Champions Online Hands-On Preview
Xbox 360 | PC
Champions Online box art
System: X360, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: Cryptic Studios 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Atari 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: TBA 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: Unlimited 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Pending 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Spandex Rocks!
by Nathan Meunier

May 7, 2009 - With City of Heroes starting to show its age, Cryptic Studios is prepping to break out its hot new superhero MMORPG to let players act out their heroic, bad-guy pummeling fantasies in style. Based on the tabletop role-playing game, Champions Online is an action-heavy, comic book-inspired effort that's poised to show up the developers' past work in the arena of ripped, super-powered guys and gals.

Champions Online screenshot

Beta testing is currently in full-swing, and the online game's cross-platform launch is set to kick off in the coming months. We recently donned multi-colored spandex tights and dove into the crazy action in Millennium City. After spending some time cracking the skulls of humanoid insect warrior and helping the local citizenry alongside dozens of other strange-costumed do-gooders from around the virtual globe, our hands-on time with the PC Beta build of Champions Online left us wanting to go back for second, third, and fourth helpings of superhero ass-kickery.

Creating an awesome superhero can either be as short and sweet or as long and complicated as you choose. Cryptics' past efforts included a tremendous number of customization options, and Champions Online seeks to literally bury players under a mountain of choices for your character. After selecting from a few pre-set stat categories, I was presented with various frameworks to choose from. These determine your starting abilities and the abilities you can pick from later on as your power grows. Examples include archery, force, martial arts, munitions, power armor, sorcery, and telepathy, among quite a few others. Settling on telekinesis, I moved on to body specs.

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Here's where things get overwhelming. You can adjust practically anything about your character, including their height, body mass, muscle size, and fine-tuning features for most body parts. That's before you even get to customizing your costume, which offers a ton of awesome and ridiculous options. I put together a meagerly-statured muscle guy donning a reddish-pink suit, a whip-like tail, and a weird inhuman head that looked like a cross between a praying mantis and some kind of fish. You can hand-pick everything, randomize it all, or randomize specific elements. It's even possible to customize the color of your superpower effects. In the finished version, you'll also create a custom super villain character who will come into play as your nemesis throughout your time in the game, though that option wasn't available in the Beta.

Champions Online screenshot

When my superhero arrived in Millennium City, all hell had broken loose. The city was under attack from giant alien spacecraft choking the skies above. The extraterrestrials, a medley of insect like humanoids and other creatures, were tearing things up on the street level, and other superheroes of all shapes and sizes were running around working to help the local cops keep the citizens safe from the invaders. Different levels of chaos were unfolding in various neighborhoods of the area of the city I explored, and each presented opportunities to take on unique heroic tasks to gain experience. Even the relatively small section of the city I tooled around in felt huge in scope. The game's slick, cel-shaded art style is very attractive and definitely delivers on the intended comic book vibe. Checking out other player's hero characters running around the city and the wonderfully designed environments themselves was a blast. But standing around sight-seeing while folks were in danger isn't very becoming of a superhero, so I launched into the tasks at hand.

After a few quick tutorial missions, I was soon using my limited beginner powers to zap and pummel away at the evil-doers while gaining experience and reputation to boost my abilities and level-up my hero. Since I chose telekinesis, my primary attack consisted of shooting laser-like beams from my fists. This was effective at various ranges, and scoring repeated hits on baddies boosted my endurance meter, which allowed me to trigger my secondary attack - a dizzying flurry of energized punches and kicks - in short spurts. I found it took a lot of battling to level-up enough to acquire the points needed to spend on new abilities. Leveling-up gains you points to buy new powers and advantage points to spend on customizing the powers you've already unlocked.

Champions Online screenshot

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