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To Savor The Game: Champions Online Edition

Last entry, I mentioned I might write up a series of columns about how one can better enjoy their games. This week, I'd like to talk about Champions Online.

The lead thing to bear in mind about Champions Online is that you define the game by how your define your character as much as you do how you play the game.  This is much more so here than in most other MMORPGs.

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Defining How You Play

In most MMORPGs, the class you choose determines the kinds of activities you'll be doing in the greater role of the group group.  If you choose the tank, you'll be toe to toe with the enemy, trying to attract as much attention from the enemy as possible, if you choose the healer, you'll be standing away keeping everyone alive with support powers, and so on.  Then, the MMORPG might offer various hybrids, such as a holy warrior type who is capable of some level of tanking and some level of healing.

In Champions Online, there are no rigid classes, even two characters with the same overall power set can be radically better or worse at various roles depending on how they distributed their statistics and power selection.  You can even build a character who can perform all roles fairly well by switching which build is currently active.  The player is given the responsibility of deciding for themselves what balance of power they want.

Furthermore, there's a matter of improving power execution satisfaction.  You might have all the skills you need to satisfy your goals, but are you having fun?  Maybe you don't like the way your character is animating?  Maybe you find lining up those cone attacks frustrating?  Head over to the power house and experiment a bit with some retcons.  Test it out a bit in the training room. Don't lock in those choices until after you're feeling relatively satisfied with how it feels.

Generating Flow

There's more to it than merely deciding how your character plays.  You actually define the difficulty level of the game through how your build your character.  If you're really good at gaming the character generation system, it's not too hard to generate a character who does obscene damage and is relatively invulnerable.  There's only one problem with this: for many players, that's boring!

It's not too hard to figure out why.  At the very basis of game theory, there's this concept of "flow."  If the player is feeling challenged at just the right level, the brain is happy.  If the game is too hard, it becomes frustrating.  If the game is too easy, it becomes boring.  What's needed for an ideal game experience is a game that's neither too easy, nor too hard, but just right.

However, the complicating factor here is that desired difficulty level will vary with the individual player.  It may even vary with mood on a particular hour.  There's a lot more to it than skill versus challenge, and for an MMORPG to encapsulate the satisfaction of all players for hundreds of hours is a very tall order.

In time, they may add a difficulty slider, but in the meanwhile Champions Online's character generation offers a novel (though debatably accidental) solution.  You can develop a series of characters with varying levels of difficulty based off of how you have built them.  If you're really clever, you can even develop a single character who has varying levels of difficulty depending on which build is active.

Living A Concept

To a great extent, a roleplaying game survives not by simply allowing players to do things that make numbers go up, but rather through providing a certain avenue of escapism. Where most MMORPGs offer you the easy, generic answer (e.g. "you're a mage") Champions Online challenges you to come up with your own superheroic concept.
If you develop your character thinking, "I want to make a guy who's great at inflicting damage per second so I can farm quickly" then you've completely missed out on any appeal you could have derived from coming up with a compelling persona.  By putting a little more effort into it, you might just find yourself with something magical: a character in a game you actually care about.

This can boost your enjoyment of the game exponentially, as every little action your character does, every little achievement earned, and every difficulty faced now has that much greater of a meaning to it.


The bottom line is that there's no way to "win" an MMORPG.  Ask many experienced players, and they'll tell you that you're better off savoring the journey over the destination.  Champions Online offers a lot of tools to make that journey worthwhile.  Are you taking advantage of them?

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