Atonement For Champions Online?

By Alec Meer on January 28th, 2010 at 4:30 pm.

I’m not convinced many, if any, of our regular readers are still playing superheroic MMO Champions Online – general interest seemed to dry up pretty soon after release. Would love to hear some earnest talk about what it’s like these days, though – are the servers busy, is there plenty to do at the high-end, has it managed to diversify its quests yet? CO was probably the biggest disappointment of last year’s games for me – not a critical failure, but meatless enough that it killed my plans to spend a couple of merry months in an online world stone dead. At least Cryptic aren’t throwing in the supertowel yet – they’re continuing to tinker under the hood (although earlier attempts at that pissed fans off royally), plus they’ve just revealed the first expansion’s in the works… If they had any sense, they’d call it CHAMPIONS ONLINE VS SIR BIFF BIFFINGTON III OF THE MEGA-BIFFINGTONS. They haven’t announced the name yet, so it’s not too late – CAMPAIGN! CAMPAIGN! CAMPAIGN!

What they have revealed is that it’s set in a new area known as Vibora Bay, which is … oh, I’ll just paste it. I don’t know any better. “One of the Gulf Coast’s largest and most exciting cities. It’s a center of commerce, culture, tourism, and some incredibly strange goings-on. It maintains unusual traditions of mysticism and religion along with an eclectic group of inhabitants and frequent paranormal activities. Heroes constantly face threats of global proportions, but this time the crisis is greater than ever. The apocalypse has come, and it rides upon the half angelic / half demonic wings of Therakiel.”

Which sounds pretty much Here Is A New Place To Beat Up Some Monsters In, but the last line hints it might be a little more dramatic than that. If this is indeed an apocalypse, it could be something that affects the Champions world in its entirely rather than just the one city. What with apocalypses not generally being territorially precise, and all that.

More details and piccies soon, but before then is the charmingly-titled Kitchen Sink patch, which seems a pretty weighty attempt to fill in some of the balances holes and rebalance its unbalanced balancing. Gaze upon the latest patch notes ye mighty, and despair. More instantly appealing are the other various mini-updates due – f’r instance, a new, free not-free clutch of costume pieces being added every week for the next three weeks, and the option to flashback and replay old missions. More future-morsels are listed here.

So it sounds as though it’s an agreeably fatter game than it was once, but it’s still tempting to question the wisdom of going to an expansion pack just yet, given the game caught quite a lot of flak for being short on content in some areas. That’s presuming it’s a paid-for expansion, of course: a freebie would be good news. Because, I suspect, what’s needed is something super-tasty to lure lapsed players back, rather than just to squeeze a few more groats out of those who remain.

CHAMPIONS ONLINE VS SIR BIFF BIFFINGTON III OF THE MEGA-BIFFINGTONS. Do it!

Dave Tosser says: Yes, the bees, the bees, they understand. Master, don’t beat me, I love you. Champions Online’s problem is that it was only slightly different to City of Heroes. It should have been exactly the same, rather than taking dangerous creative risks like using a different graphics engine. If Cryptic simply change the title to Champions Of Heroes then I… my… I, I, I… MONEY. MASTER. MONEY.

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37 Comments »

  1. Larington says:

    Everytime I see that image up top, the first thing I think of is an early part of Syberia 2 where you have mechanical horse/music box that needs fixing:
    http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2003/pc/syberia2/0618/syberia_screen027.jpg

  2. Danarchist says:

    A buddy realized he was still paying for it and logged in last week. Appearantly the lack of quests and difficulty leveling still exists. The power sets are heavily skewed towards one or two builds that “work” and a whole bunch that will get even a fast clicker eaten alive. They have added some stuff to end game, but as myself and most everyone I know quit before we got anywhere near max level the lack of stuff to actually level through will keep it off my hard drive.

  3. Choca says:

    Daeke (the game’s community manager) said it was a paid expansion on the forums : http://forums.champions-online.com/showpost.php?p=1447669&postcount=5

  4. damien says:

    i tried so hard to enjoy this game. which is part of the problem.
    i had a blast with the character customization options (both aesthetic and via powers / stats).
    it all just fell into that “gilded theme park” rote for me so quickly.
    its clear zone progressions and yawning quests to reveal more yawning quests.
    its “dynamo ice fist gizmo-widget XI” naming convention left my head hurting whenever i opened inventory or a store.
    instead of pulling me deeper into the champions lore the further i played into it, it actually distanced me, making everything feel so flat and samey as games even outside of the spandex and codpiece genre. there were many times while playing when i realized i could have been playing any other MMO.
    that realization was the MMO-straw that broke my MMO-back. while playing it, i was aware of the fact that it was a perfectly good piece of software. “did what it said on the tin.” in many respects it did so better than other MMOs i was subscribing to at the time. its lack of distinguishing features, character and depth really made me think again about what i was playing these MMOs for in the first place and readjust my gaming priorities as a result.
    the day i canceled CO, i canceled all the rest (but ryzom) and haven’t looked back since.
    part of me wants to be lured back, tho.
    i really did love the graphics and the obsessive compulsive take on leveling and building powers.

  5. chris says:

    “a new, free clutch of costume pieces being added every week for the next three weeks”

    Free? The three costume sets they’re adding over the next three weeks aren’t free, they cost Cryptic Points in the Cryptic Store…

  6. Resin says:

    I remember seeing advertisements for a ‘Nemesis’ system, which seemed like an interesting idea to me, though I never tried the game and have little to no interest in it. Did the Nemesis thing work, those of you who’ve played it?

  7. Snooglebum says:

    Mr. Tosser is looking a bit under the weather.

  8. chris says:

    “it all just fell into that “gilded theme park” rote for me so quickly. ”

    Yeah, this is the big problem for the game. They offer you MASSIVE character customization options that beg you to make multiple characters and then every character you play takes the exact same journey doing the exact same quests in the exact same zones.

    City of Heroes had 1 tutorial and two starting zones at launch. Within each of those zones there were 5 different quests lines to start you out depending on what origin your character was. That’s 10 different “starts”. WOW launched with 6 different starting zones and minor variations on those for class based quests. CO has 1 tutorial and 2 crisis zones that detour you for level 5-9. After that it’s all the same.

    It’s a shame because the game appears to have so much potential. I think that they’re finding their open framework, tiered power system difficult to balance against the existing content. That’s a big issue to overcome since it’s a very fundamental system in the game. If they can’t get the open framework system to work properly then there’s not much hope for the rest of the game. Add to that the volume of content and all the other little issues that have plagued the game since launch and they’ve got a lot of challenges to overcome to keep the game afloat. THe last time I played was during the Blood Moon event and there were half the number of players on than there was during launch. I can’t imagine that’s gotten any better…

  9. Tei says:

    It feels bad to “quit” a game with the good faith of Champions Online. but It is simply no fun. Hes tryiing very hard, and ass lots of good ideas and nice things. We must break, but we can be friends :-)

  10. Calabi says:

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr Tosser is Kieron Gillen in disguise whoring himself off everywhere.

  11. PaulMorel says:

    I am still playing Champions Online. I like it a lot, and I have liked it since beta. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone, but it IS a good game.

    I think of it like this:

    In WoW, the world was unique, mysterious and huge. The reason to play was the depth and dimensionality of the game world. However, in WoW, your character is not unique. Other than his/her name, your character is VERY VERY similar to thousands of other characters, and probably exactly like a few hundred.

    In CO, it is the reverse. The world is shallow and not fleshed out, but your characters are pretty unique. Both in terms of appearance, and in terms of powers. So where, in WoW, you spent time getting to know the game world, in CO you spend time creating rich characters.

    I have 3 toons at level cap right now, and each has a unique build. There are many builds that work in CO, due to the classless framework, and it leaves a lot of room for creativity. The problem is that it is a very complex system, and most people will create a bad build before they create a good one. So it’s hard for newbies to get past that.

    Regarding population: It’s not a high population, but individual Super Groups are still going strong. My SG runs Nemesis Confrontation most nights, and forms a PvP group after that.

    And the PvP kicks ass. Best PvP in an MMO (that I have played).

    Champions isn’t perfect. It’s a lot harder than some MMOs, and it is very different from WoW. But I like it a lot, and I am going to continue subscribing for the foreseeable future.

  12. Danarchist says:

    He reminds me of something I recently wrote somewhere else about wow versus other games:
    “It is hard to beat quality and quantity with promises and potential”
    I am like a wise man trapped in an idiots body

  13. geldonyetich says:

    Maybe if I had a lifetime subscription to the game, I wouldn’t care how slow they’ve been to fix the problems with Champons Online. However, as this is not the case, it’s bothering I’m coming up towards the end of my 6-month discounted subscription and seeing that many of the biggest problems from release are still there:

    Poor pacing, lack of real depth in the combat (City of Heroes was much better there), and an abysmal balance. Roper was given a chance to redeem himself with this game after Hellgate: London and instead what I’ve seen is a correlation that suggests he’s got a problem with being overly stingy with the balance of his game designs.

    Then there’s the bigger reason why Champions Online hasn’t received the attention it needed: Star Trek Online being developed by the same studio. It’s a license that has a lot more potential for bringing in customers. So, pending STO’s release, Champions Online has been largely left to rot.

  14. chris says:

    “So where, in WoW, you spent time getting to know the game world, in CO you spend time creating rich characters.”

    This is probably a pretty accurate comparison and also where it falls apart for me. What good is a super snazzy character if there’s nothing good to do with him? Or, worse yet, what good are 10 super snazzy characters if there isn’t anything good to do with them. It’s a frustration for me. They get you good and lathered up after you spend god know how long tweaking the perfect hero only to turn you loose into a repetitive, MEH world.

  15. Wulf says:

    Champions Online was at its best in the beta, and even the open-beta, the introduction of Bill Roper and the zero-day doom patch were ill omens. I stayed faithful for as long as I could, because it had a brilliant system behind it. A fun, cheesy world, a skill pool, no need for bajillion button syndrome, werewolves (!), it was good.

    But the problem is is that Bill Roper was given the task of making the game last, and he’s bloody hopeless at MMORPG management. Man’s a decent voice-actor, I’ll give him that, but he couldn’t manage a team dedicated to dressing him in the morning, he’d end up with his socks on his ears, his pants over his head, and his shirt making for a gigantic diaper. In short: He’s incompetent.

    His way of dealing with the lack of content wasn’t to promise and develop more content, but to introduce broad nerfs and enemy boosts across the board, so that one month’s fluid content turned into four month’s work of grind, and then there was all the forced grouping he introduced, content that one couldn’t do unless one had a group, all designed to keep the subbies paying their monthly for as long as possible.

    After that I pretty much swore I’d never take up another subscription-based game, because the problem with subscription based games is Roper Syndrome. And I bless ArenaNet for not bundling a subscription with Guild Wars 2, which is the next big online game I have high hopes for. That and ArenaNet never really betrayed me.

    But yes, I was a fan of Champions Online, and really I still am a huge fan, because there’s still a fantastic game under there, it’s just being managed by such a useless oaf that it’s lost all its shine, the diamond’s been scuffed one too many times. Still, it’s there, under all that… if they take the diamond off that lug that keeps dropping it and hand it to a professional to polish up, it would be brilliant again.

    At the moment though, Roper is the poison of Champions Online. This is evident if one looks at the development history before he was brought on board, and the nature of the patches after he was brought on board.

    I want to love CO, but I think I’m going to have to wait for private servers, where we can all run the open beta client and actually have fun.

  16. chris says:

    “Maybe if I had a lifetime subscription to the game, I wouldn’t care how slow they’ve been to fix the problems with Champons Online.”

    Really? I’d be double ticked off about it. It’s one thing to shell out $15 for a month of time playing a game that incomplete. You can always cancel and come back when / if it finally gets past its problems. It’s something else entirely to pay $200 for access to a piece of crap that you can barely play. For that much money, I want to see some return on investment pretty quickly.

    I debated about that lifetime subscription and complained on the forums that they made the cut off date for the lifetimer the same day as launch. To my way of thinking, Cryptic asking you to shell out that much money up front for a game that was still very much beta quality was asking a lot of a player. It was a big bet. I eventually decided to pass on it. Looking back I feel like I bet correctly.

  17. Sithinious says:

    Cryptic’s take on Champions Online: “Here, play this woefully underdeveloped game while we work on Star Trek Online. Please?”

    • Clovis says:

      But STO is super-meh too. The STO Beta was my first Cryptic MMO, and I was not impressed at all. Since when was Star Trek nothing but pew pew lasers? When you aren’t pew pewing, the missions become completely retarded. Walk up to 5 different plants and click ‘F’. A winner is you!

      STO is the ultimate “Progress Quest” game. There is no death penalty and you never have to make a decision. Skip the dialogue (it’s awful anyway), kill baddies, click “scan”, follow the arrow, and then click F. That is all the missions.

      The combat (ship and ground) are both good for an MMO, but it is just SOOO meh.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      @Clovis

      So they went with how the Star Trek Next Generation movies went instead of the show? Because the show, while normally boring, was entertaining at least that it was smarter than most other shows, and dealt with things like torture better.

      If anything, the MMO should be about making choices, not choosing phaser settings.

      Then again, to be done properly, something like the Star Trek MMO would have had to have been done years down the road, where a program could generate content for the world. Spore was neat and all, despite how it wasn’t really fun, but the premise was pretty good. Why not do that?

  18. Drexer says:

    I made a rule for myself that I would only play a super hero MMO if they let had the following type of vestments and let me wear them all one over another(not necessarily in the order that I’ve written):

    -Button shirts
    -’V’ Vest
    -3 Button long coat
    -Tie

    Because this is the upper body garments needed for me to create the superhero persona I’m always thinking about.

    When I tried CoH it was kind of fun even though it lacked those details, but the bleak start in CO was well… more than enough to turn me away.

  19. geldonyetich says:

    ““Maybe if I had a lifetime subscription to the game, I wouldn’t care how slow they’ve been to fix the problems with Champons Online.”

    Really? I’d be double ticked off about it. It’s one thing to shell out $15 for a month of time playing a game that incomplete.”

    Sure, because if I had a lifetime subscription, it doesn’t matter how slow they are to fix it: I’m in it for the long haul.

    In any case, perhaps I should reserve judgment. Apparently they released a patch yesterday titled “Everything But The Kitchen Sink!” As this was exactly what Champions Online required fixing, perhaps things are better?

    • jalf says:

      That’s some strange logic.

      If you’d had a lifetime sub, you might be in it for the long haul, but you’d also have made a *major* investment to be recouped. If I pay $15 for one month, to realize that “eh, the game still sucks”, that doesn’t bother me. I can pay another $15 in a year to see how much has changed.

      But if I have to pay $200 up front for a lifetime sub, the game has to be fun for a long enough period to give me a decent return on investment. I have to play and enjoy the game for over a year to bring my average monthly cost down to the level it’d be if I’d just paid a month at a time. And if the game sucks for, say, the first 2 years, that means it’ll be *at least* 3 years before the investment has paid off. Every month it takes for them to fix the game is another month I have to wait before I can get what I already paid for.

  20. geldonyetich says:

    “That’s some strange logic.

    If you’d had a lifetime sub, you might be in it for the long haul, but you’d also have made a *major* investment to be recouped. If I pay $15 for one month, to realize that “eh, the game still sucks”, that doesn’t bother me. I can pay another $15 in a year to see how much has changed.”

    Not really. The trouble is that you’re looking at it from the perspective of somebody who is considering getting a lifetime subscription. From the perspective of somebody who already has a lifetime subscription, it doesn’t matter anymore: it’s done, it’s water under the bridge, and now you’re playing Champions Online without ever having to put an ounce of thought towards whether or not your money was well spent. it’s not like you’re getting it back anyway – it was an entertainment expense.

    Anyway, I just gave their “everything but the kitchen sink” patch a spin, and I have to say it feels more like “we’ve replaced a rusty washer” patch. There’s a lot they’d need to change for me to be at all interested in this game, and what they’ve done with this patch barely puts a dent in it.

  21. Jimbot says:

    The trouble with Cryptic-made games are simply they don’t do anything that warrant a monthly fee. Heavily Instanced? Check. Devoid of exploration? Check. Very focus, almost story-driven? Check. Guild Wars is all these things yet it is successful because it’s a one-time purchase with optional expansion packs.

    Developers seem to forget what makes a MMO a MMO. A vast open world with places to explore and stories to tell. Instead, developers are making these instance-heavy games where players are just relating stories the developers gave them to tell. This is why I find EVE so fascinating. The sheer number of anecdotes from that game are unique and varied, not what kind of “leet purplez” they got from a raid boss.

    Korean MMOs are usually at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to content, but at least they’re free and are supported by micro-transations for in-game items – usually short term buffs or in-game money. Perhaps Cryptic should look at these options and consider dropping the monthly fee in favor of them. Perhaps then their games would become more successful.

    I think Star Wars: The Old Republic will suffer the same fate, but have a longer launch life due more to the Star Wars brand and less to the actual content of that game.

  22. malkav11 says:

    Well that sucks. Based on their track record with CoH of releasing plenty of entirely free “expansions” (the issues) and only one actual paid expansion (which was actually an entire standalone-but-similar game), I would have expected this to be one of those big content patches. Oh well. It’s not like I own the game.

  23. Ayeohx says:

    Wulf said it best. The game rocked during open beta but the day one patch and Roper’s influence damaged the game. Oh, and water environments in games are universally reviled. Slugging through the game with my concept characters only to reach the cluster that was Lemuria pretty much ended the game for me.

    Also, I don’t think anyone mentioned that Cryptic has addressed the concerns that Alec has (which I share).

    • Ayeohx says:

      “That was suppose to be I don’t think anyone has mentioned if Cryptic has addressed the concerns that Alec has.” Still poorly worded – meh.

  24. LadyLynx says:

    @Resin

    The Nemesis idea was a good one and I had fun creating mine. The main problem with it was that the spawns of nemesis content dried up the higher the level you progressed. i found getting a level 40 took surprising little time and once I got there, there was nothing much to do other than beat up minor npcs until i got a Nemesis mission drop, a process that turned very boring very quickly. Due to a lot of the missions being broken (unable to be completed due to bug glitches), I gave up my subscription until they’ve had a good chance to fix those all bugs before introducing fresh ones with new content. On the plus side though, the devs at Cryptic were very helpful so i will be going back at some point to see if the world finally starts living up to the potential.

  25. Fun play online says:

    The graphics look really cool to say the least!

  26. RockinRickOwen says:

    I’ve played the game solidly for a month now, and finally reached the level cap.

    CONTENT: there’s a lot, and it looks good, and it’s fun to play, but it really is linear. If you want to level up and avoid mob grinding, you have to do ALL the missions, rather than just some. The Nemesis feature is pretty cool, and while using the same customization feature for powers and costume, you’ve only got three villain archetypes to choose from, and no options for genre. In other words, your “Mastermind” will always act like Doctor Doom or early Magneto, not taking into account all the rich variety of motivations and goals comic book villains have. The proposed “expansion” is just another city, which the game already has. In my opinion, CO would be better served by improving the old zones, and adding an entirely unique place to go (a “Latverian” type place, for instance). More power sets would be welcome.

    CODE: Cryptic has finally fixed the ever-broken Lemuria, which is now both challenging and gloriously beautiful, as opposed to hellishly unplayable. There are still bugs here and there in the game, though.

    Still, an amazingly enjoyable game. Very fun to play. Lots of oomph in this one. Just needs more content and better code. Oh yeah, Cryptic has been really lousy about communicating with their customers, and their decision making process can only be described as self-destructive. It’s ruining an otherwise fantastic game. No reason why CO and STO couldn’t be the number one non-fantasy MMOs, other than the problems I just mentioned.

  27. lafinass says:

    @Resin

    In short? No.

    In a bit more words, the Nemesis was an interesting concept with some glaring flaws. The Nemesis creator itself was just as detailed as the creator used for your champion, but the minions were from a handful of generic pools. And their power sets were completely unbalanced. If you picked might for them, they became a speed bump of a nuisance out in the world- not a threat, but just enough knockdown skills to annoy you while you’re fighting real enemies. If you picked darkness, they were a death sentence if they happened to spawn on you while you were already fighting an enemy- burning agonizing death awaited. And if that wasn’t enough fun, they’d spawn regardless of your elevation- so you get to enjoy getting slapped down by level 27 nemesis minions that spawned in your level 10 questing area because someone happened to be flying over it at the wrong time. Of course, there were also the comical open world escort missions where it would spawn nemesis minions for every champion who was eligible IN THE ZONE, all at once.

  28. RockinRICKowen says:

    @Wulf

    to my knowledge, and I googled this, the term “Roper Syndrome” is entirely unique to you. You’ve coined it, and it’s good. Very good. Awesome. :)

    Anyways, I didn’t experience Resin’s problems. I had enough difficulties with my own nemesis minions as it was. I purposely chose “darkness” as a power for them because it fit the theme, and found them quite easy. One unbalanced aspect of the game is that it pretty much sucks to be a melee fighter. I’ve got a super-strong guy who just seems aggro EVERYTHING, regardless of whether I want him too or not. Ranged fighting is much, much easier.

    As for the watery environment of Lemuria being difficult, it is, especially when your movement controls rotate after a fight (another little bug that can happen in that fabled zone). Nonetheless, I think it adds to the game.

  29. Ganabul says:

    I’ll add to the general head scratching at where it all went wrong – (not sufficiently With It to just blame Roper). I played for about 3 months, but quit thanks to the absence of stuff. There’s the bones of a really good game somewhere in there. The overall game play, especially at higher levels, was very smooth, with the cylinder/aoe big hitters lending some nice positional tactical play & there being a lot of fun in working out the fastest, most efficient way to stomp villains. It was also quietly successful, IMO, in producing levels designed with 3d movement in mind – drop in from above, go in from the side, or fight your way up were all viable options, especially in Millenium city. Despite the bugs, Lemuria was one of the most trippily beautiful levels I’ve ever seen, and I really liked the whole inverted Cousteau feel, even if the only references they could think of were to the life aquatic.

    But so much of the game was/is a mess – unbalanced (PFF v regen we’re looking at YOU – although I hear they’ve bandaged PFF); superficially easy game play with a complex build system that needed enormous care to produce something viable by end game; a difficulty curve that didn’t curve, more oscillated violently, & so on, and on. Above all, the linearity, the lack of content, and the shameful shortage of group instances. Unless they’ve REALLY changed their design philosophy for the game, I also don’t think a paid for expansion is going to draw many back.

    Such a pity.

  30. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I heard on another site that quite a few people are annoyed that they’re releasing a paid expansion for a level range which didn’t have enough content in the first place.

  31. rockinrickowen says:

    That’s exactly right. A huge number of players are extremely upset by this, as it tops off the lack of content, the bugs & lag, and the lack of communication.

    I don’t think anybody wants to see the game die. Most of us really enjoy it and want to see both it and Cryptic rise to their full potential. It just seems as if Cryptic doesn’t.