Into the Super-verse: Getting started with Champions Online in 2020

    
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The sharp rise and fall of Champions Online back in 2009 resulted in a game that’s made for an easy target of jokes ever since. The title has languished in a semi-maintenance mode for over a decade now, never quite deserted enough to kill outright but never quite popular enough to justify regular development.

Yet despite having a whole lot of cards stacked against it, Champions has made a quiet comeback of sorts over the past year. Cryptic gave it a shot of promotion when Champions became the longest-running superhero MMO on the market and then, surprisingly enough, started creating new story arcs for players to enjoy. Last fall’s 10th anniversary was a major event for the game with new content and fun rewards. And all through the ups and downs has been a dedicated (if small) community that is, ahem, championing for this game.

So why not give Champions Online another look? To help you out, I’ve put together a quick-and-dirty guide to joining the streets of Millennium City as the latest costumed crusader.

Getting set up like a champ

There are two main ways that you’re going to get into Champions Online. The first is to use Perfect World Entertainment’s Arc game platform to access and download the title, and the second is to go the Steam route. Your choice.

However, the biggest choice you’re going to make out of the gate isn’t what punny theme you’ll use for your superhero. No, the biggest choice is going to be how you’re going to pay for the game (if at all). Champions has one of the wonkiest business models I’ve ever seen, and its confusing and obtuse nature doesn’t help with drawing in a larger crowd.

There are no longer subscriptions — those were nixed back in 2018 — unless you decide to pony up for a $250 lifetime sub (which is less when it occasionally goes on sale). The subscription offers the most flexibility in terms of what you’ll have access to for your characters, but that’s not the route most folks go.

The common route is to jump into this free-to-play title and then start shelling out for unlocks and bonuses piecemeal. The default F2P account is pretty restricted and doesn’t even allow players to mix-and-match powersets to make their own custom characters (which Champions calls “freeform slots” at the tune of $30 apiece). Instead, there are preset “archetypes,” which are similar to other MMO’s fixed classes, from which players can choose to play.

Past that, there are character slots, costume slots, inventory slots, costume pieces, lockboxes, level boosts, and a whole bunch of other ways that you can drop money to expand your account’s offerings. It is fully possible to play Champions Online without paying anything, but it’s perhaps the most restrictive setup that Cryptic has in all of its MMOs.

That said, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in making a unique-looking character, especially if you enjoy the type of robust character creators that Cryptic specializes in making.

General advice

Whenever I head into a new MMO or go back to an old one, I make a point of looking up advice threads from veteran players who are there to help newbies. Here is a random collection of useful-sounding pointers for new and returning Champions players:

  • “I’d say freeform is worth it because the archetypes for all they’re well designed feel very limiting for creativity.”
  • “Be aware that the main premium currency in the game, Zen, can be gotten for free by grinding quests that give you Questionite, which can be exchanged for Zen, so doing a few dailies each day can let you get some premium stuff for free eventually albeit taking longer.”
  • Champions is a game that focuses on customization and that often involves making multiple alts just to really learn how to craft builds. It’s about assembling pieces to make your own costumes and a nemesis or țwo. And yes, endgame involves grinding for currency that can be exchanged for exclusive gear; but in the end, it only matters if you like raiding.”
  • “Fastest way to increase your level (to access all available power slots, or your Archetype’s skills) is the GRAB alert (unlocked at level 10).”
  • “Most just use the alert system to level fast – it’s impersonal but you CAN have a party queue with friends. Occasionally you might get social interaction if you initiate a request to form a team with a stranger.”
  • Check your Crime Computer! You can bring up your Journal with J, then click the Crime Computer button. It’ll help you find quests around your level.”

There’s a guide for that!

Finally, here’s a collection of guides to address specific parts of your gameplay:

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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Wildstar, secret world and champions always felt like ambitious projects that launched half finished.

Basic functions like running Never looked like a hero striding into battle rather someone duck walking while looking for a bathroom to poop.

Demon of Razgriz
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Demon of Razgriz

Tried to get into CO on many different occasions. Couldn’t do it. Even when CoX The 1st shut down, I still could not make the game “work”. It just “feels wrong”. It’s like “I’m going to try to be a better CoX but leave out things that made CoX fun”. The superhero MMO genre will always be held up to the CoX standard so any game before or after will have to have everything fall into place 100% in order to stand up/out.

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IronSalamander8 .

I have a lifetime to CO and have played it on and off since beta. It’s just not as good as CoH although the power system is better as you can apply certain perks to powers (like teflon coated ammo for the gatling power armor power as an exmaple), and they have a wider array of travel powers. The swinging power set is a personal favorite travel power for example, but burrowing is very problematic as a main way to travel.

It’s playable but still feels like a beta in how it flows and how the combat works, and it’s been out for years, yet still feels unfinished.

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Castagere Shaikura

What makes coh a better game though? And all the stuff I hear seems to be personal and not really something better. For me, the combat in CO is way better than coh and that’s personal.

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IronSalamander8 .

CO’s combat is poorly animated (with a couple of exceptions like that move with the chain that you circle overhead), the sounds are generally worse (Might is terrible compared to CoH’s Superstrength as one example, instead of satisfying sonic booms it sounds like you’re slapping a side a beef) and it has bad feedback as far as hitting and being hit. The only positive CO combat really has over CoH’s is the builder move all characters start with means you never have to wait for attacks to recharge, which is my least favorite aspect of CoH’s combat, at least at low levels.

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Bruno Brito

Simply? The meat of it. CoH has a hell of a lot more content than CO. And players. I’m not a huge fan of CoH character building, but it’s also more balanced than CO.

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Witches

The main reason to play CO is the costumization, but it can be pretty tricky, i would advise getting an AT first because you can easily make a FF that is unplayable.

I’m not sure which one is the default, but if you hate/love cell shading it can be turned off.

With cell shading and the char creator you can turn it into an anime MMO.

There is p2w, but it’s kind of a separate system, it’s easy to avoid.

Cosmetic options are extremely monetized, but i guess it’s like that in every MMO.

To me the best way of power leveling is doing events, when they are in Millenium City, do one grab for the xp boost and then join the event and ask for a sidekick.

Right now they are removing most of the extra stuff from event vendors, so in that aspect things are worse than they used to be.

Pvp is super dead, there’s raiding but it’s old school one giant boss in the open world raiding, usually 50/60 spots with 4 hours cooldown, there’s 3 bosses but two are in the same zone so it can be tricky, there’s lots of RP.

Joining a guild will make pretty much everything easier.

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Dug From The Earth

This game really feels like someone just handed you a box full of random electrical parts and said “Now make a computer”. (and Im not talking about the costume creator)

Every time I try to get into it, the wonky mechanics and system end up turning me away. It does a horrible job at explaining things. The equipment/loot is a mess and ridiculously complex. Even combat abilities arent very intuitive.

Its sad because we could really use some decent super hero mmorpgs

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ItsBrou🏖

Thanks for trying to post an article to attract new blood.

The game speaks for itself, so we’ll take it from here.
We’re having a Double XP event over the next two weeks, by the way!

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Ririrawr
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Ririrawr

PSA

freeforms vs archetypes
freeforms are absolutely the best part of the game, allowing flexibility and tuning a truly custom hero…. buuuuuuut ATs are perfectly viable and far less overwhelming with their build options for end game dance-offs, because having a freeform does not equal a win, boo…. and it is NOT easy to build a good and stable freeform till you understand the many power interactions and mechanics, blah (but guides are everywhere)

monetization and subscription
when pwe axed the subscriptions from all cryptic titles, they did not have champs in mind (what else is new) and failed to understand just how maaaaaany perks subbing just once allowed… absolutely NO ONE was happy when it got ripped out with no alternative…

but there is good news: for 1500 zen, you can buy an account unlock that practically gives you almost all the sub benefits, yay! (except freeform access, boo)… why is that good news?
– cheaper than a freeform character slot
– zen can be earned in-game (via the questionite exchange)
– includes all the many many costume options
– oh and the travel powers
– srsly a great value pack
– free (but with limited benefit, obv) to anyone who had a sub

also, unlike nw, but like sto, end game shennannannanigans have zero to do with your cash-shop commitment~

itemization
gearing up is atrocious at low levels, but the silver lining is that at endgame, you really just need moderate gear (recognition vendor) to do well

newbies will have a hard time gearing their lowbies at first, but over time you can acquire account-bound scaling gear to throw at your alts’ smugly faces

community and tips
aside from the regular mmo global chatters, nine ppl will give you exact help, one will tell you to go to caprice

safety tip: DO NOT trade with someone standing near a banker or their crime computer (if in their hideout), because it is likely a scam

QoL tip: one of the first things to buy from the cashshop should be a hideout to allow account-bank access for transferring account bound stuff. you can freely mail things to your alts that aren’t bound (via UNTIL terminals)

gameplay tip: understand what your character’s role means~ read the forums for builds and mechanics and LORE!

if you see anyone yelling at someone’s face and smacking them with a trout, it prolly me

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Bruno Brito

Nah. CO has several issues that makes the game lackluster for me: Lack of Villain gameplay. Terrible balancing. Relative p2w. Even without the p2w, Cryptic games are known for being a monetized mess and they’re confusing as fuck.

But the biggest issue with CO is the lack of FF for f2players, or, at least, having ALL archetypes being f2p, which should be base. They shouldn’t EVER sell ATs in a game that is basically a FF slot machine.

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Hikari Kenzaki

One of the biggest barriers I have to getting back into the game (besides the overall look of the game/characters) is I have like… 4 freeform slots that I purchased and about 9 characters, but the game won’t let me use them. I’ve went through my entire roster to attempt to play a character and every one says that it must be converted to silver and select an archetype.

So, my option is to delete all my characters that have been in since launch? Uh, no thank you.

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Raidervc

That’s insane, and Cryptic/Perfect World need to see this post, although I suspect they’re aware of how restrictive it is and don’t care. I don’t blame you one bit for never going back if their solution is to change your characters entirely.

TomTheDragon123
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TomTheDragon123

To my knowledge you can still play your Freeforms, you just have to buy the freeform character slot upgrade in the Zen store.

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Hikari Kenzaki

You misunderstand. I OWN 4 Freeform slots already. It won’t let me apply them to my characters until I delete down to 4 or fewer characters.

TomTheDragon123
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TomTheDragon123

oh wow. that is messed up.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Yeah, it’s an unusual situation, but I was Gold for a long time, then I went silver and bought some freeform slots.
Then I went Gold again, but I let my sub lapse and then they took subs away entirely.
Now, all my character slots are locked/inactive and the number of characters I have is more than the number I’m allowed to make active.
So, the only way to use my purchased freeform slots is to first delete characters until they no longer exceed the maximum.

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Witches

I’m not sure if old FF work exactly the same way as new ones, if they do you need to buy new slots so you can convert your slot to AT and back to FF.

With current FF slots if you convert one back to AT, one of your unused slots becomes a FF slot, since you don’t have free slots you can’t do that.

But i’m not 100% sure old FF work the same way as current ones, you probably would need to check it with CS.

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Witches

It’s counter intuitive but you have to transform your old FF into an AT and then convert that AT into a FF.

There have been many changes to powersets., any FF that is over 1 year old would have to be redone anyway.

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PanagiotisLial1

To be honest I think a lot of backlash the game gets is for wrong reasons. I checked out CoH and if you dont see it through nostalgic lens Champions Online is a superior(but far from perfect) product.

What is the problem in my opinion is that its the most restrictive cryptic title if you dont pay up on freeform etc and instead getting critism on that, it gets a vague “it sucks” from most.

Having tried DC Universe too, the superhero game I liked most was Marvel Heroes though, which is definitely missed.

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traja

I preferred CoH even during the years that they were both officially operated. Although I think my reason is a bit different from the norm. To me the problem with CO is the freeform hero system. It’s just not as interesting as the archetypes and power combinations that CoH has.

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Castagere Shaikura

Wow, you have to be kidding.

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traja

No to me the freeform structure removes options instead of adding them. I cannot stop being a min/max type MMO player so the fewer categories there are the fewer optimal solutions there are to choose from.

It’s the same reason why Rift for me has fewer classes than WoW does because you can combine talent trees in Rift. The amount of optimal solutions for required roles is lower than the amount of classes in WoW.

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Bruno Brito

I cannot stop being a min/max type MMO player so the fewer categories there are the fewer optimal solutions there are to choose from.

Which is a problem you have, not the game.

Look, shoot CO all you want, god knows it deserves it. But if they did one thing RIGHT, it was the Freeform building. You being a minmaxer is more on your mindset.

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traja

Well obviously. I never claimed that it was anything other than a personal preference. It’s something that I cannot turn off and because of that systems with more limitations work better for me. Obviously there is nothing wrong with liking the freeform system but don’t mistake that to be anything other than a subjective preference either.

TomTheDragon123
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TomTheDragon123

Right? When I played CoH I didn’t find that many options to play as I truly like. I do agree that the Archetype matching is quite good in CoH, but other than that, nothing, only negative things.

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Dug From The Earth

CoH’s combat and game mechanics are well thought out. The area that CoH lacks (and many mmorpgs from that time period) is in non-sandbox (IE: theme park) content. You have to mostly be ok with doing SUPER (see what i did there) repetitive gameplay… especially when it running radio missions. Sure, you can run story archs, but 99% of them still take place in same randomized buildings, against the same looking enemies – Hence.. repetitive. While zones often look very different, there is no real point to it as you spend 95% of the game inside missions.

Champions on the other hand, feels like a game that has most of its core parts, but none of the filler parts. A game designed to give you a short duration activity engagement, and thats it. Not an mmorpg world you can “live” in. For some, this is perfect, for others looking for a more immersive experience, it falls flat.