Not likely, but possible.
The powers in the game are woefully out of balance. I’m not talking about PvP balance, I’m talking about general fighting bad guys balance. Note that I’m not a stickler for balance, either. I don’t mind playing a character who is 15% less effective than the same-level guy with the same-quality gear right next to me. As long as the combat remains fun and the pace is the same, it’s all good.
But in Champs that power sets are so far out of balance that some sets are simply not used. I’ve bumped into hundreds of electricity and fire based heroes, but I have seen exactly three characters using claws. And all of them were in the tutorial zones. In all my hours with this game, I have never seen claws used above level ten. Never.
It’s easy to see why. You can see what’s wrong with the class in about two minutes. Just compare its combat performance to anything else in the game. It’s not even remotely close. The claw attacks put all these debuffs on foes. By the time you’ve hit a bad guy a few times he’s going to be more susceptible to damage and deal less damage. Maybe he’ll even be slowed down. But who cares? In that same interval, the fire-based character will have killed this entire group of foes, and the next one.
Archery is another broken power set. “Archers” generally open a battle with sonic arrow and then enter the fray and use the other power sets to get the job done. At what point do we stop calling these people archers? You can tell from their costumes that the players want to be archers, but the game just doesn’t provide rewarding powers for doing so.
I can’t really make sense of the system they have. One power will do decent damage for a reasonable expenditure of energy. Another power from another set will do less damage, cost more energy, and have a ten-second cooldown timer as if it was some battle-ending trump card that needed to be carefully rationed.
Also problematic is the “charging” mechanic. Some attacks can be charged by holding down the button before unleashing the blow. Now, this is a great idea, but it doesn’t seem to work the way it should. On my might-based character I can fully charge a haymaker attack for almost exactly half of my energy. When I pop the bad guy in the nose, he’ll take about 1,000 damage. If I don’t charge the haymaker but just tap it, then half my energy will give me about 5 hits for 300 each. So, the same energy use = 50% more damage by not charging the attack? Keep in mind that when you spend several seconds charging up an attack, you’re taking a gamble. The bad guy could take one step backwards (to the game’s credit, the AI is smart enough to do this) and the entire attack could miss and the energy go to waste. You could also be interrupted or held and lose the time you invested into the attack. Right now there is simply no reason to take that gamble. (Well, there’s knockback, but you only need to charge it a tiny bit to knock a foe away.)
This is just one example of dozens of things in the game that make no sense or are counter-intuitive. The forums are full of similar complaints about other powers and mechanics. It’s possible that a majority of the people simply don’t “get” how the game is supposed to work or are misunderstanding the numbers, but then the duty falls to the game designer to clearly communicate with the player so the world doesn’t feel unfair and arbitrary.
The shame is, I love the variety they offer in the power sets. The game doesn’t pigeon-hole you the way City of Heroes does, in that you can make whatever sort of class you like. If the power sets were each useful, this system would be a tremendous success and a breakthrough. It would still be possible to balance them, but doing so would probably incite cataclysmic rage. They have nerfed a lot of powers and some of the players who were there at launch day are sore about how their characters were “ruined” by this process. I can’t speak for them or judge if their characters really did need to be nerfed or not, but I know lots and lots of radical changes will upset the player base and frustrate everyone who is happy with their power set.
Traveling around is fun. Swing like Spiderman. Fly like superman. Leap like the Hulk. Teleport like Nightcrawler. Zip along like The Flash. Jump and spin like Damien Walters. Tunnel like… Bugs Bunny.
It’s all good until you run into the game’s lame-brained topography. (I know I’ve been over this before, but I want to mention it here in the review, just for completeness.) Millennium city is supposedly Detroit, but there is a massive two hundred foot cliff that cuts they city in half. Some people have accused me of wanting the gameworld to be “flatland”. This is not true. Some nice, rolling hills would be really welcome and would make this place a lot more interesting. But the city is perfectly flat aside from the arbitrary and nonsensical wall that makes life difficult for acrobats and speed runners.
(Note to fanboys: A disadvantage that can be overcome with training, patience, knowledge, and practice is still a disadvantage.)
I’d accept this if it made the world more fun / dramatic / realistic, but something which punishes some players and makes no sense is a thing which has no upside.
The Roper Factor
The last game I played with writing this bad was Hellgate: London. The similarities of the two games are worth noting:
- Taking an existing formula and making it more action-y.
- Lots of good ideas and a willingness to take risks and break conventions.
- Terrible class / powers balance.
- Horrifyingly bad writing and plotting. Both games treated the setting as a joke at the player’s expense.
- Bill Roper
The faults of the two games are so similar that it is tempting to lay these problems at Roper’s feet. I don’t know that it’s fair to do so, but if we do then we also have to give him credit for the things which worked. I think if Roper could send some ninjas to kidnap just one writer from Bioware and one of the game-balance analysts from Blizzard, he would probably be able to take over the world. But instead…
State of the game
The population of Champions Online has fallen dramatically. The chorus of chanting has followed the standard and sadly predictable arc, which began at launch:
- The game is perfect. You’re just looking for things to complain about.
- The game isn’t perfect, but at least it doesn’t [something that WoW does].
- ALL MMO’s lose some subscribers after launch. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.
- Okay, the world is empty but that’s because of the lack of marketing. This game is still awesome.
- Bah. People just don’t know what’s good. They can all go back to playing WoW.
The story of me. If you're looking for a picture of what it was like growing up in the seventies, then this is for you.
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