Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Champions Online is a console MMORPG

I have a XBox 360 gamepad controller connected to my PC, a remnant from playing The Last Remnant, so to say. So when after downloading a second, working, client for Champions Online I finally was able to enter the game, the first thing I noticed was that the hotkey button shortcuts were shown as XBox controller keys, and when standing in front of an NPC I was told to "press D-pad up to talk". So I put mouse and keyboard aside, grabbed the gamepad, and was able to play through most of the tutorial without ever letting go of the controller. And that is already basically all you need to know about this game: Champions Online is a console MMORPG.

Finally I understand some people's instinctive hostility towards Champions Online. It is not that CO is a bad console game. Graphics, gameplay, and controls work perfectly well in the context of a console game. But if you were expecting a classic PC MMORPG, with the polygon count of Aion, the complexity of at least WoW, and the typical mouse and keyboard controls, Champions Online doesn't deliver. It has cell-shaded graphics, which I personally like, but which are very different from what you see elsewhere. And while there are some advantages to gamepad controls, like being able to control camera and character with two separate thumbsticks at the same time, it quickly becomes evident that combat has been designed with a gamepad in mind too. Not that there is anything wrong with arcade buttonmashing games, but for somebody like me who already finds World of Warcraft combat not tactical enough, Champions Online combat is downright primitive. You do the whole tutorial with just two buttons, a quick, weak attack that charges your energy, and a slow, powerful attack that discharges it. If you see the enemy preparing his slow, powerful attack, you can block it, avoiding a part of the damage.

I can see the potential of this being a big success on the XBox. As I said, seen as a console game, Champions Online totally works. And there not being much competition for MMORPGs on the XBox, Champions Online will offer console players the well-known delights of quest-guided gameplay, character development by leveling and finding gear, even public quests. Only, of course, with just a gamepad in hand, I never chatted with anyone, and any cooperation with other players was just accidental.

For somebody used to PC MMORPGs and expecting another one of these, Champions Online might well be a disappointment. Controls don't work quite as well with mouse and keyboard, and having been designed for a gamepad, the user interface and menus works somewhat different than you're accustomed to. Although I assume that you'll gain more powers later, it appears that you'll never have quite as many spells and abilities as you'd have in a classic MMO. There are also obviously less items, finding loot from a dead mob isn't all that common. I did find how you could customize your powers, shooting your attack from the forehead instead of your palm for example, but that is just style and not substance. Compared to a standard PC MMORPG, Champions Online feels a MMORPG-lite, a redux version for the console. And the question of whether you really want to pay a monthly fee for that is totally justified. There are a great many Free2Play games out there which are considerably more complex than Champions Online. Makes you wonder what the business model for CO on the XBox will be; even if the game "works" for the console, console players aren't used to pay monthly fees, and might well simply refuse to do so.
On the other hand, XBox 360 and PS3 owners have gotten used to the DLC/fremium model, where you get some extra dungeons/songs/costumes/whatever by paying. Switching the business model to that could work.
Other issues I have, which may be resolved later is, that I've seen no indication of an AH.

Other things are trying to navigate to what you want in the UI, but time will resolve that.

The issue that bothers me the most is that they're doing a monthly fee AND microtransactions.
Also, Champions may not be the first 360 game to do a separate subscription model. I've heard that one of the war franchises (Battlefield or Call of Duty) would be doing so as well, remember hearing something about it on the 1up podcast.
Interesting call Tobold.

As to how they could make money on a console: I agree that expecting a monthly stream of subscriptions probably won't work. However Console games usually cost more than PC games plus console sales numbers tend to be higher than PC game sales. If they launch it right that revenue might buy them a bit of breathing space. Console gamers are also more used to paying for downloadable content so that suggests a micropayments model would work.

If the ultimate goal is to deliver a successful console mmo however it may be that releasing first on the PC is a mistake. A lot of PC gamers are going to be disappointed and that could leave a bad smell over the game which would be a barrier to future success.
For myself, I like finding ways to make my MMO's Xbox controller friendly (I can play Age of Conan 100% on the 360 controller and use Skype or Vent for chat)
Champions Online took away my ability to even change those controls on the controller and did not allow me to change THEIR control scheme which all console based games usually allow you to do.
I could not use their scheme properly, could not read attributes on items and rewards, could not change where "jump" was even. Could not access my Inventory or Character screens.

That made Champions Online also a "bad" console game to me.
"Only, of course, with just a gamepad in hand, I never chatted with anyone, and any cooperation with other players was just accidental."

From the console perspective, you don't chat with your hands. The 360 and the PS3 are built around integrated voice chat.
Ever since I heard of the heavy use of instancing I've been thinking that this game is targeted primarily at consoles, with PCs being the secondary audience.

Consoles don't/can't handle huge numbers of players in the same area all at once; instancing is the obvious way to circumvent that technical problem.
Just curious but what level did you get to in Champions online?
The reason you saw the 360 controller options was likely because it was connected. Disconnect it and you will see regular keyboard options.

I think it is a nice game, but I agree with you that it might not be pushing the buttons of those who favour more traditional MMORPGs.

And I do not think that is necessarily a bad thing. I like the cleaner approach of fewer powers available at any given time which can work well without losing any depth - just look at Guild Wars.
It remains to be seen how the mechanics in CO works out here in the long run.
I would disagree with the point about having less abilities. Fourteen unique abilities is comparable to the amount of abilities in WoW which do basically the same, but different (thinking of the number of hots and direct heals that my druid had)
360 Controller question. You press up on D-pad to interact, but if there were 2 choices available, I couldn't get either one to 'trigger'. Pressing up would toggle between the available options, but I couldn't figure out what the "do it" button then was.

Anyone figure that out?
CO is actually not a cell shaded game, it just looks like it since they draw black lines around objects and characters. To disable that there is an option to turn it off. I can't remember exactly where at the moment but it should be in the video options somewhere I think. Turn it off and it looks just like any other MMO, not that different from CoX actually.
Well the points are valid but just like most mmos you don't get more powers until later. You get a total of 14 powers so that is a decent amount. I regularly used much less than that in any other mmo. There are no fluff powers though, they all have some use in combat. Which is good or bad.

I think what also gives it a console feel is the physics to the movement. There is some acceleration and you can't exactly turn on a dime. It feels like a superhero game more than an MMO. But it has the same quest system, public quests, instances, etc. as an MMO.

If you don't like superhero games you won't like Champions.
I assume Tobold hasn't played for more than a night, based off the past comments he has made about CO. That aside you already seem to be on the way to the same conclusion as Keen.
I have to agree that they should have released on the Xbox 360 first, or at least waited for a simultaneous release. I think CO would be pretty fun on a console playing with a controller and headset, and is less so playing on an older PC with keyboard and mouse.

I'd have to disagree with one point though -- CO has fairly deep character development since you can pick almost any powers you want as you level up and have a lot of choices for non-power level ups as well. The chances of meeting two players with identical builds in CO is almost non-existent, and you certainly can't say that for a supposedly 'deep' game like WoW, where one healing druid is pretty much the same as any other healing druid.

It isn't the first, both FFXI and Phantasy Star Universe offer monthly sub rates. FFXI only required Xbox live Silver, which meant you only paid for the sub fee. PSU required gold, so monthly fee + live fee.

Phantasy Star Universe from what I hear is moving to a sub + microtransaction model, but it's suffered from launch, and Sega has a bad rep over how poorly they managed the phantasy star games.
Good thing Tobold rules his blog with an iron fist, because Keen was was called a Troll and "average reviewer" for his opinions about CO on his own blog already.
Um, there is an AH, its in the game and functioning. So, whoever said there wasn't is just mistaken. I guess my biggest problems with the reviews I've seen of Champions is that noone seems to care whether or not playing the game is fun. Everyone has preconceived notions about what the game should be, or what systems the games should, and how they should function.

Having played in closed, and now open beta, I have to say that Champions does its thing very well. Combat is the most fun I've had in actual combat in any MMO I've played. The crafting system might not be deep, the world may be heavily instanced, and you might not have what you are used to. But for me, the game is just plain FUN to play, and that counts a lot for me, even if the systems I usually associate with MMOs function slightly differently than I am used. So, I encourage people to give this game a shot if they are interested at all, and don't be scared away by the negative reviews I've seen arond.
"Consoles don't/can't handle huge numbers of players in the same area all at once; instancing is the obvious way to circumvent that technical problem."

Eh thats not true. Both of them handle FFXIII. And considering the 360 and the PS3 are both above and beyond the specs for say WoW, it has nothing to do with the hardware.
@Doug, I didn't say there was no AH, just that I haven't seen one, or an indication of one. Honestly my only other MMO is WoW, but I could go at level one to the city and the AH. Where is the AH in Champions? We have to play through 10 very slow levels to get to the point where we have some sort of freedom. It's annoying.

The starting zone is fine, and perfect for what it's doing and how it gets you to level 6, but by the time we leave there, I say, "Give me freedom or give me cake."
Based on this review I have crossed Champions Online completely off the buy game list.

I'm looking for more than an Xbox 360 game.

Thanks Tobold, you saved me 50 bucks.
Are we playing the same game?

Other than your character facing your current target (as opposed to having to turn like crazy to cast spells against circle sprinting rogues) and charging some of your powers to increase effectiveness the longer you hold down the button, others have a cast time and some are instant and have an energy cost, the game plays almost identically to WoW.

There are 40 levels. There is an auction house. Money is picked up automatically when you kill something, if the creatures have other items you loot them as per normal.

You have 18 open spell/power slots on screen by default. You start off with two very basic powers, you gain a new power most even levels. You also have 5 "trinket" slots and two travel power slots. Meaning your average player is going to be using at least 25 power keys at level 40.

Your usual quest, group quest, raid group and open quest stuff. Some quests are just too difficult to do alone and recommend 2 or more players to party up.

Your typical gather and craft system, inventory, guilds, "arena" type PvP etc. etc.

To summarize, Champions Online is basically identical to WoW and most other MMORPGS at its core, with its own tweaks and being super hero themed which help it deliver its own experience. Its a solid MMO, better than most and it is clear through and through that the mouse and keyboard is still a clear winner in this type of game, especially in raid and PvP content. Gamepad support EXISTS, but as many people have been saying on the forums, it has some very clear limitations (a lack of buttons and accurate target selection). As someone who's played various PC MMOs, WoW being the other most recent one, the similarities are very clear.

Now when the game comes to the Xbox 360, everyone will be playing with the same limitations, so that's fine, but on the PC, most raid guilds and pvp guilds are absolutely going to require you to use mouse and keyboard.

I think you've exaggerated gamepad support.

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