So is the game for you or not? Well, we hope you'll have a better understanding of that answer to that question at the end of this feature.
Play together, right now
So let's say you've just bought, installed and updated Champions Online. You click the executable, it opens the launcher that asks you to sign in and you do. The first thing you'll be greeted with after the game loads is your character creation screen. After you create your character, you simply jump into the tutorial.
Are you wondering where the server selection comes into play? Well, it never does. Everyone can play with everyone else. No more musical server chairs. This does mean that the zones are instanced. Yes, there are instanced zones. However, the size of these things is nothing short of massive. There are small zones within the big instanced one, actually. Loading is infrequent enough that the game maintains a persistent feel. The population cap for a regular zone is something around 100 right now, but could change in time.
As for how they deal with character naming: it's actually tied to your account name. This is know as the @name system, to most Champions Online players. So if your login name is "Bob" and you create a character named "Red Stripe" you could be reached in-game via Red Stripe@Bob and subsequently only need to /friend or /ignore someone exactly once.
Let me repeat that, because it bears repeating. You only need to /ignore someone once, and then their past, present and future characters will never bother you again.
And in case you're wondering, yes when people see your name above your character it is without the @name attached.
You'll be happy to know that Champions Online has a leveling progression that's very focused on doing quests. There's a very good variety, and thankfully only a small percentage of them ask you to travel into an instance. It's safe to say about 85% of the quests take place in the actual zones.
An important tip: When you've got your quest window open there's a button titled Crime Computer. You want to press that button occasionally, because it will toss up a list of NPCs around the game world in need of help (IE quests) and allow you to find them via waypoint.
For the love of travel
Travel powers are given at the end of the tutorial in Champions, which is good because you'll need them. Without powers like superspeed, getting across those massive zones would be a huge, huge pain. In fact, it's very obvious the size of the zones are direct result of Cryptic allowing travel powers super early in the game. The only penalization for using a travel power in combat is a small increase in the energy cost of your other powers. It's fairly miniscule, though.
Oh, there are something like eight or ten travel powers in the game, too. Some of them are variants on another, like the flight powers: Flight, Fire Flight, Ice Flight, Earth Flight and Jet Boots. But in a game where customization is so very huge, this is important. So while the distinction between Superjump and Jet Jump is mostly cosmetic, having the choice is great.
Obligatory super-deep customization
It's insanity is on a level beyond anything seen up until now. The only potentially challenger is All Points Bulletin in terms of character costume customization.
However, the fact that the Nemesis system allow you to create, well, your nemesis at level 25... is awesome. Creating the look of this villain is just like creating your character, except that you decide what type of nemesis you want to create, plus their minion type. An evil maniacal scientist whose minions are mutant freaks? Sounds good!
Oh and yes, you can customize the color of all your powers. So if you want green fire or red ice, you very well can have it.