Inspired by George McDonald's 1982 tabletop game, Champions Online marks developer Cryptic's second foray into the comic book MMO genre, following 2005's City of Heroes. The pervasive comic look of that game has seen an overhaul in Champions, with the comic shading and dark outlines around character silhouettes highlighting every enemy and character alike in the title.
Visually, the game places a profound emphasis on the comic feel, particularly in terms of combat—the action is punctuated with colorful energy flairs and impacts that may as well have been coupled with "zap!" and "pow!" or other conventions of the medium.
In a developer walkthrough with members of the Champions team, our hero—a plainly dressed woman with psionic abilities—ran through the game's Snake Gulch area, populated with cowboy-themed robotic ranchhands equipped with energy lassos and other assorted weaponry. The target was ASCII Oakley, positioned near the end of the persistent area, who when encountered cued a dramatic event in which surrounding enemies would flee to avoid her careless aim.
As previously revealed, the emphasis in Champions Online is on character customization, and the few characters we saw in action appeared to be meticulously detailed—as far down as the distance between the eyes, Cryptic assured us. In the place of classes, Champions simply tasks the player with selecting powers for developing a character, allowing users to rank up in traits ranging from electricity to arms and armaments.
But what's most appealing to me about Champions Online is the simplicity of play—in this first look at the game, it occurred to me that there was little in the way of inventory management or other micro-level tooling, and a greater emphasis on action. Defeated enemies will produce rollover boosts which offer benefits such as quick health regeneration, increased endurance and strength, and myriad other benefits.
The result is an MMO that looks to play much like a standard offline action game. Paired with the comic element, an impatient nerd like me may have a lot to like about Champions Online when it debuts on the PC and Xbox 360 in the Spring of 2009.