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Massively Hands-on: Combat in Champions Online

Kyle Horner

This last weekend, press had the opportunity to spend my time within the Champions Online beta. After playing more than I would safely recommend, I bring you my personal takeaway in an effort to get out as much crunchy information goodness on the upcoming MMO as possible.

Combat in Champions Online is a fairly even blend of action and RPG. Cryptic has been smart in designing their combat, in that it plays to an MMO's strengths. Plus it's really, really fun to fight stuff, which is always a major bonus.

The basics of combat are simple enough. You've got health and you've got energy bars. Your energy builds up instead of being at 100% and dwindling when you use powers. Some powers build energy, and they're pretty low damage. Other powers are stronger and expend energy. Every character can of course get one energy building power, but there are cases where you may have two.

Gallery: Champions Online Main Gallery | 207 Photos

Both action games and MMORPGs rely on creating the opportunity for both strategic thinking and mindless button mashing. When you start to kill baddies, you'll discover something about Champions Online, it's more than happy to let you mash on your buttons when it comes to easier fights. However, there are many instances -- like boss fights, etc -- when you need to pay attention, make well-thought attacks and even employ the game's blocking mechanic.

Let's start with those well-thought out attacks. Some powers require you to simply tap the bound key. Most of these are physical-based powers such as any of the martial arts stuff, but a few of the ranged powers are like this as well. Other powers can be held down, like the Power Suit's endurance building power Wrist Blaster. In the case of the Wrist Blaster power, holding the button down makes a full orange-yellow colored bar appear. This bar depletes as you hold the button down, eventually emptying out and requiring you to start over.

Tapped powers tend to have kind of a, "One, two, three" rhythm to them, and some of the stronger energy draining powers have complimentary effects like stuns and de-buffs added to them if you follow through on these triple-hit combos. The price of doing so is greater energy drain. So the more charging and combo effect powers you have, the more consideration you need to take regarding what to hit and how.

A Might power called upper-cut can knock an enemy upwards into the air, but if you charge it you'll deal more damage on hit and send the foe almost comically higher into the air -- and it deals extra damage when he lands! You've also got a lot of control over the level of your charge. If you know a partially-charged blast is going to kill an already weakened foe, you can go for it. Additionally, I've noticed that powers tend to visually look stronger the higher they're charged.

Then there's blocking. When you hold down the shift key your character blocks, but you only need to block when an enemy is using a charge power. Enemy charges are not like player charges, they always have to charge to full power. This means you'll always have a good amount of time to block or interrupt an incoming charge attack. When building up to these attacks an enemy will glow red and an icon will appear over their head.

Icons differ depending on the type of charge attack. These icons are known as tells in Champions Online and there are five in total, which each relate to different charge-ups. Single target charges can only be blocked. Point-blank cone charges hit everyone in the front arc of the enemy, so blocking or moving away works for these. Point-blank AoE charges are a sphere around the enemy that you can block or move away from. Targeted AoEs will always hit their intended target regardless of movement and can be blocked by that person, while everyone else can block or move away. Finally, AoE cylinders -- think a big laser beam -- must be blocked by the target, but everyone else can move away. For the cylinders, you pretty much don't want to be in front of, or behind the target.

"-everyone will eventually find a fighting style that gels with their preferred method of mayhem."

You don't tend to get hit with too many of these things back-to-back when encountering standard enemies, but many of the mid-boss mob leaders have them. I've found that most bosses have around two or three charge-up variants.

The little bits of informal grouping I participated in hinted at some really fun party dynamics that I can't wait to get more experience with -- but during my playtime the game's moment-to-moment fighting kept me glued to the screen. And with a huge list of power types to freely pick from, everyone will eventually find a fighting style that gels with their preferred method of mayhem. I love Power Suit for its cool lasers, shoulder weapons and mini rocket barrages, but I also really like Dual Swords for that awesome swirling-ninja-of-death feeling.

I should mention that Cryptic hasn't really put any artificial feeling restraints on using travel powers in combat. Instead, they've made enemies more able to deal with players attempting to flee with a travel ability. Although if you're skillful and lucky enough, it's possible to escape an otherwise deadly encounter with just a sliver of green health on your bar.

Overall, I've found that solo combat is a whole hell of a lot of fun. It's responsive, gives you moments to mash powers and feel really strong, but also challenges you in ways that once you've won a tough fight, makes you feel even more heroic than before. With launch a mere two and a half months away, it feels like the combat is well on its way to being ready for launch. Although, I will note that having not fought at levels beyond 10 (there are 40 total) I have not experienced the entirety of the combat just yet. Granted, after enough time to play I doubt that'll be much of an issue.
Want to learn more about the Champions Online beta? You're in luck, as today marks the Press NDA lift and Massively is here to tell you all about it! Stay tuned for more beta coverage of the game, with plenty of tasty-good information for you to chew on gleefully!

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