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.