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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