Cryptic Studios is known for their love of superheroes - they have a moderately successful MMO under their belt with City of 2155 Heroes and a major expansion to that with City of Villains. Yet in order to fully concentrate on their next big thing, they sold off the franchise to their publisher, NCSoft, who took the game over with their own development team with plenty of old Cryptic staff while Cryptic as a company moved on. Initially they were working on Marvel Universe Online for Microsoft Games Studios but eventually that venture folded (what is it with Microsoft Games Studios and the PC...?) and that forced Cryptic to go with a plan B by basing their next game around The Champions role playing system by HERO Games.
So, Champions Online is a superhero MMO nominally set in Millennium City, built on the ruins of old Detroit that ended up trashed by Dr. Destroyer 17 years ago. In addition to the city you also end up in four different play areas outside the city, always fighting against local evildoers and their endless supply of henchmen. So the game is firmly based on the usual superhero stuff and is not that much unlike City of Heroes and Villains - the games Cryptic Studios is most famous for. Yet they have obviously refined the concept - picking what worked in CoH, adding in things that were not really there (loot) and going with a more traditional quest-heavy structure, ending up with a package that is in many ways more similar to World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online - except you play as a superhero.
Single Server, But...
In a rather impressive move, Cryptic has gone for a single universe/server concept. No matter where you live, there is only one server you connect to. Inevitably, this translates to massive instancing. Just like in City of Heroes, each zone is always running numerous identical copies of itself, each hosting between 10 and 100 players depending on the zone. New copies are added as needed and players are by default spread evenly among the existing copies. You are free to switch to any existing copy you like and teams can easily follow their leader, but it still fundamentally sucks for social play as there is no common server population to play with.
Champions Online servers being situated in California, this also translates to high latencies for Europeans. While the game hides latency very well with client side prediction, the fact still is that the servers are in California and even in best case scenario Europeans will end up playing with around 200ms latency. Not a huge deal when soloing - a lot bigger issue when grouping or doing PvP.
The single server system also brings two-part names. Your full in-game name in Champions Online is displayed as [charactername]@[accountname]. The benefit is obvious - character names do not need to be unique, only account names do - so in practice you can name your character whatever you like as there will never be character name collisions. The downside is just as obvious - chatting with these long and unnatural multi-part names is a pain, even if there is a working autocomplete-feature. It all screams for a proper alias system, allowing you to to set personal aliases that translate to complete names.
The game world is also fairly heavily zoned. While the five main adventure areas are quite large and continuous, they are also clearly fenced and limited. Immersion is also constantly shattered by a loading screen - when entering and exiting buildings and underground installations, moving from floor to floor indoors, moving between the zones and when visiting the Powerhouse for training. Those looking for immersive game world are advised to look elsewhere.
Games: Champions Online
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