Behind the Mask: I want to be with this game forever and ever

One of the saddest days for me was Tuesday -- the day Champions Online launched its Free for All expansion and went free-to-play. I was mostly sad because I didn't get to log in; people have been telling me about 15+ instances of Millennium City and having a blast teaming up with all the new faces. I even got to talk to Poz on the Massively Speaking podcast about how in the first few hours of F2P, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the launch went off with only a minor hiccup when the servers had some minor maintenance a few hours in.

While I waited for Cryptic's CS department to look at my account issues, I got to thinking about how much it would suck to lose access to my free-form characters, to which until now I've had unlimited access for as long as the game continues to live. My lifetime account for CO sure is cool.

There are a lot of criticisms about CO's F2P model and even more about lifetime accounts. Way back when they were first being offered, there were a lot of arguments that CO wouldn't last the 13 months or so it would take to pay it off. Now people are claiming that Cryptic is trying to steal more money by offering lifetime subs again. Why is a lifetime account worth it? Hit the jump and let's find out.

First, let's get some things out of the way. What is a lifetime sub, and why do people get them for any game? At its core, a lifetime sub is an investment. When you buy a lifetime subscription to any game, you're investing a larger sum of money up front in order to enjoy more perks later on. Once the lifetime subscription pays itself off, it effectively grants you free access to that game for as long as you like. At the same time, you get to enjoy whatever perks a lifetime subscription has. Some get a little stipend that you can spend in the cash shop, while others have exclusive perks such as titles, gear, or cosmetic items.

A lifetime subscription is also an investment in another way. Because you're putting down money up front (rather than slowly over a longer period), you're supporting the immediate development of the game. In the long run, hopefully the money you are investing will draw more customers and support your gaming habits.

The lifetime subscription for Champions Online includes most of the cool perks. Obviously it includes a lifetime of free-form characters and unlimited access to all the adventure packs, as well as more character, item and bank slots. It includes a small stipend of Cryptic Points to spend every month. And of course, it includes access to the VIP Lounge (normally a 400-day veteran reward), the Vanguard title (both in-game and on the forums), and a few other cosmetic things.

Is it worth it?

Before I delve too deeply, I have to answer a different question: Is F2P Champions worth playing? A ton of free members logged in over the last couple of days to enjoy it, but only time will really tell for sure on that front. Is it fun to play as an Archetype? I'd guess the answer is yes, although I am far too spoiled by free-form customization and my love of it is pretty obvious. A lot of people who don't pay attention to every little detail of every power in the game seem to think so.

The reason I ask is that the value of a lifetime subscription is directly linked to the value difference between the free-form game and the Archetype game. If you aren't one of those people who uses build planners, an Archetype is probably a decent pick. While I've heard the Gold subscription game referred to as "Pay-for-Regen," I believe that it's said by those who didn't really understand the depth of the free-form game or who used Regen as a crutch, and I'm certain the more synergistic Archetypes would be a better pick than a mish-mash of randomly selected powers with Regen on the side.

On the other hand, I am one of those people who are totally in love with free-form power selection. I don't even like being restricted at the start of the game to a tier 0 attack. I know how the power selection works, and I know that I could have Fire Breath right at the start of the game, if only I had access to a powerhouse in the tutorial. I make crazy yet functional builds, like Defiance healers (using heals to draw aggro from enemies, then tanking) and pet builds (before pets were buffed). There are FOTMs like in any game, but as an explorer of the game system, I don't like stopping there. There are tons of little gems to be discovered, and nothing is more satisfying than finding some strange interaction of different powers.

Obviously the subscription game matters more to me than a casual player. For people like yours truly, a lifetime membership is more or less a mandatory thing. Not having access to PTS to test things makes me a very sad panda. The cosmetic stuff is nice and the VIP lounge is useful, but the main selling point is really that there's so much stuff to mess with in the free-form game that my LTS is pretty much worth its weight in gold.

Will it be worth the same to you? That's hard to say. Although LTS are currently on sale, the default price ($300 USD) costs as much as a year and a half subscription -- or even more if you have the discounted $10/month subscription. I'd say that if you are a forum warrior, the answer is probably yes. If you think Regen is the only decent passive, the answer is definitely no.

One thing I can say for sure though: I sure miss mine right now, so hopefully my issues will get resolved soon (I've talked with support chat and CS is on the case) and I'll get to see all of you guys back in game!

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.