Anyone remember the Kings Row Taxi Service? Of course you don’t. Well you probably don’t unless you were playing City of Heroes on the Infinity server a couple years ago. They were a group of superheroes in the City of Heroes MMORP that I used to hang with. To say that the Taxi’s were awesome to hang with is an understatement. But the problem with COH was it’s basic limitations. Eventually between work and other pressures I stopped playing.
The main limitation to CoH and what led to a lot of players leaving (myself included)– was the role that the NCSoft the parent company had in constant “balancing’” and driving game design decisions of the game not on playablity but what became obvious as business decisions that had less to do with balance than wringing more dollars in player time. This led to a series of nerfs followed by a series of power ups – well it’s an old story with any MMO that if you’ve played one we’re all familiar with. I got to the point where it was the same battles over and over, the same powersets, and I’d been through every variation on every powerset and no complex banking/auction crafting was going to make up for the boredom of play.
Some urged me to get into WoW, others this or that… but frankly the whole having superpowers thing was fun and it gave me something to connect to my son with.
One of the coolest things about CoH was the incredible accessibility of Jack Emmert – who wasn’t just one of the primary architects of the game but a regular player. Jack and his team “knew” what people wanted even if they didn’t always let him give out his full vision. He – and the rest of the team at Cryptic had legitimate gamer cred being old school all the way back to the RPG Champions. In short, had NC left Jack and his team alone – CoH would have grown into something brilliant that would have given WoW a run for it’s money. In many ways all CoH really needed was more of the design teams understanding of play mechanics – and a good solid reboot in design to get rid of all the trappings that NC had brought to the game putting more effort into playability and less effort into figuring out how to make everyone play another 15 minutes more. Cryptic clearly had a vision – but they were stupefied by the framework they were forced to work with, the very limitations of how CoH had grown. This isn’t to say CoH isn’t fun – it still is. Most players, like myself would leave for several months and come back. But the doldrums of having “been there and done that” over and over would wash over us and we’d leave again.
Recently Cryptic entered into an agreement between Microsoft / Marvel Entertainment and Cryptic to create the Marvel Universe MMO. Due to the nature of legal agreements it’ll probably be years before anyone knows the full story of why Marvel Universe never got out of the gate – but their loss was Cryptics gain. Since Cryptic had sold off it’s interests in City of Heroes many assumed that they’d be out of the SuperHero MMO game… but in true superhero fashion they pulled off a last minute reversal against the powers of boredom and dropped the bomb that since they’d based CoH on the online rights to Champions … they still owned those rights.
And Jack’s one time vision of creating an MMO unfettered and to the fullness of the Champions RPG was going to come into being. Using much of the knowledge they’d learned doing work on the ill fated Marvel Universe, and their vast knowledge of the Champions RPG, and experience in real world game mechanics for heroes learned from CoH… Champions Online came into being.
Now… everyone who’s ever read anything about MMO’s knows that Cryptic has the ULTIMATE in toon creations – with more features, more options, more customizations than any other game design. No one – from WoW to most standalones touches the character creation options you get with CoH, and since this is Cryptic – if you’re into customizing your toon you of course will not be disapointed. If anything – it’s a bit too much now. Just creating your character can take a good 2 hours.
Champions – true to it’s RPG roots does not limit you to specific roles like “Tank” or “Blaster” or “Healer” – your ability to pick and choose like menu items for powers I really I have to be honest didn’t think was going to work. But the detail of thought that Jack and the Cryptic people have injected into things really shows here allowing people to literally get as wild as they want – not just with looks but with the powers themselves allow you to totally customize your character. Looks, powers, you name it.
I’m currently up to level 11 – and the play feels less like grinding but not a “Monty Haul” give away that others had thought might happen. Part of this is due to a couple of very unique design options that Cryptics put into the game – the first is tossing away the concept of “leveling”. Yes, you still level – but in a way you’re leveling constantly – so you add new powers or boost existing abilities constantly. Add to this the crafting skills that allow even more character power and appearance customizations and you really get a game where leveling isn’t the goal. The concept of “drops” is still there but it’s cleverly hidden as something you can build yourself – very powerful add-ons to your character cause no two toons to be cookie cutters of each other with different costumes.
The way you slot your abilities based on drops and crafted items completely alters play. Being able to mix and match builds on the fly – even between battles changes this up even more. There’s tons to this very vast world that Jack and the team have created. As I progress through the game I’ll keep updating and discussing features… but right now it’s late – I’m tired – and the servers are down for maintenance. 😀