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Champions Online Preview

Dust off your spandex and restock your utility belt, it's time to become a super hero again. Following on from the success of City of Heroes/Villains, Cryptic Studios is hard at work on Champions Online. Based on the popular pen and paper RPG, Champions, the game see players creating their own super heroes and teaming up to defeat the nefarious schemes of the evil Doctor Destroyer.

Champions Online began its development in late 2006 as Marvel Universe Online which was subsequently cancelled just over a year later amongst rumours of a disagreement between Marvel and publisher Microsoft Games Studios regarding licensing rights - the official reason for the cancellation was an inability to compete in an already crowded marketplace. Shortly after Cryptic announced that they had purchased the Champions IP and intended it to be the basis of their new MMO.

In a break from MMO traditions there are no character classes - whilst the standard tank/healer/damage dealer roles still exist within gameplay, choices made during character creation do not limit the player's choice of abilities later in the game; abilities themselves vary from the mastery of elements and sorcery to gadgets and various forms of melee combat. Whilst this can be daunting at first, the game does contain a number of predefined archetypes as starting blocks as well as the option to create completely bespoke characters.

On top of the enormous number of ability combinations, there is the almost limitless visual customisation going far beyond the handful of hair styles and colours on offer from many other games on the market. Always fancied playing as a bare-chested zombie with robotic legs and fairy wings? Then this is the game for you. It is entirely possible to spend more time playing with the character creation tools than the game itself (but more on that later). Later in the game, the character creation is revisited as players are given the choice to create their own nemesis which helps to develop individual storylines within the wider scope of the game.

Cryptic are pitching the game as an "Action MMO" and it lives up to that. With simultaneous development for PC and Xbox 360 (and the intention of players on both platforms being able to play on the same servers), combat is fast paced and streamlined for support for the 360 controller. With travel powers such as flight and super speed available during combat, it's common for fights to take place in three dimensions rather than on the just on terra firma. Unfortunately it is possible for travel powers to unbalance PvP combat slightly depending on character choices - a character with a vertical travel power such as flight can hover safely above a melee character with a horizontal power such as speed and pick them off with ranged attacks.

The game world is lavish and well imagined. Built on a modified City of Heroes engine, the pseudo cel-shaded look creates a convincing comic book effect whilst level design ensures there is plenty of conveniently throw-able scenery without object placement feeling contrived. Maps themselves are large enough to allow a variety of different characters levels worth of content however the travel powers ensure they never feel overly large.

Unfortunately during my preview period I was unable to experience much of this content due to an unresolved bug. Following an initial tutorial in Millennium City, players have a choice of maps which are currently experiencing a crisis. Having selected their destination and completed a short series of quests, players are thrown into an instance, completion of which resolves the crisis and opens up the remainder of the map to explore. Or at least that's the theory.

With the instance boss defeated, I attempted to return to the main map and accept the rewards and praise I deserved, the game however had different ideas - "Map Transfer Failure" was the ominous error that greeted me. Accepting that this was still beta code I was playing, I raised a support ticket and patiently awaited a GM response. An hour later, still stuck in the instance, I assumed that all the staff were operating to a US-centric shift pattern, and decided to create another character and tackle the other map available after the tutorial. Inevitably this character encountered the same error in the equivalent instance in this zone.

Both tickets remained unanswered at the end of the preview session over 24 hours later. One can only hope that a solid support system is implemented in time for the games release so that paying customers can actually experience the game, even if the press expected to encourage gamers to purchase it can't.

Beanz | 6th May, 2009
Vulpine's picture
I played the pen and paper rpg back in the day, was good. Looking forward to what these guys can do with this.
Sanque's picture
Is is not just CoH and CoV re-ramped?

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