the artistry and psychology of gaming


Champions Online

Champions Online

Welcome to Gaming on the House; don’t look down and and mind your step! Each week, we’ll be climbing the rooftops of the gaming industry to seek out great experiences that everyone can track down and play, and the best part is they’ll all be free! That’s right; FREE! Gratis. Comp’d. Unbound. Unrestricted. Zero-down. On the House!… we talk about free games here, is my point.

Many may be surprised at how many fantastic games are really out there that everyone can legally enjoy with no monetary commitment. Taking together all the flash and browser games, freeware downloads from the independent scene, speed programming archives, free-to-play business modules, and even promotional re-releases from big name publishers, there’s a never ending supply of great games new and old waiting to be played, and it’s our goal to play them all! So, if you’re strapped for cash or just waiting around for that next big release to hit retail, why not give these games a try? After all, they’re free; what have you got to lose!

This week we cover a super game with some super friends. Super!

Champions Online

For those who want super powers but don’t want to chance falling in toxic waste.

Genre: Free-to-play MMO
Link to Game: (also available on Steam)
Game Info: Published as a paid product by Cryptic Studios in 2009, but migrated to a free-to-play payment model in January 2011, and added as free download to Steam Library in July 2011.

Now, before I get into the game, I should perhaps note that “Free-to-Play” is pretty much that; the bulk of this game’s contents are immediately available for players to experience free of charge. Optional subscriptions are available for extra content, as well as micropurchases within the game to buy things like additional accessories, character slots, and extra abilities, however all story content is available for free with the exception of the special “adventure packs”, and if you do buy things, they are made available to all characters under your profile.

I think everyone has at some point in their lives wished for some form of super power. For most people, it’s flying. For others, it’s super strength. I’m a fan of teleportation myself. X-Men was my favorite series growing up (for the record, my top 5 goes X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor, then Green Arrow) and Nightcrawler was one of my favorite characters in it. But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, super powers are cool, and here’s a virtual world where you can build up a character to wield them yourself! Want to throw fireballs? Go for it. Want to gain psychic powers? They’re all yours. Want to do that Hulk move where he claps his hands together for a massive shockwave? You better believe that’s in too. This crazy display of super powers was enough for Champions to merit my attention, but that’s not the only reason that kept me playing.

Perhaps it’s due to the game being initially conceived for consoles, but to me, the gameplay in Champions feels a little more action-oriented in comparison to other MMO experiences. Yes, you still go around the world at your own pace, choose quests, clobber baddies, and build up your stats and abilities, but the fighting style and boss battles require a fair amount of blocking and variation between your attack types, along with the overall experience never slowing down to require level grinding (there’s even a level cap at 40). I also greatly enjoy that your exp doesn’t take any hits when dying, instead losing “Hero Stars” (% multipliers that add up when defeating enemies, encouraging you to keep battling). The greater focus on action, along with the more modern setting allows the game to separate itself somewhat from the pack to offer genre fans and non-fans alike something a bit different.

My wife tells me this character is disproportionate; I think she needs to read more comic books.

Now, I’m not very familiar with the Champions themselves or the Hero Universe they come from, so the actual license has not factored much into my enjoyment of the game, however that’s not to say that my experience has been devoid of referential goodness. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that prior to gaining the Champions license, developer Cryptic was working on  Marvel Universe Online, and it may not be by coincidence that so much of the character customization options can find some pretty significant parallels to Marvel characters. Flipping through the various accessories, I kept pulling character names that they could be tied to like Polaris, Forge, Enchantress, the Rhino, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and of course, I ended up making a pretty halfway decent version of Nightcrawler; skin, costume, fingers and toes, tail, teleportation and all. Of course I had to change the name; Cryptic blocked the availability of most trademarked names, however changing l’s to I’s and O’s to 0’s can go a long way (If you can’t read the difference there, I’ve just proved my point)!

While I’m much more familiar with the Marvel Universe, I also wouldn’t be surprised if a few DC fans found the same experience; I know I’ve seen at least one guy running around in a pretty good “Superman” costume.

NightcrawIer will save the world from those filthy mutants…wait…

I’ve tried out the 8 freely available character archetypes (The Inferno, Glacier, Marksman, Blade, Soldier, Grimoire, Mind, and Behemoth) and found that they offer their own fun playstyles, and coupled with the varying travel powers you can choose (flight, super jump, teleporting, super speed, etc…they even have web slinging), you really get a tremendous sense of freedom in creating exactly what kind of superhero you wish to be. You can even go through the creation process again once your character reaches level 25, in creating your customized Nemesis. Have a fire character? Why not face off against an Ice character. Do you specialize in melee damage? Why not give your nemesis some range by comparison. You craft your own challenge level within the confines of the story and outside of it as well.

The game certainly won’t last as long as most MMOs, as there’s a somewhat limited number of quests spread across the five major geographical areas (fairly diverse in landscape, from cities, to deserts, to underwater worlds, to…Canada). Still, the action is fun while it lasts, and may in fact be preferable to those outside the MMO community looking to get a taste of what it can be like. The story is soloable for the most part if you don’t feel like joining any communities, however you can still meet up with other heroes, and (in true heroic fashion, mind you) come to the rescue of others you come across if you see that they are being ganged-up on. Along with regular quests, you’ll also find a few recurring timed quests as well that you can always pop into and join up with others to save the day, including special event ones that occur on select days (there was a zombie invasion a few weeks back that was a lot of fun).

All in all, I’ve had far more fun with the game than I really expected to, and have enjoyed the game’s pacing and cell-styled “comic shading” that keeps the atmosphere light. So if you’re a fan of superhero comics and itching to try your hand at designing your own hero, or perhaps looking to fulfill that wish for super powers you’ve always had in you, Champions Online is worth a consideration.

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