Champions Online Will Fail Without a Full Respec or Retcon Option
by: Michael Hartman
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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The main selling point of Champions Online is the extreme customization and character variety. This virtue becomes a vice if players are not given the ability to fully respec (retcon) and repair choices they later regret.
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Preview of Champions Online
If you are unfamiliar with Champions Online you might want to read the Champions Online Preview. It explains the game in detail and analyzes its major features.
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Character Customization - One of Champion Online's Primary Selling Points
As noted in the preview of Champions Online, character customization is one of the game's primary strengths. This includes the character creator itself, power customization (colors as well as emanation point), and the ability to create completely unique and varied characters. Cryptic constantly hypes this as one of the most unique aspects of CO when compared to other MMOs.
Without a full respec option, this extreme customization becomes a detriment rather than an asset. Without a full respec, the high level of customization simply adds complexity and risk to character design rather than flexibility and fun. Having a lot of choices and flexibility can actually be a bad thing if every choice could potentially ruin your character. Choice without the ability to undo or recover from that choice raises the stakes to a level so high it is harder to simply enjoy the game.
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Full Respecs Are Badly Needed in Champions Online
Right now, you can only respec your last 10 level up choices. As noted in the CO preview, this includes power picks as well as stat increases, travel powers, and advantages added to powers. It is extremely easy to ruin a character by choosing a power, stat, or advantage that you are unhappy with later. The ability might not scale up like you thought, a better or more fun power of the same type might come available, your playstyle might change a bit, or many other reasons.
Champions Online is a non-class based game that touts its extreme customization as a primary selling point. This is an accurate claim only if people are able to UNDO their choices if they end up being unhappy with them. Effectively requiring that people do hours of research and use third party build planners in order to avoid fun ruining mistakes is a horrible way to go. The current situation makes leveling up a time of stress and worry rather than excitement and fun.
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But What About Powergamers?
Some players worry that full respecs will allow powergamers to constantly respec their characters into "whatever is best" at the moment. Here's the thing: powergamers are already playing "whatever is best", and they always will be. The fact of the matter is this: powergamers will always powergame. They will spend hundreds of hours researching and planning their characters, and they will do everything it tanks to twink up and powerlevel their characters. Denying respecs to the entire game will not impact powergamers. They already know exactly which powers they want, which stats to raise, and which advantages to pick.
Respecs are what allow everyone else to be able to enjoy their characters as well. Respecs allow casual players to simply PLAY THE GAME rather than RESEARCH THE GAME. Respecs give regular players the opportunity to tweak and improve their character build so they actually have some hope of competing with the powergamers.
Furthermore, developers almost always find it impossible to resist balancing their game based on the way powergamers play it. Difficulty and xp curves will eventually be tweaked based on how powergamers play. If regular players cannot improve and enhance their builds to keep up, they simply suffer.
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Heavy Customization Becomes a Vice, Not a Virtue, Without Full Respec
Extreme customization is a NEGATIVE rather than a positive if you do not give people the means to undo their choices. Without the ability to fix or repair choices that are later regretted, the high level of customization simply adds negative complexity, risk, and fear to the process of training up your character. Right now, the lack of a full respec option makes what should be the biggest selling point of the game into a potential negative. That is not very good from a business and marketing perspective.
It also makes the leveling up process a time of stress rather than a time of excitement and joy. In RPGs, leveling up is supposed to be one of the high points. Having to worry about making a "right choice" that you eventually cannot undo is not the way to make leveling up a fun time.
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It is Very Easy to Ruin a Character in Champions Online
Due to the high level of customization, it is very easy to ruin or severely impair a character in Champions Online. You can make poor stat boost selections, you can enhance powers you end up not using as much, or you can pick powers that you later dislike or that simply do not scale up well.
As you gain levels, you unlock powers that are similar to ones you could choose early on, but they are more useful, better, more fun, or may fit your character concept better. If you already chose a power of a certain type (single target attack, ranged, AoE, crowd control, defensive shield, etc.) then choosing another power of the same type would be redundant. You are then faced with either continuing on with your weaker, less fun power, or choosing the new one and simply having one less power than other characters of the same level.
That is an extremely unappealing choice, and a lot of customers will instead go with a third option: /cancel subscription.
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Most Players Want to Play Games, Not Research Them
As it stands right now, the only way to effectively play Champions Online is to spend many hours researching the forums and a few more hours planning out builds in a third party planner (which may have viruses, keyloggers, or who knows what since they are made by players, not Cryptic). Since most gamers want to PLAY THE GAME rather than STUDY the game, this is a very bad situation.
History and player trends have shown that players react very negatively to being told to "reroll noob" or "study the forums more" when faced with a ruined or gimped character. If Champions Online hopes to succeed, they will absolutely have to implement a full respec option.
Unless Champions Online is looking to go the route of Tabula Rasa, Matrix Online, Auto Assault, other failed and canceled MMOs, or the walking dead (like Warhammer Online), they need to implement a full respec option. This option should be relatively easy to obtain, and involve no more than a moderate coin cost or a soloable mission chain of an hour or so. There's nothing wrong with the respec requiring some effort or some cost. But it should not require a raid group, tons of superteam friends, or a bank busting fee.
But more important than the cost is that they get this feature in the game fast. Otherwise, they'll watch sadly as customers throw their hands up in disgust when they realize they must either spend hours researching their builds or expect to frequently start characters over from scratch. This is an untenable situation that can only be solved by the implementation of a reasonable full respec option for Champions Online characters.
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UPDATE - August 28, 2009: Feedback Has Been Pouring In
I received quite a bit of feedback in response to this article. About 95% of it supports full respecs. Most of those respondents note it is a deal breaker feature for them. Of the 5% against, there were two arguments:
People won't play alts.
People will respec into a totally different class every few hours or days.
I will respond to both of those concerns:
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Playing and Making Alts:
If you try to force people to play alts, the following will happen:
People who like alts will make alts.
People who don't like alts will cancel their subscription.
It really is as simple as that. Equally important is the fact that people make alts for a wide variety of reasons. One of the most common is to have a character they can play with friends or family they introduce to the game. Full respecs will not impact that whatsoever.
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Excessively Frequent Full "Class" Respecing
First, Champions Online is not a class based game. You can already build characters that can easily tank, DPS, heal, or provide crowd control. The ability to change your "build mode" between offensive, defensive, and support further enhances this. So this argument is already flawed from the beginning.
Second, people spend hours in the costume creator, working to think of JUST the right name, write backstories for their characters, and more. They do all of these things because a huge part of making a character in a game like CO is the creative connection to the persona. Additionally, people will spend great deals of time gathering the right gear, crafted items, etc. for their character to specifically fit their character's role and playstyle.
Most people won't do all of that and then flush it down the toilet so they can be a completely different character on a day to day, or hour by hour basis.
Furthermore, anybody who wants to swap that often will find it MUCH easier to just level up another character. Why? Because re-choosing all your powers, talents, characteristics, advantages, power replacers, gear, etc. every few days would be a gigantic pain in the rear.
The overwhelming majority of ways a full respec would be used would be to make tweaks to a character's powers that leave the character functionally similar to the original. When they don't, it will often be for a roleplay or storyline reason - something that is COMMON in the comic book/superhero genre.
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Reasons Why People Want Full Respec
There are a lot more reasons why someone might want to respec abilities beyond their last 10 points.
1) Older abilities didn't turn out to be a fun as you expected.
2) Roleplay. Your character underwent a very comic book like transformation that dramatically altered his powers.
3) Older abilities do not synergize as well with your newer ones, and they are now useless or nearly useless.
4) You stumbled upon a new power that is really cool, and it gave you new ideas for a direction to take your character. Older powers are not compatible with it.
5) After a few weeks, you decided you prefer your ranged (or melee) abilities and want to focus on that style of play more. As a result, you need to dump your melee (or ranged) abilities.
6) You thought regen would be fun, but you realized you really hate getting rocked by alpha strikes. So you would prefer a more front loaded defensive passive.
7) You started off playing the game with a buddy who played a healer. He got bored and quit. Now you have no shields and no heals and you really need some. Also, you don't need that offensive passive any more because you are going to be spending most of your time in balanced mode.
8) You used to think PvP was lame and not fun. After all, every other game you played had crappy PvP. Turns out, you like CO's PvP. You'd like to respec into a more PvP friendly build.
9) Knockback didn't seem so bad for the first 20 levels, but wow.... now it absolutely drives you insane. Turns out you really need to switch to a heavy strength based character (even if you are ranged dps) because you really want to cut down on the knockbacks.
I could keep going on, but I really do feel like I have provided a lot of very legitimate reasons why someone would want and need a full respec.
Short version: You do not want players wallowing in regret over level up decisions they made in the past. That won't make them enjoy your game.
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Thank You for the Feedback
Thank you everyone for all the feedback. Keep the comments, messages, and emails coming!