At the same time however, most likely as a holdover from the original pen and paper game, Champions Online all-too often feels compelled to over-complicate everything. Case in point, there are no character classes, so you can pick more or less whatever combination of powers you like. Hurrah!
However, you then find that your powers’ effectiveness rely on a combination of eight different stats, as boosted by in-game upgrades and inventory items. You can equip nine different items, each in their own slot, with items split between three different crafting disciplines, some of them adding bonus powers, others changing the look of powers, some doing something when you click on them, others just a bundle of stats described as being a new gun or a mace or a heartwarming story about a cat or whatever. Ye gods, make it stop! There’s no reason for it to be this fiddly!
The fact that most items (rightly) have no bearing on your custom costume or powers doesn’t help make these stat boosts feel like rewards. Nor does the fact that you get a lot of useless crap you can’t even equip at your current level. It’s a ridiculous system that cries out to be ripped right out in favour of a few simple core stats, more flexibility in customising individual abilities, and the occasional cool gizmo to play with. This isn’t the only place where it feels like the game’s pen-and-paper RPG roots are probably clashing with the more casual game Cryptic actually wanted to make, but it’s one that never stops being annoying.
The less statty elements of the world work far better. Again though, first impressions aren’t great. As of the launch, you spend the first 30 (of 40) levels restricted to just three relatively small zones: a city, the Canadian wilderness, and an irradiated desert, with only two more waiting in the final stretch.
Luckily, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Champions treats its maps more like worlds in their own right, packing them with quests for all levels. Getting around is painless thanks to getting a travel power (like flying or swinging) right at the start, and while the overall world design is a bit bland, it’s spiced by lots of great individual areas, with missions taking you to everything from a seedy villain Fight Club, to a Westworld-style theme park where cowboy robots have gone berserk, to a nightmare graveyard where zombies flood in from every corner for a taste of your sweaty spandex.
Easily the best individual quest we’ve seen so far is the introduction to Monster Island (yes, really) around the level 30 mark, featuring giant flaming ape-on-dinosaur action, huge robots, and an almost Call of Duty-style assault on a fortified beachhead held by a criminal organization that’s supposedly very scary, but which still looks disturbingly like GI Joe toys dressed by a supervillain.