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!

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