Aug 27 2009

Champions Online

This is a post for MMO gamers (and possibly comic fans). The rest of you should probably feel free to skip it, lest your eyes glaze over.

At GenCon this year, I spent a fair amount of time at the Champions Online booth. This is a superhero MMO made by Cryptic. Yes, the same Cryptic that produced City of Heroes. This is, essentially, City of Heroes+++. It was both sad, but informative, that almost every question and comment I overheard was comparing CO to CoH.

There are cosmetic improvements. The game looks a lot more comic-book-like, with the thicker black outlines and cell shading. You can customize how your powers look. Do you want that power beam to come from a jewel in your forehead instead of your fists, or maybe from your chest? You can make it so.  There are even more character appearance customization options than in CoH (an almost overwhelming amount, in fact).  There are some cool gameplay improvements — you can mix and match powersets as you please, so there are no set archetypes, for example. You get 14 total powers at max level (if I recall), and you can mix and match them from different power sets as you please.

But what I really want to talk about are the more groundbreaking aspects of this game.

Perhaps the biggest is player-created arch-villains. At level 20, you start getting clues that someone is watching you. For example, you might find some pictures of yourself during the last mission. These develop into a storyline, and then at level 25, you actually design your own arch-villain. You choose their power set (though not specific powers), design their look, determine what sort of a villain they are (mastermind, mad genius, thuggish brute, etc.), and you even design the look of their minions. You proceed along a storyline that culminates in an epic battle, and your arch-nemesis being jailed.

And then, you get to make another one. Think Batman here, putting people away in Arkham Asylum. And just like that, sometimes your villains will escape and come after you. Sometimes several of them will escape. And if you group up with people, sometimes your arch-villains will also team up against you.

I haven’t seen this in action yet, but if the implementation is as cool as the idea, this could really go light-years forward in making an MMO feel more personalized. I’m very much looking forward to it.

On a technological level, everyone is on one server (just with different instances of zones). That’s right, no more, “Oh you play too? Awesome, what server are you on? … Oh, well I guess I could maybe make a toon on that server.” All MMOs should do this, and I think in the future, I think most will.

But this brings up another issue: it is (or, can be) sometimes difficult to find an unused name in an MMO when everyone is split between servers, much less with everyone on the same server. Well, you can use whatever name you want, even if someone else has used it. You’re uniquely identified by your account name + character name. So there can be fifteen Shadowbats, or Tits McGees. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, but I think I will like it.

There are Open Missions, which I think have promise.  As you’re flying by somewhere, there is a bank robbery in process.  You, and other heroes, can intervene.  No creating a group necessary, you just jump in and do it, and get a mission reward at the end of it corresponding to how much you helped.  This I will have to see in action, but I love the idea.  Helps a lot in making the game more… well, open.

On the marketing side, they’re offering a lifetime subscription option for $200, but I believe this is only good until the release date of September 1st. It’s ingenious from a marketing perspective (City of Heroes was also very good when it came to marketing ploys). From a consumer perspective, I feel like I’m taking a $200 gamble though. Sure, in about 14 months it’s paid for itself. But what if, once the game goes live, I don’t like it after 6 months of play? I suppose I could always sell my lifetime membership to someone else, but I’m relatively sure that would be against the terms of use.  I will note that I’ve gone ahead and ordered a lifetime subscription, and am feeling a little unsure of it even though I think this game has a lot of promise.

Overall I’m pretty excited.  There are other cool features to this game that I haven’t even touched on, and it seems like CO is doing a better job of appealing to both casual players (like me) and hardcore gamers, though still with more of a focus on the casual player.  My preorder copy is on its way, and once I get that I’ll be able to delve deeper into this game.