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Review: Champions Online Free-For-All

September 23, 2011

There is a world where gangs rule the streets and mad science (for good or evil) can be a viable career choice, where alien invasion is not an uncommon occurrence and the only thing that keeps it from degenerating into an orgy of chaos and anarchy is a group of superhumans willing to stand up and take charge.

No, it’s not City of Heroes.

Or City of Villains.

No, it’s Champions Online: Free For All,  the MMORPG adaptation of the pen-and-paper tabletop game Champions (now owned by Cryptic Studios, makers of City of Heroes).

But you’re probably wondering what it’s like. It’s really pretty fun. And what’s more, it’s free!

Well, mostly. You don’t need to pay any money to play the game, but this limits you to a choice of eight archetypes (or if you prefer, classes) and not much in the way of costume choices, whereas if you pay, you can create a freeform character from scratch with all the wacky costume designs you can imagine. On the other hand, it can easily be played without any financial transactions taking place, and the penalty for dying is so light as to make the purchasable health items and other consumables nice but not a requirement.

The various storylines are the sort of standard alien invasions from the 50s and 60s and crime and urban sprawl from the 80s onward, and the overall feel of the game has been described as “Silver Age Marvel with the numbers filed off”, not that that’s a bad thing, although you can have neighborhoods with vastly different feels bordering each other. For instance, the difference between the clean, polished, 50s-and-60s-futurism Renaissance Center and the run-down, crime-ridden, 80s-inner-city of Westside is stark. It can be a little jarring for new players.

Although, one thing I really like about the character creation system is that even with the F2P archetypes, you’re free to add your own history for the character, which does add a sense of customization. I myself have created from the soldier archetype a veteran of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, military trainer for Mujahideen fighters during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, parachuting into Panama during Operation Just Cause, and prior to the game, assigned to a federal inter-jurisdictional urban crime task force. Yeah, not a word of that happened, but it’s in the character biography. That makes it canon, and canon is law, bitches!

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