Champions Online: The Most Customizable Game I’ve Ever Seen

If you caught yesterday’s post, you’ll know that customization is quite possibly the most alluring part of a game for me. While I haven’t quite found a game that hits on what I want perfectly, Champions Online comes pretty close.

Since customization is what I’m praising, I’ll go ahead and cover that aspect first. To begin with, you have your character’s appearance. Generally speaking, you’re restricted to making a humanoid character, but a great many people have found ways to make interesting designs that, while still technically humanoid, use such bizarre proportions and body parts that they look like something else entirely. This can be difficult to do, but finagling the character editor into allowing such odd characters is honestly part of the fun, and a lot of players are perfectly happy to spend most of their time in the game just seeing what they can put together, aesthetically.

Let’s be honest, being limited to humanoid character designs isn’t terribly surprising; very few games branch out from that base structure in the first place, so it’s hard to fault Champions Online for having the same limitation. When you get past the minor disappointment of needing arms, legs, and a torso on your character (and even those aren’t necessarily required), you find that the massive amount of costume parts are still plenty to keep most people sated.

It’s such a massive amount, in fact, that the game hides some of the more obscure parts during initial character creation so as to not overwhelm new players. Most veterans see this as a bad call on the developers’ parts, and I largely agree, though I can somewhat understand the reasoning. Just know that you can go to a Tailor NPC after character creation to see all the parts you missed out in character creation, and if I recall correctly, future characters won’t have the arbitrary limitation placed on them during creation.

After getting past the new player limitation, there’s technically two more to deal with: paid costume parts, and unlockable costume parts. Not everything is available without paying for it, though you can still preview paid parts to see if they’ll work with the costume you’ve put together. And thankfully, you can get paid currency through the Questionite Exchange feature, roundaboutly allowing you to get paid costume parts without actually spending money, if you’re willing to put in the time. The costume packs aren’t too expensive either way, typically running between $3.75 and $7.50, with a few capping out at $10. And thankfully, some of these paid packs are actually able to be unlocked in-game without going through the store.

As for unlockable parts, they unfortunately will not appear in the costume editor unless you’ve unlocked them, so you’ll have to get them if you want to see how they mesh with the rest of your outfit. These parts can come from various sources, typically enemy drops, NPC stores (using in-game currency rather than the paid currency), achievements, events, and… Loot boxes. Yes, the revenue-generator every gamer fears. Thankfully, loot box content can be sold between players, so you can find those costume parts (as well as enemy drop costume parts) on the Auction House.

As for what you can create with all the parts available… As long as it’s got a vaguely human appearance, you should be able to pull it off. Robots, wizards, zombies, pirates, or of course, your typical spandex-and-cape superheroes, are all easily created with Champions Online’s extensive costume editor. I personally use a bipedal reindeer in a suit of colorful, high-tech armor, alongside a few friends that are also various reindeer. Together, we confront the worst of the worst on Santa’s Naughty List to ensure that Millennium City (a Detroit-style metropolis that acts as the primary hub for the game’s activities) can enjoy peaceful Christmases year after year.

One last thing regarding costumes: many players love to host costume contests in-game, so much so that the developers added an area to the game specifically for that purpose, with ninety-six individual squares for players to stand on while they await the judge’s verdict, five judge chairs, a backdrop selector, a catwalk, and hundreds of seats behind the judges for an audience. Though, given that I’ve yet to see a costume contest with an entry fee, those audience chairs rarely see any action; you might as well get up on stage and see if the judges like what you’ve made! I’ve won a few of these contests unexpectedly, in categories I didn’t intend to enter, because costumes are so often subjective. Just give it a shot, and even if you don’t win, you get to see just how much variation is possible with Champions Online’s crazy costume editor.

So… All of that, and we’ve only covered the costumes. There’s still your character’s powers to consider, and this is where I find the bulk of my enjoyment. You have fourteen power slots available, and across six powersets containing twenty-four subsets, there are 543 different powers to choose from. Now, granted, a few of these are reskins of other powers, some are very basic “default attack” powers, and some have to be unlocked through NPC stores or *sigh* loot boxes, but there’s still a huge amount available. And those aren’t even including Travel Powers or Devices (powers that you activate from an item tray), so you’ve got some serious build variety.

Unfortunately, I’m going to need to throw in another bit of bad news: you can’t pick and choose from these powers using a free character. When you start out, you’ll be limited to a handful of Archetypes that have a predetermined set of powers they’ll gain as the character levels up, as well as having their primary stats, Specialization Trees, and “Role” (a set of modifiers that specialize a character for durability, support, or dealing damage) all locked into that Archetype’s settings.

You’ll need a Freeform character slot to really go wild with customization, which (at the time of writing this) costs about $30 through the game’s cash shop. However, Freeform Slots do go on sale decently often, and there’s even been slot giveaways from time to time, so you may be able to get one for less than you’d initially think. And even if you can’t, the Archetypes are generally pretty well-built, able to fill their roles just fine for the vast majority of content in the game, and you still get to choose from whatever Travel Powers you want even if the rest of the powers are predetermined.

Speaking of Travel Powers, the movement in Champions Online is delightful. You get two slots for Travel Powers on your character, and there are seven different categories of Travel Power to which each power is distributed. Now, to be fair, most of the powers in each category are just reskins to let you choose the most aesthetically fitting variation you want, but there are some occasional subcategories. Flight powers are especially varied, ranging from basic flight that can be charged before activation to make it faster, a “build-up” flight that starts slow and becomes faster than the original flight, a gliding variation that I’ve yet to acquire but would really love to try, and an assortment of powers in which you create an object to surf upon, from high-tech hover discs, to clouds, to ice, and lots more. These “riding” flight powers often have different feels to them, such as the ice flight being faster but more slide-y than the default Flight.

Besides the Flight category, there’s Superspeed, Superjump, Acrobatics (a great choice for combat), Teleportation, Tunneling, and my personal favorite, Swinging. They’ve all got their own advantages and disadvantages, such as Tunneling making you invisible to most enemies at the cost of some speed. Travel Powers definitely aren’t just there for getting around; using them in combat can be a huge asset. I constantly use the Teleportation-category Ninja Vanish Travel Power to get out of sticky situations when enemies start to pile up. It’s not great for movement (a tad slower than Acrobatics powers, and you can’t attack while it’s active), but its impact on combat is phenomenal.

A lot of people are hesitant to choose a Travel Power based on its combat functionality since it means using one of the two power slots meant for movement speed. However, this needn’t be a concern; there are a growing number of Devices that function like basic Travel Powers, and even better, you have access to vehicles as well. Now, the vehicles are admittedly a tad disappointing from a customization standpoint… You can’t change the aesthetics of a vehicle, not even the colors, and functional customization is limited to a few slots for modification items, and a handful of weapons with a couple clear top-tier picks that blatantly outshine the rest, effectively limiting your options.

That said, there are a lot of different vehicles available, so you should still be able to find one that fits your character’s theme, and the combat aspect of vehicles is typically pretty trivial. What you really get a vehicle for is speed, and they fill that niche quite well. The benefit of this is that your Travel Power slots can be used for fun, flavor, and function without being too worried that you’re going to cause problems for yourself. Though do be aware that vehicles aren’t able to be used in most “instanced” content, in which you leave the main populated areas to enter areas that only you and your team can see. These maps usually aren’t large enough to necessitate the speedier Travel Powers, but a rare few may have you wishing you’d taken something more than Acrobatics and Tunneling. With the previously mentioned Travel Power Devices, this still isn’t a big problem, though those Devices can be a bit costly for newer players.

Of course, all of this customization means very little if you don’t have something to pit your creation up against. Admittedly, the available content in Champions Online could be a bit better; generally speaking, your objectives are just going to involve clearing areas of enemies while maybe looking for shiny items to interact with. Enemies in regular content are nothing special, and you likely won’t have to focus down support enemies before taking on the rest of the group, or anything of that nature. To be fair, however, the dullness of regular content is a bit of a positive in that characters lacking in synergistic build choices can still make it through without struggling too hard. Honestly, my perception of basic content being dull may just be due to the extensive tweaking I’ve done with my characters, so a beginner could very well find the content challenging.

Thankfully, not all of the content in Champions Online is that straightforward. Strongholds (essentially this game’s version of a dungeon), Adventure Packs, event missions, world bosses, and some Alert mission types will often be more involved and interesting than the rest of the game’s content, featuring unique boss mechanics, unusual objectives, or puzzles that may or may not require teamwork to get past. World bosses and Rampage Alerts (almost like a raid boss, but without the rest of the raid involved) are especially involved, at least for some players; you can technically partake in these without a fine-tuned character build, but someone needs to be able to fill various roles within the fight to ensure that it goes smoothly. The MMORPG staple of tanks and healers are still a thing here, but characters focused on crowd control can find an important place in a few of these fights as well, and you may find that obscure power choices you’ve made are a perfect fit for certain situations.

As for the storylines across missions, well… I admit that I’m not terribly familiar with superhero comic books, but I hear they get quite campy, and that’s certainly how Champions Online tends to come across. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to the player; some people find that kind of melodrama to be highly amusing. I certainly get a bit of a chuckle out of it from time to time. The stories aren’t necessarily that engaging (though I did find Vibora Bay Apocalypse, Resistance, and Whiteout to be pretty memorable), but really, the built-in stories were never going to be able to grab players entirely; they’re inherently unable to adapt to your specific character given the broad range of possible backstories. No, the real place you’re going to find story is interaction with other players.

The roleplaying community in Champions Online is bustling. I know such things definitely aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but given the customization the game offers, the source material (a tabletop RPG system), and the fairly large text allotment for your custom character description, the game is highly conducive to this style of play. It can be hard to find roleplayers running the actual content, but it does happen sometimes, especially if you take the initiative to form a group specifically for that purpose. Most roleplay is likely going to happen in Club Caprice, one of the buildings accessible from Millennium City’s central plaza. As with any roleplay hub, you might find some cringe-y dramatic types, but more experienced and enjoyable roleplayers come through on occasion, as well. Just keep your eyes peeled for interactions that seem like the kind of thing you want to get in on, and see if they’ve got room for you to elbow your way in.

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