“The ideal game to play if you’ve ever wanted to be a superhero.”
In 2009, I played Champions Online when it first launched as a way to distance myself from World of Warcraft, which I was shamefully addicted to at the time but was having troubles getting away from. Back when the game was first launched, Champions Online felt slightly lacking and the gameplay wasn’t as gripping as I had hoped at the time. The character creation system was beyond awesome, but it was not enough to make me want to stick with the game, so I decided to step away from Champions Online for a short while. Now, a year and a half later, I have returned to Champions Online as it enters the brave new world of being free to play.
As someone who has played a few major MMORPGs in the past few years but felt most attached to World of Warcraft, most comparisons I make will be to that behemoth of a game since I believe most people who read this review will have played WoW at some point in their lives.
Champions Online begins in the character creator, which is extremely in-depth and robust. Pretty much anything you can think of can be made or recreated faithfully. I’ve made a slew of neat looking original characters, but I’ve also made pretty decent looking renditions of Captain Commando, Jin Saotome, Ms. Marvel, and Samus Aran. Despite the fact that the character creator does not have anything really impressive such as the custom paint and sticker features in APB, Champions Online has so many parts and pieces for you to mix and match when making your hero that I can say with great confidence that you will probably never see the same character design more than once. Every character is incredibly unique, and with a little imagination you can come up with something very cool looking.
What I like about Champions Online is that your character really feels like something you’ve made, as if it truly is your own creation. Aside from having complete control over their initial appearance, you can select what powers they have, how their stat points increase through leveling, and what the colours are of their powers and weapons. There are a lot of cookie cutter frameworks (builds) that the player can use, so casual players or just anyone who isn’t very creative or inventive can just click on the button for having a fire based character or a gunslinger-esque cowboy hero and have immediate results. Selecting the custom framework is much more satisfying however, as it lets you make your character do anything you want. If you want a dark magic wielding archer who can tear up the ground Hulk-style and toss it around, you can do that. You can also make a swordsman who shoots ice projectiles at the enemies while also healing himself. The custom framework selection is very cool, and it lets you be incredibly creative with how you want your character to play. If you are unable to choose custom framework, since it is only available to paying customers, you have to go with the default frameworks which all contain predetermined abilities and powers and don’t allow nearly as much freedom. It’s not very fun to use the game’s default frameworks if you’re a paying customer, but anyone who is playing the game for the first time as a non-paying customer will probably not be bothered at all.
Champions Online, for the most part, seems to be about questing. There still isn’t much else to do in the game besides going out and completing quests unless you are interested in the various PvP-centric Hero Games or want to RP your character. This game is overflowing with quests, and it’s really staggering. Since most characters will be equipped with travel powers that enable them to fly, getting quests done is fortunately a breeze. The quests in Champions Online aren’t very different from what you’d find in a game such as World of Warcraft and, in fact, may even be easier. They are extremely straight forward and don’t force you to do things you don’t really want to do. Thankfully the questing is fairly enjoyable since many of them can be plowed through thanks to travel powers which make getting around very fast. Imagine having a 310% flying mount in World of Warcraft at level 1. That’s what travel powers are like in Champions Online are like, and it’s fantastic. They make questing much more enjoyable, despite the fact that a lot of quests are very straight forward and lacking in variety.
Often times you’ll be sent into dungeons as well. These are not like group instances in other MMORPGs, as the dungeons in Champions Online can often be tackled alone until you’re well over level 20 (the cap is 40). More often than not, they will also contain a supervillain at the end. Fighting these super powerful enemies is a lot of fun and, thanks to the action oriented gameplay, you never feel like you’re just doing “routine motions” like you do when fighting bosses in other MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft.
While I’m on the subject of supervillains, it is certainly worth mentioning that when players reach level 25, they are able to create their nemesis. Face it, Batman has the Joker and Spider-Man has the Green Goblin, so why shouldn’t your hero? When you visit the Millennium City police station at level 25, you receive a quest to design your nemesis in the exact same way you created your character. You also get to choose what their henchmen look like as well as what kind of villainous personality they have. Though getting to the required level to go through this process may take a bit of time for casual players, it is very rewarding and makes the game feel incredibly immersive after you complete the nemesis creation quest.
The PvP seems pretty competent and is, thankfully, true PvP. Large-scale free for fall deathmatches, anybody? That’s what Champions Online has to offer, and it’s a breath of fresh air from the watered down “capture the flag” PvP found in other MMORPGS. My only complaint is that, in PvP matches, players all seem to stack on each other. Since PvP is deathmatch-centric in Champions Online, it makes the actual PvP combat itself feel very unorganized with so many players clumped together within a few feet of each other. There is certainly lots of room to move around, but most characters rely on being in close to damage their targets, which just results in a huge cluster of players duking it out. It’s overwhelming, and I never knew who to go after because there were just so many players on screen and located all around my character. It was like being in a mosh pit, only with a lot more crazy superpowered projectiles flying around.
I’ll openly admit that I’m a huge nerd and RP communities in games appeal to me, so I’ll briefly touch upon Champions Online’s RP community as well. The community here is one of the best I’ve experienced. Despite the fact that there are no RP servers or anything of the sort, the players have taken some real initiative and have several ingame channels devoted to RP, and a few locations in Millennium City are used as RP hubs, with Club Caprice being the most well known of them.
The graphics in Champions Online are starting to look slightly dated, but they are still very sufficient for an MMORPG and don’t bother me in the least. Character models are still a lot of fun to look at, especially since there are so many creative looking characters running around. Environments can suffer from a bit of deja vu at times, and the starter zones of Canada and the Desert don’t really have a whole lot of eye candy to look at in comparison to the gigantic Millennium City map. The UI is also worth mentioning, I feel. The interface quite predictably copies World of Warcraft in several ways, which guarantees that it is very accessible right off the bat. Unfortunately, the default size of the UI is very small, and it can be difficult to click certain abilities in your action bar if you’re used to larger interfaces.
In terms of sound, Champions Online does pretty well. The soundtrack is pretty acceptable for an MMORPG, with the login menu theme stealing the show by a landslide. Most of the game’s music tracks kick in when you’re entering various areas of the game’s zones and are just sort of light background noise, but they certainly do help increase the atmosphere. The sound effects aren’t too spectacular and are pretty much average across the board. Nothing I’ve heard while playing has been very grating, nor have I heard any sound effects that made me think, “Hey, that sounded pretty cool.” Voice acting is pretty minimal most of the time, but is done in a way that sort of mimics the corny voice acting style of comic book cartoons such as the old X-Men cartoon from the 1990s. The voices aren’t at all bad, but you honestly will not take any of them seriously.
The controls are fantastic and really shine in basic melee combat. Everything is very responsive and there’s usually zero lag, but targetting certain enemies can be a chore at times, because you have to click directly on the enemy. This is one of the few things that irks me about Champions Online because, when you’re coming under heavy fire from a few enemies at once, you’ll likely want to target the weakest and take them out to reduce the amount of damage you’ll take from the fight, but this is not too easy to do since your click to select your target has to be 100 precise. If you’re off by even a little, you won’t click them at all. This can be annoying at times, but it is far from being a game breaker. I would go as far as to say that the voice acting in Champions Online seems to pay homage to comic-based cartoons, which isn’t really a bad thing at all. The voices are cheesy, yes, but they’re definitely acceptable.
In conclusion, I’ll just note that Champions Online has everything that other MMORPGs have from auction houses to trade skills and to working mail systems. All the essentials are here, and are rolled up in a nice and meaty gameplay experience that is much more enjoyable than most other robotic-feeling MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. The character creation is also perhaps the best there is, and has only ever been challenged by the in depth character editors found in the currently dead MMO shooter APB.
If you’ve always wanted to be a superhero, like MMORPGs, or love games with lots of customization, then Champions Online is worth checking out. Sign up for a free account and give this great game a test run and, if you like it, upgrade your account to gold and enjoy an even better experience!
Click here to visit the official Champions Online website.