My mother is an avid player of computer RPGs. She tries pretty much all the major MMORPGs and many of the single-player CRPGs. So she got a copy of Champions Online a couple of weeks ago. She hadn't been able to play it because a problem with her computers Internet connection had rendered Champions Online unable to run, but on Saturday my brother got it working for her. My nephew played quite a bit of Champions after that, since my mother didn't want to lose herself in a new game while company was here.
But my brother's family left early this afternoon, and after I got back from the walk with my father, my mother suggested I play it while she watched. “Aren't you a little bit curious?”
I wasn't, I'll admit, curious enough to sign up for the open beta, much less download the game, but I was a little curious, so I sat down next to her to fiddle with the game.
I spent a fair bit of time playing with the character generator, since my mother and I both agreed that costume design would probably be the highlight of the game. I'd been told the Champions Online costume generator was annoying and fiddly to use, which I think undersells it. A few bits of it were unintuitive or hard to adjust to, but for the most part I enjoyed playing with it; the color picker was especially pleasing to use, as you could mouseover colors and watch them change in the character window; very slick. It had less variety in some areas than City of Heroes – for example, all the options I was were skintight – no suit jackets or blouses, though perhaps I missed them. And no digitigrade legs at all. But it had some neat things City of Heroes doesn't. The character I designed had fish-style frills all over, a long swishy lizard-and-frill tail, scaley skin, and tiger stripes. Not something I could make in CoH.
I got into the game and ran about for a few minutes, watching my character run around on all fours using “beast stance”, which was pretty cute, and running through the first kill-ten-rats-go-talk-to-the-instructor missions. Then I got to the mission that teaches you how to block.
When I ran over to the trainers that are supposed to shoot at you while you block, there was a fallen chair nearby. The key that interacts with NPCs is “Z”, or you can double-click on them. Double-clicking didn't seem to be working, so I hit “z” to tell the trainer to shoot at me. Instead, I picked up the fallen chair.
Picking up the chair replaced all of my combat options, including block, with “Hit target with chair” commands. “How do I drop the chair?” I asked my mother.
“I don't know. Owen had this problem too but I don't remember how you fix it.”
I tried hitting the attack keys, and got “NO TARGET” errors. “Maybe if I have an enemy targeted I'll throw the chair at him.” My character, unused to walking on only two legs, waddled over to the enemies she'd fought earlier with a chair held in both hands over her head. I tried to throw the chair at one of them. “TOO FAR FROM TARGET”, the game told me. I moved closer to the target and tried again. My character wielded the chair like a club, whacking the target with it. She did not drop it.
I beat several enemies to death with the chair, which made a reasonably effective weapon and showed no signs of wearing out or being dropped. My mother laughed helplessly next to me as I poked around at the controls and the help menu, and typed things like “/drop chair” in at the command line. (“UNKNOWN COMMAND “/drop”.”) “This is the funniest thing since Lum tried to fly an airplane in WWII online because he couldn't figure out how to fire a rifle,” she said.
I giggled too. “'I have fired a rifle in real life. It was NOT THIS HARD,'” I misquoted. I exited out of the game and tried to use Google to get the answer, unsuccessfully. I ran around some more in-game. I considered exiting the game and re-entering in the hopes that I would no longer have the chair when I came back.
My mother couldn't stop laughing. “I have put down a chair in real life! It is not this hard!”
Eventually I stumbled on the right command. It turns out that the same key that interacts with NPCs also interacts with objects, and hitting it when you're holding an object causes you to throw it. So hitting “z” again threw the object away from me. Yay! I can block again! And, more importantly, finish the newbie learn-to-block quest.
I played a little more, did a few more quests, some of which were cute and heroic much like City of Heroes missions, like blasting at rubble to free trapped citizens, or rescuing them from menacing bug aliens. I made second level, but couldn't find the trainer and didn't really feel like figuring out how the whole stat-power interactions was supposed to work. Playing with the character generator had almost had me thinking of getting the game, but actually playing the game un-sold me again. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I'm just not that into the whole leveling-game experience right now.