It’s been over 20 years since I first encounted the “Champions” RPG on a hobby store shelf and decided to make it my own. It wasn’t my first encounter with a superhero RPG — that was the unlamented “Villains and Vigilantes“. But Champions gained my undying affection. It was one of the first “classless” RPGs — unlike “Dungeons and Dragons”, your character could be created and grow in most any direction you could imagine. Want to be The Little Teapot, blasting your foes with jets of scalding water? Go for it!
Fast forward to last week, when Cryptic finally released Champions Online. I’ve been waiting for this one with bated breath ever since it was announced. I ran out, installed it, cursed at it while it patched (a tradition for me), and set out to explore the Champions universe.
And I was… underwhelmed.
The deft elegance of the Hero system has been dispensed with, in favor of a limited system of power customizations. You can still craft a hero to suit your vision, mostly, but you may have to modify your vision… no adding a few modifiers to a standard force blast and expecting it to resemble scalding water.
As for the Champions universe… well, it’s there, and I loved the interactions with the loony Foxbat, one of my favorites from the RPG. But much of the rest of it plays and feels like a not-too-careful repaint of the defunct Marvel Universe Online. Instead of the Hulk, you have Grond superleaping around the deserts of the Southwest. You don’t have to squint hard to see the outlines of Alpha Flight in the NPCs for the Canadian Wilderness setting either.
It plays a lot like City of Heroes II in fact, with the possible exception that it’s much easier to hopelessly gimp your character with little chance of making enough back in resources to “ret-con” (respec) yourself back to viability.
Don’t get me wrong… I like the game. I’ve having a lot of fun playing it, and I’m hoping things get even better once I’m out of the teen-level slump. I even took a crack at the PvP Arena system (waaaaaaay too frenetic for my tastes).
But given the sheer genius of the mechanics of the Champions RPG, this game just feels like not enough ventured and not enough gamed. Maybe it’ll live up to its potential in the update cycle, but I had hoped for something a little more revolutionary out of the box.