I take back some of the nice things I said about Champions Online stability. The launch really was pretty clean, no Aion-style three hour queues, no Warhammer desync problems. But they've really screwed up the game balance. And worse, they're now shooting themselves in the foot with terrible patch testing.
Today is the big economy patch where they try to balance the money flow in the game. Why didn't they do this in beta testing? Who knows. So they pushed that out, including the note "Very small reduction in damage for all critters". Only oops, turns out they increased critter damage. And nerfed defenses, and basically made superheroes even more vulnerable. Don't they test this stuff?
I don't really know, because now I can't log in at all because they've broken their launcher: instead of a fancy graphic with a button to click it displays an essentially blank web page. Nice.
I've worked for years in writing software for online services. It's challenging, particularly for a complex system with lots of users. That's why professional software people have meticulous test and release processes to make sure you don't push stuff out that's broken. Apparently Cryptic hasn't learned that lesson yet. Call me, I have reasonable consulting rates for fun games.
Today I'm releasing something I've been working on for awhile: a graph of Warhammer RvR History. Warhammer is a lot of fun in part because you have hours-long fights over control over territory. But there's been no place I know of to see the history of the fight, just how things currently stand. So I built a site to collect the history and graph it.
I hope pvphistory.com is a useful resource for Warhammer players, but I also hope it gives some outsiders a bit of insight into the fun and interesting RvR battles that take place constantly.
Between this and my Warcraft achievements project, I've gotten quite handy with taking data from MMOs and re-presenting it in ways that shed light on the games' dynamics. My next project should be to revisit my Warcraft data and put it online in a format that people can browse.
The bloom is a bit off the rose now with Champions Online. I'm still enjoying it, but here are some things that are not so good.
Combat simplicity. Most of my fights are "turn on auto-attack, use self buff when it's off cooldown". Most powersets are a bit more interesting, and adding the necessary defensive abilities makes things a bit more interactive. But there's nothing like the complex DPS rotations of WotLK-era Warcraft mechanics. On the good side, there is some fun in positioning and tactical play.
Power selection and respecs. It's very exciting to choose your powers and customize your character. It's very frustrating if you decide you made a mistake. You can respec ("retcon"), but currently it's impossibly expensive to actually do. (It'd cost me about 20x the money I've made so far to undo my early choices). RIght now, choosing powers creates anxiety, not fun, and I'm starting to resent my gadgeteer for his weaknesses.
Experience tuning. People run out of quests to do. For example, the game feels like it is designed with two options to get through levels 5-15: Canada or Desert. But having completed all the missions available to me in Desert I've been sent to Millenium City, the next zone, to find the missions there are too hard at my level. I tried doubling back to Canada to fill in the gaps but perversely I'm too high level to pick up the missions there. My supergroup buddies tell me you pretty much have to alternate back and forth between the two zones to do every single mission to barely have enough experience, and even then you run out of things to do later and have to grind. If that's true it's a serious mistake. Self-inflicted, too, apparently it was much simpler to level up before they rebalanced things at launch.
Don't get me wrong, Champions is a lot of fun. The respec and experience problems are pretty easily fixed and I'm hopeful combat gets more interesting at higher levels. MMOs are so complex, so many factors have to be correct. What a balancing act!
I continue to enjoy Champions Online. It's really fun playing an MMO that no one knows how to play right yet, particularly with the complex power matching system. And the NPCs can be tough, you need to play defensively. Some tips:
Don't try to solo in the Avenger role. You have only 60% of your hit points compared to the balanced Guardian role and while your damage is buffed, your healing and crowd control resistance are nerfed. You will die often.
You need a defensive power early. I would have liked one at level 8 and by level 11 it seems essential. Slotted passives are the easiest since you don't have to think about them. My supergroup colleagues say Regeneration is the most powerful right now. There are relatively few defensive powers in the game, don't be afraid to go out of your specialization to get one.
You need to block. Learn how to use blocks. You can block any time, but it's particularly essential when the big cartoon sound-effects balloon appears over the bad guy's head as he charges some super attack.
Don't fight with your travel power activated. When your travel power is activated you are weaker, abilities cost more to use. There's no huge advantage to fighting mobs while, say, flying; they all have ranged attacks.
Playing the remarkably bug-free Champions Online has made me really intolerant of how buggy and laggy Warhammer Online is. Warhammer has been live for a year and so many basic things in it are broken. NPCs that teleport in a loop. Players gliding through the air. Keep postern doors that let the wrong side in. A miasma of lag over every action.
But the bug that most irritates me is You cannot see your target. That's the error that's given when the thing you're attacking is out of line of sight. It's also the message that randomly pops up even when the thing you're attacking is in line of sight. For example, when you're trying to hit a door one yard from you. Neither of you are moving, but every 20 seconds or so an attack fails. Also happens with NPCs at random open spots. And sadly, with enemy players that you suddenly can't hit for just long enough for him to kill you.
It's not a new bug, it's been there for almost a year. It's not exactly game breaking, it goes away in a second or two. But it happens off and on the entire time you're playing, a constant reminder that the Warhammer team has failed to get even the basic technology right. It's embarassing.
Update: somewhat related, this developer blog post about fixing Eve Online desync is great reading for what game developers have to do to prevent game-breaking problems with lag and synchronization.
The theorycrafting community around Warcraft really amazes me. These are players who are learning game design from the outside in. Oftentimes it felt like they understand game balance better than Blizzard's own designers. I hope that some of the best folks like Toskk have the opportunity to work on game design themselves someday.
I'd been on the fence about ordering Champions Online since the open beta. I finally gave in, ordering via Steam. It's a fun game, entertaining and fun action oriented gameplay. Below are some of my impressions, you may also enjoy reading A WoW players guide to Champions Online.
That's Al Adat, my gadgeteer hero. He's level 10 now, or just through the first two tutorial zones and into the game proper. He's pretty fun: he can fly, kill things with his sonic blaster, and heal himself and friends with his floating robot pals.
Champions' strongest suit is the character customization. Both gameplay-affecting choices and cosmetic options. I spent two hours designing Al Adat's relatively simple costume. And I can change it when I want, and switch to a second costume, all for free. Dressing up the doll is a game into itself. And it's not just your clothes; you customize the way your powers look, the types of items you craft (gadgets? mutagens?), and the very way you move. It's all pretty fun and an interesting alternative to your character looking like a clown because of the armor he's happened to collect.
But that's all æsthetics; what really matters is gameplay customization. Champions has gone way out on a limb here with the classless system. There are 18 power frameworks you can mix and match from, and while some are similar they all play differently. And you customize individual powers with advantages that tweak the powers further. And on top of that you have your character stats with a free-form system for choosing whether you (say) want to buff Intelligence so you can use abilities faster or Endurance so you have more energy to stay in the fight. It's remarkably flexible.
What's interesting is the choices you make are synergetic. For instance the first new power I took was Sonic Device: when I use it, it adds extra damage to my next attack. I then took the Refraction of Sound advantage for my Sonic Blaster, turning my primary ranged attack into something that hits three enemies at once. The kicker is that the damage boost from Sonic Device applies to all three attacks of the modified Sonic Blaster. It's quite powerful, maybe overpowered, and I figured it out all by myself.
Of course once the min/maxers play Champions for awhile they're going to figure out how to exploit game imbalances to be overpowered. And there will be nerfs, and standard builds, and arguments and guild requirements you play a certain way. But right now the game is a wide open field; there's not even a good reference to all the customization options, much less any detailed theorycrafting. That's fun!
One refreshing thing about Champions Online is the game is quite solid right from launch. Gameplay is responsive, feeling like a fun action game without much lag. That's essential for me: when I press a button the action happens immediately, no delay. I haven't run into very many bugs: NPCs all seem to work, all the missions I've been given function the first time, the UI does what it's supposed to. I'm sure there's problems lurking in the game, and some parts could be better, but Champions at launch is already way more stable and fun than Warhammer is a year from launch.
I'm also in love with the graphics, it's the primary reason I bought the game after playing the beta. I love the comic outlining rendering and all the glow effects and the world geometries. The graphics feel quite fresh. Framerates are a bit of a problem although yesterday's patch seemed to have made a 20% improvement.
Some weaknesses, of course. The game desperately needs a manual, or failing that a good wiki. (Right now the best game mechanic docs are a sticky forum thread, that's no good.) There's also a lot of tension about respecs (retcons), problematic in a game where you can change everything about your character but the name. And the Auction House UI is terrible, the bank is awkward, etc. But those are relatively minor complaints.
What I'm enjoying about Champions so far is that it's just pure fun. It's not some grand Warcraft-style epic story, not some hardcore PvP game like Warhammer. You're a superhero: you put your underwear on outside your clothes, you press a few buttons, and smack bam you kill some bad guys. I imagine I'll get bored of it eventually, but as long as the lights are flashing and the environments are pretty I'll be entertained.
My Warhammer warrior priest is close to endgame now, at rank 37. That's not high enough to do the PvE instances, but I'm able to do pretty much all the PvP content I'm interested in. I've fallen in with a very strong RvR guild that has several weekly organized PvP events which has let me see the PvP endgame played well. Here's some thoughts on how Warhammer works in practice.
I've been sitting out the Aion betas so far. But I'm curious about the game, and interested to see how it will work in the US. It's been out in South Korea for a year now, how is it doing?