Champions Online: Levels 1-20 Review [PC]

29 Oct 2009  by   Paul Younger
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MMOs have been around long enough now for everyone to have figured out what’s important to us gamers in this genre. One of the things right up there at the top of the list is that we look good.Or we look evil, or pretty, or ugly, or however we want to look, and that’s the point right there. It might sound flakey, but in games where you interact with others and invest so much into your characters, it’s important for our online avatars to appear the way we think they should, and Cryptic Studios has gone all out to make that possible with Champions Online.The character creator in Champions, a feature that many MMO gamers enjoy, is immense. Whereas other games, Age of Conan for example, focus on facial customisation, Champions’ focus is firmly on the costume. Which isn’t surprising, given its Super Hero theme. Having said that, full customisation of the face is also an option, but with the variety of masks, hoods, helmets and accessories on offer, character’s faces are hidden a lot of the time anyway.When making your hero, options range from the default humanoid in a tight spandex suit to an insect with fins and mechanical limbs, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are accessories for almost every body part, and even the accessories can be customised.It may seem a bit daunting, presented with all these choices within your first few minutes of the game and many a player, myself included, has picked a feature or costume accessory that just didn’t turn out all that great. Multi-coloured bat wings might’ve seemed like a good idea at the creation screen, but they just don’t go well with that dual blade fighting style do they? So the fact that you can change your character at any point, whether it be one small thing or a complete redesign from the ground up, for an in-gem fee of course, is pretty darn handy. Also, at level 15, you get another costume slot, in which you can save a totally separate costume/appearance that you can switch to at any time. Fancy being a human one minute and a shark-man the next? It’s possible. Later on in the game, more character slots open up, allowing even more choice.So the costume, that’s just a cosmetic, albeit important, part of your character. The other major decision players are faced with at the start of the game is what powers their character should be able to wield. This is where the giggles die down and brows become furrowed, as things get a little more serious. You may be someone who goes for the randomise option (yes, there is something for the ‘lazys’ out there!) when it comes to choosing your costume, but every Champions Online player can expect to spend a while going over the powerset choices. Including the new Celestial set, there are 19 powersets to choose from, including Ice, Archery, Fire, Gadgeteering, Single Blades, Telelpathy, Might and so on. Selecting one of these gives your character optimal stats for that powerset and a couple of starter spells. If you don’t fancy any of them, you can make your own powerset by mixing and matching skills from the other sets and choosing your own stat set-up. My advice? Go for a pre-made powerset unless you’re an expert, because the range of spells at your disposal, and their effectiveness based on your stats, is extremely important.It’s important that players choose a powerset that they’re going to enjoy because, unlike costumes, the powersets, stats and talents can not be changed on a whim. The cost of a  ‘Retcon’ is very high in in-game currency, however, it can be purchased through the Champions Online store for £7.50 GBP. Regardless of this, changing every spell your character is capable of after several hours spent learning the skills you had before isn’t a very attractive option.The first few levels are spent in a zoned-off portion of Millennium City, the Champion’s home town. No boars or harmless Kobalds here, it’s straight into the action against alien humanoid bugs that attack you when you venture too close, which is a refreshing change. A number of NPCs are also present to instruct you on how to move around and perform the basics.The mobs here are easily vanquished if taken on two or three at a time, but if you end up with several attacking you, expect to find yourself in trouble. The death penalty in Champions is negligible; characters simply respawn at the nearest discovered spawn point, of which there are plenty. You do suffer from a slight reduction in combat and healing efficiency for a time until it builds back up, and if you die again before you’ve got back up to 100%, marked by a maximum of five starts on your character portrait, your efficiency will be further reduced.At the end of the tutorial stage, after Champions’ first public quest, you are presented with a choice of two destinations to continue your crime-fighting. Whichever zone you pick after the tutorial, one of the first things you’ll do on arrival is visit the Powerhouse. This is where you get to spend the points you earn as you level up. Each level grants characters either a new power, power ranks or advantages which tweak and improve certain powers, or more stat points.{PAGE TITLE=Champions Online Levels 1-20 Review Page 2}As mentioned before, it’s vital that you choose wisely here, because it’s costly to change your mind later. The combat system in Champions isn’t what I’d call straight-forward. Characters use energy for all skills except your energy builder, and the amount of energy you start off with depends on your stats. This means that you’ll be using your energy builder in most fights for at least a few seconds before being able to use your more powerful skills. When choosing new skills, try to make sure you have a close combat attack, a ranged attack and some sort of self-buff that either protects you or gives you back health over time because, as I soon discovered, without these you don’t last long against a group of mobs.My first character was a dual blade fighter. I favour melee over casters in most games and I was keen to charge into battle and wreak havok on the bad guys. It didn’t work out so well. Due to my choice of stats and skills, where I focussed more on improving my existing skills or chose too many of one kind, I found I was dying very quickly against enemies. Also, most mobs in Champions have some sort of ranged power, either magical abilities or guns, and I noticed that while I was pounding away at one or two enemies, others would be damaging me from a distance. I bitterly watched as archers or munitions characters swooped in and took out a group from a safe distance and it wasn’t long before I re-rolled.I got on much better with my new Sorcery character, but I realised some time later that, despite the powerset you choose at the start, as your level grows you can pick more skills from other powersets. A Might character can also hurl balls of fire or shoot lasers from his eyes. Of course, without the correct stats, some abilities won’t be very strong, which is why I feel it’s very easy to get into a mess with Champions. All the information to help you is there, but unless you read the pages of info the NPCs have to offer, you’re probably going to be a little confused over certain things. For instance, on top of all your abilities, you have character builds and roles.There are four roles, Guardian, Avenger, Protector and Sentinal – read balanced, offensive, defensive and support. The effects on characters based on their chosen role are quite prominent, to the point where it’s considerably harder to tackle solo content. I arrogantly opted for the offensive role while questing alone, only to find myself repeatedly overcome if I took on more than a couple of enemies. I’d recommend sticking to the balanced role and save the others for the rare occasion in the early levels that you’re in a team.With builds, you can switch to different powers, roles and upgrades at the click of a button, you can associate a different costume to each build too. This will probably be more useful in the later game when grouping up with others is hopefully more common. But, again, early on in the game, all this choice can be a little overwhelming.At level five, you get to pick your first Travel power. There is a wide selection, but on closer inspection many are quite similar. Some are just plain bizarre such as Acrobatics and Superspeed, and I can’t see why anyone would pick them over, say, flight.The profession system in Champions is, while trying to be different than other games, awkward. You can choose from three different schools; Arms, Mysticism and Science. Each of these schools has three specialisations, and each produce their own upgrades, devices and consumables, specialising in certain stats. The only way to find out in-game which is best for you is to look through the lengthy list of blueprints available. To progress in your chosen profession, you must collect materials which can be found scattered around the world. You can also break apart items you find that are from your school into materials. This is a quick way to level as well as get plenty of materials, but I still found levelling my profession a struggle, and before I knew it, the materials I found lying about in the world were too high for me to be able to gather.It wouldn’t be too bad if you could sell the things you craft in the Auction House, but that’s another area that needs some attention. Search results only return the first 100 items found, and they appear to be listed in the order of age. Also, when looking for upgrades, you can’t search for items that only have certain stats. Therefore, this means mousing over dozens of mostly useless items until you find one that might be good for you, but then it’s likely to be highly over-priced, as many people avoid using the system completely and the process of undercutting is difficult due to the fact that only the oldest 100 items are shown.During the 30 something hours I’ve put into Champions Online so far, I’ve gone through several emotions. The first part of the game, namely the character creation and tutorial, are lots of fun, and I enjoyed the first few quests in the follow-on zones. However, faced with a multitude of stat options, power advantages and so on, it’s easy to make a bad choice and live to regret it once you are given some harder tasks. The powers don’t seem to be balanced just yet either; some powersets are emerging as the dominant choices whereas others, melee in my opinion, need some help, at least early on.One thing I will say is that I’ve yet to be bored in Champions Online. There’s no ‘grind’ factor, the quests can be completed quickly and there is a nice variety to them. Some take place in instances, others are public quests, but most are easily soloable. There hasn’t been much call for grouping up with others yet, but I assume that comes later, putting the build and role options to some use. There are still some issues that Cryptic needs to address, but the regular, sometimes daily, patches applied to the game show that the company at least listens to its players. The popular new Celestial powerset is a direct result of player feedback, proving to me that Champions is still growing and improving, and plenty more change is on the way.

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