Currently scheduled for release in the spring of 2009, Champions Online is an action-oriented MMO based on a pen-and-paper role-playing game that was first released in 1981. We had an opportunity to check out the PC version of the game at the Games Convention in Leipzig today and, although we didn't get to take the controls on this occasion, we still came away pretty excited by its potential.
One of Champions Online's most noteworthy features is undoubtedly its character creation system, which we're told will give you enough freedom when designing your superhero to ensure that you should never run into any doppelgangers when playing online. Even characters who look very similar will almost certainly have very different skill sets, because the game's "open powers" system lets you add any superpowers that you want to your arsenal every time you level up--regardless of whether or not they're an obvious fit with your existing ones. Specializing in darkness-based spells doesn't mean that you can't learn to employ lightning techniques, for example.
During our demo, two players were exploring an instanced stronghold (read: dungeon) named Teleios Tower. The instance will purportedly support and offer a decent challenge for up to five players in the finished game, but the demo version was clearly designed to be quite easy for just two. The tower belongs to a twisted genetic scientist who has been attempting to create a perfect clone army using material gathered from all manner of creatures, including dinosaurs and aliens. He hasn't succeeded yet, but his failed experiments roam the halls of the tower and don't take kindly to superheroes going after their creator.
Before skipping ahead to a boss battle against a cloning machine with a brain, we got to see the superheroes doing battle with enemies that looked like armored dogs, tech-savvy raptors, and large, translucent worms, to name but a few. It's unfortunate that the demo appeared to offer little challenge for the Cryptic Studios representatives playing the game, because they appeared to spend much of their time simply standing still and hitting a fire button until the enemies surrounding them were all gone before proceeding to the next area. It's true that MMO games aren't known for fast-paced combat, but we definitely got the impression that Champions Online is probably a lot more exciting than it looks when it's being played with some kind of no-damage cheat in effect.
The aforementioned boss battle was more interesting, but that's because of what we were told about it rather than what we saw. Like boss fights in other MMO games, this one will purportedly require every player in attendance to perform a very specific role, whether it be melee damage, ranged damage, or healing others. Interestingly, your character can switch roles on the fly. We're not entirely sure how that works, but it seems that healing abilities, for example, require more power to perform--more power than someone in a damage role could possibly muster, even if they have a healing ability in their repertoire. If you switch to a support role your power bar (think of it as your energy, your mana, or whatever works for you) gets bigger, but your health bar gets smaller.
Other tidbits of information that we picked up during our demo session are that the level cap will initially be set at 50, player-versus-player combat will definitely feature in the game, and it's possible that PC and Xbox 360 players will be able to play together. They already are at Cryptic Studios, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the two versions will be compatible when they ship. For what it's worth, the controls certainly appear to have been designed in such a way that you won't gain any advantage by using either a controller or a mouse and keyboard, but that's a story for another day. We look forward to bringing you more information on Champions Online as soon as it becomes available.