Champions Online is the first on-release review of an MMO I’ve ever done, so this has been a new experience. The game has some major flaws, but it is a new release, and MMOs are traditionally buggy on release. However, it’s youth can’t account for all of it’s problems, and that’s the game’s biggest hurdle.
CO has a great character creator which by itself is a ton of fun to toy around with. The problem is that it’s almost too free-form, and folks are making tons of famous characters and people (in direct conflict with the game’s rules and regulations). I’ve seen some that irritate me (lots of Iron Man and Superman clones, along with a couple really bad anime knockoffs) and some that impress (I saw a really well done Red Team Sniper from Team Fortress 2), but they do break the experience up a little for me, plus – as I said – it’s against the game’s Terms of Service. To be fair, though, the majority of characters are unique and don’t infringe on an intellectual property, so it’s not that bad. Plus, with the shard-based server format, you’re not likely to run into the same character twice. Then again, you might not ever run into your friends again, either.
Cryptic has touted their single-server format as one of the game’s greatest features, but I highly dislike it. You have to pick one of a dozen of so mini-servers each time you enter a location, which means that instead of playing on a single server with the same people on it and getting to know the people you’re playing with, you’re effectively changing servers every time you enter a new instance. This is very frustrating, and is another immersion breaker for me. Worst of all, this single server located on the U.S. west coast, and the further away you get from there, the worse lag gets.
Gameplay-wise, this game is allot of fun, but Cryptic’s claim that the majority of the game was soloable changed drastically on launch day. They crippled allot of the powers and buffed most of the enemies, making allot of character power builds (of which there’s a nigh-endless combination) very, very difficult to solo with. Further complicating matters is that the game is very group-hostile. There’s very little support for grouping and allot of quests are tied tightly to their level in difficulty, so at-level they’re challenging, but are way too easy a few levels later and way too hard a few levels early. On top of that, the shard-server format makes running into the same people often enough to want to group is unlikely. On my server in WoW, you got to know people. Folks gained reputations and it felt was a believable social environment. Not here. You’re probably only going to make friends in CO on forums or other external sources.
There’s also a real shortage of things to do. There are just barely enough quests to get a player to the level cap (40), and a scant few places to level in (5, not counting ‘crisis’ locations). In all, though, there is the framework of a good game here. Seeing cosmic-level villain Grond leaping around the desert, pounding on random folks before disappearing again, or catching the in-game jokes and humor that Cryptic included makes me want to like this game more then I do. Now I hear their going to release a new Halloween-themed content patch with themed features and a new power set, but with their shaky history of balancing the game and releasing a stable, working product, I’m going to have to see it work before I believe it. Alphasim out.