Well the Free To Play patch came out a week ago (give or take) and I gave it a try a few days ago. I've got mixed feelings on the whole thing. On the one hand, the level progression seems to be smoother, at least in the beginning of the game, and they've addressed some of the issues I've noticed with level gaps between areas and lack of coherent narrative to guide the player from one area to the next. On the other hand, they haven't addressed the most glaring issue with Champions Online, which is it's sheer lack of scale.
The main (in my view) problem with CO has always been the fact that there's really only one path to take through the game. Last week, that was starting with the alien invasion, moving on to the desert or canada (or both if you wanted to keep up with the level requirements of mission arcs) then back to the city for a while, then back to the desert, then back to canada, etc. They've changed this to invasion, city, canada, desert, apparently (though I haven't played through the entirety of the first twenty levels again yet, nor probably will for some time) but there's still only one path.
I contrast this with, for example, World Of Warcraft, which, though I don't much enjoy that game for unrelated reasons, is still the most popular MMO on the market and has been for a good six years (which, if we're counting, is three times longer than it took Champions to resort to letting people play the game for free). In World Of Warcraft, your character starts in one of six (and after the expansions, I think it's ten) starting areas, each one of which will get you to a high enough level to venture out into the wider world and start exploring, and in this wider world there are (or were) usually at least three or four different areas a character of a certain level could choose from to explore without either getting murdered by the local flora or being an unstoppable force with nothing to gain from the missions there. In Champions, there were a maximum of two places you could both survive and accomplish anything at a given level. Now, that they've "added content", it seems there's one.
In fairness, they have added content like new missions and a new power or two, but for some reason they took out some of the old content at the same time. This would seem to be not so much "adding" content as "replacing" content. That irradiated desert that Iron Will explored for seven entries or so? That doesn't exist anymore, apparently. Near as I can tell, it's gone. In exchange they've beefed up the story and missions in the city, but that doesn't strike me as adding content so much as replacing it. Plus, it means that if you're using this blog as a guide (this assumption is mostly just stroking my own ego, but hey, it could happen) then you can just ignore the last month or so.
For new players, this might work out okay. There's more to do in the city than there was, more direction for new players (down the singular path they've left available to every character) and a more generally cinematic game, as they've added a number of cutscenes and voiceovers. Existing characters below level twenty or so seem to've been shafted, though. Characters in any of the three original zones (Canada, desert, Millennium City) have been automatically teleported to the spot characters of their level are now "supposed to be"(in some cases with no way to get back as their old place doesn't exist anymore), their mission journals deleted, and given a new mission to set them right onto the single path Cryptic has laid out for them.
I find it more annoying than encouraging... though if you haven't been playing for the last year, your first playthrough will likely be better now than it would have been, so I'm still recommending the Free version to anybody who wants to try it. Though they've carefully avoided addressing the game's main shortcomings in lieu of shuffling stuff for slightly better functionality, the game itself is still pretty entertaining.
Anyway, logging on to Iron Will, who I left in the Canada Crisis, I suddenly find myself in Millennium City with a single mission to report to some guy in Westside. Bugger that, says I, and spend half an hour on zone chat and running around the city at random looking for a way back to the desert which apparently no longer exists, but I DO find a random helicopter that takes him back to the Canada Crisis, which is apparently not even a part of the new storyline they've worked out and is just a secret area people can access if they want to or something... but, it's where I was, and I wasn't done, so I'll be doing that next.
Stick around while I try to sort this mess out, eh?