Behind the Mask: High speed, low drag

It's not like Champions Online is the first MMORPG with travel powers. Back in the ancient days of Ultima Online, we had things like boats and teleporting spells. Getting a mobility boost to get from point A to point B is nothing unique or special.

CO has something a little different, though. Travel powers are as much a thing of individual expression as they are a transportation method. Sure, there's something to be said for riding a semi-transparent sparkling blue horse, but when you can wrap yourself in a shroud of blue fire and streak through the skies, it says a little more about your character. There's a reason I think people who still go AFK to ride griffons from zone to zone are chumps. Hopping over buildings to get to your next quest objective or sprinting at ludicrous speed into a group of foes and using the momentum to start up your attacks is the epitome of personal expression.

It's all about what you drive, and my ride is Teleportation.
Again, I'm aware that there's that other hero game. However, CO's travel powers feel more energetic and expressive, largely because they are usable in battle. High-speed movement is part of the essence of the combat in Champions; you can fight while standing around in a spawn of enemies, but why would you?

Yeah, I hate melee and I'm not afraid to say it

Melee is boring. Watching melee characters PvP is a little like watching paint dry, because there's very little movement unless someone is dying. Even then, it's usually boring to watch him get owned by travel disables and killed.

Even melee combat in general is kind of boring. You pick an attack and go to town with it, and maybe do other attacks or block. Knockback is cool, but it's as much annoying as it is fun. KB typically propels mobs away from you, which makes it harder to group them up and waste them all at once.

On the other hand, ranged characters often need to be constantly moving and changing position. Avoiding enemy melee attacks is free damage mitigation, and lining up cone or column-based AoE mandates kiting for optimal spacing. Being more mobile and aware of the battlefield also lets a ranged character more quickly drop line of sight if she gets into too much trouble.

Mixing the two is even better. Some characters, like Fire heroes, employ a mix of close-range and long-range powers. Instead of always being at a distance, they use initial ranged attacks to wear down groups of enemies or debuff them before finishing with a powerful close range attack. Don't think it's limited to fire; even silly combos such as Invocation of Storm Calling followed by Sigils of the Primal Storm can be devastating.

Mobility has its problems

One of the huge, glaring issues prevalent with high mobility is its tendency to make distance issues (particularly in PvP) more extreme.

When a hero can travel 50 feet in under a second (and travel another 50 feet instantly with a lunge power), melee attackers can seem to come from out of nowhere. In some cases, as with Teleport, they do come out of nowhere.

Flying opponents are tricky to deal with simply because they often get to attack first. It's not second nature for most people to constantly check the skies, so a flier can often land the first decisive blow. Combat in most MMORPGs is often decided by who gets the first blow, and while that's less true in Champions Online due to the wide variety of active defense powers, a hero can be forced into putting her active defenses on cooldown, thus being forced into a retreat.

On that note, retreating is also incredibly easy in CO. While it's possible to spot and deactivate teleporting foes, there are several powers such as Evasive Maneuvers and Smoke Grenade that trump stealth detection and allow a player to flee. When those are combined with the rapid flexibility of travel power movement, hold and knockback powers become absolutely essential for PvP kills, along with decisive one-shot spikes.

Most travel powers can be shut down with a number of different travel-cancelling powers. However, this does nothing for Acrobatics, which (with the Versatility advantage) gains substantial speed and jump height bonuses every time it gets hit. Even if Acrobatics is disabled, the benefits of Versatility remain for much longer than any travel-disabling power lasts, allowing the hero to reactivate Acrobatics and regain his mobility advantage.

Even in PvE, high mobility mostly makes encounters trivial, since players can choose the distance of the engagement and/or escape when a battle gets too tough. It's actually highly critical for PvE mobs to have some sort of travel-cancelling attack, and many do. Even with travel-disabling powers, teleporting away or fleeing before the enemy can activate his disable attack is incredibly effective. Some of the strategies above can also be used to escape many PvE bosses.

In the end, expression is what matters most

Still, we iconify travel powers. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and Spider-Man is perhaps best known for his wall-crawling and web-swinging. The heroes we create in CO are labeled and exemplified by the mobility options that we choose for them.

When people see you traveling the skies on a hover disc or block of ice, they identify something about you, something special that separates you from other heroes. There are so many travel options in Champions that you're never just a "generic flier." Even though most people choose Teleport as one of their two travel picks (it's super useful), that still leaves room for identity in the form of many other travel options. And even Teleport has in-character connotations. How did your character get her travel powers? How do they work?

Travel powers are a visual expression of our character that shows people a little about us without having to even read our backstory.

What's yours?

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.