July 27, 2011

A Retrospective Look at Champions Online

One thing I can sit here and proclaim with any certainty is that I have been gaming with MMOs a long time. Almost 14 years in fact since December of '97 with Ultima Online. I've tried many variants of MMOs and played almost all of them, well the mainstream ones. I can even say that there is almost no MMO on the market now that I haven't beta'd either, and it's in the betas that I actually get a unique perspective few are actually privy to; actual insight into the development process and the dedication, or lack thereof, of the development team.

Today's topic is basically a retrospective on Champions Online, which was developed and being ran by Cryptic. I was pretty much in the beta of that since November of 2008, and the game that was then is definitely not the game that is today. Not by a long shot. Cryptic had the dogged tenacity to keep trying to improve systems in their engine as well as create new ones to meet the rather outlandish demands of a couple of vocal miscreants who liked to parade themselves as the voice of the gaming world. Basically, it went to the tune of "This is what I like, and naturally whatever I like the rest of the gaming world must like as well." Sadly, I think the worst part of listening to that Cryptic went too far into listening to those voices when they were so deadly wrong. Especially considering several of them were laughing stocks in the previous games they would use for their example (such as City of Heroes).

There were things that Cryptic did right, things they did wrong and things they were going in the right direction with but just should of stopped listening to specific individuals in the beta, but that's not something that can be handled at this moment. As CO currently stands it's a sort of love it and hate it situation for me. Part of me loves it but part of me hates it in its current form. The part of me that loves it is the RP part because there is so much potential (wasted mind you since today's RPers really wouldn't know RP if it bit them in the ass) and the part that hates it is there is nothing for me to do, as a high level player, in that game and all the stuff that should be getting fixed or streamlined has sat by the wayside. So, for me I am going to be analyzing a sort of what they got right and what they got wrong in this blog. Obviously, this will be different for a lot of people, but I think I have an eye for the major things.

So what's first on my list? Well let's talk about the freeform power system as it stands. Cryptic actually had the right idea when they were starting in beta with this. Originally they were going to put some major limitations on powers to keep people from getting the best of the best powers straight away and building godmode. They even dallied with the concept of builds having to be formed mostly of one power set with a few freeform options. Honestly, that second option would of been best. What they got wrong was they listened to the idiots who kept spouting crap like "freedom to build the hero you want" lines as some sort of trumpeting banner and excuse to be able to take all the best powers with no consequences.

And when they did give these people what they want, they didn't bother putting checks and balances in to make sure they were overpowered. In short, as Champions stands now, this needs to be completely revisited. I think the F2P model is a start, but for free forms, they need to be reined in. The game has been utterly destroyed because of god builds pretty much walking over content and trivializing it and in the end just forced people who wanted challenge and things to strive for to walk away in disgust. Of course, the current player base of free forms would totally disagree with this and say things like this goes against the concepts of the game, to which I say, bullshit.

Another thing on the powers front is though they were trying to do action style combat, they didn't do anything to rein in the abuse of single powers. Some powers were understandably and should be spammable.  But many of the powers should of actually had inherent cooldowns and the like. The entire energy system, as it stands, needs an honest rework. The entire concept was to use X power to build Y energy so you could unleash Z attack, however, again due to certain individuals, this ended up just becoming the current energy building system it is now and we have people who have a whole tray of powers but hardly use any but one particular power. I would also limit people to being only ever able to pick one class of a type of power and not allowing powers with similar effects to stack like it currently does. And I would also personally reconsolidate and redefine the role passives to change based on the role the player was in, not be for one specific role, and leave it to where that player actually had only one choice of passive.

One of my most massive gripes, however, is the entire role system. Originally this was going to actually be pretty damn good and offer a lot of freedom of choice. Tanks would be tanky, but not the big ole damage houses, DPS would hurt, and support would actually be able to support but not do a lot of damage. The role system was interchangeable so you could change on the fly and such and the role passives actually worked differently based on a particular role. Then things went to hell because the dipshits again (I so would love to mention their names) wanted to be able to do everything. Batman was only ever the one example they used, of course, but the whole concept of teaming got shot in the foot that moment when people started griping that they should use everything without restrictions.

To solve that, the role system would have to be revisited and checks and balances would actually have to be instituted to actually give the roles some meaning. The current system doesn't offer that, anyone with either enough damage or enough patience can be DPS or tank without any effort. There is very little point to being in brawler or avenger roles, and support is almost ignorable completely. The two biggest roles being defensive and balanced, which this is a major problem as the system stands. If these two are overshadowing everything else in your system, then we have a major problem and that needs to be fixed.

Speaking of balance, one thing that needs to be nipped in the bud now is the Death and Penalty system in Champions. In short there is none. Oh, you can get defeated and you might have a mild walk to get back to a point, but otherwise dying is just merely an inconvenience in Champions. There needs to be weight added, a penalty. Repair cost for upgrades or something. Saying that a penalty system is not required is ignoring the facts especially how people kept death zerging bosses, to the point that drastic, draconian measures had to be instituted just to make death to bosses feel more impactful. The star system is a blasé answer to it, and pretty much an absolute joke of a death penalty system. In short, this needs to be majorly over hauled as well.

This also brings me to the items. Sorry to say Cryptic, having a dream where items don't mean much in a sandbox game is all and well, but Champions is not a sandbox, it's a theme park. You've put an absolute limit on everything with a leveling system. The only way people have left to go is through upgrades. Of course it doesn't help that your stat system is convoluted to a fault but at the same time it doesn't help that your items don't even make sense. Why does offensive upgrades have a defensive stat? Why is there an offensive stat? First and foremost I would completely redo this. I would start using offensive stat on upgrades, Offensive slot items would lose defense stat in place of offense stat, and utility would get a mix of both. Defensive upgrades would get a slight boost to offset the loss. Then from there I would also add set items based only on the three primary slots, not the secondary, I would also go out and rebuild crafting and for new upgrades, people find the craftable materials in dungeons and buy the blueprints from UNTIL using things like the coalesced qliphothic essence we find.

Finally, and the big thing, endgame. You can slice it any two ways you want, but theme parks need an endgame system. You can bullshit yourself till the cows come home but if there is nothing to do when you read the end but "reroll" then people aren't going to be interested and will not bother staying around for very long after they hit the top. And hitting the top in Champions doesn't take a lot of time. This involved loot, rewards, dungeons, challenging boss fights and many other things. Raiding content to is also something that should be implemented. People play MMOs to team and socialize, and if they don't they are either lying or don't really play to begin with. We need things like this.

In the end Champions needs a lot of reworking in a lot of areas. The game might be too far along for any of such changes to be implemented, but I would like to hope that they might be able to be implemented at some point. Part of the problem is Cryptic listens too much and tries to please too many at once. Instead of focusing and sticking to their guns, they listened to a couple of nobodies to dictate how the future of the game should go, nobodies mind you who proclaimed straight up that no matter if Cryptic implemented these ideas, they still would never play the game. So now we got a bunch of crap in CO that the people who wanted it aren't even playing the game for. And make no mistake, I think the Cryptic team is very hard working, but trying to please so many at once just delivers a mediocre performance, especially when trying to please people that left long ago.

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