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Behind the Mask: Heroes vs. heroes

Patrick Mackey

Although I've referenced it a little bit here and there, I've directly avoided talking about PvP in Champions Online. It's a controversial topic -- probably moreso in CO than in most other MMOs. In Champions, there is a massive difference between a hero who is focused on PvP and one who is not. Characters who are well-optimized PvE machines tend to perform acceptably (especially in certain types of PvP). However, if a hero isn't as optimized, he or she tends to get steamrolled by the flavors of the month.

Because most CO players are more casual players (in the sense that they don't plan builds and tend to pick powers that are "fun" or "cool"), they often get quite upset when they are defeated by an optimized PvP build. Most players I know tend to assume that the FoTM builds are unbeatable and that the only way to beat them is to join them.

Experienced PvPers know that this just isn't the case. It is true that an optimized PvP build is a necessity, but the actual optimization can take on many forms. There are dozens of effective "win buttons" in Champions' PvP out of a couple hundred powers. Out of dozens of possible kill methods, picking one and supplementing it with logical choices and personal flavor is a snap.

Improvise, adapt, and overcome

The one thing I'm not going to do this week is document all of the possible choices. For one, I will probably miss someone's bread-and-butter win combo somewhere. I've seen builds that use some pretty wacky stuff to wear their opponents down, and I'm only one person with a limited view of the game. The point to really remember is that there are more options than you think, and while you might see a lot of common trends, there's always something new to surprise you.

The one thing I can do is mention a few key FoTMs -- the builds that people naturally have trouble with.

Champions Online screenshot
  • Dragon's Wrath. Although I'm mentioning DW, there are quite a few other similar melee builds. DW builds sacrifice the least for the most offense. The key to dealing with DW (and other high-DPS melee builds) is melee hate. If your kill method does not rely on knockback, knockback attacks are very effective against DW builds because DW heroes cannot stat for STR (they lose a lot of damage if they have more than 70) and can't really deal with KB. Repels, like Concussor Beam, also work pretty well. The best counter I've found is primal sigils; if you camp inside sigils, melee builds have a very hard time attacking you without dying. Although snares can make it challenging, kiting is essential. Acrobatics with Versatility can be a godsend in avoiding DW attacks.
  • Ego Storm. Due to the way maintained holds work, Ego Storm is way too good -- it applies a maintained hold on your targets, but the Malevolent Manifestation advantage lets you attack while it's active. This power is way too good and there's really no good answer. However, there are some tricks. The maintained hold from Ego Storm is weak, partly because it damages itself every time it ticks. If you can mash out for even a small window of time, there's a good chance you can escape. If you have any window at all, activate Evasive Maneuvers to leap out of the radius. Powers that work while you're held, like Force Eruption, Smoke Grenade, and Sparkstorm, are godsends against Ego Storm + melee builds (many DW builds also use Ego Storm).
  • Ruin tanks. These builds are very specific; they typically use Defiance or Invulnerability along with Ebon Ruin and work to wear you down. Ruin tanks work tremendously well in duels due to their ability to debuff heal. They also are pretty good at spiking in group PvP, using Imbue and a fully charged Ebon Ruin to vulture kills from long distances. If you're fighting 1v1 against a Ruin tank, your best hope of victory is to stop him from kiting for a moment and kill him in that brief window. Ego Storm + DW is very good against Ruin tanks or against any ranged tanking build that doesn't pack enough melee hate.
  • Ranged spike. The new FoTM right now (I assume it will die down) is the use of Telekinetic Lance to unleash huge monstrous ranged nukes. Before that, it was Defile, and before that, it was Force Cascade. Ranged builds come in either the tanky versions (see Ruin tanks for basic counters to ranged tanks) or the glass cannons. The glass cannons are pretty terrifying but are easy to kill -- the problem is that you might die before you get the chance. If you see an opponent running an offensive passive or even Aura of Primal Majesty, you may want to open up with an early active defense. Most spikers waste no time in firing off their spikes (they're dead otherwise). Against experienced PvPers, you will need to anticipate the spike by watching the opponent charge, and then you must use your active defense as a sort of block power. If you stay alive, you have about 30 seconds to kill your opponent before you eat another spike, so work fast.
There are a ton of variations on these basic themes and a lot of other, totally different concepts. Touching on all of them would take months of articles, so my best advice to you is adapt! If you get killed by something, especially in 1v1, take a moment to find out why. Sometimes it's a natural build counter, like DW vs. a melee tank (DW just wins), but sometimes it's a mistake you made. Sometimes it's a little optimization he put in his build specifically to deal with the problems posed by yours.

Champions Online screenshot
The arenas of battle

PvP takes on a lot of different forms in CO. Each format takes different builds and strategies. Stronghold and Zombie Apocalypse are dramatically different than BASH, and BASH is radically different compared to UTC. The upcoming King of the Hill gametype will require other strategies too, I'm sure.
  • Duels are the staple of MMO PvP combat. CO duels take place inside an energy bubble, with the infamous "duel rocket" at the center. Any player who exits the duel bubble immediately loses. Duels are interesting because they involve only two combatants, which means each Champion must be completely self-sufficient. In order to excel at duels, your hero must be able to last a while in a fight and have the offense to take people out. Tanks are pretty durable in CO, so this can be quite a challenge. Duels also require another key element -- perception. A stealthed/teleporting player can be spotted with perception gear (two to three perception items are generally needed), and once spotted, he can be struck with a travel power disabler and killed. Perception is needed in other formats, but it is critical in duels. Many players consider Teleport to be bad manners in a duel. Personally, I think it's fine as long as it isn't chained into more teleports and isn't used simply to get out-of-combat health regeneration (which is an exploit, in my opinion).
  • Battle Arena Super Heroes, or BASH, is a "rumble pit"-styled free-for-all arena. In BASH, spike builds are king. Flying ranged spike builds are extremely common, especially in Tier 4 where everyone has two (or more) travel powers. BASH is a game of "farm the squishy for kills," and thus anyone without defense and who can't spike people is fresh meat. Teleport is also really important, as it allows you to scope out the battlefield while invisible and find a good target to snipe. Other builds do all right in BASH; it's relatively difficult to vulture consistently, and while ranged offensive builds excel, they are also easy to kill.
  • The Ultimate Tournament of Champions or UTC is a 5v5 team arena. It has huge problems with premade teams and is generally the least fun PvP mode for beginners. Honestly, it's not even that fun for experts. Even the non-premade matches tend to have one side with inexperienced players and one side with several PvP veterans. UTC can be quite good if both teams are skilled, but this rarely ever happens. The only real viable PvE builds in UTC are healers; since it's a team-based match, healing is really valuable.
  • Apocalypse: Stronghold is a scenario-based PvP game in which each team works to defeat the other's super NPCs. One team is heroes and the other is villains; due to the power of Justicar, the hero team is somewhat favored. Many builds, particularly PvE builds, are viable in this environment. If you're not comfortable with PvP, a good way to start is to play Stronghold. It's got a lot of depth to it, with multiple objectives, reinforcement NPCs, and turrets to attack or defend. It's very fun, although not quite as newbie-friendly as...
  • Zombie Apocalypse is the newest PvP mode. It features one player zombie and three or more player survivors. Any survivors killed become zombies; the survivors must survive for 20 minutes inside the "cabin area" to win. The player zombie is assisted by swarms of fodder NPC zombies, more of which will spawn as the game progresses. Zombie Apocalypse is very newbie-friendly and worth playing just for that reason. Prior to F2P, the survivors nearly always won in T3 and above; the NPC zombies were kind of weak, and most players had some healing and decent attacks after level 20. After the F2P change, the roles have reversed. Even if you're not that great of a PvPer and you spawn as the zombie, the NPC zombies are stronger now and players are weaker as a whole (due to Archetype heroes being mediocre in PvP). I've never actually won a match as the survivors in ZA following the F2P changes, although I survived for 11 minutes once. Even if the lone zombie is a Specialist or other weakly offensive hero, he or she always seems to manage to get that one kill, which then snowballs. Either way, it's a very fun and exciting mode, and it's fun to play, win or lose.
I wish I could say that wraps it up for PvP, but this doesn't even scratch the surface. There are so many nuances and intricacies of PvP that I could talk about it for months -- and even then, the metagame shifts frequently enough that it'd be a constant effort just to track what new tricks have developed to counter the old dominant strategies.

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.

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