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I Make This Cape And Tights Look Good

September 15th, 2009

Champions Online launched last week, and it’s already been a colossal drain on my free time. I’ve got a half dozen active characters, mostly to try out some different superhero concepts.

I’ve concentrated on a gadgeteer named Toygirl, whose signature move is to unleash “Attack Toys” on her foes. From what I can tell, the Attack Toys power is much maligned by the CO gaming community for putting out too little damage, and indeed, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else use it. But come on, I have a chance to unleash killer teddy bears and toy soldiers, and I’m not gonna take it? I don’t think so.

Fighting Foxbat in a TV studio.

My initial impression of Champions is that it’s a superhero amusement park. Wherever you travel, there’s something going on. In addition to the standard missions doled by my “contacts,” sometimes a bystander will run up and tell me, for example, that he’s just seen a bunch of robots run into a museum. Last night I happened across a bank robbery in progress.

Then there are the so-called “open missions,” which repeatedly recur in certain areas of the map. They’re typically big brawls involving a dozen or so heroes against a major menace, and the interesting thing is that you can join them in progress and compete for points. (The winners get the best loot, but everyone who participates gets a prize.)

Somewhere in the middle of this is one poor supervillain.

As you can see from the screenshots, it’s a beautiful looking game. The main map is Millennium City, a sprawling metropolis built on the ruins of Detroit. I enjoy simply swooping around on Toygirl’s jet sneakers, buzzing between buildings and through the legs of statues.

co06

Another early impression is that Champions seems to encourage solo play much more than City of Heroes/City of Villains did. In CoX, I couldn’t take two steps without someone inviting me to join their team or guild. I’ve temporarily teamed up with another player to take on a troublesome mob (“mob” is Massive Multiplayer Online game slang for a “mobile object,” aka a thing what attacks you), but have yet to pursue or even to be invited onto a team for an evening. There are some missions that are recommended for two or three heroes, but I hear that some people even go solo on those.

Dinosaur Jones makes aliens extinct!

On the other hand, the game also encourages player vs. player (PvP) combat, to the extent that even I’ve joined in. This is my fourth MMO game (Asheron’s Call, Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes), but the first in which I felt comfortable enough to battle other players. In the past, my relative ineptitude with the controls and with the intricacies of creating a character designed to make other players cry left me unwilling to take on snotty game punks.

The nice thing about the PvP combat in Champions is that it’s a five-on-five cage match, with participants more-or-less randomly assigned. Everyone is set to fight as if they’re a Level 20 character, and there’s no penalty for losing a match. So, even though I still suck at it, I’ve actually had fun in most of my PvP battles. I’ve even been on the winning team a few times!

Excuse me, can you direct me to Tiananmen Square?

There’s been a fair amount of in-jokiness so far. The TV studio mission pictured above has one saving thinly-disguised members of the cast of the movie Anchorman. I also played a couple of scenarios clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s They Live, including a parking lot fight against a parody of Rowdy “Roddy” Piper.

As might be expected, the character creation system is even more robust than the one for City of Heroes. (Cryptic Studios designed both games.) One can play all manner of demons, angels, aliens, furries and even gorillas.

Meet Two-Gun Gorilla!

As seen in "For a Few Bananas More."

And here’s my attempt at mixing powers from different sets. Chillblain (who probably needs a better name) is a combination fire/ice thrower.

His suit keeps hot things hot, and cool things cool.

Meanwhile, if only to prove that I’m not above prurient interest in my superheroine designs, here’s Bettie Bombshell.

Call my party line at 900-555-BOMB!

Finally, here’s an alternate costume for Toygirl. One can preset multiple “builds” for one’s character that can be toggled back and forth depending upon whether one is playing an offensive, defensive or support role, so I came up with an appropriately beefed-up look for her more aggressive mode.

I'm my own action figure!

Sorry, I’ve got to go. There are aliens coming, and I’ve got a city to save!

Oh. This is not good.

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