I do not recall ever seeing such super hero hype in media as we are seeing this summer. Thor has released, X-Men First Class has just come out and Green Lantern is on the way in a couple of weeks and next month we have Captain America. To add to the hype Marvel has made sure their movies have included teasers to the Avengers next summer along with Ironman 3. This is truly the summer of heroes.
In the computer gaming world super hero games have traditionally not done well in fact they have been kind of jinxed. Most of the early games let you play a known hero and while they where decent enough games they failed to capture any kind of heroic feel to the game play. The jinx was finally broke with the game Freedom Force, which let you make your own hero. While this was a great game and the sequel was solid as well, it was not long before we hit a draught once again. Then Cryptic Studios smashed the jinx into the ground like the Hulk smashing a villain with City of Heroes. After a while however Cryptic moved on but they did not forget their first great love and so was born Champions Online.
Champions Online is based on the award winning Pen and Paper RPG, Champions. The Champions game system is set in it’s own gaming world, forgoing the idea of letting you recreate heroes from Marvel or DC. This world has a rich and deep history developed over the years of pen and paper play. The developers at Cryptic where obviously fans of the RPG, so much so that Cryptic actually bought the IP for it.
Now while Champions Online is a different product it is impossible to separate it from City of Heroes since Cryptic made both games. It is something Cryptic has had to accept, not only because these are the only two Super Hero MMOs out, but also the fact that they are both Cryptic’s creations. With that in mind I will warn you that you will see a lot of references for comparison between these two games.
The premise of the MMO is classic comic book. The world is in trouble, in this case an alien invasion is taking place and Millennium City, used to be Detroit, needs heroes to save the day. As the logo states the game is a Free to Play MMO. This means the basic game is free and that you can make micro-transactions to add features to the game you would like, more on this later. When you first start the game you are treated to a login screen that asks you how you want the control system configured. You can use the default Champions system, a system based on the way most fantasy MMO’s work or a system based on the way CoH works. This is actually a really nice feature right out the gate allowing you to make the game feel and control in a manner you are confortable with.
When you first sign up for the game using the F2P model you are given a choice of 8 archetypes. These archetypes are basically easy to use power sets based on the traditional hero styles. They allow the use of weapons from guns to swords, ice powers, raw strength, fire, a bow, metal powers and mystical. These basic types allow for people that want to play type of hero without having to get too caught up in the game mechanics of the powers. As your character levels the basic power choices are made for you with you having the ability to modify the way the powers work and how your character uses characteristics to create the hero you wanted. Each archetype does have two levels where you have to choose between two different powers and you get the choose the travel powers of your character. This means you decide if your hero flies, teleports, tunnels or runs really fast.
Now as we stated earlier this game is free to play, what that means is the games basics are free and that through small purchases, using Cryptic points you may buy additional game features. For the free players, they are called Silver in the game, you may purchase additional archetypes. Right now there are six additional archetypes you can buy, adding such hero types as the gadgeteer, electrical, darkness, the beastly hero, the super spy and the mighty weapon wielder, think Thor. Each of these additional archetypes cost about $12 a piece. While this might seem steep when taken into account that you just buy the hero type you want and can ignore the rest without a recurring fee and it does not seem so bad.
Once you have selected your hero type it is time to make your hero. The editor is very powerful and allows you to create any look you can practically imagine. You start from a basic template but as you can see there are a lot of options, in fact so many that I could not listed them all in this blog without spending the day at it. The character creator breaks the hero down into head, torso/arms, hands, legs/feet and then adds extra areas to each of these. You can independently color each part using a four color chose for each part from a very large color pallet. If all this seems overwhelming, fear not as the random button will allow you to let the system randomly create a look for you. The look on the left is what I got the first time I hit random. Now as with the archetypes there are additional items that can be bought to give you even more costume options. New costume options range from formal wear to Luchador, Ninja Warriors, Cyberpunk Cyborgs and much more.
Now with your character created and his or her look complete you name your character and set forth to rid the world of evil. Before you name your character you should know that the main superhero names, the ones that have a copyright on them, have been blocked out. So if you thought you where going to play Batman or Superman well you are out of luck. This does not of course stop the various play on words in an effort to create the name anyway.
The tutorial that follows character creation leads you through a series of basic missions to stop the alien invasion that has hit Millennium City. The cities super group, the Champions, have been neutralized and it is up to you and the other heroes that have assembled to stop this invasion and free the Champions. Once you have finished the tutorial you are put into the game proper with early offers allow you to begin your heroic career in Millennium City or in the white north of Canada.
The actually game system is easy to learn and the combat is fast paced. The combat system is based on having a power that builds your energy and then other powers that allow you to charge them up for maximum effect. They default control system uses the number keys for your primary powers and the alt plus number for your secondary powers. The travel system lets you use your faster travel powers for not just movement around the game but in combat as well. In addition some parts of the environment come into play, there is something cool about picking up a bus and throwing it at the bad guy.
The missions have some decent storylines and each area has multiple story arcs. Overall I really like the way the missions are laid out. The basic content is free for everyone to play and three mission packs are available for purchase if you want more content. There are three of these adventure packs all they seem to have around 4 hours plus of game play in each. The adventure packs and most of the missions can easily scale between running them solo or in groups, this is a great feature since sometimes you just do not want to play alone and other times you do. A recent addition is the comic series, a group of new missions released each week that are all tied into a single overall storyline. These have replaced the Adventure packs and unlike the older system these are 100% free for all players.
For people that want to play with their friends but cannot get as much play time there is the sidekick system. This allows players of different levels to play together at the same level. The system works pretty well though it does have the issue that you have to stay close to keep it going. Also the sidekick system does not just work by bringing a beginning character up, it allows higher level characters to play down at the level of their friends.
As I stated earlier I wanted to take a look at the idea of the free to play system. The concept is actually pretty cool for consumers. Essentially the basic game is free, no money needed to enjoy it. However there are extras you can get if you desire them, allowing you to spend what you want to create the game the way you want it. Some people do not like this system but I think it is great. For example if all I wanted to play is an Ice Powered hero and do not want to mess with the big adventure packs, I can play 100% for free with no added cost. If I desire down the road to play a gadgeteer then I would have to buy the archetype but I do not have to pay for everything including the stuff I do not want.
Now the other side of the hybrid F2P model that Champions Online uses is that you can pay a subscription fee. This fee gets you a bunch of the extra stuff including costumes and adventure packs as well as access to the free form character creation. Freeform means you are not limited to a set power arc and can mix and match all the available powers as you choose. This level of game play is for the more hard core player but the cool thing is you can start with F2P, see if you like the game and then upgrade later on to the full gold membership.
As I said at the start looking at Champions Online almost requires comparisons to City of Heroes. The first big difference is the subscription model with CoH being a full paid subscription system offering a light trial period but not the open ended free game play of Champions. The game system in Champions wins hands down for me from an easier to work with character creation system to a faster more action oriented combat system. While the graphics in Champions may not be considered state of the art they look better than CoH in my opinion and they do a good job of created the comic book look and feel. Finally the storylines in the Champions just work better with on many occasions my actually feeling like my character was a super hero, something I never really felt in CoH.
Now with this game approaching 2 years since release some people have asked why I am reviewing it now. You have to understand that I am an old school Champions pen and paper player dating back to 1981 and it’s first release. When I heard that Champions was being brought to an MMO I was to be honest skeptical of how the game would be. The transition from pen and paper to computer game has not always been a good one, historically it is usually a disaster. So with this in mind I was kind of scared to look at Champions on release.
However there is something cool about MMOs, the games that release are seldom the same a year later, as the game grows and expands. With that in mind when it was announced that Champions Online was going Free I decided it was time to dive in and this review is that time spent exploring.
I could give you a lot of different reasons why I like or dislike this game but I think there is an easier way to sum up my opinion. Right now my daughter and wife both are playing with me as well as Doug and his son. We are not just playing but spending money to get more access in the game was we explore it and everyone is having a blast. In fact Champions Online has stolen away almost all my Star Trek Online play time.
With all of the super hero movies out this summer it is easy for a gamer to get inspired. To envision create your won super hero, fighting against evil and saving the world. That can come in the form of a suit of super technology, a large hammer, the strength of a hundred man or many other possibilities. With a chance to enjoy this kind of game play for free there is no reason not to give Champions a try, and I think once you do you will want to stay.
I am now off, there is a situation in the deserts of the southwest where a huge monster named Grond is terrorizing everyone. So the Blue Knight will answer the call along with his companions of the super group, the Round Table. We could use all the heroes we can get, Grond is a big one.
Have you been heroic today?
Review and Interview Segments as aired live 5 June 2011
When an office or family buys a PC they get it back, set it up and then marvel at all the things they can do. Of course shortly after that moment the truth sets in when they realize those neat programs that came with their PC are trials versions that expire shortly after we figure out how to use them. You see unlike our car or TV, when you buy a computer it does not come with everything we need except power, we need programs to make it do what we want it to do.
However do not despair because over the years more and more free software has appeared. Now free used to mean limited trial or just plain crappy, with a few exceptions. Today however there is a lot of high quality free software that can easily fill your family or small business needs. If I where to make a list of the various programs that are offered you would be here reading all day. Instead below you will find a list and a link to the various programs I consider the best in each category.
Computer Protection: When you get that new PC one of the first things you should do is make sure it has protection on it from the malware that seems to be all over the internet. Most new PCs come with some form of protection pre-installed, this si fine but it is a trail and gives the user a false sense of security, one of the first things you should do is remove it and get full protection on your PC. The good news is that there are some great free solutions for doing this, my persona favorite is Microsoft Security Essentials. Not only is it free, it is also simple to use and does a great job of staying out of the way when using your computer. I have used this program on my home PCs and helped a lot of people set it up, and no one has been disappointed.
Productivity: Did you know that Microsoft Office is one of the most pirated programs in the world? The reason is simple, everyone uses it at the office and at school. The problem is the cost, well at least that is the argument given. I have over the years shown people alternatives that are free, most prominently Open Office, however I hear the same argument all the time that they do not want to mess with the compatibility. Well Microsoft has decided that more people need access to Office and introduced Office WebApps. You need to create a Live account and the program works in conjunction with Live Mail and Skydrive.
You have available a toned down version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that is 100% free and can be used anywhere you can get internet access. The programs store your documents using the SkyDrive system making them available wherever you are and with no need to worry about your system crashing causing you to lose files. It is completely compatible with the full version of Office so compatibility issues do not crop up. While not as powerful as the full version of Office it is a great alternative to piracy and fills the needs of families with ease. It can even handle light business work as well from my experience.
Photo Editing: This is an area that keeps growing in use when it comes to family PCs but also for business. A lot of companies use photos to record various aspects of their companies and sometimes need to edit them down for size to use on social networking sites or for reports. While basic functionality can be reached using Live Photo Gallery, some people want more than to crop and remove red eye or give basic touchups. For a more full featured package I suggest Paint.Net. There are other great programs out there but most of them come loaded with various trail software and load slowly, Paint.Net is clean and fast yet with enough power to handle pretty much any photo editing need.
Movie Making: Another area that is growing in the realm of the home and small business user is making of home of movies or presentations. Being able to take pictures, short videos and music or even a narrative and put them all together is something a lot of people are doing these days. It can be a compilation of home movies, an anniversary presentation, wedding memories, the family vacation or even an office project. For this there is nothing I found for free that beats Live Movie Maker, a part of the Live Essentials Package. This powerful little program makes it easy to create simple films, complete with transitions, special effects and sound and then put them on a DVD to give out. The really nice part is that when you get the Live Essentials package you also get instant messaging, basic photo management, a blog writer (like the one I am using), a good email client and more. So while the Movie Maker might be what we are after we get a more full featured packaged.
Entertainment: Now you might not expect this to be a category but I feel there is a need here. A lot of families use their PC for someone to enjoy music or even watch TV on. Again this is an area that is rife with piracy, most especially in music. However if you are using your PC to play music there are great free and legal alternatives. Right now I am torn between two different systems, Pandora and Grooveshark. Bother offer the ability to play the music you want to hear without being forced to pay money for every song you play. For video we are currently blessed with a wealth of options as many networks have started airing full episodes of their prime series. However the most comprehensive list can be found at Hulu. While each of these offer pay features I have found their free features can easily meet most peoples needs.
Gaming: Surely you did not think I work through this list and leave out computer gaming? The number of GOOD free games has grown a lot over the last year. One game I have seen played in a lot of home and a few offices is various forms of golf. Lets face it sometimes weather or life just gets in the way of enjoying some time on the greens and while playing on the computer might not be the same, it sure beats working. EA Sports decided to experiment and they have given us the excellent Tiger Woods Golf franchise for free with Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online. Played fully online there is little in the way of installed software and this also means you can play your round at the office during slow times and finish at home later in the evening. Of course you can also gather your buddies together and all do a round of golf together, not bad for a free game.
Perhaps you are a more “traditional” gamer, the MMO world continues to expand, provide better games and many of them are free. If you want to grab a sword or fire off a spell then Lord of the Rings Online is my preferred choice. Set in the rich world of Tolkien the game lets you see the famous landmarks you only got to read about in your youth. Maybe you want a simpler game that can engage the kids, then look no further than Wizard 101. A simple game system with amazing efforts to protect kids in the game system has made this an award winning MMO that continues to rank higher on the charts every year.
My personal choice for free gaming right now has been influenced by the movie industry and this summer of super heroes, Champions Online. I go back with Champions a LONG time, first starting to play the pen and paper version in late 1981. During the following years I played it off and on a lot and have some great memories including weekly gaming sessions with my friends and the founding of the super team, The Round Table. My character back then was called Blue Knight (think Iron Man with Stark not being a playboy). This all came back like it was yesterday as I played Champions Online and today I now defend Millennium City as the Blue Knight once again. A solid game system, good graphics that remind you of the old comics and just the plain fun of being a super hero makes this an awesome free choice.
I could keep listing programs all day long but I think you begin to get the idea, there is a lot of great free software out there. This is a small list and does not come close to covering all the options and choices but these are the programs I have found that use and enjoy the most. If you have a great free program you fee deserves notice be sure to add it as a comment to this post. In the mean time enjoy the truth of an old saying that I will paraphrase, “Many great things in life are free.”