While I was fooling around with the Champions Online open beta friday night, the ever-inquisitive Mrs. Ardwulf was looking over my shoulder as I was creating a character. By the time I was ready to take a break, she was ready to give it a try, and when I returned, she was deep in the introductory mission sequence.
By yesterday afternoon, we’d decided to preorder two copies. By evening, we’d gotten the client downloaded, installed and patched on her computer and were considering the 6-month subscription deal. By late in the night, we had a pair of 10th level characters and were considering the lifetime subscription.
So we’ll definitely be playing at launch. Some observations:
This is a pretty good game. I’m not sure I see where some of the pre-release complaints are coming from. It’s not problem-free by any means, and it’s not really innovative except in an incremental way (much as was WAR, and AoC, and… well, you get the picture.) It’s flawed right now in the same way any MMO is flawed around release – but less so than most, and there’s absolutely nothing that renders the game unplayable in any way, issues with individual system configurations aside.
The overall polish level seems fairly high, as MMOs a week or so before launch go. There’s some latency issues that’ll hopefully get worked out, and I’m told in one of the secondary areas there’s a number of bugged quests – but in the area I myself am in right now, all the quests seem to work fine. There are also some graphical glitches and artifacts, and I have suffered one crash,, so the client is not 100% stable yet.
The questing is a blend between the WoW model and the City of Heroes model. There’s no “contact chain” as in CoH, although there are quest chains, and so far, the mix of missions is considerably more varied than it is in CoH. This may or may not hold up as the progression continues, but in CoH by about level 5 or 6 you’re doing mostly the repetitive instanced mission grind, whereas in CO at level 10 I’m still seeing a few of the instanced missions (constructed very similarly to CoH’s on set maps, etc.) but much more open-world content. Thus far the gameplay seems much less dependent on the instanced missions.
There’s also Open Missions, which look a great deal like WAR’s Public Quests, a great feature that ended up not working well in the PvP-centered WAR, only because in the long run nobody cared about PvE in general. I think they will work better here, although I have thus far only encountered one example. Hopefully there are more – the one in the invasion scenario was a lot of fun.
There are no duplicate character names. I think it’s easy to under appreciate this feature. No more “Sorry, that name is already taken” when you’ve found the perfect character name. Some names are prohibited, however; the names of various well known superheroes and commercial products, for example. The trick is that everybody has a unique account name, so while you name your character “Titan,” and that’s what displayed on screen and in the team frame, your actual name as the server sees it, and as is displayed in the chat window, is “Titan@Youraccount.” Seems an elegant fix to me.
There’s one server and no sharding. However, this is not exactly like EVE Online’s shardless universe, where you can actually have hundreds or thousands of people in the same area all interacting. Instead, it’s accomplished by instancing similar to that used in Age of Conan or EQ2; extra players in a particular zone spawn extra copies of that zone. The limit seems to be about 50 players per instance, although it’s probably possible that the number will change at launch. Whenever you change instances the game asks you which version you want to go to, although you can set it so it’s chosen automatically by the server. I’m curious to see how the spawning of the instances works; hopefully there’s not going to be a bunch of expty instances filling up the list.
The combat is fast, fluid and fun. I actually liken it to the combat in Age of Conan – the pace feels similar, although it’s obviously much less melee-centric and less clearly mold-breaking. The controls are pretty responsive (and I’m pretty sensitive to this these days, having played mostly WoW for the last several months,) although perhaps a bit oversensitive at times. Some of the movement powers are especially susceptible to this, I suspect by design.
I like the graphical style of the game, and find it much more distinctive than the look of City of Heroes, and more comic-booky as well. CoH is a very good-looking game; I think CO looks better, although this kind of thing is a matter or taste.
A comparison between Champions Online and City of Heroes is inevitable, and worthy of a long post in its own right. CoH is a mature and well-developed game; on paper, its feature list blows that of CO away. And yet, I think CO is more fun down in the basic gameplay, more action-oriented in exactly the way a superhero game should be action-oriented.
I’ll be playing some more over the next few days; there’s an end-of-beta in-game event Monday night that we’re hoping to participate in.