Last week, when I reviewed Batman: Arkham Asylum, I mentioned that I was never really the superhero type, and that still holds true. Nevertheless, that doesn't stop me from enjoying a good superhero romp, or at least a superhero romp with good ideas, and that held true when I tackled Cryptic Studios' newest entrant into the superhero MMOG world, Champions Online.
It becomes apparent from the moment you create your hero that the word of the day here is "customization." Frankly ridiculous amounts of customization, in fact - the depth of the character creator in Champions is staggering. You start out by choosing your power set: Are you a fire-based hero? Are you a superhuman martial artist, a powerful telepath, a sorcerer, or some guy in a suit of robot armor? Beyond that, you can even customize things like the color of your moves - I want my fire blasts to be green, dammit!
To be honest, it's a bit overwhelming. I took extra care in designing my power-armor heroine to look exactly how I wanted her, and it took me perhaps an hour - and this was without ever even touching all the myriad sliders and extra options the game gives you. It's an incredibly deep character creation system, but it's also an intimidating one, and it's much easier for newbies to just use the Randomizer to come up with a cool-looking hero (which, thankfully, isn't that hard).
After creating your character, Champions feels like a bit more of a return to form for an MMOG. Your quests largely boil down to killing a specific enemy, gathering a specific item, or the like - thankfully, the game handily illustrates just where the enemies or items in question can be found on your map, which certainly makes it a lot more convenient and less of a hassle.
The combat is a bit more "action-y" than your average MMOG, with your primary resource - energy - generated via a specific class of moves, and consumed by another class. So combat often boils down to alternating between your energy-generating moves and more powerful energy-draining ones, no matter your power set, but it's very mobile - especially when your travel powers come into play. Punching someone in the face has been done before, but punching someone in the face when I'm using jet boots is a lot more entertaining.
Unlike more traditional online games, the world of Champions isn't a cohesive whole: You join different instances of the various regions every time you log on or change zones. It's an interesting idea, and it certainly has its merits - the individual zones are all large and nicely varied, from towering Millennium City and the toxic Burning Sands desert to, well ... Canada - but it makes the game feel a bit more disjointed. It feels, well, less like an MMORPG, and more like an action game with an online component (only with all the trappings of the MMO genre).
Champions really makes an effort to make the player feel like they're a true hero of the land, teaming up with the established superheroes of the world to fight evil, and it works ... mostly. Every new world has an opening narration and cutscene explaining the history and problems of the area in question, and you'll often encounter the other Champions in your quests, adventuring beside them. When you think about it, yes, everyone else is fighting the evil radioactive mutants and being hailed as the savior too, which does undermine the idea, but ... it works as long as you allow yourself to get caught up in it.