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Busy, But Not Too Busy To Be Bitchy About Games

So as I’m sure everyone noticed (or failed to, if you haven’t seen anything in your RSS reader) I’ve been neglecting this blog. This is 100% due to my day job going into overdrive; we have a pretty major milestone coming up (and in fact I’ll be giving AGDC a miss, though I’ll be cadging beers in the evening; if you have beers to cadge, hit me up!) and it has been keeping me focused.

However I did pick up Champions last week. I like superhero games – I played City of Heroes since it launched, and still do, on and off – even though I’m not really a comic book guy. Plus, I have a sort of history with Paragon (CoH’s current developer) and Cryptic before that, given that I worked at their publisher, worked for years with one of their lead writers/designers, and once had Jack Emmert lecture me at Gen Con about my Latin pronunciation while wearing a silver lam√© cape.

So, I really wanted to like Champions. I even had a hero all ready to go.

dearleader.jpg

The Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il. He specializes in dark, fell sorcery. And robots!

Unfortunately, there was a few things to harsh my buzz.

First, apparently the entire game was nerfed on launch day. It wasn’t technically a nerf unless you pre-ordered. I did pre-order, but apparently not soon enough to play during the pre-order, so I didn’t play in the blissful 3 days of pre-nerf nirvana. However there was, as you might expect, a bit of a community explosion over changing the balance of the entire game overnight. Or, to quote a community person who was the first to announce the news:

Good news! Defensive passives are getting a decrease in their effectiveness very soon. That’s all the detail I have for now.

This is quite possibly the most awesome post from a community person ever. “Guys! Guys! You’re going to be weaker and take more damage soon! Isn’t that great? Talk to you later!”

But, really, that didn’t bother me either, because I didn’t play during the pre-order phase, and the board explosions didn’t bother me because, well, I didn’t read the boards.

What did bother me was the character skill system. And my reaction to it I actually find kind of interesting. Normally I’m pretty hardcore about character builds. I like analyzing things to death – it’s why I constantly reroll new characters. Well, that and I get bored.

With Champions, I felt as though I wasn’t qualified to do that. It was too complex and opaque to me, despite most things having liberal tooltip explanations and the developers helpfully supplying a “danger room” where you can test new skill purchases for free. Thanks to the ridiculously expensive respec costs, I felt as though every decision I made about my character was final. And I resented it. Perhaps I was spoiled from WoW, where a talent respec cost maybe a day’s worth of daily quests. I didn’t feel like I really knew what I was doing – which for a game like this, with a rich skill system like this is normal. Yet I felt like not knowing what I was doing was critical. I made characters which rapidly were unplayable. Kim, for existence. Turns out mixing robots and sorcery doesn’t work well. Guess he’s shelved. As was my fire blaster. As was my dual blades guy. I would plow through the tutorial, whose corny jokes and earnest Golden-Age-of-Comics demeanor wore more and more on me with each repetition, get to the first real zone, and fall flat on my face if I pulled more than one enemy. Clearly, this was not City of Heroes, where you plow through dozens of henchmen while laughing loudly. The game was letting me fail.

This is a necessary evil of a rich, classless skill system – the game has to let you fail. And it irritated me. Probably because of the punitive respec costs. I’m thinking that a cheap and available respec is a necessity for a game like this. Sure, you can fail, but the cost should be going to an instructor and saying “I’m sowwy” while pawing the dirt with your shoes, not shelving your character as Failure #12 after going through yet another session of Captain Stupendous intoning that you have to deactivate ALL the consoles!

The lack of content at release bugs me as well – it means that every character goes through the same content every time without fail – but realistically, that always gets fixed if the game gets successful. Content is easy. An interesting, yet essentially forgiving skills-based system? Not that easy. And Champions is almost there.

But not yet. And that frustration, at least for me, is a learning experience.