Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kaufman's strange demands.

Having finally finished picking out a suite of powers that best compliment our shiny hero's winning personality, I pilot him back out the Powerhouse door and into...

Project Greenskin. The place has looked better, I hope.

The whole place is a weird half-donut of walls surrounding a lawn with a big broken statue of a mutant in the middle. O...kay. According to the little map they gave me when I showed up, the guy I'm supposed to talk to is way back next to the helicopter pad we landed on, which appears to be up a fifty foot cliff, the only viable route to it being along the wall swarming with irradiates. Well, looks like I'm going for a bit of a hike.

The second I step on the bare dirt I catch fire with a weird glowing green miasm of radioactive something-or-other that sizzles on my skin and seems to harden, slowing my movement. This is going to be a long walk. I completely ignore a superhero in red fighting a big purple guy next to me and head for the stairs, hoping I don't attract too much attention.

For some reason, it seems to work. Despite the fact that I'm a shiny silver man covered in glowing green fire, none of the mutants milling around seem to notice me. I walk within thirty feet of one who looks right at me and it doesn't even care. Golden. I make my way up the stairs without incident and am halfway across the courtyard to the wall when I see this.

Half a dozen dead soldiers lying around in a pile with two irradiates milling about in the middle of all of them. Jeeze. These guys apparently mean business.

I can probably walk right past these guys too and make my meeting with the new boss in the next minute or two, but something about these two just standing over a pile of dead victims just bugs me. I mean, these are the Project Greenskin soldiers I'm supposed to be helping out, right? And these guys have just killed half a dozen of them and are just standing triumphantly in the middle of them and ignoring me completely? That's just... I dunno, arrogant. I'm officially miffed. And so, I decide to introduce myself.

Eesh, these guys are ugly. I guess I should feel sorry for them or something, as they're apparently just regular guys who've been out in this weird mutagenic radiation for too long, but then the first one hits me with a pipe and I decide that I can be sympathetic to their situation and beat them to death simultaneously. He takes a few more hits than I expected he would, but eventually he falls and I turn my attention to his buddy.

And one of his friends up and shoots me with a laser gun. How rude. So apparently, judging my this new guy's outfit, it's not just people who've been living out in the radiation for a while who are affected, but some of the soldiers from the base too. That's mildly unsettling. I prioritize the guy with the laser gun and save the guy flailing at me with webby hands for later.

Alright, now that he's taken care of, I turn my attention back to the first guy and finish him off, but as I'm doing so I get hit in the back of the head by another mutant wielding a baseball bat and accompanied by a fifth with another length of pipe.

No sooner do I beat these new guys to death than I get shot by another laser beam by another mutated soldier coming up the stairs behind me with three more improvised weapon guys in tow. Alright, so maybe I should have waited until I'd had a basic rundown of the situation before running right up to them and punching one in the stomach. I turn around and take off for the helicopter pad, hoping they'll stop to check on their dead buddies before following me. They don't. Hrm.

Fortunately, I make it up onto the ledge by the wall before running into another group of them, and from up here I can knock them off the edge with that new punch the trainers at the Powerhouse taught me, so I won't have to bludgeon them all to death one by one.

As you acquire more advanced powers, you'll be able to utilize the terrain and implement actual strategy in combat rather than simply running up to things and beating/shooting them to death. With Roomsweeper, for example, Iron Will can hit opponents in an approximately ninety degree arc in front of him and knock them back and up, buying himself a second or two of time on flat ground, or sending them falling to their deaths if they're between him and a significant ledge. Observe.

A few seconds later I reach the sandbag wall that the soldiers have set up and they run out to help. An full-on rumble breaks out for a few seconds while me and three of the guys square off with the last four of the irradiates who've been following me. Cooler heads prevail. Nice work, team!

Okay, so, that wasn't the smoothest operation ever, but a dozen of them are dead and I'm not, plus I'm at my destination, so I'm calling this a win. Apparently, Director Kaufman is INSIDE the wall surrounding the base, which I must confess I did not expect. A panel on the wall next to a guy in a radiation suit that I ignored completely on my way past the first time is apparently actually a door to an elevator inside the wall. If not for my map, I probably wouldn't have ever found it.

I pop in, take the elevator up, and sit through an airlock shower thing to wash off whatever radioactive particles I may still have on my person before going through and talking with the higher-ups. That's actually a pretty good idea, so I don't resent it. Maybe these guys are actually good at their jobs and will be able to use me effectively? A chill runs down my spine.

Right past the shower-tent is a long hallway with peaked glass walls that I realize after a few seconds is the glassed-in parapets of the wall itself. That's actually pretty cool, if you ask me. From up here, I can see the mutants running around in the courtyard below, while simultaneously watching the mutants running around all over the desert outside. If there was an actual battle going on or a front we were defending or something, this would be a great vantage point for strategizing and whatnot.

I can see Director Kaufman standing a ways down the hallway, but a small crowd has gathered around a soldier closer to the entrance, so I decide to check that out first. I shoulder past a big toad thing and a demon of some sort to discover that he's the Supply Officer. And he's apparently got some spare clothes lying around. Could this mean...?

Yes! New pants!

Looking at least somewhat more presentable in a comfy new pair of jeans, I strut on down to where Kaufman is standing with his fists clenched and staring out the window. He seems overly happy to see me, considering how many other superpowered types seem to be milling around with him up here.

Alright, well, I have no idea what Grond is, but I'll do my best to have you back bringing it down as soon as possible. What can I do for you, sir?

Wait, what? You guys left scientists out there in the courtyard when you ran up here and fortified the entrances? I'm not exactly a military career type or anything, but that doesn't seem like great soldierin'. But, yeah, okay, you're under-manned and stuff, I'll lend a hand.

For that matter, why aren't you equipped to deal with them? You run a military base in the middle of a random patch of desert, the only distinguishing feature of which is that it's overrun with Irradiates. If not "dealing with Irradiates" what precisely are you equipped for?

Oh, right, taking down Grond, whatever that is. Guess the more obvious military tasks fall to me.

Somehow I figure that my stainless skin is probably less likely to develop cancer out there in the radiation, so while I'm out, anything else I should pick up?

So wait. That statue IS Grond? This entire base is built to take down a statue? I guess you're doing a pretty good job seeing as there's only half of it left, but that seems like an excessive use of resources when a few sticks of dynamite and a drill probably would have been faster and cheaper. Unless it's a statue OF Grond, in which case... holy cow. If you guys can't beat a few hundred cancerous rioters, how do you plan to take down a hulking bodybuilder the size of Godzilla? That seems like it would require more equipment and training, not less.

Secondly, while I do appreciate the explanation for why all these Irradiates are hanging out in the area, I don't see what that has to do with their uranium rockets. I mean, it seems kind of completely unrelated. And why am I collecting these in the first place? If it turned all these normal and decent desert folks into bloodthirsty mutants at a distance, do I really want to be carrying around a bunch of radioactive material in my pockets? As much trouble as these guys are causing, I can guarantee you that a bulletproof metallic Irradiate would be significantly more of a problem.

Thirdly, why do I have to build my own anti-radiation item? You're in a highly radioactive area, you sure you don't have some lying around? Or at the very least, are you sure that some of these nuclear scientists and technicians standing around doing nothing might not be better suited to build an anti-radiation device than a guy whose only relevant experience has been punching Irradiates in the head?

I'm losing a little bit of faith in Director Kaufman here. Mustache aside, he seems to have very little in common with Chief Surhoff. But none of that is the fault of the soldiers under his command or the scientists working in the base, though, so I suppose I ought to help anyway. Alright, first thing's first, I go to talk to some of these "trainers" he mentioned.

The Crafting system in Champions Online is not unlike the crafting systems in most MMOs: time consuming and largely pointless. Equipment and item drops throughout the game come in three flavors: Science, Arms, and Mysticism. They're really not equipment in the strictest sense, they're referred to as Upgrades, and they're more like attributes that you can incorporate a maximum of nine of into your character at a time. Sometimes they're things like armbands or necklaces or helmets or the like, which won't actually show up on your character and which you can wear several overlapping items of at a time, but most of the times they're things like a certain mutation or device for science, a weapon or training regimen or a style of kung-fu maneuver for arms, or a scroll or spell or blessing for mysticism. Mechanically, they all do the same thing: raise one or several attributes and increase your defense, though sometimes they'll also provide a random bonus like increasing your attack or adding a certain energy type to an existing attack.

Unlike most games where your Equipment goes on a specific body part, Upgrades fall into one of three categories: Offense, Defense, and Utility. You can only use one Primary of each type and two secondary; so, nine equippable Upgrade slots in all. If you have two Primary Offense upgrades you'd like to use, you have to pick one or the other; however, if one is a Primary Offense and one is a Secondary Offense, or if both are Secondary Offense, you can use both. Simple, right? No? True, it's weird.

Like in most games where enemies frequently drop items you can loot, the vast majority of them will be weaker than what you already have, and since you can only use nine at a time (and only one at a time of different types) there's no real point in collecting them. That's where Crafting comes in, though. At an appropriate crafting table (different type for each different specialization!) you can break down upgrades of your chosen specialization. So if, for example, you chose the Mysticism specialization, you'd be able to break down all the Mysticism upgrades you picked up from dead enemies for parts, rather than just selling it all. Your Arms and Science vendor trash you would still sell as normal. Different kinds of enemies in different areas are more likely to drop one type of upgrade or another, but over the whole length of the game they seem more or less even.

Taking items apart grants some ranks in your chosen Crafting skill, more complicated (higher level) items granting both more ranks and more parts. You can take apart multiple items at a time, though, so if you only have a bunch of low-level stuff to cannibalize for parts, you can break down twenty items at a time to get build ranks as if you were taking apart one closer to your level. Then, at the same workbench, you can use the parts to craft new items if you already know the recipe. You learn recipes by going to your crafting specialization's Trainer and spending money or components that you get FROM breaking items down (depending on which recipe you're trying to learn) in exchange for newer recipes, which you can't learn until you attain both a certain rank in your crafting discipline and a certain character level. If you do this a bunch, you can sometimes make items that are more powerful than what you'll find as random drops, provided you're raising your crafting skill ranks faster than you're progressing through enemies' power levels.

Or you can avoid it entirely. It's a bit more intuitive than it sounds once you've done it a couple times in the game, but it definitely doesn't make much sense either way. Also, each of the three crafting schools come with three specializations within them. For example, if you want to pick Science, you also have to pick if you want to specialize in Inventions, Mutations, or Exposures. Mechanically, I don't think there's any difference between these except for what the things you'll be crafting are called. If you pick Inventions, for example, you'll be learning new Schematics, while if you pick Exposures, you'll be learning new Catalysts.

They don't at any point in the game that I can remember tell you which school or which specialization will best compliment your chosen powers or super stats, so you'll probably just pick one based on your character concept and which flavor goes best with them. This works more often than not. In general and from my observations alone, the Arms items seem to boost mostly Strength and Dexterity, Mysticism tends to boost Ego and Presence, and Science tends to boost Intelligence and Endurance, but all three disciplines are capable of crafting items that can boost most any stat.

It's all kindsa wonky. Hope that helps.

The trainers are some strange people. I talk to a guy named Art. E. Tiller (heh) who seems to have laser guns on both arms, his chest, and one eye, who claims he can teach me the making of Ordnance, various Fighting Styles, or how to have an Alien Metabolism. I'm um... I'm not sure I understand what he's saying at me. I keep walking past the guy who wants to alter my body chemistry and talk to the science guy.

Who turns out to be a portly man in some sort of robotic suit with an awesome muttonstache thing going on. He is, obviously because of said muttonstache, surrounded by women. He offers to teach me how to make Inventions, or the science behind Exposures or Mutations. That seems like it would be pretty handy to know, as I'm pretty sure my current state is the result of some pretty abnormal Exposures to unknown elements, and knowing as much as possible about Mutations will probably come in handy in a few decades when I have some flipper-kids of my own thanks to all this time spent wandering around in clouds of radiation. But I think advanced chemistry or radiology or whatever the discipline is might be a ways beyond me, as last I checked I was getting a D in geology, which only really involved memorizing types of rock. I pat him on the tummy and keep walking.

The last trainer I come across appears to be some kind of crazy sorceress waving her arms around and making some sort of cloudy blood-fog dance through the air in front of her. This is kind of awesome. Can this lady teach me how to be a wizard? With a hat and a pipe and everything? That's way better than being a college graduate.

She seems to be able to do the same trick as Witchcraft where her right leg goes right through a piece of her cape, so she must be legit. (Where IS Witchcraft, anyway? Isn't she the one who called me here?) She offers to teach me how to Enchant Gear, Arcana, whatever that is, or how to... be an Avatar? Meaning like... become an aspect of a god or godlike being of some kind? And what's Arcana?

This stuff is awesome, but it's clear pretty much right off the bat that it's way beyond me and likely to stay there for a considerable amount of time, and I'm looking for something I can pick up today. Bidding fairwell to the nice sorceress and to my recent aspirations of professional wizardry, I trot back to Mr. Tiller and say I'm willing to learn Fighting Styles. Seems more my cup of tea, I suppose. So I guess we're going to spar, or something?

Oh. No. Apparently by Fighting Styles he meant Building Stuff. You um... you're a weird guy, Tiller. I suppose that's better for me, come to think of it, as I seem to have no trouble beating up mutants but do in fact need help building anti-radiation devices. So, yeah, this is a good thing. I wave goodbye to my strange new teacher and head back towards the elevator leading outside, mentally preparing myself for the tasks ahead: beating up mutants and rescuing scientists, beating up mutants and taking their bombs, and beating up mutants to take parts to build some kind of radiation suit thing.

I'm not so sure about these guys.

Up Next: Project Greenskin!

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Powerhouse

As you may recall last time, our hero Iron Will had finally made it to the Desert Crisis' Powerhouse, and we had spent a fascinating several pages trying out all the different travel powers, subsequently complaining about them, and then fell asleep. Let's continue!

So, having at long last chosen an acceptable Travel Power, there were a mere four more categories of character enhancements to choose.

First up, Powers! These are the actual moves you get to use in the game. Up until now I've just had one besides the energy builder, but this is where you get to start adding variety to what your character does in combat. Or, depending on your concept, not. As ol' Iron Will's kinda just a guy made of metal, I'm probably going to be sticking with the fairly straightforward punching-in-different-ways powers, but there are quite a few more that I won't be taking myself.

The powers available this early in the game are pretty sparse. Since I've already got a power in the Might category, all the 2nd-tier powers are open for me in Might.

However, while I can take powers from other categories, my selection is pretty limited. For example, if I wanted to get into the Ice market, I have a grand total of one power to choose from.

So as of right now, most of my best options are in Might. Fortunately, you don't need to take the basic power in other categories to open up more tiers. While having a single Might power only unlocks 2nd tier powers in Might, having two Might powers will unlock not only the 3rd tier of Might powers, but the 2nd tier of every other category. You can even unlock all categories at basically the same rate by taking a power from a different category every time you get a new one if you want, although you'll never unlock the 10th-tier "final" power of a given category, which isn't usually all that powerful anyway. Point is, you can have a really eclectic character with a variety of powers, but you're going to sacrifice some effectiveness.

Me, I'm just gunna stick with Might for Will here, at least for now. This involves a few punching powers, the ability to tear up and throw chunks of the ground (pretty cool) and a number of chain-related abilities that I think used to be a part of the Supernatural power set. Interesting. I have the very strong temptation to take one of the chain powers simply because they start with the word Iron (LIKE ME OMG) but instead I wind up going with Defensive Combo, which is a pretty simple boxing-style punch that somehow doesn't sacrifice your defense rating, or something. I just like how it looks, meself.

... And that crate never hurt anybody ever again.

I'm also going to unlearn Beatdown (the only non-energy building power I've been using this whole time) and replace it with Roomsweeper, which hits everyone in an arc in front of the character. That way if I manage to get myself surrounded, I can buy a bit of time. Should be fairly handy, and since Beatdown and Defensive Combo do basically the same thing (both hit one opponent right in front of you) I shouldn't need both. Unlearning something costs money, but since Beatdown's the most recent power I acquired, I've only got to unlearn the one thing, so I've got plenty.

There's some strategy to picking powers if you're going for a specific build. Some play really well off certain superstats and it might make sense to grab an assortment from different categories to match your character's innate attributes, some may be utterly useless but necessary to get a certain power at later levels that will just fit your dude perfectly or something, etcetera. I'm sure there are more detailed guides on the internet somewhere, but me, I'm just taking whatever will make Iron Will harder to kill, not necessarily more likely to kill his opponents.

To this end, it's time to pick his first Characteristic Focus!

Again, there's some strategy to this that's completely beyond me, but I know that in general, it makes the most sense to pick the same Characteristic Focus as you did your Innate Characteristic at the beginning of the game. That came with two bonuses and this only comes with one, but there'll be another in a few levels, so it works out.

Now, for a Might based character, Strength obviously makes the most sense as a superstat. But, I've already got a Strength character, and being super effective in combat is kinda boring. For Will, who's made out of metal and thereby ridiculously hard to injure, I'm going Constitution, giving him a pile of extra hit points. Besides, I'll just pick up Strength later on when I get to choose another superstat, since you can't pick the same one twice anyway. Damn shame, that.

Okay, that done, we move on to Talents, which are basically the same thing.

Talents give your stats an extra little boost. They come in several varieties, from big ol' +8 boosts to one stat to the mid-sized +5 boosts to two (which are the ones I usually go with because it's, um, a better deal, or something) to little ones that provide boosts of +2 or +3 to five different stats. They differ from Characteristic Foci in a few ways. First, obviously, they can involve two or more stats at the same time. Secondly, they don't scale up with your level. The +14 I got to Constitution will be a +15 in a level or two, all the way to a +40-something at level forty. These will stay a +5, so they become more and more negligible as you level up. But, you also keep getting them every few levels, so by the time you hit max level you'll have half a dozen or more, instead of the two Characteristic Foci which you never get any more of. I don't remember the exact numbers right now, but if you focus on the same one or two stats for all of your talents, all of them together provide a comparable bonus to a Characteristic Focus.

For this one, I'm buffing Strength and Constitution yet again. I don't anticipate Iron Will suddenly wanting to make a career change to Wizard in the next few weeks, so I don't expect I'll live to regret the relatively narrow specialization. Hittin' things never really goes out of style.

Finally, there's Ranks and Advantages. These are what you can do with Powers you've already learned.

This screen actually gives you a pretty good look at how they work. You'll get points to spend two at a time, although if you gain a few levels without visiting the Powerhouse, you can bank four or six pretty easily. Then you can spend these on powers you already have to enhance them, either by buffing up their damage or duration via the straightforward "rank" system, or by giving them a special quality, called an "advantage". Usually buying ranks is the best way to go for straight damage, but the advantages generally carry a lot more strategic options.

Here's the catch: you can't just keep on spending all your advantage points on the same power or powers. They max out at five a piece. Usually, this means you can choose to either rank it up all the way or give it an advantage, not both. Personally, I'd prefer it if you could just pick a signature power you were likely to use more than any other and keep pouring points into it, but you can't. Eventually you'll wind up with way more points than any one or two powers can take, but not enough points to rank up every power you have, so you'll have to pick what you'll want to spend them on based on what you'll be most likely to use throughout the game.

In fact, it's sometimes a good idea to hold off on spending talent points at all until you've attained some higher-tiered powers. If you find two or three later on that you want to be your mainstays but don't have enough points left to buff them all up, it's pretty expensive to work your way all the way back down to lower level powers and free up the points. If you know the powers you're going to go for later on, might pay to save them up.

Me, I buff Defensive Combo, because I have no idea what I'm going to be doing later on, and we're done!

... Yeaaaah, not as interesting as the travel powers. Oh well.

UP Next: Mutants and stuff!