on Nov 10, 2009
I’m in town, minding my own business and getting a big bunch of XP for killing Canadian terrorists, when the woman I’m talking to reveals that she’s actually under the control of the cloned brain I’ve been looking for.
Er. A what? I haven’t… I mean, I think I would remember if I’d been looking for something like that. I’ve been asked to to some pretty strange and sketchy stuff since getting here, but so far nobody has asked me to find a cloned brain.
Regardless, cloned brain wants to talk to me, and so invites me to come out into the wilderness. Okay then.
Up in the mountains I find…
An astral projection. Of a clone. Of a giant brain. I have no idea what the etiquette is in a situation like this, but I guess I can rule out shaking hands.
Giant Brain tells me that he needs my help. I don’t know about helping an astral projection of a clone of a giant brain that was just mind-controlling a bystander in base, but he’s got a green outline when I mouse over him and it says “hero” under his name so… I guess he’s a good guy?
Luckily, Astral-Cloned-Giant-Brain is eager to prove that he’s on my side. As a token of friendship, he clues me in on some super-duper giant-brain level intel: Soldiers from Steelhead are being executed by the Hunter-Patriots. These executions are happening in the nearby valley.
This is not actually news to me. I mean, the Hunter-Patriots are terrorists. They’ve been shooting me on sight pretty much since I put an end to the NOT ORDINARY storm. I figured out they were bad news ages ago. I was actually in that same valley earlier when I was beating up those very same guys so I could steal their plans for their maple-powered death ray. And thank you so much for reminding me of that debacle, Astral-Cloned-Giant-Brain.
But ACGB thinks this is a news flash for a big-jawed tiny-brain like me, and he’s using it to try and convince me we’re on the same team. He asks me to go save a few Steelhead soldiers for him. Or for me. I’m not sure, really.
So… you’re proving your allegiance by telling me my mortal enemies are bad guys and then as a sign of good faith you ask me to rescue my own allies? Is this like one of those “so bad it’s good” deals, where a movie is so awful that you enjoy it? Except in your case it’s more like “so smart you drool on yourself and eat shoes”?
Right. Off to the crash site to beat up some Hunter-Patriot guys. Again.
I fly into the valley and look for groups of Hunter-Patriots gathered around Steelhead soldiers. About I dozen or so fights in, I glance up and notice I’m not making any progress on this mission. Checking the map, I see I’m just outside the mission area. So rescuing these Steelhead soldiers doesn’t count towards making me believe the brain is on my side.
|Problems? Try PUNCHING!|
I move my traveling violence show to the other side of the valley and find punching these guys in the face to be far more convincing of the genuineness of Brain’s offer of friendship.
I return to ACGB, who tells me, “Now that I have helped you, I ask you to return the favor.” I assume he’s talking about the XP he just awarded me, since telling me to go and beat up my own enemies to save my own allies while he does nothing doesn’t fall within any definition of help that I understand.
Now the ACGB lays it all out and explains what’s really going on:
There is a bad guy called the Overbrain. He apparently clones brains, and then enslaves those brains through mind control. This seems like an insane level of effort with dubious return, but I’ve been working for Ravenspeaker, so it’s not like I have room to criticize the feasibility of what anyone else is doing.
ACGB here is not yet under the sway of the Overbrain, but a new shipment of mind-control gear is on its way and ACGB is sure he won’t be able to hold out if the Overbrain gets his hands on it. ACGB has confused the driver making the delivery and the new gear has been left down in the valley. I need to go blow it up.
So I need to go around, beat up some more Hunter-Patriot guys, and steal their explosives. Then use those explosives to explode the mind control gear.
It turns out the gear is in a simple crate and guarded by a couple of befuddled drivers.
|Few people are familiar with the second Poincaré conjecture, which asks: “Would it be possible to make a videogame which contains no crates?” Many people believe it is possible, but it has yet to be proven.|
Several questions spring to mind:
1) It’s a crate. Why do I need to blow it up? I’ve lifted and smashed things larger and heavier than that by accident. While trying to talk to someone.
2) Actually, why destroy it up at all? I could fly that sucker back to Steelhead Base and they could take it apart to study. Or just put it in with the recyclables. Seems a waste to just blow it all up.
3) If we are going to blow it up, is this really what the good guys have come to? I have to scavenge explosives off of our foes? Heck, there is a flak gun ten feet away from the box, and the thing pounds the everlovin’ daylights out of me when I approach from the air. It seems like that thing would be a better source of explosives than wandering around, punching guys and swiping their hand grenades. It would actually be hilarious to swipe the crate and use it as a shield against the AA gun, thus tricking the bad guys into shooting their own stuff.
Brain? Are you listening? No? Sigh. Fine.
Astral-Cloned-Giant-Brain is really set on the plans he came up with and isn’t interested in listening to reason or the rude things I’m shouting at my computer. Okay, okay. Let’s get this over with.
I extract some explosives from the local terrorist population and then take the explosives to the crate of mind-control equipment and activate it. A progress bar fills up as I put the explosives into place. Once full, the box blows up in my face.
|An explosion going off in my face as I use explosives I didn’t need to destroy something I could have smashed to help a floating brain I now hate.|
I return to the giant brain. He maintains that he is a super-smart brain and that he is my ally, despite the fact that the last job he gave me demonstrated that at least one of these facts must be false. At least.
Now he wants me to find a teammate…
Group combat is a mess in Champions Online. If you are in a team of three or more people, bad guys will automatically run to get reinforcements. When they do so, they get to retreat at running speed while blocking. (Players can’t do that.) It’s extremely difficult to stop the runner before he gets help, and chasing him will often drag you into crowds of foes, who will in turn all scatter for reinforcements, etc.
The thing is, the bad guys do this even if your team-mates aren’t anywhere to be seen. If you’re in a group of three people, it’s folly to enter combat while your compatriots are back in town, because the bad guys will smell the scent of a team player on you and run off for help. You’ll end up fighting gangs intended for three people. This means anytime one person takes a break, everyone needs to. So once you join a group, you must stick together or you’ll be worse off than the guy next to you who’s working solo. Actually, you’ll be worse off than him either way.
Just as you mop up one group, another one rushes in along with the guy who originally ran off, and someone from that group will go get another, and another, yea, even unto the seventh generation. Bad guys will even get reinforcements from mortal enemies. They will do so even if the reinforcements are way too strong for your party. They will do so even if the reinforcements are so far away they can’t even be seen from your current location. They will also go for whatever help is “closest” when looking at the map, even if that means jumping off a cliff. This is really annoying when doing a “rescue” mission where a civilian is cowering in the face of (say) four foes. You wipe out three, but the fourth one gets away and goes on walkabout. Then you’re all alone with the NPC you’re trying to save, but he doesn’t consider himself “saved” until his attackers are all dead – even the one halfway across the map who is trying to talk a group of terrorists to help him out fighting these superheroes.
These annoyances are compounded by the low-XP approach the game has towards combat. Enemies aren’t worth fighting for XP, and being in a group has you fighting a lot more. Sure, three people can mow through foes faster than one, but not nearly enough to make up for what the game throws at you and the hassle of needing to stick together.
What you get is this: Our team assaults a group of four level 18 robot cowboys. One of them runs off into the desert. We mop up the other three. Hey… wasn’t there a fourth guy here? I don’t see him. Did someone else kill him? Did you? I don’t know. Then we move onto the next group. Halfway through that, the runner returns with a group of level 26 escaped convicts, who proceed to wipe our party.
I’ve gone to level 25 entirely through grouping, and I’ve gone all the way to 30 while soloing. I can say it is actually a handicap to be in a group. It’s far better to disband your team and simply travel around together. (Our team didn’t do this though. We sucked it up and played the game they way you’re “supposed to”. The only time we disbanded was for an escort mission, because the reinforcements kept going after the guy we were supposed to protect. The mission went from nigh-impossible to stupidly easy just by disbanding.)
Once in a while you’ll run into a forced-teaming mission where it says you need three people and players will just go to a mandatory-teaming boss and just camp out until another hero shows up. Then – without forming a team – they both rush in and pound on the boss. Once he’s down they go their separate ways.
I can see how they intended for the reinforcements to make grouping more interesting, but instead it wound up making teaming a cumbersome chore that everyone works to avoid, which then makes forced-teaming missions like the one Star On Chest is about to do into a hassle. Almost nobody groups in this game. Champions Online is a Massively Singleplayer Online Game.
…and go after the Overmind. I have no idea why he didn’t just have me go after the Overmind first. I guess he’s just way too smart to take such an obvious and clean route to victory, and would rather send me to suicide-bomb crates of electronics first.
Right. So I need to fight the Overbrain, and his henchman, Ape Plus. The Overbrain has been working to mind-control the Hunter-Patriots to make them into his personal army. Is that bad? I mean, they’re already terrorists. If the Overbrain controls them, maybe that’s an improvement? We still have the same total number of bad guys to fight. They’ll just be doing Overbrain stuff instead of Terrorist stuff.
Here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to solo this job.
|Being that we’re after something called “The Overbrain”, you can be forgiven for thinking he’s the red brain thing to my right. The brain in the tube is actually our “friend”, who has been astrally projecting himself. This is his real self. I guess. The little floating doohickey behind that tube is the Overbrain. Ape Plus is there on the left. He’s big.|
|Oh thank you, thank you, thank you Cryptic entertainment for countering your broken teaming system with equally broken and unbalanced superpowers. Thank you for giving me regeneration, which lets me finish off Ape-Plus and then hold down the BLOCK BUTTON for twenty seconds to heal up while the Overbrain and his henchmen annoy me with their attacks.|
|I’m sorry, Overbrain, but I can’t hear you over the sound of you getting your ass kicked. It seems like I attacked during some sort of terrorist-union-mandated break, since they guys behind me aren’t getting involved.|
So… astral brain guy. Nice to meet you in person. Or whatever. You know what I mean. Say, aren’t you a bit… you know… cold?
So, under the direction of a giant floating brain I freed the terrorists from the control of a tiny floating brain so that they will be once again free to terrorize the unpopulated Canadian wastes.
Is that a win for the good guys or not? I can’t even tell anymore.
Next time: For those of you who are sick of Canada, now it’s time for… MORE OF THE SAME!
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.