F2P Champions Online Experience

Oh, Champions Online, you could have been a significantly greater contender if you didn't undermine yourself with consolitus and then fail to pull through. DC Universe Online has basically done what Champions Online could not. If they had stuck to being PC exclusive and managed to avoid moving onto this unsatisfactory customization design, things might have been interesting.

That said, Champions Online was not terrible, just bland, but it's had over a year of refinement put into it and play is noticeably more refined than release. Nevertheless, I was put off by at least two things about it:
  • The action-based, shallow gameplay experience, which left you soloing the greater part of the time, didn't really feel MMORPGish, consequently I really wasn't hooked in such a way as to want to spend a monthly subscription on it.
  • While I like a bit of customization, it seems Champions Online's character progression system lacked a certain necessary structure to make progressing a character interesting. I'd have all the abilities I care for by about 20-26, the rest was redundant, I wouldn't have room in my activation chains for it, and the best picks that remained were often concept breaking (e.g. Orbital Strike, Smoke Bomb).
Champions Online going Free To Play has solved both those issues. The first, most obviously, in that I don't need to spend a monthly subscription on it anymore. The second being that the premade archetypes provide a considerable amount of structure that is sorely lacking.

This is an ironic observation considering the archetypes were clearly there to price gouge. Somebody over at Cryptic Studios (which may or may not have been completely absorbed by Atari at this point) got the bright idea that, instead of selling character slot upgrades that allow players to freely customize their characters, they were going to use their own hero customization system and sell the individual hero builds. Currently, there's some noticeable gaps: no power armor hero, no psi-blades hero, no electric hero, no force hero, and so on. Not to worry, I'm sure they'll show up as "Special Archetypes" in time.

So, here's the breakdown of a cost to play in F2P. The scale is set at 2000 pts per $25 at this time. Note that, until February 2nd, they're having a 20% off sale, so prices will be lower than these.
  • You're going to need some more bags. At least one, as many as three. A bag slot is 200 pts. This is a per-character unlock.
  • If you decide to get a special archetype, that's 920 pts. This is an account-wide unlock.
  • Character slots (after the first two) are available at 1120 pts per two slots, so each character will be 600 pts. At least they stay unlocked after you bought them.
  • If you want the travel powers Rocket Jump, Tunneling, Swinging, Jet Boots, Ice Slide, Hover Disk, Fire Flight, or Earth Flight, that's another 420 pts for each. This is an account-wide unlock.
If it's me, I'd probably be reasonably comfortable with just the bag slots (600 pts), the character slot (560 pts). So the overall cost per character is 1160 pts.

Previously "gold" (ex-subscriber) players returning to the game as a "silver" (free to play) member will discover from interesting rules apply to them.
  • Like all basic silver accounts, you're only allowed two character slots at first, each additional 2 slots costing 1120 points.
  • However, all your existing character slots are considered active, even if they exceed your current character slot limit.
  • However, you can't play your "gold" characters unplayable unless you convert them.
    Converting your Gold character to Silver character will:
    • Reset that character as the chosen archetype. You keep your level, but now your talents and powers need to match that archetype. You'll respawn in the power house so you can re-slot everything.
    • Remove all your extra bags past the basic inventory, the bags and their contents are mailed to your via the in-game mail system.
    • You'll keep all the bank slots you purchased, but any additional bank slots must be bought via the Atari store.
    • You may probably lose a few costume frills, but you can probably find an acceptable substitute after visiting the costume NPC.
    • There is a game money limit on F2P characters, not sure what happens to the overflow. Probably only affects characters in the end game.
  • If you decide to subscribe to the game, your converted characters are stuck in that converted archetype. You can't turn a silver character back into a gold (customizable) character again, even if you subscribe.
  • If you chose the wrong archetype when you converted your character from gold to silver, you're also stuck in that converted archetype.
  • It's apparently been announced that "archetype retcon" tokens will be sold in the future to resolve the previous two issues.
The main point of contention here would be the idea that converting your character's archetype is a one-way street. Also, deleting characters doesn't accomplish anything: you still can't create a new character until your character count is less than your allowed character slots.
To a great extent, Champions Online has missed the spirit of going F2P by creating two whole seperate games trying to co-exist: the class-based Silver characters and the classless Gold characters. They're trying to encourage players to subscribe to it in order to unlock the "real" game, but this is foolishness. What makes more money? $15/mo for the 5% of their player base interested in paying a monthly subscription, or an occasional $15 per gold character slot from the remaining 95% of their player base?

However, the problems are a little deeper than that: I don't want a gold character, silver characters are more fun.  The thing is, I beat Champions Online's default chargen system.  Take Chaingun, Orbital Strike (Optional), Circle of Primal Dominion, Invulnerability/Lightning Reflexes, Force Shield advanced with Energy Shealth - all content is now trivialized, you are now an unkillable juggernaut.  Min/Maxing such a flexible system is too easy, I'm torn between cognitive dissonance of wanting to play a fun character and wanting not to gimp myself.  The silver premade characters resolve that by introducing balanced play experiences I'd never assign myself, even introducing uses for powers I'd never have.  (E.g. "The Mind" archetype actually makes good use of Ego Sleep: none of my custom characters would never need do that, because everything I fought would be dead long before they were a threat.)

Their decision to gouge players with archetypes instead of selling them gold slots is not the right decision, but it's not the wrong decision, either. Really, it seems what the game needs is a massive character generation revamp but, knowing that they can't alienate their existing subscribers, they chose to do this way instead: it's not a revamp, it's a F2P archetype limitation. Would I choose to play Champions Online instead of Rift? Probably not, Rift has much better levels of refinement and activity diversity. However, Champions Online now has the advantage of being a whole lot cheaper, so it balances itself out rather competitively.

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