Champions Online: Why this Beta Tester won’t be playing

The NDA for Champions Online has been dropped.  I began testing in late March/early April of this year and participated in most of the “playtests” that took place on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as the weekend tests.   I won’t step lightly around the issues and I won’t try to hide my disdain for the game Cryptic created.  I never take pleasure in speaking poorly about games.  A lot of time and effort (hopefully) goes into creating these things.  That said, I give my opinion and impressions about games even when I don’t like them.

I’m not going to write a long comprehensive “review” here.  You’re not going to find references to other games and why they’re better or worse (aside from a brief CoH mention).  I’m going to try and keep it short and to the point, while throwing in my personal style that you’ve come to know.  I’ll give you guys the tl;dr version and then summarize the gist of why I won’t be playing based on my experiences.

Since this is my initial thread of post-NDA thoughts, I’ll be skipping the in-depth mechanic analysis and saving it for another day.  This is a brief overview/first pass (I’ll edit it throughout the day), and enough for me to justify staying away from the game.

The short version:

  • Zones are all redundantly instanced and capped at a low number of players per instance (ex. 24 players).  No “world”.  Disconnected feel.  Not “massively multiplayer”.
  • Mundane combat.  It’s all flash and no substance.  Feels wonky and uncomfortable.  Killing monsters is easy, boring, and excessively repetitive.
  • Content is boring.  Quests are not engaging; worse than the standard “kill x of this”. Story might as well not exist.
  • Zones are cramped.  They feel like mini-modules of force fed content.
  • Gameplay feels like a beat’em up with all the mindless… beating up.
  • Feels like a console port mess that falls short of the quality standard – probably due to losing their original IP.
  • Abilities are rather boring and unimpressive, but the customization is nice.
  • It’s basically a copy of City of Heroes on so many levels, except it loses something along the way that would have made it justifiable.

The Summary:

Instead of servers, Champions Online uses a form of zone instancing that I often refer to as “redundant instancing”.  If you want to enter a zone, instead of zoning into it by crossing an imaginary line you choose from a long list of existing instances of that zone in which you can participate.  Unfortunately, this kills all sense of contiguity.  Being in a zone with approx. 23 other people is not “massive” to me.  The scope of the game ends up being much smaller than a MMORPG should feel.

These zones themselves are also very small.  It takes little more than a minute to cross most of the ones I played in once you have your travel power.  In my opinion, they’re designed to be little modules of content, not zones for part of a world.  Champions is all about throwing content in your face, which should be a good thing, but comes across like I’m being spoon fed with the rubber spoon.  I was turned off by how shallow and unimmersive the game comes across.

Combat is uncomfortable.  At times it is so mundane that I want to just log off to get away from it.  It’s wonky at best for most of the combat types.  I found that being a “spell caster” type was the least wonky, yet the most mundane.  Starting the game off with just a few abilities is normally an okay thing, yet in CO by the time I finish the tutorial I feel like it has been an eternity using the same abilities over, and over, and over.  I’ve been burned out by the time the actual game begins.

That feeling of burn out isn’t only from combat though.  Almost every bit of content that I have tested is downright dull.  The story, quests, and overall feel of the progression is so utterly drab.  Not once did I feel any sort of charm from the content or pick up on a “purpose” – the story might as well not exist.  The questing is the “go there and get that” or “go there, kill 10 of that” – when they’re really trying to shake things up they tell you to “go there, kill this to get that, use it here, then come back”.  Sounds like all MMORPGs these days, except the writing is so “bleh” and the zones are so simplistic and small that it feels like you can throw a rock from the quest giver and it will land in your quest location (and probably kill the quest NPC too).

Character creation is fantastic.  You really would have to try hard to look like someone else.  This is where I had the most fun with the game.  I’ve spent hours (not an exaggeration) creating new and different looking heroes.  I’ve made everything from normal looking people off the street to something that resembles a raid boss in World of Warcraft.  I had the most fun making characters that looked like they didn’t belong using the moves that I created them with.  Enormous hulking guys that look like they should be smashing things instead using bows and arrows or casting little ice bolts is great comic relief.

In many ways this is City of Heroes 2.  It feels like City of Heroes in so many ways, except it lacks CoH’s charm.  Even though I did not stick with CoH for long, I was still able to recognize why people enjoyed it. CO is one step forward, 2 steps back.

It feels like a console ported (there’s a reason the 360 controller makes the game feel more fun) thrown together mess right now.  This was originally going to be a game with another license, and you can tell they scrambled to throw something else together to cover it up – THAT is where a lot of the problems come from.

No long term appeal here.  There was never an urge to log in and play nor can I imagine one popping up down the road.  I played through various level ranges and experienced a good deal of content without once feeling like this could hold my attention longer than a week.

This summer has been one of long reflection on the decisions I’ve made with games and their outcomes.   Champions Online does not meet the standard of quality that I now expect to exist in a game that I would buy and then become a subscriber.  I would not recommend this to my friends and would advise anyone reading this to save your time and your money.  This one will be joining Tabula Rasa soon.

Once I can get this patcher to actually work I will begin taking videos to showcase more of the game and emphasize/explain these points.

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