Behind the Mask: The Silver Archetype

In all my time playing Champions Online, never in a million years would I have expected the game to go F2P. Considering just two years ago, Jack Emmert said "microtransactions make me want to go die," I don't think anyone could reasonably anticipate this bold of a financial move.

On top of this, Cryptic is adding Archetypes -- essentially premade character classes -- to streamline character creation for new players. For players used to the classless gameplay of CO, this is going to be more than a little weird.

There's so much ground to cover on this news. I'm sure you all have a lot of blind speculation, and I do too. A lot of people will be doomsaying about the future of CO, but I think this is the biggest set of positive things for the game we've seen since... ever.
F2P members and you

Everything you ever wanted to know about what free members and premium members get is outlined here. I'll cover a few of the big highlights:
  • Lifetime subscribers get a permanent Gold membership
  • Silver (free) members can play the entirety of the main game, from the tutorial to Vibora Bay
  • Adventure packs are essentially DLC for Silver members, but remain free for Gold members
  • Silver members have complete control of the costume editor. Gold members will get a few new premium costume parts that Silver members can purchase separately.
  • Silver members have a fair number of restrictions: only two costume slots and only one bag slot. These can still be purchased, however. It appears as though the level 40 bonus character slot is not available to Silver members.
  • Silver members are restricted to Archetypes, rather than the current custom characters. In addition, not all Archetypes are available to silver members. These Gold Archetypes can be purchased, however.
  • Silver members have restricted email and chat for 20 hours after character creation, probably to discourage spam bots.
I'm a little wary of Gold Archetypes. I'm hoping that they are mostly just more complex builds rather than superior ones, and that most themes can be covered with the normal Silver Archetypes. Also, only two character slots is a little low. I think this will encourage free players to have tons of Silver accounts. Also, Silver players will be unable to hue-shift their powers, another very strange, arbitrary restriction. I think this has no reason or purpose, and will more likely frustrate or annoy people.

The other notable added item is the introduction of premium items (I assume consumables of some kind) that give bonuses. I have no idea what is being added, so I have to refrain from passing judgment too early. Hopefully the items don't obsolete things gained from normal play or become essential. I doubt that they will, but there is always a little skepticism that comes with premium items.

The fact that Adventure Packs are premium content does mean that Silver members can't do the highest reward gameplay areas (running certain parts of Serpent Lantern) without buying the APs. This means that Silver members won't be able to get UNTIL merit items (mostly costume pieces), and they won't be able to gather high-quality Legendary items themselves. Legendary items can be sold or traded, so Silver members can still get this gear. However, they can't farm it on their own.

Overall however, Silver members get a huge amount of content for free. They can also still customize their powers with Advantages, just like Custom characters can. Best of all, they get most of the cosmetic options for free, with the notable exception of power hue-shifting. Virtually all the essentials are available to Silver players, unless playing with custom powers is a huge deal for you.

I happen to like classless systems

Before we get started on how I think that adding Archetypes is a good idea, I'd like to point out that the main reason I play CO is because I can design my character to be mechanically what I want. My character can exactly fit within the concept I want to play; I'm not bound by a designer's arbitrary ideas on how a rogue or warlock's skill sets should look or what powersets must be selected by a defender.

Champions Online is a complex game. Players have hundreds of different features to add to their characters. Unless they are extremely adept at maneuvering in the game engine, players tend to make awful decisions about their characters.

On the other hand, developer-built Archetypes will almost certainly be inferior to high-end custom characters, almost by nature. Expert players create characters that exactly fit their playstyles, while a developer-built Archetype must have a more broad appeal. Different people find different things fun, and an Archetype simply cannot express the unique needs of each person.

Still, Archetypes are essential for new players to get a good grasp on the game. Well-designed, powerful, synergistic premade character builds let a player get satisfied with his character, and if she finds that character cool, just imagine what she can do with a custom framework!

That's a great way to both sell Gold memberships and get people interested in the game, but it outright depends on good, solid functional Archetypes. Poz suggested a "Blade" archetype that dealt high single target damage. I am skeptical, because as a hardcore CO player, I know that the Single Blade framework is not very good in PvE. Making each archetype be as fun as Gigabolt is absolutely essential. We're going to see some small tweaks and some added powers too, so hopefully the Blade archetype (as an example) will have some good damaging AoE options and be exciting to play.

If all of the Archetypes are not 100% functional in any way, it will hurt the game. I hope Cryptic is investing a lot of time into developing them because balancing them is absolutely critical to Silver player enjoyment.

The premium Gold Archetypes are another sticking point. I saw that one line on the pricing matrix and cringed a little. Silver players need to have powerful characters, and Silver Archetypes need to encompass the majority of player options. Even if Gold Archetypes are merely more complex rather than outright superior, I am not sure if I am on board with that idea. Silver players need to be able to see the breadth of the Custom characters while enjoying the depth of their Archetypes. Some players might want to play pet masters or healers, and adding a financial barrier of entry to those players is probably a bad idea.

There are social implications too

Whenever a game goes F2P, there is a huge influx of new players and a ton of chat spam inevitably fills up broadcast. How will this affect CO's robust roleplaying scene? That's hard to say. Will the devs include some sort of protection from the inevitable Silver member griefers that will flood roleplayer hotspots?

PvP will most likely explode. I'm describing it now as a "target rich environment" for expert PvPers, and we will see a lot more people in T3 and T4 PvP, which are normally unpopulated. Millennium City's central area will most likely be full of people dueling.

A lot of naysayers think that people will play a little as Silver members and move on, but I fully expect to see hardcore Silver players with multiple accounts and top level gear. I think that account trading and account scams will become a huge problem for those players, given my previous experience with F2P games. My advice to players intending to go Silver: don't share your account, don't give away your password, and don't trade accounts with other players.

The F2P switch is going to cause a lot of chaos in the coming months, but I'm looking forward to the changes nonetheless. Hopefully Cryptic does it right. They really need to put a lot of work into the various little things, as that will determine whether Silver players decide to shell out their hard-earned money.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

This article was originally published on Massively.