When designing Champions Online, Cryptic Studios seems to have looked back at City Of Heroes and expanded on nearly every aspect of their past work. Champions has a nearly bewildering number of options and customizability: It’s easy to lose hours just tinkering with the character-creation system. And if players don’t like what they’ve done after taking characters for a spin, they can always go back and change their costumes and even base appearance. You can choose what color energy bolts they fire, and the hue displayed when a bullet ricochets off a force field. Gear has no visual effect, though some items unlock new costume options. The variety extends well beyond cosmetics. Players choose one of a dozen power sets at character creation, but can dip into any of the others as they level, mixing and matching while choosing how to enhance their existing abilities and attributes. The result is that almost no two characters look or play alike, making PvP especially chaotic.
Unfortunately, the feeling of limitless possibilities gets worn down by the too-standard other aspects of the game. Heroes spend much of their time following quest chains of the “Go kill X” or “Collect Y” variety. There isn’t much compelling story to tie these errands together, and even reading all the text isn’t encouraged—an enemy you’ve beaten down for information may disappear before you get around to accepting the next mission. That said, the environments are large and highly varied, ranging from cities to arctic tundra and barren deserts. Objects ranging from mailboxes to ATVs can be picked up and used to pummel monsters, or just chucked around for fun. Each zone is split into different active servers to limit traffic. Big plot elements like a boss defeat often result in a cutscene, after which the terrain changes. After you’ve completed one of these world-altering events, you can’t go back, which prevents high-level players from helping others through content they’ve already cleared.
But in a game of nearly infinite choices, not all of them are created equal. After completing the tutorial, players get to pick from a variety of travel powers. But if you choose to web-sling while your buddy flies, you’ll have a hard time getting where you want together without attracting the attention of every enemy along the way. There are clear winners and losers in terms of travel-power convenience, with teleportation trumping all others. Casual players not interested in grinding will find that they feel pretty tough at any level, with characters able to take on small swarms of minions without real danger. Play also feels interactive, thanks to a blocking system that requires players to press a key when they see an enemy targeting them. Champions Online currently has some pretty ugly bugs, but hopefully as it goes forward, the rough edges will get smoothed, and it will become the great game it has the potential to be.