wrong idea. From what I’ve seen, perhaps illegitimately, the character customization process alone will make you shit bricks of gold and force you to submit said gold bricks to the god of time spent. Yeah, it’s a supers game, before a niche market and now having competition that is greater than nil and without five years beneath its belt, but Champions is a game apart. Yeah, there will always be the similarities, but when somebody MUST have a cape and the ability to fly, you can only arrange the cape in so many ways.

  25. Luis says:

    Ok honestly that jack guy seems like a dick because he does not reveal much all he says is the same stuff and I just notice this but after playing COX for over a year now if you havent noticed the sounds in the game sound the same in COX. Well anyway all I have to say is jack is a dick and they better release a open beta.

  26. Muirchu says:

    It’s amazing how a people get one sided in their reactions. I’ve been a table topper for 30 years as well as a MMO player for the last 9 years. Similarities are always there, despite the game. Especially, when looking at similar genre. My take is that this guy wrote both games and from what I’ve heard the mechanics are quite different even if the visual might not be. The mechanics make the game different. Seriously, how many times have you been in a book store and seen the same type of artwork on different books.

  27. ZADEN says:

    If COX had this kind of “customization” then it would be bigger hit than it already is right now.

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