The first MMO we reviewed at release was Champions Online back in 2009, and while I wasn’t terribly impressed with it at the time, it was a unique experience that I played for a good while post-review. I inevitably left, going back to World of WarCraft but I missed it sometimes. Now, three years or so after I quit playing it, I wanted to go back and see how CO had changed while I was gone.
First off, I started playing CO during its beta phase and – in my mind – that and the time shortly after launch were its high points for me. Going back now, I’m frustrated by the same boring tutorial mission (although the option to skip it is a Godsend), and I really don’t like starting in Millennium City. It’s generic as hell, to be honest. Back in the day (get used to this) you had the option of either going to Canada, post-tutorial, or the desert. I almost always chose the desert for three reasons: the snowy tundra was a pain to navigate, the desert had Grond (a giant lizard man who randomly leapt around and attacked folks), and Canada just seemed significantly more frustrating, difficulty-wise. Now, everyone starts in Millennium City and it’s a snooze fest – there’s nothing visually striking or anything creative in its story. It’s boring beyond belief.
Thankfully, the character creator is still as fun as it used to be. When I started the beta, I had a knock-off Batman I played as that I called La Bat Blue (making him a double copyright infringement). I made a football player, a Duke Nukem duplicate and more, and there were threads on the official forum as people pointed out good recreations they saw (that inevitably got said recreations shot down by Cryptic, the game’s developer). My favorite that I read about was a Batman imitator that was huge, muscular and had green skin showing through his torn costume. The name? “No Hulk You Can’t Be Batman.”
A big detractor for me, going back to the game is the Free to Play model. I’m not against it because of some moral outrage or anything; it just seems like I’m playing on a borrowed account. It’s like your friend letting you try the game but telling you, “don’t touch this, don’t look at that, don’t push that button,” and looking over your shoulder the entire time to see that you comply. I love Free to Play as a concept but when it is as limiting as allot of F2P MMOs are, you can’t really enjoy the game. Games like Team Fortress 2 and Planetside 2 nail a good F2P model, and I think Guild Wars 2 did it the best way an MMORPG can; you pay to buy the game, but you don’t pay monthly fees. It doesn’t lock things away from you and then dangle them in front of your nose the way a game like Champions Online does, for example on the character creation screen. You select from a few archetypes while a litany of other options sit in front of you, locked behind a fee. You can see them, but you can’t touch them. The archetypes themselves another concession to the F2P model. In the old days (and if you pay a monthly fee today) you could pick and choose your powers freely, creating just the hero you wanted. With the archetypes, every character of that type will have the same powers. Easier to balance, maybe, but only a fraction of the fun.
After playing CO again, I am moved to reminisce about the past but I can’t go back. This is not the Champions Online that I knew. In a way it’s good to know, since I can now move on, but man… like a WoW vet pining for the Burning Crusade or Vanilla days to come back (in my case, substitute Wrath of the Lich King), you still miss the good old days. C’est la vie.