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Another look at Champions Online, six months later

Patrick Mackey

One thing that can be said about Champions Online in the period following its launch is that it has gone through some severe growing pains. When the game launch was announced, players protested, as the beta still had massive issues that had not been addressed. When the game was launched despite these reactions, it also launched with the infamous launch day patch that failed to repair numerous bugs within the game.

At the break of the new year, Cryptic announced the Vibora Bay expansion, but leaks from then-community manager Daeke led the community to believe it would be a paid expansion, which launched the forums into a rage of untold proportions. This, combined with the notorious "kitchen sink patch" that caused more problems than it fixed, led to a mass exodus of unsubscriptions. A general air of doom began to rise over the community. Things were not looking good in Millennium City.

Champions Online was in a bad spot. The community was revolting, the product was unpolished, and despite Cryptic's best attempts to make things out to be okay, it was obvious that the game was at a breaking point. Something had to be done. But rather than sit on their thumbs, Cryptic Studios decided to step up and make changes. It seemed obvious from dev blogs that they loved their game, and they wanted to see it successful.

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The first shot towards fixing player expectations began by announcing that Revelations would be a free expansion, rather than a paid one. Player reaction was mixed, but positive. Many players felt that Cryptic was trying to save face. Regardless, it was a step in the right direction, and Champions Online was about to take a forced march.

Another patch was released, this time aimed at fixing the damage caused by the Kitchen Sink patch. More updates would follow, with minor tweaks and changes being made. Jack Emmert went directly to the playerbase and asked them frankly, "What do YOU want for communication?"

The players spoke, and while it took quite a bit of time, the devs listened. Executive Producer Bill Roper was replaced by lead designer Shannon Posniewski, and CO began the long road towards being overhauled. The promise of a premium AAA MMORPG became less like PR hype and more like a real vision.

Revelations took its sweet time getting from the Public Test Server to the Live servers, but the effort of players investing time to find bugs seemed to pay off. The expansion was largely bug-free, and overall feedback has been positive. Players continue to have hangups with some aspects of the game, particularly with some content gaps, a difficult learning curve, and low incentives for teaming, but the game is out of its rocky start and headed for the New World.

New Player Experience

I've introduced a few people into the game, and reception is mixed. The tutorial seems to be a "love it or hate it" affair. Some players think that the tutorial feels exciting and makes them feel super powered. Others complain that the tutorial is too long and has too many tedious parts. Overall, I think the tutorial is reasonably well done, but fighting other players for mission objectives is annoying and should be adjusted slightly.

The game's learning curve is pretty harsh, and whether a player actually grows to like the game seems almost like a gamble on whether they pick fun powers to play with in their lower levels. One thing I'd like to see is better in-game guidelines for which powers to select after you've picked a few. Another option might be giving players the ability to look at some pre-made builds (made by Cryptic staff) that have certain roles in mind and are playable at any level. And the last, and perhaps most obvious option, is to buff underperforming powers so that they do feel amazing.

Playing with dolls was never so much fun

While the open customization of Champions Online may be a little daunting, it is one of the biggest keys to its replay value. Picking new powers and trying new combinations is one of the major selling points of the game. And of all the things that sell the game, the costume creator is fantastic and lets you create all sorts of awesome and terrible characters. If you want to really express yourself through your avatar, you really can't do better than Champions Online.

The options in the costume creator at launch were already fairly extensive, but Cryptic has released numerous additional costume parts to the game. Some of the new options are exclusive to the C-Store, but most can be found as unlocks within the game or are simply made available to everyone.

Mom told me not to share

The solo experience is pretty solid; powers on the whole feel pretty strong and it's easy to make yourself feel like you're a superhero wading through bad guys. Teaming is also really fun, especially when you get people with complementary powers and abilities.

Unfortunately, CO still doesn't give adequate rewards for teaming. Shared experience is kind of low, and you don't get a lot of XP for helping someone else out with quests either.

The good news is that Champions functions surprisingly well when players are put into a teaming environment, and when you're thrust into one of the game's harder dungeons (or "lairs," as they are called), players can quickly adopt teaming roles and work together to accomplish team tasks. Unfortunately, the only real reason to do this right now is for items. The teaming system needs a little tweaking to make working together more attractive, but the game works surprisingly well with players who want to play team-oriented characters.

Filling in the gaps

The newest influx of content in Revelations helps to fill in what was a big gap in leveling for late-game characters. Since the game's launch, new missions and stories have been added to give players more ways to level up and eased what were some pretty horrendous gaps.

The low and mid levels are fairly content-rich now, and the last push from 34 to 40 now has a ton of content in Revelations that more than allows a character to complete the grind all on its own. There is still a reasonable gap in the late 20s to early 30s and there is not enough content to really allow players to branch out on subsequent alts, but Cryptic has promised more in the coming months and the grind has been eased quite a bit since launch.

The endgame has a new, high level lair (Therakiel's Lair) to compete with the Nemesis Confrontation, and its design requires a fairly competent team of skilled players to complete. While it's not a complete, robust endgame yet, the new design for Therakiel's Lair holds a lot of promise for future endgame lairs.


CO has come a long way since its rough launch, but there is still quite a bit of road to tread. The devs are pushing hard to get more content out the door and fix present issues, but many of those problems still remain. The game is definitely fun, especially with a little advice on power selection. In the short term, it is definitely worth a look, especially if you have some friends who play (so you can get a referral trial). Also, the game's community is quite a bit different than other MMORPGs, since it tends to have an older and more literate playerbase on the average. It may be worth checking out just for that reason alone.

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