Monday, March 28, 2011

Champions Online: Go for the Gold

I decided to go for the Gold membership option on Champions as an easier way to evaluate all the bits and bobs you can get in the game. The F2P option is still a great bargain, but how tempting are those archetypes and costumes? The costume bits will be attractive to players that love tweaking their toon’s appearance. But stoic players may not care. The archetypes I am a bit on the fence about.

On the one hand, they are a great introduction to the game and make a focused style character easy. If you’re not buying a monthly sub, then chances are you’re going to buy one or more archetypes. F2P subscribers can’t use “Custom Build” options so you’re going to either have to stick to the free archetypes or buy one of the newer ones. Free archetypes include Behemoth (tank), Grimore (general purpose), Blade (melee DPS), Inferno (ranged DPS), Glacier (crowd control/tank), and Mind (healer-ish). Each of these is fun and playable. Some of the premium archetypes are Void (ranged DPS), Specialist (melee DPS), Inventor (general purpose), Savage (melee DPS), and Tempest (ranged DPS). There is a power curve difference between the free archetypes and the premium. In particular, the Inventor is a monster at 11th level.

On the other hand, the archetypes are all underpowered compared to what a player can do with Custom Build. The archetypes are very rigid and typically follow one power chain from beginning to end. But with a custom toon you can pick 3 powers from Fire (Inferno), and 3 powers from Gadgeteering (Inventor), and 3 powers from Weapon Melee (Blade/Specialist), etc, etc. You can cherry pick the most effective powers in one toon. I put together one custom build based on ranged DPS that would most closely resemble the Tempest. The Tempest template grants the Gigabolt power at 40th (!) level. I took the power at 10th. Gigabolt drops a path of death from you to the target. Even at 10th level it universally obliterated normal villains and almost killed 2-bar villains. My custom build (Shazbolt), is a walking DPS super nova. I can barely see the screen from all the flare and radiant effects from Gigabolt, Orbital Cannon, Spark Storm, and various other bolts… not counting the artillery from her munitions bots. Nothing in the archetypes compares.

Custom build is probably the most compelling reason to purchase a sub rather than F2P. The archetypes cost 920 Atari Coins and that is going to break down to $11.50. Buy one or two archetypes and you’re looking at what it would cost for 1 month anyway.

The other really useful premium options are the travel powers. Without a Gold sub, you’re looking at very basic options for motoring around. But the Gold subscription allows for some fun variants like Jet Boots and Fire Flight. These work just as well as the free options, but look cooler. Jet Boots are supposed to be a nudge faster and they are, but you won’t really notice often.

Still… one thing that may not be obvious is that for all the stuff included in a Gold membership, you still have cause to buy and use Atari Coins… Light Speed (travel power) for example still has to be bought for 420 coins ($5.20) even with a Gold sub. Lots of costume options are still extra (usually 380 coins or $4.25). A Gold account is given 400 coins per month so it is arguable that these options too become “free” after you build up long enough.

I did a rough comparison of things “I would want” added to F2P vs the cost of a sub. If I bought 1 travel power, 2 extra character slots, 3 bag slots, 1 costume set, the 2 expansion zones, and limited myself to a single archetype then my total would be $56.25 (4280 coins at 1500 Atari Coins x 3). Four months of play comes in at $59.96. So if you had the dosh up front, knew exactly what you wanted (character wise), and were willing to live with the reduced (yet still very playable) power level of a premium archetype, then the F2P pays off in the long run. Of course, the cheap gamer in me still struggles to pay that much up front on a game I haven’t really tried. I predict most folks will end up with a couple of months of Gold subscription and that will hook them on the Custom Build character and that will lock them in to subscription for a long time.

Cryptic really has an evil marketing genius in its dark cubicles. Game On!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Champions Online: Free For All

I've recently been playing some of this with the boys. I was intrigued by "free" and thought initially the boys would like it and I'd save some dosh.

It turns out I like the silly game. It is only loosely an MMO by my definition. There are dozens of servers and there is lots of instancing between zones and in "dungeons". I notice that most areas only support about 60 players.

In case you can't guess, Champion's is a superhero genre RPG. While you may instantly conjure images of Superman and Wonder Woman, the hero building system allows you to create a very wide range of useful and interesting characters. From secret agents, to cyborgs, to demons and wizards. It all fits somewhere in a comic book, right? So about anything goes.

The questing mechanic is very much "amusement park" designed with hundreds of "Missions" to complete. Zones are roughly organized by level of difficulty, but they spread them out quite a bit so you will rotate between areas. You may start in Canada, move to Westside, then back to Canada. But there are always a few options so you can pick where you want to run your missions.

Character advancement is an XP / Level system where you gain access to more powers at key levels. If you play for free, you'll be limited to their pre-built "Archtypes". But if pop for the $15 USD monthly sub, you can get access to more archtypes and the "custom build". I'd recommend starting with the archtypes just to get familiar with the game, but you'll likely feel the lure of the Custom Build before too long.

This isn't my first experience with Free 2 Play, but this has certainly been the longest. I don't think Cryptic (the developer) has done a particularly better job with their game in my case. I just don't like wow/fantasy clones. If I want fantasy, I play WoW. There isn't any reason to play anything else. But if don't want fantasy, the options are much more limited. CO is a good departure from WoW-clones even if it does use a lot of the same concepts (missions, levels, classes, etc).

The game does offer classic features like banks, auction houses, and crafting. I've dabbled with these, but not fully explored them. The end-game seems limited. Level advancement stops at 40 and after that it appears your options are 1) PvP or 2) make alts. So it remains to be seen how far Cryptic will take it. It shows a lot of promise, but still falls short of the big dogs in the MMO industry.

But for now... POW! BAM! WHAMO! Game On!