Not everyone with superpowers adheres to the old "with great power, comes great responsibility" maxim. They would be supervillains.
According to Champions lore, Stronghold prison was the first institution designed to hold supervillains--those that spurned the laws of mankind to assert their own authority over the powerless. Buried deep beneath the Devil's Head Mesa in New Mexico and utilizing inhibitor energy fields that restrain superpowers, Stronghold is a technological marvel within the Champions universe. Currently, its most powerful prisoner is Menton, blessed with psionic abilities that he uses to penetrate the minds of others, wipe out their personalities, and take their bodies as his own. In our first hands-on session with Champions Online, as luck would have it, Menton has busted out.
One of the biggest draws of Champions Online is the ability to design your own superhero from scratch, from the size of his cape down to the color of his energy blasts. We have yet to see the creator tool in action (lest our imaginary hero Hot Flash with his blend of fire and ice superpowers completely blow your mind), so we were forced to play instead as a prefabricated character wearing a suit of power armor. Developer Cryptic set up a demo mission within Stronghold prison to show off its upcoming online game, which is similar in design to past Cryptic projects City of Heroes and its expansion, City of Villains.
Using an Xbox 360 wired controller on a PC, we teamed up with several other superheroes to enter Stronghold and recapture Menton, currently using his nefarious mind-control powers to pit guards and prisoners alike against us. For fun, let's call our hero Armory, which is fitting because he's outfitted with a chaingun, minigun, micromunitions rocket, kinetic bolt, and the classic punch to the face. Each attack is mapped to a face button, with the left trigger used as an attack modifier and the right trigger to block. Superpowers are recharged by punching enemies repeatedly, building up a power meter. You move with the left trigger and adjust the camera with the right trigger--standard third-person control here.
With a party of eight, Armory and his superfriends powered through Stronghold, eliminating foes and accumulating experience points, which are later used to upgrade your superpowers. Most foes can be taken out from afar with a special attack like a chaingun, but it's best to take out lesser enemies with a weak attack, build up your power meter, and then unleash a barrage of rockets or bullets on stronger foes--that's really what the peon enemies are there for, anyway. Eventually, Armory reached the heart of the prison where Menton began to attack the party with devastating psionic blasts. For those that don't know, Menton is the most powerful human psionic in the world, once considered second in power only to the evil Dr. Destroyer himself. Menton's combination of psychokinetic attacks and shields held off Armory for a while, but an entire party of button-mashing supers would not be thwarted; thus, Menton fell.
There are still plenty of questions surrounding Champions Online. The combat is very simplistic and seems to be a balancing act of building up the superpower meter with weak attacks then unleashing superpowers--and then doing it all over again. The strength of the Champions tabletop game was always in creating everything from a hero to a home base to a super alliance. Cyptic, as owner of the Champions IP, says it wants to stay true to the Champions universe while creating engaging gameplay at the same time. We'll have to wait until our next visit with Cryptic to see what other elements will be included besides a hero creator, although the ability to create your own nemesis has piqued our interest. Will Hot Flash be able to hone his fire and ice powers within his frozen volcanic fortress in Iceland (known as the Hot Tub) before doing battle with his archenemy, Deadline, the assassin bent on the destruction of video game journalists? Tune in next time--same Bat time, same Bat channel--for more information.