Champions as a CORPG
Champions Online is an interesting game. It has a number of neat features in an MMO perspective, such as a shared world, almost total flexibility in selecting powers for a character, extensive costume creator, fast-paced combat with a few twists compared to regular MMO combat (blocking, charge, maintain etc), free selection of character names, social media connections, on the fly change of roles etc.
However, it also suffers from other features (IMHO), such as a mission grind – too many missions that becomes more or less required to progress and too little variation among those. Other features that have been introduced (crafted travel powers, titles/perks and some seasonal events) seem to encourage activities with a grindy flavour.
In spring of 2009 when some information about the game was revealed I was pleased to hear that Cryptic intended to have a quite limited hotbar – only 7 slots. My throughts back then immediately went to Guild Wars, where one has 8 slots. This worked very well and I was hoping that there would be something similar in Champions.
This turned out not to be the case. Instead of the freedom of putting together various skills for different purposes as in Guild Wars, characters are locked in a somewhat rigid power choice structure. It is possible to change, but at a cost and not so easily. Not surprisingly players asked to increase the number of hotbar slots, which they did to 14.
A problem here I think was that Cryptic was in a level-based MMO mindset here. I would assume that the original idea was that people would pick a number of powers, but pick different powers for different roles. For a specific role 7 powers would be sufficient.
But if this thinking and other of the nice features they have were squeezed into a a regular MMO level progression it does not mesh so well, IMHO.
Guild Wars never claimed to be an MMO and referred to itself as a CORPG (competitive/cooperative online Role playing game) as I recall. The exact acronym does not matter though, but the key thing I think in Guild Wars case was that wanted to go in a different path with the game than Everquest, Everquest 2, Blizzard’s MMO and other similar games.
This is a path I believe Champions should have taken also; more inspiration from games like Guild Wars and avoid many run-of-the-mill MMO features.
Imagine if they had kept their original 7-slot hotbar, dropped leveling completely or restricted it to a few levels (e.g. 14-15) and fewer attribute/characteristic boosts. Most powers would be obtained as rewards for various tasks, perhaps tied into missions in the same realm. E.g. if you want dark sorcery powers you do missions related to that and some in-game characters with such powers – at least powers from the higher tiers as it is today.
Suddenly most of the content could be made available to everyone to be played in pretty much any order or preference or skipped entirely. The crisis zones could still be there as in introduction to new zones, but one would not need to work through a level progression more than a slightly extended newbie experience to try out any of the new areas.
In a sense this is where Cryptic has been going with the newest content additions after Vibora Bay, since they are available for level 11+. But there is still a need to follow a certain path today to progress your characters, with not too much room for deviations. This hurts the game experience IMHO.
In many ways I think a game more along the throughts that went into the Guild Wars game design would have suited Champions as a game better. Changing that would make some significant changes to the game though – perhaps that would be a new Star Wars Galaxies NGE experience, or would it be a new DDO experience, or something else?
As a life-time subscriber to Champions I did not spend that money because I thought the game was the best game ever; I did it because I had a belief that Cryptic was the most likely one to make a game that I would be inclined to play for a long time.
Today I am less inclined to put faith in a specific company, but rather a combination of company and the individuals that are part of that company. Which may be difficult to sort out – talk is cheap, proper execution is a different matter.
I applaud Cryptic’s work with the latest MMO releases (Champions Online and Star Trek Online) with that they have tried some different approaches to not building many-years projects with increasing costs. They seem now also have reached an insight that they will have trouble sticking to a traditional MMO model and do that as well, which seems to be applied to the Neverwinter Nights project. Good for them!
I still hope that they would do something about Champions though. But I am not sure Cryptic/Atari would want to gamble that cost.