If you read about Champions Online in its first days, you would not have thought of it as a triple-A title. The game was full of bugs, the community management was not the best, and it just seemed like the devs were intent on shoveling out more broken stuff that barely worked. I think that, in particular, the first three or four months were the worst.

If you were to go back in time and ask me about whether or not I thought CO would make it to its first anniversary, my response would have been: "Maybe, but it'll be bleeding subs if it even makes it that far." Since then, a lot of things have changed. I talked about the first six months of CO, but it's been a full year since that painful launch day patch.

I'm not sure I'm even playing the same game anymore.
Somewhere over the rainbow

Six months ago, I mentioned that the game was on an upturn. At that time, Champions had really been through its worst. I think that, at that time, players should have been taking a "wait and see" approach with the game or maybe getting an extended trial from a friend. Going in and buying the box six months ago was maybe not the best idea. CO wasn't a bad game then, but it was far from stellar material, and the lack of polish hurt the game badly.

Two big events really changed CO and made it good. The first was Jack Emmert going directly to the playerbase and being very open with it. He asked what players wanted, and a whole bunch of players responded. At that time, it was pre-Revelations and people were feeling ripped off. A lot of upset players vented their frustrations, and the devs listened and acknowledged the players' grievances.

The second was Shannon Posniewski replacing Bill Roper as executive producer. Poz has done a lot of good both in communication with the community and in directing the CO team to concentrate on things that really matter. I'm not going to say anything bad about Bill Roper, but when Poz took the helm, he made it very clear his priority was speaking directly to the playerbase and focusing on what needed to get done.

They pressed the reset button -- now what?

After the launch of Revelations, the dev team immediately got to work on its next project, the Super Power Pack. There had been an overwhelming flood of player feedback on the issue of power balance, and the Super Power Pack was an effort at revamping melee characters to be more viable.

While I was busy griping about how the devs were doing it wrong on the melee balance front, they were busy adding tons of little tiny changes. By themselves, these changes really weren't anything special. A bug would get fixed here, or some mission text would get changed there. The big surprise was the volume of these kinds of changes. Tons of little fixes made it into the game, updating everything from the Nemesis system to all sorts of little story missions. Team experience was buffed. Supergroup mail was added, the team mission journal was changed, and a lot of small things were changed with the UI. A million and one things have been done to improve CO's ease of use, and the effort really shows.

I think that while I complain a lot about powers and their function, I think it's in my nature. The UI is a lot cleaner now, and everything is a lot easier to use. In the last six months, the largest and most influential thing to happen in CO is polish.

I think that the launch-day bugs and kitchen sink problems made it very hard on Champions' early development. However, I also think that most of the glaring problems have been addressed and fixed, and new issues are being addressed every day. I have very minimal faith in the QA of most games, and prior to Revelations I posted bug reports mostly out of habit. However, CO has done its very best to focus on improving the existing content. I have a lot of faith that even things like the Andrith lair (which is apparently really un-fun) will get looked at and adjusted.

I may not like all of the devs' changes, but they are working very hard to appease the players and make the game more fun.

The underlying truth

I might as well go ahead and say it: Champions Online is not a game for everyone. Most MMOs have a certain degree of what I call "intensity." When a team goes through an instanced dungeon in World of Warcraft, there's a lot of intensity there. The game becomes more than a game. It becomes serious business. When that moron in your team stands in the wrong spot, attacks the wrong mobs, or goes AFK in the middle of a boss fight, you get pissed. That's a pretty good sign of an intense situation, even if it's not an epic-level dungeon.

EVE is full of intensity. Anything you do after you undock is intense. You could be ganked at any minute, or just have a bunch of pirates steal your loot (and then gank you if you try to stop them). Even not undocking is intense. Corporate drama and market transactions present shiploads of things you can do that can cause you to swear at your keyboard. Apparently just saying that a ship is good in the Help channel can be intense if someone disagrees with you. Everything in EVE is serious business.

In CO, the most intense thing you can do is roleplay. I'm not trying to downplay the roleplayers here; I love roleplaying and it's extremely fun. However, there's very little drama that can be created from the game itself. CO is kind of easy (although the new Elite difficulty makes a huge difference), and doing lairs with an experienced team is less of a challenge and more like a social endeavor. Even if your team is getting owned, lairs are pretty relaxed. Dying doesn't have a big penalty, even in Therakiel's Temple where the bosses have lockouts.

Is it a bad thing that CO doesn't have situations like that? I think so, yes. I think WoW's instances are a really good example of how long and how team-focused a mission has to be. WoW's instances are made to be accessible, but the endgame raids are pretty long, tough, and not all players can do them.

A couple team members making a mistake can put the raid in the toilet, but the end result is that it feels really good when everyone works together and things come out right. There's something truly satisfying to be said about being uncertain of your victory and coming out on top.

With all that said, though, I don't play MMORPGs for my intensity fix. I have other games for that.

Many faces, same character

A huge dilemma has come over me recently regarding CO. It's been frustrating for me to play my healers, and while I've made several dedicated tanks, I seem to be out-aggroed by people with archery powers or Gigabolt. I think that both of these problems stem from major issues in CO's aggro mechanics, which brings me to my dilemma: There's not enough diversity in the game.

Virtually every character in CO is a hybrid tank/damage dealer. Some are hybrid healer/damage dealers, although those tend to die in teams. Hybrid tank/healers are possible too, and discovering the tricks of building one has been pretty exciting for me. Unfortunately, if one were to compare the difference between all of the possible heroes in CO and all the possible druid builds in WoW, you would find that there are a lot more quirks and nuances involved in the druids than in all the characters in CO.

In City of Heroes, also known as "that other superhero game," there is a fairly wide array of support abilities. You can drop patches that knock your opponents back or debuff their accuracy. You can heal your allies, buff their speed and recharge rate, or make them invisible. CoX is an extremely imbalanced game, but the important thing to note is that it has lots of very different things that make characters feel very unique.

Unfortunately, from a gameplay standpoint, CO's biggest weakness is a lack of endgame power diversity. I'd like to see more diverse options for crowd control, even if they're overpowered. I'd love to see some more creative buffs, especially similar to things found in Guild Wars.

I think this is a problem that will eventually get solved as more powersets are introduced and the existing powers get changed and balanced. It will take time, though. Remember, melee got buffed in massive, game-altering ways, and the playerbase is in pretty much unanimous agreement that melee is tons more fun. I think that CO will only continue to grow in this direction.

The final verdict

I'd love to see CO get the same treatment as STO has; a lot of cool new features have been released for Star Trek Online (such as diplomacy missions), and hopefully we get to see some of them. I'd love to see player housing, and I know that STO's ship bridges have laid some of the bricks.

Champions Online is functionally the same game as it was before. If you're an old, disgruntled player, I am not sure that the many fixes will be able to erase the old memories, and if you're really upset about how power balance works I'm afraid that while it's better, many of the old changes still exist.

If you're a new player, I think it's worth giving a shot if you're looking for a very un-hardcore game (or if you like superhero roleplaying). If you'd like to get a friend trial account, feel free to email me at patrick@massively.com and I'd be more than happy to give you one.

If this encouraged any of you guys to pick up the game, remember that there's a big anniversary roleplayer bash held by the CORP people this weekend! For more information, head to their website, or ask around in the CORP global channel. Hope to see you there!

This article was originally published on Massively.