If you were interested in Champions Online, then be sure to check out Chris "Pwyff" Tom's preview of this graphically packed MMORPG!
Have you ever wanted to play as an amphibian samurai with butterfly wings in an MMORPG setting? No? Well, too bad, because that's exactly what I did in my latest Champions Online Closed Beta Preview. Not only that, but this has been one of the first games to truly dazzle me with their artistic development and incredibly expansive character development system.
Announced to be released on September 1st, 2009, Champions Online will be the second super-hero MMORPG to hit the markets since the recently updated City of Heroes. Now, I have to admit at this point that I've never really been a comic-book guy - in fact, I would say that I'm only really 'aware' of Hollywood reincarnations, like Batman, Iron Man, X-Men and Watchmen. When I first set foot into Champions Online's massive universe, however, those initial uneasy feelings of not being the 'target demographic' quickly disappeared as I got to experience this fun, energetic super-hero MMORPG.
Before you even begin your adventures in Millennium City, Champions Online allows all of their players to create a loose archetype for a customizable starter character, and then spend the next four hours sampling their massive character creator to make the aesthetically perfect super-hero. If you've been taking notes up to this point, you'll recall that I went down the path of a Samurai with butterfly wings and a frog's head. As a tactical choice to gain the advantage of surprise, I decided to make this Toad-Samurai a gun user and, therefore, he will never draw his samurai blades. Clever, I know. Either way, realize that this amphibian is only one choice of (literally) millions of combinations customizable parts that come together to form your super-hero. Because the CO team currently limits the duration of play tests to two days out of the week, I knew that I had limited time to sample this world, but I could literally spend half a day (and I almost did!) just making random characters in the game.
Setting foot within Millennium City, it's easy to see that the team spent a lot of time developing those first few levels of your playing experience. Players are thrown into a city in chaos and under siege by alien insects, and it's up to your wickedly designed hero to wrest it back. I have to say here that of all of the MMORPGs I've played over the years, Champions Online has, hands down, some of the most stunning graphics I've seen in an MMORPG. The team decided to go for a cel-shaded comic book style with this game, and let me tell you, it works. The game is loaded with graphical goodies, and I don't think I'll ever be happier with the aesthetics of my Samurai-Gun-Toad than I am in Champions Online.
As for content to place within this beautiful world, sadly, I'll have to note that while the game occasionally throws out a unique mission here and there, the first real 'quest' of the game involves killing three gastropods. Yay. On the other hand, combat in Champions Online is a nice deviation from your average MMORPG. In combat, players can 'charge' their attacks to make them do more damage, or gain extra utility in their execution. Not only this, but the game utilizes a form of 'endurance,' that goes up as players use light damage 'charging' moves, and is then expended when the player uses a heavy damage 'draining' move. Think of it like the Warrior's 'Rage' system in World of Warcraft, or the Warpriest / Disciple of Khaine in Warhammer Online. Interestingly, the game only allows players the ability to use seven abilities in any given scenario. Players can switch between three 'roles,' each with a customizable ability toolbar of 7 abilities. This effectively gives players a total of 21 powers to use when switching between one of their three stances, although switching stances comes with a yet to be determined cooldown. What this effectively does is allows players to break out of the one-character one-role cliché, and it doesn't clutter up combat with 50+ skills.
On the technical side of things, and remember, this is where the team can really make some big changes, I did notice that the UI was terribly clunky and that abilities are fairly unexplained in the first few moments of playing the game. I consider myself a veteran of MMORPG game play, and I'm not quite sure if someone much less 'MMO-savvy' than me will be able to figure out their abilities or UI.
All in all, Champions Online is shaping up to be a solid MMORPG, even if it is in beta, and for anyone interested in non-stop action and incredible character development depth, I'd highly suggest this beautiful MMORPG. Keep an eye out for the Incredible Ooglar - the greatest Toad to ever walk the land!
Chris "Pwyff" Tom