One of the things about playing a lot is less time to blog. And I’ve been playing a lot of Champions Online.
The game is not without issues, of course; as noted in the comments of the last post, among other things, there’s something wonky with respec costs right now, such that it’s hard to actually have the money (‘Resources’ in CO,) to do them around levels 5-8, which is, I think, when you’d be most likely to want to. And there’s a 10-level overall cap on respecs; you can’t respec stuff that you got more than 10 levels ago at all. The costs I expect to get fixed fairly soon – it’s been acknowledged by the devs. And the 10-level cap I think may go away in the long run… but maybe not. I think the reasoning behind it is likely to be to encourage people to play alts.
City of Heroes is considered an alt-friendly game, and I think Champions is even more so because of the greater latitide in choosing your character’s powers. Alt-itis is an admitted weakness of mine, and I’m sitting on eight characters right now; thank godness for the extra 8 character slots I got with the lifetime subscription!
The appeal of an MMO isn’t about features. If it was, EQ2 would be the biggest MMO, contested only by LotRO, and WoW would be a second-stringer. It’s about the overall package, of which the features list is one element, feel and atmosphere is another, and the overall sense of fun is the third. The last of these is the hardest to define or capture, of course, but it’s the most important; and it’s what WoW has in spades and EQ2 and LotRO lag behind on, in my opinion. EQ2 and LotRO are fun but not as much fun as World of Warcraft.
And the same formula applies here: City of Heroes is fun but Champions Online is more fun. Even if I think it’s the better game overall, however, that doesn’t mean I think people will be departing CoH in droves to come here. Our hobby is ruled by, above all else, inertia. People don’t tend to want to abandon all their progress and time invested and start over in a new game. People hungry for something new try out WAR or Aion or Darkfall or whatever, but because it doesn’t immediately overwhelm them they end up back in the World of Warcraft where they’ve spent all that time and built so much; another aspect, and I suspect another area where a lot of the appeal of an MMO lies, is the progress, the sense of building.
Champions Online is not as deep a game in some respects as City of Heroes, and lacks many of the features of its older sibling. And yet, in the greater versatility of power customization, it may prove to be deeper right down in the game engine where it counts, a depth which tends to be set in the design phase and which very few MMO really alter as they game ages, improve though they might.
I think that this game is going to be the MMO sleeper hit of the year; right now, it’s pulling in bigger numbers than Warhammer Online, and it doesn’t even formally launch until Tuesday. Which is no proof of anything, and probably won’t persist, but supports the sense I have. Fed and watered correctly (which Cryptic should have the ability to do, having done it on City of Heroes,) it should be able to pull in really solid second-tier numbers for a long time to come.
Bearing in mind that the launch is actually on Tuesday, it’s totally possible that Champions will have serious issues at that point, meaning a wave of lag or server face-plants. But it might not, and the game has been pretty unproblematic as MMOs about to be launched go. Not issue-free, as noted, but in the same ballpark as LotRO at the same point, and that’s something.