Stalking Champions

Over the past few days, my attention has turned to Champions Online, the upcoming Cryptic Studios MMORPG, with all the focus of a serial stalker.  I’ve been visiting the forums lately for the same reason everybody else is: I’m hoping somebody over at Cryptic sends me a beta invite.  However, at the same time, I realize that this is hardly the way things are run.

So what’s the big deal about Champions Online?

This should look pretty familiar by now.

This should look pretty familiar by now.

It’s a long story.  The short version is that Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games have a tendency to be extremely formulaic clones of EverQuest (or perhaps Meridian 59).

After you’ve reached a certain stage of maturity, suddenly this formula loses its appeal.  A switch in your brain moves from the “off” to “on” position, and you realize that doing the same monotonous activity over and over again in order to reach the next level of monotonous activity is stupid.

However, MMORPGs keep some appeal because they are most excellent spectacles.  It’s great to log into an online game and bump into people by accident, then go off and have adventures with (the fake personas of) real people who are, as you, currently playing the game.

So, the summation of the story is this: we want to play MMORPGs, but we don’t want to do it for the grind anymore.  We want to do it because the game should be fun to play.

Champions Online is interesting because it’s being developed by the makers of City of Heroes, one of a very few MMORPGs in existence that are simultaneously fun (at least on the very GUI level) while still being MMORPGs.

They’re basically doing the things they couldn’t in City of Heroes due to previous decisions.  The Nemesis System (the idea that you have your own custom Nemesis for your hero) and Power Customization (the idea that you can change the appearance of a power) are two such limitations being transcended.

However, I should clarify that Champions Online won’t play the same as City of Heroes.  It’s being developed to be cross-platform with the PC and XBox 360.  Consequently, the game is getting a bit of “consolitus” – in other words, it’s being adjusted to appeal to a console-playing crowd (the XBox 360 being an example of a console).

There will be a lot more focus on quick action this time around, with aspects such as combos and manual blocking factoring into combat resolution – no longer will bear much resemblance to traditional MMORPG combat at all.

Will Champions Online manage to capture the appeal of City of Heroes while transcending it in its own ways?  Time will tell.  However, with games such as Ace Online having demonstrated successfully that action MMORPGs can nonetheless keep much of what appeals about an MMORPG in tact, I’m feeling optimistic.

Champions Online is currently slated for a Spring 2009 release.  Considering there’s still about 140 days left before Spring is over, that Champions Online has been in closed public beta testing since November 2008, and that the videos demonstrate a remarkably refined engine, I would say that the release outlook looks good.

Returning to City of Heroes

Hopefully, I’ll be invited into the Champions Online beta soon.  However, such is my excitement over it, I’ve resubscribed to City of Heroes today.

After all, surely the differences are such that City of Heroes will always be its own game and, if it turns out I don’t like the changes that made Champions Online what it is, I’ll always have City of Heroes to fall back on.

(The above video is a recent ad campaign City of Heroes has been running lately to announce they are now cross-platform with the Macintosh.)

The division of NCSoft that was formerly Cryptic, and is currently in charge of maintaining and updating City of Heroes, has been up to some rather interesting things as of late.  For example, they’ve completely obliterated the PvP balance and are in the process of rebuilding it.  (PvP never was very appealing in that game, having been retrofitted in some time after release, but enough effort went into adding it that they’re trying to leverage that.)  More entries on how City of Heroes has changed since I was playing it mid-2008 are likely to follow.

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