Champions Online Exclusive Hands-On - Hero Powers and Custom Archvillains

We get our hands on this upcoming cross-platform superhero online game from the creator of City of Heroes. Here's our exclusive report.

In days of old, when knights were bold, you created characters for ye olde massively multiplayer games, taking these characters to repeatedly fight the same rats and skeletons until they gained ye olde experience level, at which point they became strong enough to tackle ye olde slightly larger rats and skeletons. But these games have grown and changed, offering new experiences in new settings, like the gigantic, modern-day city found in the superhero-populated City of Heroes developed by Cryptic Studios. Cryptic is now giving superhero online games another shot with Champions Online, a cross-platform massively multiplayer game for both the PC and the Xbox 360, and we couldn't resist the chance to give the PC version of the game a try.

Champions is being developed concurrently for the PC and the Xbox 360. It's planned for a simultaneous worldwide launch and is being worked on by a team of more than 170 people at Cryptic's home office in California, where the hot Silicon Valley sun provides the perfect excuse to...stay indoors and hang out in the Cryptic break room, which appears to be fully stocked with every single board game and tabletop game in the history of the universe. Many members of the team love their tabletop games--not surprising, considering that Champions Online is based on a tabletop game--and they apparently play games like these all the time...when they're not developing online games, of course.

Champions Online is Cryptic's current primary project, and the team is in full production mode, adding and tweaking content and balancing play with the in-house testing team. For those who aren't familiar with Cryptic's previous work with City of Heroes, that game was all about serious character customization--there were thousands upon thousands of combinations and permutations you could choose for your character's appearance and a decent-sized selection of superpowers you could choose as well. The idea behind Champions Online is to offer even more appearance customization options while completely opening up the hero powers with just as many options, from the origins of your powers to "talents" to character-based advantages that should all hopefully make your character a dynamo when push comes to shove. Champions will feature what design director Bill Roper refers to as "four-color combat"--that is, battles that take place with four general classes of powers: "might, mind, machines, and magic."

Having superstrength will come in handy when you need to jack a few jaws.

To figure out what this meant, we sat down at a PC terminal with a pre-generated character, the appropriately named "Jitterbug," a somewhat fragile female character wearing a gray costume with purely ornamental wings. As it turns out, this character was set at a very high character level to give us a chance to try out some of the higher-level powers, including "travel powers"--after a certain character level, all characters may choose a single travel power to help them get to where they're going a bit faster. These include flight, teleportation, and superspeed.

Our character was equipped with superspeed, which was still in an early testing state and wasn't working perfectly. But we were able to figure out the basics of this, and our other powers, which involved "small lightning bolt," "medium lightning bolt," "self-enhancing power that makes lightning bolts more powerful," and "big huge giant lightning bolt," though several of these abilities had secondary effects, such as briefly stunning our opponents. All things considered, this was a pretty straightforward character loadout that worked best when blasting enemies from a distance while other, tougher teammates made their way to the front lines to soak up the damage, but Champions will apparently have a hugely open-ended character creation system that will grant you tremendous control over customizing your characters' power sets.

You'll fight plenty of weird foes...some of which you'll create yourself.

We'll get to how that worked out for us in a bit, but for starters, we first set about diving into our first mission, which took place in an instanced area generated for our party. The area was in the subtly titled Monster Island region (which may or may not actually be a mislabeled peninsula), where we took our powered-up heroes. Monster Island will be one of many different environments woven into the game's overarching story, which will involve key allied superheroes and key supervillains.

But more interestingly, your heros' paths will be crossed constantly by their very own archvillains, whom you can create using the game's powerful editing tools, from their hair to their power sets to even the appearance and powers of their henchmen. Our own archvillain was born of an extremely clever combination of carefully choosing different, matching color schemes and textures (such as chain mail, vinyl, and leather) and different body parts and body accessories (such as robot arms, deer antlers, wings, and bug eyes) and then giving up and clicking the "random" button a bunch of times, which you can do for pretty much any individual body part.

Cryptic hasn't revealed exactly how your archvillain will interact with your character, but the studio assures us that you'll have several run-ins against your sworn enemy over the course of your career--enough to provide even more variety to your superhero's regular rounds of performing standard and story-driven missions, as well as going out for some no-strings-attached monster bashing in hostile territory and getting involved in player-versus-player battles (and more info about that will be revealed later, as well).

After creating our own supervillain, we set out to conquer the jailbreak on Monster Island by entering an instanced dungeon-like area in which we fought our way through a prison that was more or less being run by the inmates--who were actually the henchmen of one of our teammate's archvillains (cowboy robots, in this case). While this mission had a lot of straightforward combat in the form of beating down any enemies that dared to face our superpowered team, it also had several interesting twists and turns and scripted events that seem like they'll make dungeon crawling in Champions a much more interesting experience than just moving from room to room in search of new victims to pummel.

For starters, these areas will have ongoing lists of objectives that update automatically as you complete them; in several of the early areas, for instance, we were tasked with rescuing besieged prison guards who, when they came to, would unlock the doors to the next part of the dungeon. We continued our advance through the corridors in the prison in search of our foe, but we also found another imprisoned supervillain, locked away in a centrally located cell, who taunted us constantly. Fighting this fiend wasn't central to our story mission (we didn't bother fighting him, actually), but if we had freed him from his cell, we could have gotten into an extra battle with incidental awards. As it was, we preferred to let him rot, and he continued to let us have it...verbally, as he followed our progress through the prison and taunted us mercilessly. After finally locating and pummeling the prison's boss, we then moved on to a larger challenge--one of the game's story dungeons.

You'll explore strange new worlds.

The next challenge we faced was the realm of Dr. Destroyer, one of the game's most powerful archvillains, a dastardly fiend whose incredible skill at creating killer robots makes him an inherent part of the game's overall story and one of the main obstacles to your progress as you move along Champions' main story arc. Dr. Destroyer, as it turns out, lives in a multilevel, modern-day forge that goes deep down into the ground. This forge is also populated by killer robots with machine guns that are very good at tearing up fragile heroes who like to stand in the back and throw lightning bolts. Fortunately, we had backup from other players who helped us beat down these foes, and we gradually made our way onward and downward through the multiple levels of the dungeon, which were filled with plenty of killer robots, and even some deathtraps, like a try-not-to-get-squashed-while-riding-a-conveyor-belt section.

The lower levels of the dungeon showed some of Champions' puzzle-like gameplay, which will work best with groups of good teammates. One puzzle requires you to manipulate a four-sided magnetic crane to pick up robot parts from various bins lying around the room. To complete the puzzle, we used various switches in the center of the room to get the crane to move just far enough to drop the right parts in the right places--we needed a couple of tries to get this right but figured it out quickly enough, and thankfully, the PC version of the game will allow for real-time voice chat, while the Xbox 360 version of the game will let you use your headset to talk to your teammates. Another, even more-challenging puzzle awaited us on the bottom level--an enclosed control room with a raised platform in the center of the room.

You'll fight enemies as part of larger story quests.

Solving this puzzle required us to clear out enough space to trip the switches on two different panels, which would then make another panel on the raised platform active long enough for us to trip it as well. Unfortunately, this room was chock-full of respawning killer machine-gun robots, so fighting our way to the end took some real effort and teamwork on our part (and more than a few rash charges at the nearest panel). We did a lot of fighting and more than a little dying, but we simply respawned a short time later--Champions Online's death penalties haven't been finalized, but it's likely that they won't be too severe.

Champions' combat resembles the combat in other massively multiplayer games--just much faster. Like City of Heroes, Champions doesn't have a default "autoattack" that makes your character repeatedly take a swing at your target. Instead, you need to actively choose which skills and powers you wish to activate, taking care to manage your character's energy reserves, since all powers cost a certain amount of energy. You call forth your powers using hotkeys, which will be bound to your PC keyboard's number keys, as you might expect from a massively multiplayer game, and will be mapped smartly to your controller's buttons in the Xbox 360 version.

You'll need every power you can get to conquer Champions' diverse environments.

Champions isn't so much about having a zillion different powers to choose from, but rather about having a handful of powers with multiple effects and choosing from them strategically. Because many powers will have limited ranges, and melee powers will work only at close quarters, you may also find yourself doing what we did--dancing around back and forth, in and out of our enemies' ranges while trying to make sure we timed our dodging to get our enemies back in range once our powers recovered from their cooldown times. Fortunately, defeated enemies often drop pickup items that replenish your character's health or energy to keep you in the fight. Unfortunately, killer robots with machine guns in Champions Online appear to have very good machine guns with very good range, so we weren't always successful in trying to zone our foes to the proper distance.

Once we set off the proper control panels, we enabled the scripted final battle with Dr. Destroyer, who took control of the gigantic sitting robot at the far end of the room that was so huge, we originally figured it was just an impressive decoration. The thing towered over us so much that once it stood up and began attacking us, we had trouble seeing the head and shoulders of the mechanical beast, though to be honest, we spent most of that time periodically zapping, then running like mad.

After exchanging many blows with Dr. Destroyer's giant robot, we finally brought the brute down, ending our play session on a satisfying note. From the sound of things, though Champions will definitely have a good amount of high-end "raid" content (content that requires large groups of players to work together), it will also be very solo-friendly--you should be able to experience most of the game's content on your own, though you'll have a much easier time of it in a group. Oh, and yes, Champions will have "sidekicking," the clever City of Heroes feature that lets you temporarily adjust your characters' levels to match those of your friends' characters--so if your buddies are all 20 levels higher than you, you can have them temporarily depower themselves so that you can all adventure together consistently.

The killer robots are coming later this year when Champions Online launches.

Champions Online seems like it will be doing a lot of different things--and a lot of things that are different from what you'd expect from a traditional massively multiplayer game. The in-depth character appearance design, archvillain gameplay, and ongoing story quests should give comic-book fans plenty of stuff to enjoy, while the highly customizable character power system, customizable archvillains and henchmen, raiding, and PVP content should appeal to hardcore massively multiplayer fans. And the fast-paced, accessible combat should hopefully make the game appealing for just about anyone else. Champions Online should have plenty of colorful comic-book superhero action to offer when it launches later this year for the PC and the Xbox 360.

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114 comments
ke873
ke873

This game is going to be like tenchu Z. well its going to have its concept atleast.

wolf0
wolf0

it does not look good but i might try it if you dont have to pay $15 a mouth for it

JunkyMcMuffin
JunkyMcMuffin

They originally said that the combat was gonna be more like an action game so it would appeal to 360 players. In this preview (for the PC)it says the combat is like every other MMO, just faster. I hope the 360 version offers different combat controls. When ever I was playing City Of Heroes, I would spend an hour or 2 making a badass character, but as soon as I would get online and play, I would just quit and go make another character. I never have been into the whole mmo combat thing. I just like games where you can make a badass custom super hero. So I hope they offer better controls for the 360 version to make it more accessible.

KrazyKwasny
KrazyKwasny

its going to be 14.99 a month like every other new MMO

feliscele
feliscele

I hope the pricing per month won't be too expensive.

NiteX
NiteX

@Vargre666 Don't be so damn biased. Maybe do a little research before blabbering that mouth of yours. CO has tons of new features that COH will never have.

NetGod
NetGod

I've played CoX (City of Heroes/Villains), for almost 5 years now. Believe me, Champions does NOT look anything like CoX, (Champions is cell shaded and looks like a living/animated cartoon). CoX uses traditional computer graphics. I still have high hopes for Champions and will try it to see if it's 'fun', because 'fun factor' makes up at least 70% of a successful game. But if Champions is a flop, i'm still optimistic. DC Universe is on the way, Marvel Online has apparently been picked up again, and NC Soft may still suprise us all by 'up-grading' the graphics engine for CoX. I say. . . 'wait'. Lets wait and see what happens. I'm confident everything will work out in the end.

Vargre666
Vargre666

I just dont get it...CoH/V is still out. Why dont people just play THAT? It looks almost exactly the same...

hanoel
hanoel

Cant remember who said it, but it is more or less going to be coh 2 which like he said aint a bad thing at all, if your wondering what this game is going to be like look for a 14 day code for cox . ive subbed cox since it came out even been in beta. It's nice to play an mmo which isnt all swords and magic, which lets face it are always bein churned out and die. Also ive found people who make cheap copies of already established superheros get bored quick, its far more fun to create your own with unique backstory. if you want to play spiderman, go buy a spiderman game. yeah they need to change the sounds i love cox but come on dont make it a carbon copy. one last thing i think this will blow dc universe( is that it? ) out of the water when /if its released. Cryptic know what theyre doing have faith just look at heroes/villains (except for the ED that sucked:p)

Sdotmike
Sdotmike

ok only prob i have is that this is the pc build review it hardly mentions anything about 360 interface, controls, or even memory space. having to upgrade my hard drive just to play may just turn me off to this.

XCHROME_DRAGONX
XCHROME_DRAGONX

im a long time CoH/CoV player and fan, i love the developer but i agree with thakang on the soundeffects, they should definatley change them. although the graphics are better, customization is better powers are better etc. plus if you watch the swinging video, you can swing from building to building like spider-man. How awsome is tha!

thakang
thakang

Ok this game is really similar to CoH/CoV I know it's the same developer, but if they don't want people thinking it's just the same game but with another game, they could have atleast changed, the sound effects which sounds exactly the same lol. But I don't mind I loved CoH, I just hope it comes to europe soon and has alot of people playing.

NetGod
NetGod

Everyone keeps saying 'wait for Marvel's MMO', but I was under the impression the game was canceled. Gamespot shows Marvel Online: Canceled. Has something changed? Whats going on here?

Skinny_One
Skinny_One

Looks like a really bad copy of City of Heroes- not what I expected at all. Cryptic and NCSoft would be better off transfering the COX games to XBOX instead of this.

bleg32
bleg32

looks great! I really like the idea of a more strategic mmo, with the traps and puzzles. Also I just wanna be the superhero I've always felt inside. (hopefully everyone here knows what I'm talking about)

Hendrix392
Hendrix392

it's a good idea, but i think they're going in the wrong direction with it

zig_star
zig_star

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

docwoo
docwoo

Why do people have a problem with the graphics? It looks like playing a virtual comic book. Nothing wrong with that. As long as the gameplay is tight and it's fun to play, the graphics could look like a Simpsons cartoon for all I care.

shenron43
shenron43

sounds like its going to be good.

Xaviersx
Xaviersx

Once its released and players have put it through its paces, it'll be interesting to see its reception and game play in hindsight. Is it going to be better than a locked down universe from the comic titans, or do they have all the good characters to play with ( or around if you can't play the famous/infamous). Is there too much freedom that it won't be enjoyable if you dress your doppleganger up like your favorite comic character minus the world trappings? It seems to have a good look and feel to it, a step up from my last superhero gaming, Freedom Force, ... so good luck and good implementation.

necorid
necorid

mAd_ADaptation has the right idea, so rather than copy a license superhero i'll just play Marvel online

mfa1486
mfa1486

That game will mark the existence of many of the heroes, which makes you harness the forces of numerous and extraordinary

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

monthly fee? if so, too bad, if not, im in. 'is hoping to make a werewolf super hero.'

mAD_ADaption
mAD_ADaption

I foresee a world filled with superheros people ripped off comic books. I cant wait to be part of a team full of ripped off spidermen and fighting Rhino at the end of the dungeon.

Braddah_B
Braddah_B

looks kinda cool, especially since it's coming out for the 360. Don't know about the graphics though.

timbo98765
timbo98765

Meh at best. Art style looks like XIII or Viewtiful Joe, and not as pleasantly quirky. Too much darkness and primary colors. Play is standard MMO fare, click it til it dies. The Next Big Thing in MMOs needs to expand on Guild Wars idea, specifically small load outs for individual instances so you had to actually think about what you went into an encounter armed with (or like someone mentioned in this thread, your superpowers should come with an inherent and complementary superweakness), and also like GW, REAL progression...when you completed certain stages, your character moved to a post-event world. My biggest problem with MMOs is that on the low level, Mrs OLeary's cow is still beset by rats even though you kill the ten she asked you to, and at the high end, Cazic Thule died every Wednesday for 3 years.

flfpfe87
flfpfe87

its basicly CoX 2 which isnt nessiserily a bad thing. im just worried that being able to completely make ur own nme will result in alot of people making the weakest things they can just to make it easy.

broncosfan
broncosfan

That swinging game mechanic reminds me an awful lot of a certain Marvel Comics character. I smell lawsuit a brewin'

autumnsun
autumnsun

The game has awlful graphics, worse than WoW with not even a decent storyline to help it out. The animation is jerky and unimpressive while the UI is a hinderence. The mobs have no AI and are dumb as can be! The company hopes to beat out DC Universe with their superior game but everyone who's in the beta knows better, CO is DoA.

BrainedMyDamage
BrainedMyDamage

hmmm...interesting. Trying to get the jump on DC and Marvel

imastryker
imastryker

City of Heroes blows but this one looks like it will kick ass. Mainly because i can get it on my 360.

ChrisM95
ChrisM95

Nice. Probably gonna get the 360 version.

ssj_trunks
ssj_trunks

If it's half the game CoH was, it'll be a blast. It looks to do more than that though, and finally give me a complete superherommo-experience. For me, these games have always been about my character. Cryptic gets me, and gets this. They know what I want out of an mmo and ever since their amazing work on CoH, I've complete faith in them. There'll be aspects of the game I don't care for, absolutely. But like with CoH, I'm confident that the few no-no's will be outweighed by the strengths of this product.

Allbritt0n
Allbritt0n

This is going to be garbage. MMO games just cant get right. I've played so many WoW is just stupid which i realize after an year and a half playing it. OMFG i'm just gonna have to wait for SOMEONE to get it right hopefully i dont b an old man by that time =(

Zerobeam
Zerobeam

I heard that they announced that the release date for the PC version was mid July, b ut didn't bother to mention a date for the 360 version. I agree with what charbelh said, just like with Phantasy Star Universe there should be a single player offline mode that has no fees, but if you wish to play online with others then you can opt to pay the fee...that or just cut out monthly fees altogether

CreatureRising
CreatureRising

To add on I am not sure if this will control well on the 360 ( on the PC yes but on the 360) Also there Age of Conan Wich is probaly going to have a Monthly Fee but sence i cant run it on my PC i think thats my Best bet for a Online game

CreatureRising
CreatureRising

I dont want to pay for this monthy (Warhammer is good enough for me) But this had a good idea but Paying is milking it

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

Well, i apologise now for the following comment: If they seriously expect me to pay for an MMO which is effectively a 'Beat-em-up' under the pretense that customisable characters or even X platform play justify the fee, then they can truly shove it!, Why does it even need to be an MMO anyway?? (Shadowrun anyone??), yes i know that was a poor game, but ultimately, it was an imaginative FPS (just poorly ececuted) with X platform play and NO subscription fee! Go figure!

Rammone-X
Rammone-X

I'm so with you thenephariouson; But I guarantee you that it would be the exact opposite..You will have to pay to play on Xbox 360...perfect example, Final Fantasy 11 on 360. You have to pay an additional monthly fee to play...ludacris (in my opinion)

moshxpit91
moshxpit91

this is going to crash and burn...good idea but it will not work on the 360.

Owner34
Owner34

I dont understand, you make you character and one to fight against? Why would i want to pay for that? :(

Djdiddles77
Djdiddles77

A monthly fee to play a game?!?!?! That is simply retarded!!!

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

Personally i feel that MS should subsidise MMO's on the 360 with our XBL (GOLD) fees, this would surely be a master stroke as all other platforms require an additional subscription and would therefore give them a great advantage in the online gaming arena, as ill be damned if im gonna pay an additional fee when i already pay for GOLD membership. MS really need to look at this situation as MMO's are going to be more promenant in the coming months / years.