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How Free Is Free?
The new gimmick that has most companies vying for more consumers in the MMO genre is the “free to play” tag. Turbine and EA took some pretty big steps with Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, moving away from the pay-to-play subscription model and heading into the free-to-play paradigm that’s made Southeast Asian developers and publishers billions of dollar over the past couple of years.
Cryptic and Atari are trying their hand at the free-to-play concept with Champions Online and so far it’s not bad but it leaves a lot to be desired for gamers who would be willing to be put some hard-earned cash into Atari’s pockets with their revamped cash shop and renewed lifetime subscription plan. Find out what some of the new concepts are and how they play out in this Champions Online Free-For-All review.
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Non-subscribers are relegated to playing Champions Online in a very limited role. It’s understandable to some extent but a lot of the content is actually entirely restricted to subscribers only. This means that cash-shop only or free-to-play gamers are stuck with eight predefined archetypes for now. There are three elementals, a psychic,the behemoth (tank), a blader, a marksman and a soldier. Two other classes can be bought from the cash shop. These two additional archetypes are basically classes Cryptic knew people would want to pay money for and I definitely can’t blame them. The one feral class is reminiscent of Wolverine while the specialist is basically a Deadpool or Blade type of character, costing about $10 each from the C-Store.
Some of the archetypes work well while others are reliant on teams to get through some of the tougher parts of the game. Playing as a fire elemental or the behemoth allows players to basically solo through most of the game during same-level areas which can quickly prove to be boring for some players.
What’s initially there isn’t all too bad but it definitely could be better. The upside is that apparently new archetypes are being planned for release down the road. What really would have been awesome is being able to pay for individual powers, or at least buy power slots that enables a single hero to have an option to add a single free-form power per power slot from the cash shop.
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Cash Shop Items
What’s there in the cash shop (also known as the C-Store) is sort of adequate for F2P gamers, but it feels so lacking. Newcomers to Champions Online will find a fair selection of costumes and account upgrades available. For non-subscribers the C-Store is necessary for buying things like extra bag slots, extra costume clots or rename cards. Subscribers will get 400 Atari Points a month to spend in the C-Store, which helps compensate for the $15 a month. The standard-fare service micro-items are fine but it would have seemed like there should have been slightly more C-Store costumes or abilities considering that the game has been in operation for more than a year. In fact, lacking isn't even a good word considering that the original Champions C-Store Review pointed out the exact same problems...a year ago. In this regards, I'm tempted to question what Cryptic has been doing for the past year with the game?
I suppose my biggest gripe in this situation is not that the game has a limited amount of content in the cash shop but that after the game was already in service for more than a year the cash shop is as scarce as it is. This is also in comparison to Allods Online, which has also been out for almost the same amount of time and already has a very flourishing cash shop that helps fuel the re-playable end-game content. There's no excuse why the C-Store should be as abysmal as it is for as long as Champions has been in operation.
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New Content And Gameplay
The fighting engine is the bread and butter of Champions…it’s extremely fluent when playing with a Xbox controller and for some of the archetypes it’s about as convenient as playing a standard superhero action game. When playing through as an archetype the game has a more streamlined experience that actually doesn’t feel like a typical MMO.
And while some of the new content has been added to further diversify the look and feel of the custom superheroes in the game (i.e., new costume sets, new cash shop sets, adjusted powers, etc,) the bigger problem isn’t what can be done with the superheroes or how to customize them but more-so with what you can’t do whether you’re a gold subscriber or a free-to-player once you get to the end-game. There just isn’t enough content there. I hate to draw comparisons to Allods again but after only six months Allods Online had end-game content that was vastly re-playable with tons of PvP-based competitions, events and contested zones, giving players a reason to come back for more. Hopefully with the surge of new players and a lot of cash shop revenue Cryptic will put a more serious focus on the endgame content to compliment the excellent combat system, especially with possible contested zones or something to give those overpowered heroes a reason to keep playing.
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Environments And Map Layouts
Something that really bothered me while playing Champions Online was the map designs. At initial glance yes, the environments look good. There are a lot of different mobs to fight in each zone and there’s no shortage of trophy/perk bosses. My gripe with the maps comes in with the layouts.
While players will continually bounce back and forth between only three zones throughout most of the game (i.e., Millennium City, The Desert and Canada) each zone opens up further with harder mobs and new quests and areas to explore. My problem with this is that the layouts don’t really change.
For the Desert and Canada there are certain elevated or sunken pits, hills, mountainsides and cliff areas but none of the environments offer a tactical vantage point or require players to adjust their approach based on the design. I suppose after playing environmentally tactical games like Mortal Online, Allods, Fallen Earth and Vindictus, I was expecting that in the past year Cryptic would have done more with the map layouts to give players a more diversified challenge in mob placements and settings, but unfortunately both gold and silver players will be stuck with very static map layouts.
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The original review of the P2P version of Champions Online summed up the game rather well and it’s a little disappointing that after the game has been around for long as it has more wasn’t done with it. Still, there are only three superhero customization MMOs out there (two of them from Cryptic studios) and Champions is the first one to go free to play, so if you want to customize a superhero (to some extent) for free, you at least get some of that in Champions Online. The only thing you’ll have to take into consideration is that the game plays out very much like a single-player action-RPG, much more on the line of Marvel Ultimate Alliance as opposed to being a real MMO. Even with the archtypes, partying up is a far and infrequent measure that may turn off some multiplayer enthusiasts.
Still, you can’t argue with the free content and players can get from level 1 to 40 without spending a dime and I’m sure a lot of people might find that appealing in and of itself. However, make no mistake that the very extended-demo feel of the game never actually goes away and I fear Champions will always bleed out its own player base until Cryptic starts taking game balance, prices and content more seriously.