Friday, November 19, 2010

Blast off.

Sorry about that.

Okay, for reals this time:
Immediately after finishing the character creator, you're given the option to go to either a Crisis or a Tutorial. While selecting one of the Crises will boost your level up to five and drop you right in the middle of the action, the Tutorial is actually pretty well done, and I never mind doing it. Plus, if you take your time, you'll have a level or two advantage when you do get to the Crises, which just makes everything run more smoothly throughout pretty much the entire game. So, Tutorial it is.

During the loading time between the end of the character creator and the beginning of the level, Champions Online puts up comicky summaries of the various zones like this one. It's pretty handy if you actually want to know anything about the plot of the game, but only want to in pretty broad strokes. Of course, on a decent connection the level will load before you actually finish reading the loading screen, but you can stick around and finish if you really want to. Aaaand CUTSCENE.

The city is under attack by enormous robotic bugs... scratch that, human sized bugs that pilot giant robotic bugs. You know this because you can overhear police chief Surhoff, who sounds awesome, growling over the radio to some of his underlings. They explain that the alien bugs are called Qularr or something like that, and that they've lost contact with the Champions, the city's resident superteam for which the game is named... or possibly who are named after the game, I don't know. There are forcefields cutting off different parts of the city from each other, and they don't have the manpower or the supplies to effectively repel this week's giant bug invasion. Etcetera, etcetera, things are really bad. In the midst of all this, your lovingly crafted avatar opens it's tender young eyes for the first time...

Aaaand I finally manage to squirm out of an enormous pile of rubble. I appear to have torn off the remains of my shirt during the crawl and ripped up my jeans pretty bad, and for some reason, I'm standing next to Zorro, a werewolf, a knight, and some kinda glam rock Gohan who all seem to be in a steady procession of various weirdos filing neatly out of said pile of rubble; so many, in fact, that an officer is on hand apparently just to help people out of this exact pile of rubble and make sure they know how to walk. Now at first, this seems like a bit of a waste of police resources, until I realize that there are probably a lot of concussions involved when pulling people out of collapsed buildings, so I suppose he's probably doing a good job. Thanks, officer.

I have no idea what's up with this pile of rubble. My working theories are that the collapsed buildings throughout the city have formed some sort of rubble-funnel that slides every survivor in a three block radius to this exact point, or possible that there's a subway station right under the rocks with a train that still works. But then, I'm standing next to a werewolf, giant robot bugs are attacking the city, my last memory was a nuke going off in my face, and I seem to be made out of metal; rubble portals aren't that weird today.

Okay, so, I decide to talk to the officer, he seems to know what's going on. After ascertaining that, yes, I do know how to walk, he tells me to go talk to the Champions' computer instead. This doesn't seem terribly helpful, but despite the fact that he's been relegated to pulling-freaks-out-of-the-rockpile duty, he nevertheless has a pretty sweet mustache, so I defer to his expertise.

The Champions' super crime-fighting computer winds up being pretty hard to miss, as it's apparently a twelve foot naked hologram woman named Socrates standing on a giant gold pedastal and gazing down imperiously at all of us. ... Alright, whatever.

You may remember her from such games as Halo, Mass Effect, System Shock, or any comic book with computers. How transparent hologram women seemed the next intuitive step past flatscreens is beyond me, but I guess it's a common assumption.

Apparently she thinks I'm a cop, because she immediately tries to put me to work helping the official effort. I was kinda hoping for some medical attention, like, from that ambulance about thirty feet away... but come to think of it, yeah, okay. It'd actually be kinda nice to not feel completely useless while the police do their thing, and I'm feeling pretty damn healthy despite everything. Whatcha need, boss? I could carry stuff, I know a little first aid... hell, if this new metal skin is as hard as it looks, I could probably hammer nails with my bare hands or something. How can I help?

Help destroy pods...? Well sure, okay. I mean, I don't know how to work an incinerator or anything, but I can drive a forklift and work a woodchipper. Yeah, yeah, this'll be good, I'll go help the police destroy pods. South, right? On my way, boss!

I take off, feeling quite good about this whole having been deputized for the police department by a giant computer woman thing. It doesn't even hurt to run around barefoot, and despite the fact that I've been half naked in the rain for a few minutes now, I don't feel cold. Maybe this whole turning into metal thing could help out for the next few hours.

Rounding the corner I see the spot where the police have rounded up all the hive pods. This... doesn't look so good.

Before me stretches a city street littered with Qularr hive pods which several officers are standing behind barriers staring at while various superheros run through the field shooting, punching, and stabbing the pods one at a time. The police have apparently gone throughout the city risking life and limb so that they could bring all of these pods to the same place so that... people could punch and shoot them.

I wonder how many lives would have been saved on this fateful day if they had taken their sidearms with them and shot them where they found them in the first place? It seems like a much more efficient use of police resources...

I um, I guess I'll help anyway. Having seen several superheros rupture the pods just by hitting them, and given that there are no convenient weapons nearby without lifting a billy club out of an officer's belt, I decide to try my luck that way. I trot on over to a plump looking one that nobody else is beating up yet and start smacking at it.

While I'm still not convinced that this isn't a ludicrously inefficient way of dealing with the problem, I have to admit that this is much more effective than I would have expected. There's a satisfying "clank!" every time I hit the thing, and it's surface buckles like I'm using a pair of knuckledusters. Apparently punching things with metal hands is significantly more effective than punching things with meat hands. Pretty soon the entire thing is covered with little craters the size of my fist, and the insides are sounding squishier and squishier.

And then the damn thing explodes in my face.

Well, one down, about a dozen to go, I suppose. Or, rather, two, according to the giant computer lady. I guess they're really into delegation around here and have another few heroes on the way for the rest, eagerly awaiting their chance to have alien yolk spattered all over their faces, too. I towel off and look for some way to pop these things at arms' length instead.


One of the more entertaining ways that your character can interact with the environment in Champions Online is good ol' fashioned Lifting Stuff. The environments are by no means fully destructible, but they do a pretty good job of littering most urban areas with various objects that characters can destroy. Characters with a decent Strength score can also lift these objects and use them to batter enemies until they break, or even throw them a fair range to take out foes at a distance. The barricade isn't particularly impressive, and probably a non-strength-based character could lift this too, if not at first level then soon. But as your Strength score increases, so does the size of objects you can wield. At higher levels with strength-focused characters, things like giant boulders and some vehicles are fair game. Larger objects do more damage, of course. There's something just immensely satisfying about crushing hostile soldiers with their own tank, I can't deny.

Muuuch better. The pod explodes, and I don't even get alien splooge all over myself.

The rest of the pod-disposal goes pretty smoothly, except for one that hatches while I'm hitting it. An insect the size of my torso comes tearing out, flying straight towards my head and breathing fire, I kid you not. Lacking other immediately obvious solutions, I decide to keep punching it, and you know what? I kill the thing.

Yes, that is me straight up coldcocking a giant flying firebreathing insect from another world.

The police didn't even have to do anything. They didn't even reach for their guns. They were just like "he's got this" and you know what? I did. It tried to spit fire at me and it didn't even hurt, and then I hit it once right in the face and it died.

I think I've got this alien-fighting thing DOWN.

Strutting a bit, I make my way back to Socrates' giant golden pillar of efficiency. Pods are totally taken care of, boss, what else you need? So, she tells me.

Having apparently witnessed my relatively effortless survival of an alien fire-loogie, this supposedly benevolent computer program would like me to go and let a heavily armed swat team shoot me to test out their guns.

No, seriously, that's exactly what she asks me to do. There are alien invaders periodically assaulting a barricade about fifty yards away that's manned by maybe half a dozen slacks-and-polo policemen, not to mention about two dozen pods lying utterly defenseless in the street right next to us, and she's decided that these special assault guys should test their massive advanced weapons out by shooting me a few times to make sure that they can later, presumably, shoot the aliens assaulting the barricade or the pod things. Er... why not test the weapons out on them?

... The Champions' AI wants me dead, I realize. But why could this be? Surely I've been useful so far, even though I've only had one task to complete, but I completed it with flying colors. Maybe it considers me a threat? A potential supervillain that ought to be taken out of the picture early on so that she won't have to deal with me later? Maybe she protects the Champions' reputation by guiding potential one-uppers to their untimely deaths in foolish "misadventures" on the battlefield? Or maybe she's been the evil mastermind all along?

I did just get a building collapsed on me without getting a headache, though, and I got squirted with lava a couple minutes ago without any ill effects. Alright, Zordon, I'll play along without arousing any suspicion until I have a chance to investigate you a bit more, but I'm on to you.

I head over to where about a dozen heavily armed men are standing with their massive weapons and bravely ignoring the life or death struggle of their unarmored comrades a few paces away, waiting to shoot me to make sure their guns work. Maybe I can talk some sense into their commander.

What th...? Screw you, Captain Henry. I'm gunna let you and your guys shoot me to make sure your guns work because you're too afraid to engage your enemy and you're taunting me about it?

This is actually the "how to block" part of the tutorial, although you'd think they'd have come up with a less ludicrous explanation for it. Ah well. Blocking actually figures fairly prominently into the combat in Champions Online, and while the timing isn't very difficult (block whenever the bad guy is charging up for something) it lends a bit more interactivity to combat. While it's not really vitally important in most fights (and, the way I plan on building Iron Will, not even terribly helpful) it's something you've actually got to pay attention to. Unlike many if not most MMO's, you don't just click the enemy and then wait half a minute for its copious amounts of HP to slide away slightly faster than yours. Neato.

I don't say anything, just fix the captain with a steely gaze (ha haaaaaaaaaa...?) and let his guys do their thing. Despite the fact that their guns are probably a hundred pounds, about the size of my leg, and fire explosive grenade-thingies instead of bullets, it just tickles a bit at the generous range of about three and a half feet. Maybe Socrates did know what she was talking about, these things couldn't cut butter. ... Or maaaaybe I'm just so tough all of a sudden that their best shot can't faze me, despite Socrates' obvious intentions to murder me. Yeah, probably that second one.

If I'm going to be this invincible, I'm going to need a name. I start trying to come up with one on my way back to Socrates. Argent Avenger? Silver Sentinel? Bulletproof Brawler? Alliteration never hurts, I figure.

Socrates plays off the shock of seeing me alive pretty well... although, since she's a computer, that's probably not all that hard to do. Evidently at a loss for currently convenient ways to try to kill me, she instead sends me off to see the mayor of Millennium City. This sounds like a huge honor, until I realize that he's been about thirty feet away this whole time standing in a tent. I'm pretty sure I waved to him earlier and had no idea who he was. Awkward. All the same, I'm glad to be away from this malevolent machine (see? Alliteration is awesome.) and hopefully taking orders from a real human being who DOESN'T want to see me destroyed.

I pack up my things (half of one recently singed pair of tattered jeans, check) and head off to my new job at city hall.

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