on Jan 7, 2010
Not likely, but possible.
Perhaps my let’s play series ended sadly, but so did Champions Online. It began with incredible promise: Fun combat, fun character builder, and a lot of great ideas that all other MMO’s should adopt from now on, or I will count them as broken. The ability to name your character whatever you like avoids the inevitable and regrettable degradation of name quality over time that other MMO’s have. The action-oriented combat kept the game fun even when all other amusements had failed. The instancing of zones was an interesting feature, if still in need of a little more evolution.
But let’s break this down:
I know I’ve beaten this point completely to death. I said it in my weekly column, in by webcomic, in my let’s play series, and to anyone who has walked into my office in the past three months. Yes Shamus. The writing is bad. Please move on with your life now.
But I’m not just bringing this up because I can’t help myself (Even though I can’t.) I’m bringing this up because it’s a crucial and fundamental failure that harmed the commercial viability of this product. They perched tens of millions of dollars worth of development and technology atop ten dollars worth of writing. People say the writing in MMO’s doesn’t matter, but they’re wrong. In making the case against slapdash writing, this game is Exhibit A.
I said before: People want to accomplish things that make sense. They don’t have to be gritty, realistic, or “edgy”. You can go for camp. (Like The Incredibles.) You can go for satire. (Like Mystery Men.) Or you can play it straight. (Like Spider-Man.) But you still have to tell a story and present a world that makes some kind of sense to the audience. The world of Champs Online is a soup of brain-melting bullshit and nonsense. I’ve belabored this already, but the Champions Online setting is stupid and unworthy. It fails as a dramatic backdrop for players. It fails as comedy. It fails as homage to silver-age silliness. I’m not asking for dark, gritty realism. I’m not asking for relentless attention to detail. I’m just asking for a world that’s true to itself and worth reading about.
I take no joy in this, but Champions Online is now the second game to win my coveted (by idiots) award:
Champions Online has the best MMO combat ever. (Of the games I’ve tried, anyway.) My first thought once I got into the game was “why hasn’t anyone done this before?” It’s far more engaging than the standard formula of babysitting cooldown timers. You have a weak attack that builds energy, and then you spend that energy on your big powers. Occasionally foes will charge up something big and you have to block. Not only does this make for a well-paced fight, it makes for fights that look something like the comic book realm they’re trying to simulate. Why doesn’t the hero begin every battle with his biggest power? In the comics, it’s because you want to build a fight to a crescendo before the two sides pull out all the stops. In the game, it’s because you need to build energy first.
Fights are mobile, diverse, and occasionally spectacular. Thrown cars, breakable scenery, flying ragdolls, explosions, backflips, and particle effects.
It’s a system which is fun, playable for both twitch gamers and MMO types, and which builds up the setting itself by making battles look like proper superhero battles.
The combat and the writing are the best and the worst the game has to offer. Yin and yang and so on. I’ll cover the other, less extreme details in a later post.