While both sessions were somewhat managed, the experience was still exciting and rich, owing in no small part to the action-based gameplay -- a deliberate decision on Cryptic's part. Directly below, new screenshots for the gallery, and our impressions of what we played follow, after the jump.
We sat in front of PCs of indeterminate spec, and were told that instead of controlling the characters with a keyboard, we'd be using Xbox 360 controllers. While initially surprised, we found the mechanics to be quite fluid. Moving from a walk to a run was a simple matter of joystick tilt (not that there was much need for walking), with the left joystick controlling basic movement. The buttons controlled jumping, basic attack, ranged attack, and blocking. We were told that the PC version of the game would allow players to use either a controller or a keyboard, and that the controller was the preferred method in-house.
An interesting feature that immediately became apparent is that all characters could make use of a ranged attack, regardless of type. For instance, a power projector would be able to fire energy bolts as expected, but a brawler would rip up chunks of concrete to throw at enemies as his ranged attack.
About attacks: the basic attack was typically a single punch, with repeated button presses becoming a chain of punches for more devastating damage. Holding down the attack button charged up a more powerful strike, the effectiveness of the blow more than making up for having to absorb hits from enemies. This strike varied from character to character, depending on power.
Finally, there was a jumping attack -- a jump, combined with a basic attack, resulted in a shockwave effect upon landing, stunning nearby enemies for a few moments. This might have been character specific, as the first character this blogger used was a hulking, tank-like hero. Blocking was an effective strategy against multiple opponents, and quickly became necessary versus swarming mobs. We were told that facing was also an important element to combat, though this blogger was so frequently assaulted by multiple enemies that it was difficult to discern the effectiveness of this tactic.
Part of what made this so easy to overlook was the targeting feature, which locked onto enemies with a button press, and cycled through them one by one with repeated presses. This was a boon for getting distant opponents' attention with a ranged attack, drawing aggro until they were close enough to really unleash hell.
Another intriguing concept on the playfield came in the form of glowing orbs either floating singly, or dropped by defeated enemies. These orbs, once run over, added effects to a player's attack such as extra damage by fire, or a slowdown by ice, and similar. The development team mentioned the possibility of capturing negative effects as well, though this was not in place for the build we played.
The first of two areas we were allowed to access, Snake Gulch was a run-down amusement park with a Western theme, populated by the disenfranchised robots that comprised the staff of the place. As such, revolvers were the main weapon in effect. Shots would land from nearly every direction, lending a frenzied pace to the proceedings. With no less than six journalists manning a character, the melee was hectic. Robots would rush up en masse and drawn by the activity, distant robots would run over to assist their compatriots. It became clear that this was not a game one could simply bull through with brute force and attempt to win the day.
One of the standout qualities of Snake Gulch was its verticality. There were many ways to run, a lot of ledges off of which to leap. The changing landscape did a great job of making interesting an area that might otherwise have seemed barren and monotonous.
The Snake Gulch area experience culminated in a boss fight with Annie ASCII, a larger-than-average robot with greater powers and assistants. Taking her down required the entire journalist team, but we won't reveal any strategies here, nor what Annie's particular talents were.
This indoor area was notable for its linearity -- we were guided quite closely. There were more objects with which to interact, including elevators, sentry robots, and assorted pieces of machinery to activate in order to progress down to the lowest level. On the final floor awaited a boss fight with Menton, one of the more infamous supervillains in the Champions universe.
One of the hallmarks of Stronghold was its feeling of close-quarters combat, with thinner corridors and the oppressive greys of the environment really working to bring a sense of claustrophobia to the game. This, in turn, made the fighting feel a little more intense.
However, the gameplay was very similar, if not more isolating. This blogger didn't interact much with the other journalists until reaching the bottom floor, where the entire area was teeming with enemies and Menton himself, wreaking havoc in his own special way. Again, no details to be divulged here, other than to say that defeating this boss required more than mere teamwork, and involved the environment itself.
In all, Champions Online plays extremely well and looks fantastic. The actual mechanics are simple enough to be immediately accessible, leaving the complexity to other areas, which is as it should be. Within a few minutes with the Xbox 360 controller, maneuvering the character became second nature. We would have liked to have been able to play with a keyboard to assess how it performed, but the controller better suited the active nature of combat. We don't know how much of the gameplay we experienced will survive for the launch, but it was engaging enough as-is, and there's still roughly a year to go. We'll go ahead and say it: this title will become the definitive superhero experience for both fans of the genre and new players alike.