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Champions Online and Cryptic Studios information bonanza

Kyle Horner

When news broke about Champions Online, it was because Game Informer Online had revealed the cover to their newest issue. We've got our hands on that issue and after pouring over its contents several times over, we're prepared to imbue you -- our readers -- with as much information as possible. There's a lot to know and a lot to get excited about, not to mention something of a bombshell from Cryptic Studios about the outcome from the sale of the City of Heroes property.

First and foremost is the now-defunct project Marvel Universe Online. The word from Cryptic is that Microsoft and themselves "amicably terminated the development agreement, which was necessitated for reasons beyond their control" Our suspicions about the true reason for the game's cancellation seem confirmed by an anonymous source of Game Informer's -- licensing disagreements between Microsoft and Marvel.

Apparently -- as far as Cryptic goes -- this is all irrelevant now. We knew that the sale of the CoX franchise bolstered Cryptic's coffers, but we didn't know just how far the effects of the sale reached. A surprising revelation in the article is that every new game in the future -- including Champions Online -- will be published in-house. That means not only will Cryptic Studios see much more money from their game sales, but that they've got more games in development at this point in time.

In fact, Champions Online seems to be dated for a 2009 release date -- this is probably due to the game's assets being shifted from Marvel Universe Online. No complaints here!

We already knew that Champions Online is a licensed product from the Champions table-top pen and paper game and that this offers the game's players mountains of flexibility. However only now is it revealed just how far this customization truly extends into the newest superhero MMO on the block. Costumes sport more unique pieces than what City of Heroes has to offer according to Jack Emmert, chief creative officer at Cryptic. Also, don't forget that powers now sport similar customization, allowing players to pick the color and "style" of their powers -- they also aren't tied down to any one specific class. As Jack Emmert explains it, anybody in the game will be able to tank if they so desire -- they'll just tank differently. Powers within your chosen class will be cheaper than powers outside of it, so anyone can pick whatever powers their points allow. It's up to you to make the choice of which direction to go -- more variety or more specialization.

Wait, that's not all -- you'll also get to pick your movement animation as well. Are you some kind of were-beast? Well now you can walk on all fours, like the crazed creature you've always wanted to become. Or perhaps you're more the robotic type, well fear not as your machine-man will clank its way across the screen appropriately. Heck, even sorcerers supreme (of the non-strange variety, of course) can float just above the ground in a fittingly wise and all-powerful manner.

Feeling like that wasn't enough, Cryptic is also giving players the chance to create their secret identity at the start of their careers. You can maintain said identity, but eventually the opportunity will arise for your secret to be let loose. Should you decide to take this path, missions will change drastically -- which is a bit vague but has us quite curious.

Behold! We're still not done, superheroes have weakness and strengths, right? Should you choose to be nigh invulnerable, some kind of weakness is required -- you could pick fire, ice or something else entirely as yours, if you like. This is probably an example as to how power-balancing will work -- a weakness for a very useful power.

Finally -- at least for the customization options -- you'll be given the chance to design your superheroes arch-villain at creation of your hero, complete with his own costume, powers and name that you create. This evil-doer will be there to foil your heroic deeds from time to time, giving a grand, epic story-arch that belongs to you alone. Eventually, if you manage to defeat this arch-nemesis -- and you probably will -- and dispose of him, you'll get to create another one. Oh, we can see what Cryptic is doing here -- feeding players the need to constantly make new characters that they'll never actually play much.

Basic details on the controller layout for the Xbox 360 version of the game have now been revealed. The two analogue sticks are used in typical action game fashion -- left stick is movement, right stick is camera. Pressing the A button will make your character jump, while one of the face buttons is a default attack (X button?) that gives you an immediate punch, kick or single blast of some kind. Holding down the right bumper puts your superhero into a guard stance. Anytime you achieve success in attacking or defending, a blue bar representing your power fills up -- allowing superpowers to be unleashed via any of the other mapped face buttons. Holding down the left trigger will act as a shift-function, which makes your face buttons change into other mapped powers on the fly. None of these powers have recharge timers, so if you've got the blue energy to pull it off you can do so instantly and to your hearts content.

The only other piece of console-version news is that the game will be cross-platform. We're happy to hear it, since it just means more people to pummel, blast or mind-bullet villains with online.

Cryptic has also taken notice of what makes players in other MMOs very happy. One decision made by the team is the inclusion of loot, which we're happy to see is being designed into the game from the ground up. Loot comes as either pieces of equipment or character upgrades. Equipment can be toggled on or off -- but can also be colored to fit within a super's outfit if you prefer.

Another feature found in other massively games now is factions -- something that Champions Online will have. You can join one or more factions, which will allow access to additional stores, costume pieces, insignias and crafting stations. Yep, crafting equipment and character upgrades is a planned feature from the start as well.

It seems like Cryptic has been taking their notes. Let me be the one to warn all you weary superheroes reading this that if you should venture alone into the world of Champions Online, you'll be just fine. Solo play is a go, I repeat, friend's are irrelevant! Well, maybe not irrelevant, because super teams of up to five can join together to take on big challenges as well. It's pretty nice to see Jack Emmert quoted saying, "I think we're kind of passed the point of forced teaming."

Missions will appear in persistent zones that everyone has access to, but lots of content is instanced. We can understand this, however, since the combat is so fast-paced it makes complete sense. The zones will range from the very tiny, to the very large variety -- taking anywhere from five minutes to an hour or so to complete. Something exciting is the news that we can expect lots of cut-scenes with voice-dialogue -- oh how we hope they get Walken in there. We also hope that it will be possible to eventually have some missions where more than five friends can play together -- ten seems to be the sweet spot for most players.

Covering all their bases, Cryptic is putting in underground arena circuits where players can participate in PvP bouts. Thankfully for players interested in PvP won't find it pointless, as XP rewards, loot and other benefits will be offered to those involved. That's good, just so long as there's no zero-sum losses. The information ends with the knowledge that level 50 is the planned cap and the promise that players at this point will find plenty solo, group and PvP end-game content.

That's a lot of stuff to deliver, but we sincerely hope that Cryptic can pull it off. They sort of have to, since it sounds like a lot is riding on the success of their first in-house published title. A promising piece of news is that Game Informer even got to sit down on 360s and PCs to try out a mission. Apparently over the coming year Cryptic will focus purely on content and basic design choices such as which classes to have in the final game. So long as they take their time, listen to their dedicated community a bit and try to keep focused on the vision -- we'll keep believing it could happen.

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