Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tutorial part two!

In which we continue our playthrough of the wildly popular (not actually, but I like it) MMORPG Champions Online!

Wow. The mayor of a huge metropolis wants to see me, personally. Granted, it's a huge metropolis that I've never heard of before, but this is still a big deal as far as I'm concerned. His makeshift office consists of a largish tent, several crates, a random girl looking bored amidst the horrific alien invasion, and two, count 'em, two guards in fancy suits, only one of whom has a gun. I suppose secrecy is pretty good protection on it's own, but we're about thirty yards back from the makeshift barricade of police cars, and I can see some of the aliens from right here. He's got some confidence on 'im, that's for sure.

I jog up and ask what he needs. Unpredictably, he would like me to do a job for him! Although I suppose that what with the recently discovered invulnerability and the current disaster state, I really shouldn't be complaining when strangers ask me for favors. At least this particular stranger might be able to write a letter to someone and get me some kinda college credit or an internship or something.

He tells me that he needs me to go back into a gutted building to find his briefcase, because his briefcase contains a code, and this code activates an emergency response... plan. This plan is on a laptop which I'll also need to go retrieve.

I um, I didn't know that plans could be activated with codes... maybe it's like some kinda automated defense cannon thing...? Or like a pre-recorded message on a PA system...? But why wouldn't he have activated it when all this first started happening instead of setting it all up in a building and then leaving it behind?

Er, whatever, I never understood politics. I tell him not to worry about a thing and run off. My voice sounds like I'm whispering through a harmonica or something; maybe my vocal cords are metal too? It's weird, anyway. I make it a point not to talk much from now on, since nothing's making much sense at the moment and I'd probably just ask a bunch of stupid questions.

A quick hop over the police barricades brings me within spitting distance of the burnt-out building, and there's a hole in the wall big enough to drive a truck through, so I just let myself in, only to come face to face with a hideous eight foot tall humanoid insect thing! I wave hello, hoping that this is as universal a gesture in... well, the universe... as it is on Earth. It stares at me for about two seconds, and then spits in my face.

Well alright, maybe a handwave means something different on giant bug world. I try to think of something else to try while he spits in my face a few more times, which it occurs to me might be some sort of attack, as the stuff's dark green and sizzling off like cartoon acid. But for all I know, Qularr shake hands by burning each others' mandibles off, so who am I to judge?

But then he seems to get frustrated and tries to claw my eyes out. Uncalled for! I bop him on the head and he dies. So much for diplomacy.

It's good to know that despite incredibly advanced technology capable of sustaining and transporting life across thousands of light-years of space, the Qularr still deign to engage us in hand-to-hand combat for some reason. I step over the dead bug and root around for the mayor's laptop.

The combat in Champions Online distinguishes itself from other MMOs in a few ways, though this early in the game they're not all apparent. Besides the relatively active roll the player takes in directing combat through having to block attacks manually instead of just setting it and waiting for the fight to end, combat against low-level enemies tends to be much faster. At level one, for example, Iron Will is capable of destroying most enemies in a single hit with his energy-costing attack, or maybe half a dozen quick strikes with his energy builder. Melee is generally stronger than ranged (to compensate for the more limited circumstances in which it can be used, I suppose) but even the shooting classes shouldn't need to take more than three or four seconds per enemy at this stage. "Bosses" are different, of course, but combat in Champions is much faster and, therefore, much less of a drag than in most MMOs.

The developers seem to have picked up on this ahead of time, though, and have decided to award absolutely crap EXP for kills. For example, the shots below were taken at level Two.

At 3 Exp per bug, I'd only have to kill seven hundred seventy seven of them to advance to level 3 (in this shot I'd already turned in several missions since level 2).

The low Exp rewards for enemies effectively make it impossible to level simply by flying around and sweeping the streets like, y'know, a superhero. It's still pretty fun, but the only viable way to gain levels is to turn in missions, which, depending on the mission, sometimes aren't nearly as fun as simply going around utilizing your powers to defeat enemies would be.

I assume that this is on purpose. Since combat is relatively speedy in this game, it has to be worth less experience, while the more time-consuming missions are worth more. In most MMOs I'm more used to the other way around, where the missions are often only really there to get you out and make you kill hundreds of enemies (Boar Livers, anyone?) which you otherwise wouldn't want to do because the combat is so repetitive and annoying, as you'd probably prefer to keep wandering around and exploring or talking to people or gathering stuff or, you know, whatever. In those games, the majority of the experience and rewards usually comes not from completing the quest but from fighting the enemies themselves, merely giving you an incentive to put up with their lackluster and ponderously slow combat systems. In Champions, more of the missions seem to be collecting things or disabling things or, you know, anything that pops up a little progress bar you have to wait for, and the combat is largely incidental and can often be avoided completely.

So, while the situations are reversed, like most MMOs, the experience rewards are given out for doing the time consuming stuff that's less enjoyable. As MMOs make their money off subscription costs and are basically the most profitable when they take as much of a player's time as possible to advance, I get the reasoning behind it, it's just too bad all this epic superpowered head-bashing doesn't get us nothin'.

I find the laptop on top of a table in a pile of rubble, perfectly intact. I have no idea what it's operating system or ram or any of that stuff is, but this is without a doubt the most durable laptop I have ever seen. I make it a point to look for a similar one for myself and scramble up the rubble pile with it, not particularly worrying about whether it gets dinged by any of the rocks.

A similarly indestructible file cabinet is just on the other side of this debris pile, and I find the mayor's briefcase cleverly stashed inside it. As I'm leaving the building, though, I notice a girl across the street. Doesn't seem like a particularly safe spot to be standing and waving your arms around, so I jump out the third story window and trot on over.

She introduces herself as Melanie, name-drops the Mayor's daughter, and asks if I'll escort her to safety because she's afraid of bugs. ... Well, fair enough, I suppose, I am a damn handsome fellow and I do seem to be able to kill the things with my bare hands. Follow me, miss... miss?

As soon as I agree to escort her to safety she runs away down the street towards a swarm of Qularr pacing around the rubble piles. I think for a moment that she must be alarmed that a moving metal statue was accosting her, but I realize after a while that she has no idea how a bodyguard works and has assumed that merely talking to me about protecting her will keep her safe even if I'm nowhere nearby. Rich kids. I dash off after her.

I finally catch up to her around the corner and halfway towards the mayor's tent, cowering in the middle of the street because one of the Qularr is over on the sidewalk ignoring her completely. She absolutely refuses to go around the thing with me until I go over and get rid of it for her. One weighted metal left-hook later and we're on our merry, running triumphantly past the police barricades and into the mayor's tent where the strange young Melanie is reunited with the mayor's daughter and I get to go deal with somebody less addled. She thanks me profusely, I say it was no problem and conveniently forget to give her my name or any way to contact me later. Talk about high maintenance.

The mayor has a new job. Apparently the gravelly-voiced Chief Surhoff, the guy I heard over the radio earlier describing the situation, has set up another camp down the street with some of his officers, and they're completely cut off from this one by bands of roving Qularr and a minefield that the aliens have set up that kills anybody trying to go that way... and he'd like me to deliver a letter! I'm all ready to object to the absurdity of this plan and the lack of pay for every other job so far, but I realize that this one will at least get me away from these people. That giant hologram woman is still staring at me with murder in her eyes, and the dozen or so MARS troopers with their giant guns are still standing a ways off looking like they want to shoot something... though of course not the aliens the police are fighting against. I suppose I'll deliver the letter.

On the way out of the tent I meet Sapphire, 20% of the superteam known as the Champions, defenders of Millennium City. I decide to say hello.

She seems to be enjoying herself during this invasion, enjoying the cardio that the hostile aliens are providing and the new friendships it's creating. I kind of want to point out how many people are lying dead under the rubble in every direction, but I suppose that might be a bad first impression. She has kind of a vacant, collagen-injected expression on her face and seems to be dressed as a glam rock stripper from the '80s. I also can't help but notice that she's doing absolutely nothing to assist the police who are repelling wave after wave of invaders, assist survivors, fetch the mayor's various lost things, or, well, anything. And despite the fact that she can fly, she has apparently not been tapped for this deadly-for-anyone-walking-on-the-ground minefield mission.

Pictured: An unconcerned Sapphire, me, unpowered police officer fifteen feet away fighting for his life.

I give her a reassuring pat on the head, try not to look at her chest, and take off on my new mission. I think I have a sneaking suspicion how she got into the Champions in the first place.

At this point you'll want to take a slight detour and run up that crashed Qularr ship on the right for the Red Bug Down perk, which I can only assume is a reference to the movie Black Hawk Down or something else that I'm simply missing.

Perks are basically those extra little awards that virtually every game released in the last half decade has started doing in the form of badges or achievements or whatever they call them. Apparently they grant Perk Points which you can spend at some later point on things like costume pieces and action figures (in-game, not something they mail you) and the like. I've never bothered with them myself, although they are tracked in a list you can access at any point in the game to bask in how awesome you are, and some of them grant a Title, a little phrase or adjective like "Fireproof" or "Northerner" that goes above your name and is visible to other players in the game. They're awarded for everything from getting to certain places in the game or talking to certain people to defeating a large number of one kind of enemy, taking a large amount of damage from a specific source, or completing every mission in a given series. Basically a mark of status for the really hard-to-obtain ones, or a little piece of flavor for the characters of players like yours truly that don't really care about rank. For ol' Iron Will here, I've got my sights set on "Indestructible" or "Cold Iron".

Wandering down the street, I notice some new types of Qularr patrolling in front of me that I haven't seen before. Apparently in addition to little firefly things and big angry ones, they also come in big angry flying flavors. Even with a weighted metal fist, I don't think I can punch something thirty feet in the air, so I look around for something to throw at it. Several largish chunks of exploded Qularr spaceships are sticking out of the ground at various points. I decide to see if I can't pry a piece of one off to use as a weapon, and find much to my surprise that I can tear the whole thing out of the ground and lift it over my head with little to no effort. Score! Apparently I'm significantly stronger than I used to be, too... and, I've got a big honkin' chunk of pink chitin-metal to hide under. I bash the nearest Qularr soldier over the head with it and carry it down the street with me, hoping I don't look too conspicuous.

I've got a good throwing arm, and it works out pretty well. Thanks, football practice!

The mines that everyone was afraid of, as it turns out, are glaringly obvious pink lilypad things littering the street at distances of five to ten feet from each other, and I don't seem to have much trouble avoiding them all without even having to slow to a walk. For the second time in as many minutes, football practice comes back to help me through another of life's challenges!

Off to one side is an alleyway blocked off with police cars, and beyond that, at least somewhat concealed, I find Chief Surhoff's camp. It seems significantly better set up than Mayor Biselle's camp, as it's in an alleyway and at least somewhat back from the street rather than out in the open. He's cleverly set up near a fountain for fresh(ish) water, and back behind the officers manning the police car barricade are several wounded civilians lying on the ground being tended to by a firefighter, rather than a bunch of people with guns standing around doing nothing. This is looking a bit more promising already.

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