Today sees the North American release of Cryptic Studios’ latest title, Champions Online, the highly anticipated crime-fighting superhero MMO set in the Champions universe. Read on for the round-up of our coverage on the game.

Earlier this year, Cryptic Studios invited us to the Atari offices in London for a presentation and hands-on play session of the upcoming Champions Online. The demonstration, hosted by Cryptic’s Bill Roper, included a full overview of the enormous character customisation process, in which players have a vast amount of choices to pick from when making their toons.

Unlike some other online games, you’re really unlikely to see another character the same as yours while playing because there are literally thousands of different ways characters can turn out. You can pick from male or female, human, beast, android, insect or monster, then adjust the height of characters, their weight, muscularity, facial features, hairstyles, and skin/hair colours. Then there’s the costumes, which will be the feature players probably spend the longest amount of time on. For a start, there’s the choice of cloth, leather or metallic appearance for each costume part. Along with the standard items of clothing like chest, legs, boots and gloves, there’s head-wear, capes, belts, shoulders, wrist-wear and more. You can choose colour themes for your outfit too, or individually colour each part.

Once the considerable task of designing the costume is sorted, you progress onto the powerset. This is where you choose which powers you would like your superhero to wield. They range from physical abilities like swordsman, archer or gun fighter, to mental powers such as electricity, telekinesis, fire or ice. The colours of powers can also be customised. You want green fire? Not a problem.

When in-game, the user interface will be familiar to most MMO players. The minimap, action bars and on-screen quest progress log are all in the expected places, enabling players to jump straight in to the game. Another familiar sight is the yellow exclamation and question marks over the heads of NPCs, marking quest givers and hand-ins. This also shows on the minimap.

The first quests players are tasked with involve the rescue of Millennium City, the base of the Champions, from an invading insect race. This is a nice introduction to your character’s powers, combat and questing. When the mission to save the city is completed, you can select which travel power you’d like. Flying is there of course, self-powered or with the aid of rocket boosters, and so is swinging (think Spider-man). Other options include teleportation and burrowing underground, which is an effective method of stealth, allowing characters to sneak up on mobs or other players in PvP situations.

Champions also includes a selection of professions; Science, Arms and Mysticism. Items created from professions upgrade or modify characters’ abilities and gear.

Around 900 quests currently await players, and these include public quests. While flying past the local prison in this dynamic world, you might notice a break-out taking place. Stop and help out with other heroes for a nice reward. If enough players do this to keep the streets free of crime, you’ll notice a change in the city overall; reduced graffiti for example.

As players progress through the game, they will explore five major zones. Millennium City is the starter zone and home to the Champions. Lemuria is an underwater zone, and lots of information about this area and its inhabitants has been released by Cryptic. The Bleak Ones, old gods rejected by the stricken Lemurians, want their worshippers back and are willing to go to any lengths to get them.
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Monster Island is a higher level zone in Champions, and is the home of Dr Moreau where he carries out his sick experiments on animals in the hope of creating a ‘manimal’ army. One of the Champions’ leaders, Dr Silverback, is one of these creatures; a gorilla with extraordinary intellect, Dr Silverback escaped the clutches of Dr Moreau when a group of heroes raided the island. Sadly, another manimal Gorilla, Qwyjibo, was made into a monster when faced with a terrible choice to save his village or sacrifice himself.

Other zones include a frozen Canadian area and Snake Gulch, which is infested with evil robot cowboys. You don’t see that in an MMO every day do you?

Another major part of Champions is PvP. Fans have argued that heroes on the same faction shouldn’t be fighting each other, however, PvP takes place under the guise of competitions and events. Along with regular duelling, characters can also take part in organised arena teams, which reward titles and costumes, or free-for-all events such as ‘BASH’. And combat is certainly interesting and varied when you consider all the different methods of attack. Duel-wielding swordsmen versus casters versus fist-fighters makes for an interesting battle!  There are also apocalypse maps set in a high-security prison which play out a little like DotA, where one team of players faces another. One team must try and escape the prison while the other team must prevent it.

A feature in Champions that stands out is the Nemesis system. What would a superhero be without its very own arch enemy? Players actually get to design their Nemesis, who will tackle them throughout the game until the inevitable show-down takes place. With a Nemesis around, characters can never rest easy. You might be relaxing in Millennium city or fighting mobs in Lemuria when a group of minions attack you, but there’s always the main Nemesis storyline to complete, which is likely to require friends at times.

Groups are important in the game, hence the ‘multi-player’ part of ‘MMO’. At the end of each major story arc in the game, players will be faced with an event that requires a group, but dotted through Champions, players will find ‘lairs’, which are known as instances or dungeons in other games. Players will find some of the best content and toughest challenges in the game here. However, because superheroes don’t fall strictly within the ‘Healer’ ‘Tank’ or ‘DPS’ roles, Cryptic has had to be creative with boss fights. Content designer Kevin Stocker talked about this in his recent developer diary:

“The goal is to develop an interesting gimmick within the encounter that doesn’t rely on a particular group makeup.

One example of how we do this is in Andrith Ruins. The main boss, Vikorin the Blind sits immobile on a temple in the center of the room. Without getting too specific (you’ve gotta figure it out yourself!), the positioning of your team can affect what powers he uses. There are several environmental hazards in the room that turn on and off and get more and more hectic and difficult as the fight progresses through three distinct phases. This creates a fun and dynamic fight without being centered around, “the mage needs to decurse.””

For more of an in-depth look at the game, be sure to read our hands-on preview from May, which includes thoughts from the game’s design director, Bill Roper.

Throughout development, Cryptic has released dozens of screenshots, showing heroes in various situations and displaying the massive variety of costumes, powersets and abilities open to players. You can browse through images of in-game NPCs, fight screenshots and concept art in our Champions Online gallery. There are also many videos and trailers for Champions, some showing certain game features like ‘Swinging‘ , a particularly cool way to get around, or an overview of the character creation process. You can see all the videos here.

We were also treated to an exclusive look at all the Hero and Villain profiles recently. If you want to know what makes the important characters of Champions Online tick, read up on their backgrounds in the lengthy features.

Champions Online goes live in NA today, and in Europe this Friday. Visit the official site for details on how to get your hands on the game.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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