[[THE GOOD FIGHT]]
Champions Online is a brand-new superhero-themed MMO from Cryptic studios, the makers of City of Heroes and City of Villains. Before you invest your precious time and money in filling out your spandex, check out what we found out when we took it for a spin.
Before you even start playing Champions Online, prepare to spend at least an hour designing your character. Of course, you could just generate a random hero and jump right into the action, but with customizing options this deep you're not going to want to. You'd be hard-pressed to find more customizable characters everywhere. For the sake of maintaining street cred, we won't admit just how much time we spent picking out matching upper and lower arm adornments. Hint: it was a lot, and our hero looks fabulous. There are characteristics and power frameworks to customize, too, but really, it's all about your hero's appearance. Make a redneck voodoo space fish or get like a player I saw online and toe the copyright infringement line by building your own "Wolvereen." To get an idea of just how customizable heroes are, head over to Champions Online's Rate My Champion, a Hot or Not for the virtually super-powered set.
You've finally settled on a custom color scheme-and don't worry, there are tailors in-game to adjust your look when your thigh-highs become last season-now it's time to jump in. You'll begin your journey in Millennium City, conveniently under alien insect attack. There you'll be able to master the basics of heroism, which might be a bit challenging for a noob. While there is an in-game map, the objectives themselves aren't highlighted but rather given a general range. This can lead to some serious confusion. However, there are enough people on the servers that chances are you'll be able to simply follow others who know what they're doing. After awhile, you may begin to notice that enemies, locations, and objectives become somewhat repetitive. This feeling will not go away. With such rich lore to access, it's a shame that we have yet to see more truly wild and creative battles.
After you've taken out the trash in Millennium City, you're given a hero's congratulations. I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually felt proud walking my hero down the marble steps and receiving a synchronized salute from the government's top brass. It's about time I was recognized for my ability to make it to Level 7. At the bottom of those steps, two heroes await with more news of evil-doing. There go my Disneyworld plans. Ugh. Anyway, you'll have to choose between fighting radioactive mutants in an apocalyptic desert or defending Canada, where you'll meet the maple leaf-adorned superhero, Justiciar. Don't worry, if you pick the mutants you can still get to Canada, and vice versa.
This is where you'll really get going on the path to heroic independence. You'll be given the opportunity to link up with fellow heroes to form a team (similar to parties and guilds in other MMOs) and complete missions together. Shun cooperation now and be sorry later: joining forces is a necessity when embarking on a Hideout or Lair invasion (analogous to a raid). Worried mamas, take note: Lairs last up to about 2 hours maximum. Between missions, head over to The Powerhouse, select a trainer, and learn new abilities. Exploring what The Powerhouse has to offer is one of the game's finer experiences and the single best way to feel like a superhero in this game. Purchasing the ability to fly, rocketing straight up into the clouds, and hovering in a state of relaxation while you watch your fellow heroes fight tiny battles makes you feel worthy of the title superhero (which actually never appears in the game, because Marvel owns that trademark). Every new ability you acquire gives you that feeling all over again, from new kicks that make you feel like you could take on Bruce Lee to healing abilities that make you believe you could be more than a mere mortal.
You'll also need to choose your hero's school at this point: Arms, Mysticism, or Science. Each school has three specialties to choose from. As a member of the Arms school, you can specialize in Ordnance (creating practical gear), Alien Metabolism (expressing alien biology), or Fighting Styles (learning martial arts styles from a variety of backgrounds. If you choose Science, you can learn Inventions (create inventions that improve your stats), Mutated DNA (mutate yourself internally and externally), or Exposures (expose yourself to helpful radiations). As a Mystic, you can focus on Enchanted Gear (creating armor and magical equipment), Arcana (spells and enchantments) or Avatars (develop innate god-like powers or receive powers granted by god-like beings). As always, you can switch your specialty or school at any time during the game, but you'll be forced to lose all of your progress. It's this kind of freedom that makes Champions Online really shine. You'll have access to the entire world right from the beginning: no closed off zones at all. Once you gain the ability to fly (or teleport, tunnel, and so on), you can point your cape in any direction.
The Hero Games is Champions Online's arena mode, where you'll battle other heroes PVP-style for glory and experience. There are three games to choose from. The UTC (Ultimate Tournament of Champions) pits two teams of five heroes each against each other to see who can rack up the most kills. The B.A.S.H. (Battle Arena Super Heroes) is a free-for-all deathmatch. The Apocalypse puts heroes in scenarios that, where I to call them difficult, would be doing them a grave injustice. You'll be trying to accomplish objectives rather than rack up kills here. The Hero Games is a nice distraction from mission completion, but it's a bit light and not enough to keep me captivated for long.
Once you've leveled up to 8, you'll also be awarded Builds, which allow you to switch between multiple set-ups for your character (aggressive power sets, defensive power sets, etc.). It's nice to be able to combine completely different characteristics in one character: you don't have to start from Level 1 if you're a glass-jawed shooter who suddenly gets the urge to tank.
Around Level 25, your hero will develop a Nemesis. This super-villain (not trademarked by Marvel) lives and breathes your ultimate destruction (and probably goes through your garbage at night). You'll be able to design him or her just like you designed your hero, another opportunity with unprecedented creative depth. You'll choose his costume, abilities, and personality-and those of his minions. Having a villain obsessed with you is a neat little way to personalize your playing experience, but I wish it would've come along earlier in the game. Perhaps an appearance at Level 10 or 15 would have been a better way of spacing this out.
By the time you've leveled up to 40, it's time to play with the big boys. Your hero will be invited to join U.N.I.T.Y., the United Nations Tribunal on International Law's (U.N.T.I.L.) personal Super Friends. Not to give too much away, be on the lookout for special missions and special training opportunities once you've gotten this far in the game.
Cryptic has a new MMO engine that powers Champions Online and will be used for the upcoming Star Trek online. The Director of Game Programming for CO says that this engine is more general and data-driven than the previous Cryptic engine. This allows for faster idea implementation and more control overall for the design team, which means more frequent updates and tweaks for you as a player.
The engine gives characters, items, and environments a certain type of less "cartoony" cel-shading Cryptic calls "comic-shading" (high-res textures with black outlines, realistic lighting). Though Champions Online is currently only available for PC, console gamers should get those chins up. The Cryptic Engine is suitable for consoles as well; in fact, Champions Online is purportedly in development for Xbox 360.
Atari gives these minimum system requirements (we recommend beefing up your system more than this to really get a chance to see what Champions Online has to offer):
OS: Windows XP/Windows Vista/Windows 7
CPU: 2.5GHz Single Core or 1.8Hz Dual Core
Memory: 1 GB Ram (minimum, but I wouldn't try it with Vista)
Video: NVIDIA GeForce 7600/ATI Radeon X700/Intel GMA 4
Sound: DirectX 9.0c Compatible Soundcard
DirectX: Version 9.0c or Higher
HDD: 5GB Free Disk Space
Network: Broadband Required
Disc: 6x DVD-ROM
This configuration isn't going to get you far, so listen to the people who made the game and upgrade to these:
CPU: Intel E8400 Core2Duo or better
Video: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 or better/ ATI Radeon HD 3850 or better
Memory: at least 2GB RAM
Rate My Champion is only a sliver of the incredible community in place for Champions Online. The game has so much lore, support, and fan service, it's surprising that the game just launched. To be fair, Cryptic didn't start from scratch: Champions Online has pen-and-paper roots. Originally an RPG called Champions, this franchise has lulled nerds into socializing since before they got their first dial-up modems. Champions was launched in 1981 and is still going strong.
Once you've played enough that you've met some friends and joined into superhero teams, you may encounter some glitches (for example, I completed an objective during a mission with my team and no one else on my team was given credit for it). You're encouraged to report these glitches to a GM by submitting a ticket through the main menu, but I personally didn't hear back. My best guess is that they are absolutely swamped, but it was a bit discouraging to ask and not receive an answer about something as simple as how to configure the in-game camera. Champions Online assumes that you are familiar with this genre, so if this is your first MMO, be prepared for a slow learning curve and an incomplete manual.
Though the game just launched on September 1st, Cryptic already has a major update scheduled for October 27th. Titled Blood Moon, the update features a brand-new storyline. Witchcraft, one of the NPC heroes you work with during the course of your game, prophesizes that the blood red sky looming over Millennium City around All Hallows Eve can only mean one thing: horrible danger. Lots of horrible danger. Mystical threats are surfacing, from werewolves to zombies. These creatures of the night herald the ultimate evil: the return of Takofanes, the Undying Lord! Formerly known as the human wizard Kal-Turak, Takofanes may be the deadliest undead sorcerer to walk the Earth. Takofanes and his undead army have been beaten off but never defeated: it's up to you to change that. Learn the new Celestial Power Set, which harnesses unseen forces to aid you in healing yourself and your allies. Fight off a zombie invasion in Canada, but lose a PVP battle against a zombie and you're forced to roam the Great White North as a brainthirsty zombie yourself. Battle with werewolves at your own risk, too: get bitten and get infected. Finally, wipe Takofanes off the earthly plane and free the souls of undead heroes who fought in the Battle of Detroit.
There's no doubt that Cryptic has created an interesting, worthwhile IP with this young new venture. However, there's a lot of unrealized potential here. Deep, captivating lore and wildly interesting characters could be harnessed to generate a lot more excitement. Champions Online is a serious contender that could have been a champion. Maybe during the course of the next year it'll truly get up to speed as Cryptic tweaks gameplay and delivers more updates.
Good: Incredible customization. Great online community. Deep, interesting lore.
Bad: Only for the experienced. Can get glitchy and buggy. Some missions are boring.