Friday, October 16, 2009

A Week of Champions Online

Unbeknown to you, dear readers, for the past week I have been playing a 14-day free trial of Champions Online. Today, for your game-playing benefit and reading pleasure, I shall give you a review of said game.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that:
  1. I have been playing City of Heroes (i.e. that other superhero MMO) since summer 2004, which has no doubt spoiled me rotten;
  2. I'm one of those folks who thinks that the best thing to ever happen to COH was when Jack Emmert -- the former head developer of COH -- left to manage CO instead;
  3. I have played the Pen and Paper version of Champions for many years.
And now, on with the show.

After an afternoon wasted at the courthouse, I decide it's time for some justice, Palette-style, and that I really should give CO the benefit of the doubt and try it myself before declaring it to be ugly and stupid and awful like I'm already certain it will be, based upon fugly screenshots and the fact that Jack Emmert, the MMO Antichrist, is its head developer. (NOTE: I am biased.)

First I download the client and install the game while I eat supper. This takes about as long as you'd think, so no points off there. Then, however, begins the harrowing adventure of Getting the Damn Thing to Work. You would think it would be a simple matter of entering the trial code and starting the game, but you would be wrong. After going through the exceedingly tedious registration process -- I wasn't taking notes, but I swear this had 3-5 more steps than any other MMO I've ever played -- I close my browser, fire the game up, and...

... have to download and apply multi-gigabyte patch for the next hour or so. No, I am not exaggerating that amount, it is at least an hour to download and apply a patch for a game that is a month and a half old, and I have cable internet with decent bandwidth.

Disgusted, I realize that Double XP Weekend on City of Heroes has been extended to Monday to take advantage of the holiday, and I quite happily play that until I go to bed.

The game is finally operational! I gleefully anticipate making my favorite COH character, Kenku, in CO. Now I realize full well that this cannot be a direct port due to differences in how powers are designed and animated, and how costumes are drawn, but I expect that I should be able to craft a good approximation of "Japanese martial artist with defensive darkness powers in a black and silver/gray costume with bird motif."

An hour later, I am ready to log off in disgust, and I haven't even started playing the damn game.

Okay, look, this next bit is going to be completely and utterly subjective, so just bear with me, all right? I tried to be fair, and it's just not gonna happen.

Here's the good part: I like that there are a lot of options, and costume pieces have at least three textures (cloth, leather, metal), and that you can have up to 4 colors per piece. I also like that you can easily shuffle the colors around so you can do that optometrist trick of "better, or worse?" when deciding which shades to put where. I also like how you can lock things so that they don't accidentally get changed, and the ability to have capes, wings, and even backpacks at level 1 is fantastic.

And that, my friends, is the ONLY good part of the character creation system. Sure, you get tons of sliders so that you can customize every aspect of your avatar's face and body, but Sweet Buttery Eris, you're gonna need them to make a face that doesn't look like complete and utter ass. Here, take a look:

Now I realize that tastes vary, and some of you folks may like what you see. In that case, more power to you. What I see here is "a western artist who is not Adam Warren is trying to draw in the manga style and failing miserably." Huge eyes. Tiny nose. Incredibly large lips? I'm telling you guys, with the exception of the ear slider cranked all the way up, that's pretty close to the default setting right there, and the standard options they give you don't really change your appearance an awful lot. And good fucking luck trying to make a face that looks vaguely Asian. (I managed it by shrinking her lips and then picking the "determined" expression, which gave her a squinty look. Combined with a domino mask and pupil-less eyes, it kinda works.)

The other problem is that everything is done with shading instead of line art. If you read comics today, you're probably aware of how some features (like muscle definition) are done by color separation and not by the penciller or inker, and that's how Champions Online does its art. Some people like that, and that's fine, but I can't stand the look. I prefer crisp, clean line art. I also prefer faces that look human and not cartoonish.

And that's the real crux of my argument here. The art in City of Heroes is comic book; the art of Champions Online is cartoon. (See Seamus Young's series of posts here about why the writers of CO are taking a similar, "who-gives-a-shit-this-is-Super-Friends" approach to adventure plots. And don't get me started on the BAM!, POW!, or FREEM! sfx balloons which appear over an NPC's head when he's about to hit you with a large attack.)

Let me illustrate this point with a compare-and-contrast. Here is a City of Heroes character:

And here is the same character as rendered by Champions Online:

Here, I'll do it again with another character. City of Heroes:

And Champions Online:

I tell you, it's like the difference between Jim Aparo and Greg Land.

Coming next: I gripe about gameplay.


  1. that first picture looks like Mischa Barton. so yeah, awful.

  2. I honestly can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not.

  3. No, i legitimately think having a bunch of Mischa Bartons running around pretending to be superheroes is a pretty terrible thing.

    Because I can only assume they'd have the same acting ability.

  4. I like to play champions online, like beautiful game screen

  5. bullshit, you just don't know how to use the costume creator to it's full effect. Don't blame co for you being shite!


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