In this comic I describe the Snake Gulch area of Champions Online. Note that everything said about the place in the comic is true. I wasn’t exaggerating for comedic effect. It really is like that.
I think Snake Gulch is by far the weakest area of the game. (Disclaimer: I’ve only just now reached monster Island, so I can’t really comment on it or the rest of the level 30+ content, although they would have to be pretty bad to rival Snake Gulch.) I’ve already belabored the thematic problems (like trying to collect alimony from one robot cowboy to give to another) but it’s rough in just about every other area as well. The quests don’t make a lot of sense, even once you accept the premise of the robot cowboy theme park. The teaming is completely screwed, and it’s more or less random if individual quests can be shared and if you can actually cooperate on their individual goals or if you end up competing with your teammates for quest resources. It’s the only place in the game where I found myself grinding for drops.
Example: In one quest you have to collect seven tin stars from Sheriff’s Deputies, but they only seem to drop about half of the time, which means you need to fight about fourteen of them. Unless you’re in a group, in which case you seem to share those drops and you’ll end up fighting even more, thus punishing you for working together. And the game doesn’t warn you, but some deputies will never drop stars, ever. (Hint: As far as I can tell, only the roaming ones drop.) Once you (and every member of your team) have seven tin stars, you can go to the saloon and fight Sheriff Robo. I don’t remember what excuse the game offered for why we needed those stars first and we couldn’t just go right for Robo directly.
That’s just one quest. There are a lot of others that offer these sort of logic-defying annoyances and poorly justified contrivances.
But the real problem with Snake Gulch is the obnoxious layout. The gulch is a three-tier arena with high cliff walls. For heroes using super-speed and acrobatics, their only choice is to use the stairs. To go up one tier you have to navigate a three-story spiral staircase. And the stairs aren’t even next to each other, so that you’ll have to deal with mooks getting from one staircase to another:
As an added bonus, there are “singing cowboys” in the area with a huge knockback sonic blast, and if you’re earthbound it’s really easy to get punted to the bottom and have to start the climb all over. As an added added bonus, there is a rock spire in the middle, and a couple of quests perched on top.
This is pretty much a worst-case scenario for anyone without vertical travel powers. At the very LEAST the stairs should have been a continuous ramp, and placed near each other without any mooks in between. Getting around the other areas of the game can be annoying with super speed, but Snake Gulch is a punishing time sink. I love the acrobatics travel power, but I’ll never use it because of Snake Gulch.
But even so: Who builds an amusement park in a hole? It’s all cliffs and no handrails. It’s smothering, claustrophobic, and actually undermines the premise that this place is either an amusement park or an old west town. It looks bad and is no fun and makes no sense and works against the intended fiction.
I’m pretty sure the annoying quests and glitches are being gradually fixed, and I’m willing to bet in a few more patches the place will play much better. But the travel issue is built into the structure of the place, and I can’t think of how it could be fixed without a massive art and design overhaul. A better solution would be to offer an alternate area with level 19-22 content so that people have another place to level in that range.
Usual disclaimer: Champions Online is huge fun. Snake Gulch is full of tribulations, but there is a lot of really fantastic content in the game that keeps me coming back. If you liked City of Heroes at all, it’s well worth checking out. It features the most solid and rewarding solo game I’ve ever seen in an MMO, so if you dig solo play you’re likely to find Champs Online to be really satisfying. I’m being hard on the game, but that’s more or less in my nature. It’s a freshly launched MMO and I’ve never played an MMO this close to launch.
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