From the Hip: Champions Online: On Alert

Champions Online: On Alert is a masterclass in how not to change a MMO in an expansion.  None of the changes in this Expansion/Update offer anything meaningful to the game, and many of them are quite destructive to the game.  The game in its current state isn't worth playing.
From the Hip: Champions Online: On Alert
Date published: May 4, 2012
2 / 3 stars

Champions Online: On Alert is an expansion to popular superhero MMO Champions Online developed by Cryptic Studios and published by Atari (ed: now, published by Perfect World Entertainment)  Before I go futher, I feel I should qualify this review. I am a lifetime subscriber to CO. Had you asked me to review the game prior to the On Alert update, I couldn't've recommended it enough.  But the On Alert update has come and gone since then, and there's no sugarcoating it: it is terrible.  Where before you had a game in the vein of City of Heroes (no surprise there, Cryptic developed CoH as well before moving on to the Champions IP) which was full of flavour, interesting stories and characters, it's all been either clawed back, removed entirely, or rewritten into something bland, samey, and uninteresting.

So what changed in On Alert?

Before, when you started the game, you had a lot of story options as to how to progress in the game, because there were two hubs you could participate in: the "Millenium City" missions in its gang-themed "Westside" - sort of a much wackier Batman area - or the more "realistic" stuff in Canada whose beginning game content centers around the occult release of a powerful spirit (and then perplexingly has you fighting terrorists after this crisis arc with no given way that the two arcs tie together)

Now you can't touch Canada's missions at all until you're level 15 (of 40). You have a good several hours worth of grind in West Side (or the Alerts) at the beginning of the game, and even at that, a lot of the content in West Side has been cut down or otherwise trimmed down.

Speaking of things that were trimmed down in the On Alert update, the crafting system is no more. Where before you had a system that had a lot of wacky, zany, and generally-interesting items each with a little bit of flavour text usually pertaining to the game world, now every item in the world follows the same template. No, you didn't misread, every item in the world uses the same sterile six templates. It gets very old very fast and both greatly reduces immersion in the game world and the sense of reward you get from these items.

Where before the grind was passable because it was guised with interesting stories with often interesting bad guys, they have all been watered down lately. The series' front page supervillain Doctor Destroyer, for example, gets sidelined by the games other - usually much less interesting - bad guys. Without spoiling anything - the two main 'end game' confrontations don't even give him a nod.

The titular Alerts are a mess

The Alerts are the focus of the update of course, it being named On Alert and all ... and they are a mess. Some of them are fine if extremely repetitive - but others are balanced about as well as plate on a stick in the middle of an earthquake in a windstorm, which is to say, not very much. To give one example, some of the alerts have you fighting series whipping-boy "Kevin Poe" - who is now anything but a whipping boy. Even with a high damage team, you're going to struggle to even put a dent in him by the time the two minutes you're given are up, because he has a classic example of the Computer Cheating: he has a power called Personal Force Field, which in the PC iteration is a little annoying but not overpowered, but because of how ridiculously Cryptic amps up the Supervillain stats and such to present a challenge since their AI is so terrible, there is almost no way you're going to take down that supervillain's shield in the given time, let alone his health. Don't get me started on Draconis, who combines this shield with powerful crowd control abilities, which are also amped up.

A plethora of bugs abound

Even if the game was otherwise perfect, this removing of the game's story and flavour has effectively ruined it for me. But it's also bugged to tomorrow and back with the update. Bad guys constantly clip out of the level geometry during alerts, preventing you from succeeding during them. And also in the old content, such as the Demonflame adventure pack - again preventing you from succeeding in it. The game constantly drops my keybindings. The game will often wait until after you're dead to apply healing items - consuming the item but doing you no good, being dead and all. The voiceovers added by the expansion, when they added the update are terrible - but only when they work, which isn't often.

On Alert is a mess. Don't get this game. Don't support it with c-store purchases, which will be made a waste of money by them being made available freely in the game anyways (the 90s superhero set for example was available in the C-store for 320 cryptic points, and is now freely available in game). Don't support it with subscriptions, which they won't respect anyways. Wait until they fix it - but don't hold your breath. 

Champions Online: On Alert is a masterclass in how <em>not</em> to change a MMO in an expansion.  None of the changes in this Expansion/Update offer anything meaningful to the game, and many of them are quite destructive to the game.  The game in its current state isn't worth playing.