Champions free for all. Yes that’s me above, soaring about as a glacier pre made class. I dabbled a bit during Champions Online beta test and went back for the free trial about a year later but despite Cryptic once again delivering on the character creator as they did previously with their original City of Heroes game I found the gameplay lacking something. Anyway, games free to play now which is an excuse for me to give it another go.

Firstly of course as with all Cryptics games, City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online and Star Trek Online they are masters at giving players a wonderous variety of options and looks they can customise. Even with the limited selection of classes available in free to play mode (you can build your own class with its own powers if you spend money) the character creator has tons of fun for anybody like myself that can spend far too long messing about making “toons”. There are costume options you have to buy aswell but the free selection is fairly expansive and unless you decide on a very particular style you can usually find plenty to build a free look with.

The travel powers in the game offer another way to explore some unique ways to get about and as you can see having opted for some eagle wings in character creation I went with flight. I took this screenshot because it was sorta like Icarus and me being a “glacier” class which seems to be some sort of ice power tank type with wings I thought flying up close to the sun was controversial in a nerdy way.

Unfortunately there are some flaws in the free model most notably that for the first 20 hours of play time you can’t communicate with other players unless they stand still long enough to read local. Given everyone is either speaking in Zone chat (general equivalent) or sending tells to each other that is a serious barrier to socializing or even just getting some advice on playing the game. 20 hours play time is a LONG time in an mmo to be forced to play without interaction and socializing and I think Cryptic have really missed why people like playing mmos to have such a limitation. I can see the thinking, the game is free now they want to stop gold farmers from spamming players by making new free accounts all the time but they already have reporting tools in game for spammers so a 20 hour communication barrier is  hurting new players probably more than the gold spamming is bothering veterans who know how to report it. I think a better compromise would be 6-8 hours playtime personally.

The other flaw is quite a common one with all of Cryptics games which I touched on at the beginning. Despite having all these options to make your character your own the gameplay still feels very repetitive.  In my head I know almost every mmo seems to revolve around the same basic concept of pick up quest, kill stuff, turn it in, move to next quest hub, level up, train skills repeat. For some reason though it feels more tedious in Cryptic games than any others and I really can’t point the finger specifically enough to describe why. It definitely has something to do with the gameplay, probably content related.

There are little niggles like the fact I have a root to lock an npc in place but since every npc in the game can switch between ranged and melee and still cause almost equal damage in either method the only reason to root would be in pvp since npc’s so far don’t ever run away from me and it doesn’t last long enough to root and then break line of sight. Secondly they seem to have the combat balance on a knife edge, on paper it sounds like a great idea to always be close to death when you beat an npc group as a single encounter but the actual result is that everything feels the same, you can take on a boss or an npc group of your level and you seem to be repeating the same 2-3 abilities over and over and come out with about 10% or less health in both fights.

Progression feels slow and you spend a lot of levels using the few abilities you get access to early on too often. Like I say…on paper it should be great being close to defeat should mean content is fun and challenging but it just doesn’t feel like that, there isn’t enough of a difference between a boss and a regular npc fight of equivalent level. There is an active block key you can hold down to defend against enemy powers that are particularly dangerous and you get a charging up warning when npcs are preparing to do them, not sure if its latency but sometimes I couldn’t stop attacking fast enough to block and sometimes they did it so often I just couldn’t be bothered to keep switching from attack to block drawing the fight out even longer.

The looting system in game is one that feels very similar to City of Heroes/Villains, since you always wear your own costume looks (you can buy more than one costume if you want) the loot is stat bonuses only that you slot in, the problem is the stat bonuses are minor upgrades or alternatives stats and while I know in my head all loot works like this in mmos the lack of any noticeable diference when upgrading your equipment just feels uninspiring and unrewarding. Woohoo I got another item for my defence slot that adds 0.1% extra physical defence and offers +5 Constitution instead of +4 Con and +1 Dex….it just doesn’t work for me.

As a free game Champions offers some fun for everyone and unless it costs you money to download I would recommend giving it a go even if you just make some characters and play about with the travel powers for a few hours. Sadly I already know I probably won’t be playing it in a few weeks, which is bizarre because the reasons I don’t like it seem to be what I think makes a good game. The big benefit of being free to play though is that you don’t have to keep playing because you are paying a subscription, so you can play a bit, take a break for a few days, play a bit more etc there’s no real hurry to get your moneys worth because you have all the time in the world (and you don’t even need to spend any!).