CHAMPIONS ONLINE MMORPGThere’s nothing like a superhero. Or thousands of them, to be honest. In such hard times, all the help is needed to rid the world from super villains and every other threat to humanity. I’m one of those heroes with a secret past. My biography only states “I come from a cold, cold place. I’m sneezing all the time”. That’s why I wear a lycra suit and a scarf. I am only human, after all. Or am I?

Champions Online is the new MMORPG from Cryptic Studios, the makers of the acclaimed City of Heroes and City of Villains games. The theme remains the same, but gameplay is somewhat different, more World of Warcraft, if you can believe it.

One of the greatest strengths of Champions Online… or let’s just say as it is, the greatest strength is the character creator. Don’t rush to create your hero, take your time to explore all the buttons and sliders, then erase what you have and start from scratch – the result can be amazing, and the game world is filled with some really inventive and unique creations. You can try to recreate famous characters or make your own – the most interesting choice, obviously –, the limit is your imagination. Besides clothing you can choose your initial powers, but choose wisely - Champions Online has some post-launch problems, mainly the retcon prices and the economy balance.

Also, the much vaunted Nemesis creation is something to leave you baffled. Weren’t you also supposed to create your arch-enemy? Apparently not, you can only do this when you reach level 25, something that caught a lot of players by surprise. Not a big problem, but until then you won’t see your rival popping up now and then, trying to sabotage your hard work. It may get annoying, but isn’t that the exact purpose of a Nemesis?

You’re a hero, sure, with a zany name and all that, but you can’t fly initially. Why? Because the first five experience levels act as a tutorial, with Millennium City under attack by the Qularr race and they placed a force field that prevents all flying. Good excuse. But as soon as this ends, you get to choose: will you use your powers to help the people in the desert or the cold region of Canada? It comes as somewhat of a disappointment that there are only five major locations: Millennium City, Canada, Desert, Monster Island and underground city Lemuria. They are vast and will take some time to fully explore, but there’s not enough variety and most of them look somewhat dull. Millennium City is the obvious star of the show, a huge metropolis, impressive to behold and to watch from above. Locations are split in instances with up to 100 players in each one at a time.

The missions try to appeal to our heroic side and indeed they do. They manage to compensate the generally boring vistas with some intense search and rescue moments, but mainly combat situations. There’s no way this MMORPG can be played solo as sometimes implied by the developers, not only due to the existence of mandatory team raid missions, but also because of the frustration from frequent deaths when trying to finish a mission that was recommended to our experience level. Oddly, the penalty for death is the loss of a star, making you softer on combat and consequently more prone to dying. Again and again.

The open missions are an interesting addition, being missions that anyone can take a part in. Although sometimes it’s not clear at which point you’re at – did I start it on the initial quest or on the last, will I get rewarded or do I have to do it all over again? – they’re a nice bonus, but extremely scarce.

Combat is fun, and a lot of fun when you’re part of a superhero group. It tries to act as an action game, but it’s only eye-candy. The dynamic combat system works as a real-time and turn-based system, with the special abilities recharging quickly or in a few seconds, depending on the power of the move. It’s a bit chaotic, sure, and skill only plays a very small part on combats, but it’s not bad a choice at all.

What isn’t perfect is the character development and economic system. It takes a lot to evolve and acquire new abilities, and some of them sound as useful as a wooden stick to shake at your enemies. There’s not much room for experimenting with the several powers, since some combinations are plainly off and the cost to retrace things (retcon) is incredible expensive. It will take some time to shape a real hero, with interesting and consistent powers. Crafting won’t immediately appeal to everyone, since initially it’s not very comforting to keep raw material in the very limited inventory, and the resulting gear isn’t really worth the trouble. Things get better later, though.

Graphics are nice, with the black lines surrounding the characters and enforcing the cartoon look – you can turn them off and gain something on performance, though. However, just like these lines, the graphical style won’t appeal to everyone, but if they’re diving into Champions Online, they should already know what to expect.

And what we have here is a competent MMORPG, a game that tries to do a lot of things but not all of them turned out perfect. It’s an unbalanced world, with a broken economy – that should be smoothed in the coming weeks, hopefully –, not much in terms of replaying missions since earning XP is a slow affair, and some dull scenery. But in the upside we have a fantastic character creator, the Nemesis system, interesting yet flawed combat and some exciting missions. Giving it some time and work, Cryptic may actually turn Champions Online into a great superhero game. For now, it’s "only" an above average superhero MMORPG, and that’s not something to be overlooked.

Character Creation
Vast worlds

Balance issues
Few regions

Graphics: 7 Sound: 7 Gameplay: 7 Overall: 7/10

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