In addition to offering a massively multiplayer adaptation of the classic tabletop game Champions, Cryptic Studios' and Atari's upcoming game Champions Online will show what it's like when superheroes collide. Yes, aside from performing many different missions, meeting key characters from Champions' fictional universe, and even doing battle with a custom nemesis of your own creation, you'll also be able to dive into battle against other players in one of three modes: the "Ultimate Tournament of Champions," a safely sanctioned one-on-one duel in a forcefield-enclosed area; "Bash," an unsanctioned free-for-all mode that takes place in a dangerous area where non-player characters and villains may lash out at you while you duke it out with every other hero in the area; and "Apocalypse," a large-scale, five-versus-five mode in which two teams of players battle it out in different scenarios that each potentially signal the end of Millennium City--the game's primary hub area.
Interestingly, Cryptic's Bill Roper explains that Apocalypse was partially inspired by the Defense of the Ancients modification for Warcraft III--a mod that lets you control a single hero character on a team of hero characters with the mission of heading toward the opposing team's base and killing off the opposing team's players while also cutting down computer-controlled cannon fodder troopers and trashing any turret guns or buildings along the way. We had a chance to try out Apocalypse for ourselves at a recent press event and have much to report.
The setup at the event had two teams of preset heroes already created and ready to go. We ended up playing a close-range, high-damage character (or as some players might call it, "damage-per-second" or "DPS" character) dressed like a bright orange samurai with a katana blade. This was a high-level character that was pre-created for the event, so the character had already gone well past level five, the level at which each character gains a unique "travel power" (such as flight, superspeed, or in our case, acrobatics, which lets characters run fairly fast and dodge backward or to the side with great speed).
The character was also clearly past level 11, the first level at which you can start player-versus-player battles, though Champions' PVP system will let you occasionally pick up loot (that isn't lost by your fallen foes, but rather, generated anew) and even gain experience points, reminiscent of the career-style PVP of Warhammer Online. After a quick once-over, we got to see our acrobatic, sword-swinging samurai's powers, which primarily consisted of an offensive boost (or "buff") ability; a passive ability that regenerated our character's "endurance" (a limited meter that determines how often you can use your special abilities); and various other close-range, melee attack abilities.
As soon as we started to figure out our abilities, the buzzer sounded, and the match was on. We activated our acrobatic travel power and sprinted into action, moving so quickly that at some points, we overshot our targets and had to pivot or retrace our steps to stay on the enemy. This particular match took place in a tight series of hallways with sharp, 90-degree turns, around which enemy cannon fodder and stun-laser turrets lurked on either side. We found ourselves first trying to carefully toggle our acrobatic travel powers on and off--on to sprint down into enemy territory after being killed and respawning and off to engage our foes and not sprint past them--but the action was so fast and furious that we decided to simply keep our acrobatics turned on. Our strategy was simple--find the weakest enemies onscreen (or, failing that, the nearest enemy), run right toward them and begin hammering on them. This strategy worked surprisingly well, but not because of our amazing skill; because even though this was an on-the-fly PVP event with a bunch of other beginners diving in for the first time, most players quickly realized their characters' strengths and weaknesses and figured out whether to hang back and provide ranged support or sally forth and pound on the enemy up close.
Frankly, we were a little shocked at how quickly the game seemed to move now, but considering that the game is also planned for release on the Xbox 360 (unfortunately, the publishing plans for the console version haven't been finalized, so Cryptic can't reveal any status updates at this time), it seems to make sense that the game moves this quickly. In fact, because we were playing a close-range character with a speed-enhanced travel power whose abilities required us to position our character carefully--and in a game this fast--we found ourselves with our hands full, trying to simultaneously use the W, A, S, and D keys to move with our left hand, the number keys on our keyboard to activate special abilities with our right hand, and our mouse with our right hand to change the camera. We finally let go of the mouse (the Q and E keys also let you rotate the camera left and right) and stuck with the keyboard, using our enhanced speed wherever possible to close the distance with the nearest solo enemy and slash him to bits. Or when encountering a group of organized heroes, we leapt past the frontliners and went after the weaker support characters. Because the highest number of reward points for PVP is given out for PVP kills (though you can gain other rewards for performing support duties, such as killing off computer-controlled cannon fodder troops or trashing enemy turrets), it pays to go for the kill in Champions. And because we had a damage-focused melee character (and because we were never going to see that character again), we went for the gusto time and time again and ended up taking the top score of kills for our team. Our speedy melee character's greatest weakness was being "held" by a paralysis effect (an ability shared by an archer superhero on the opposing team). Even so, each time we were paralyzed, we had the option of rapidly pressing the "F" key on our keyboard to break free faster, and we did (and we also found that archer and made him pay).
While Champions Online seems like a traditional massively multiplayer game at a glance--a game with character customization, skill trees, quests, and PVP, it actually seems to move as fast as any action game at its most action-packed moments, such as high-level team PVP matches. So in addition to offering a huge amount of character customization, this promising, colorful superhero game might just offer enough fast-and-furious action to really set itself apart. The game is scheduled to launch in September for the PC.