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Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask: Mind over matter

Super-hero, Classes, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online
I have been hounded a bit lately for more coverage on the free aspects of Champions Online and the options available to free players. Fortunately, even before I wrote last week's article on the penultimate freeform tank, I was planning to cover the Mind archetype next.

The Mind is the Silver answer to a dedicated support character, and it is perhaps by accident that she is also the most interesting and powerful archetype in the game. She combines team support, healing, survivability, DPS, and self-sustainability into one neat package that is literally unrivaled by any other archetype, free or otherwise.

Unlike other archetypes, the Mind is too complex to be summarized by one article. She's an exceptionally varied creature with many options. Because the essential advantages in her build are pretty loose, she can get all of her key powers with a minimum of sacrifice. Hit the jump and I'll show you how playing the Mind is more like playing a freeform character and less like playing an archetype.

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Behind the Mask: Practical indestructibility

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Endgame, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
It's not very commonplace to showcase a single build on Behind the Mask. In fact, aside from the Archetypes, I've never directly addressed any of the millions of build options in Champions Online. However, one build in particular has garnered a lot of attention lately. It's infamous for its incredible survivability, and many people consider it the benchmark of all builds. The main permutation of the build is Invul/dodge, but the core idea is using layered defenses to ramp up survivability to ridiculous levels.

This week, we'll cover what Invul/dodge is, how it works, and some popular variants. We'll also discuss its limitations and counters. While Invul/dodge is probably the most situationally durable build in the game, it has its weaknesses. Some players might delude you into thinking that Invul/dodge is good at everything, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

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Behind the Mask: The separation of newbie and expert

Super-hero, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
Last week on Behind the Mask, we got into a little discussion about why Champions Online's Elite difficulty needs to be buffed (and possibly also the very hard difficulty as well). This led to a discussion of whom Elite would be tailored for. I'm sure this is a big issue over at Cryptic right now. If Elite is increased in difficulty, whom should it be designed to suit?

I was asked this burning question a few times, and I've made my opinion clear: that Elite should be for the top tier, the tip of the iceberg of player ability. Don't take that to mean Gold players only. There is a sharp divide between an expert Silver player and a poor Gold player. In fact, the poor Gold player is likely to be worse than a bad Silver player. How good is good enough? This week, we'll find out.

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Behind the Mask: Elite doesn't mean casual

Super-hero, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Back in the early days of Champions Online, there was no difficulty slider. We got stuck playing the same stuff regardless of player or character ability, and often that meant high-skill players and their nigh-invincible god characters smashed through insignificant minions like freight trains. When Serpent Lantern launched, Cryptic added in difficulty settings, beginning at the base normal difficulty and ending at very hard. Later on, the devs added an Elite difficulty, touted to be even tougher than VH.

Since then, high-powered heroes have had a way to challenge themselves... sort of. When Serpent Lantern first launched, doing it on VH was reasonably challenging due to the many annoyances (mostly pulson guns) placed in it by the dev team. When players rightfully complained that the pulson guns ripped through well-statted tanks, the devs nerfed the guns and the difficulty became mostly a joke. Normal difficulty is still mostly synonymous with "cakewalk," while Elite is more like "sorta dangerous, maybe."

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Behind the Mask: Science, technology and fantasy

Super-hero, Lore, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
Last week's Behind the Mask generated quite a bit of controversy over fantasy and the suspension of disbelief. This week, I'm going to follow up. We'll cover how the Champions Online universe deals with fantasy in its lore and why realism is important.

We'll also cover how fantasy elements can use realism to expand -- rather than subtract -- your options for roleplaying. Last week, we only covered weapons technology, but there's a lot more to any fictional setting than just weapons. Everything from communications and transportation to food production is important to discuss, and while we can't touch on everything, we can look at the hows and whys of the superhero genre.

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Behind the Mask: Fictional guns are lame

Super-hero, Lore, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
Out of all my issues with modern roleplaying, the inaccurate portrayal of firearms is very near and dear to my heart. Champions Online is a pretty big offender in this regard. One of the most important things that we forget to realize about games in modern settings is that in the real world, guns are tremendously destructive.

Although this is more of a general roleplaying issue and not limited to CO, I feel it's worth touching on. Is it so weird to wonder why superpowered groups like VIPER or UNTIL use energy blasters instead of firearms? Hit the jump and we'll talk about why the U-KTF blaster rifles don't hold a candle to things that exist in the real world.

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Behind the Mask: The best defense isn't a good offense

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online Screenshot
Blocking is one of the elements that separates Champions Online from just another MMO. Along with combat movement, blocking turns CO from another game of "1, 2, then 4 until dead" into a dynamic action experience.

Blocking reduces incoming damage by a ton, even with no investment in upgrading it. It also gives you sizable energy boosts for every attack you block, which gives you comeback potential. Many players block only charged attacks, and even more simply never block. While it's important to block charged attacks, blocking isn't just for the few times when those happen.

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Behind the Mask: Two years and two thousand miles

Super-hero, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
Some of you will recall what Champions Online was like at launch. I think that a lot of readers here at Massively still remember that soreness. The first year of CO was kind of a rough, rocky ride. At some point or another, I think all of us expected the game to fail. It was really only in the in the last few months of that year that Cryptic started to turn the game around.

The second year of Champions has been a lot more successful. I'm pretty sure that from a bottom-line perspective, the F2P launch helped turn the game into a profitable venture. However, that hasn't been the only major change. If Cryptic had held this kind of attitude from day one, I think things would have turned out differently.

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Behind the Mask: I'm the king of the world (or the hill)

Super-hero, Events (In-Game), Game Mechanics, Patches, PvP, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
For the third week in a row, I'm covering Champions Online's PvP, and this week I'll be talking about the new King of the Hill gametype that was available for playtest last week on PTS. As of this writing, KOTH is not live yet, and I suspect it won't be until after the anniversary event. Still, this is sort of a sneak preview of the gametype, and I'll be sharing my experiences, some potential strategies, and some of the issues raised by the playtesters with the new mode.

For the first time ever, I actually had a chance to play with a lot of the PvP regulars. For whatever reason, whenever I play in PvP I do not see many of the big name PvPers. It was good to see some familiar forum faces and match myself against them for the first time. How did I fare? Well, hit the jump and you'll find out.

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Behind the Mask: Preparing for war

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
As many of you will recall, last week we talked about Champions Online's PvP and some basic information on the builds and gametypes currently available. For those of you who watched my livestream this week, I also managed to noob it up in Stronghold quite a bit (plus a game of BASH and a game of Zombies). It was quite fun; I have very little experience in Stronghold compared to other types of PvP, so it was a bit of a learning experience.

I wanted to go back to PvP again this week and cover some basic tools and strategies for all types of PvP, especially the Hero Games group PvP modes. Some of the strategies aren't obvious to beginners, and others are easy to forget in the heat of battle. While everyone can agree on certain basic strategies, it's easy to get blood in the eyes and focus too heavily on depleting some hero's life bar.

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Behind the Mask: Heroes vs. heroes

Super-hero, PvP, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Champions Online screenshot
Although I've referenced it a little bit here and there, I've directly avoided talking about PvP in Champions Online. It's a controversial topic -- probably moreso in CO than in most other MMOs. In Champions, there is a massive difference between a hero who is focused on PvP and one who is not. Characters who are well-optimized PvE machines tend to perform acceptably (especially in certain types of PvP). However, if a hero isn't as optimized, he or she tends to get steamrolled by the flavors of the month.

Because most CO players are more casual players (in the sense that they don't plan builds and tend to pick powers that are "fun" or "cool"), they often get quite upset when they are defeated by an optimized PvP build. Most players I know tend to assume that the FoTM builds are unbeatable and that the only way to beat them is to join them.

Experienced PvPers know that this just isn't the case. It is true that an optimized PvP build is a necessity, but the actual optimization can take on many forms. There are dozens of effective "win buttons" in Champions' PvP out of a couple hundred powers. Out of dozens of possible kill methods, picking one and supplementing it with logical choices and personal flavor is a snap.

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Behind the Mask: A long, slow, rumbling

Super-hero, Expansions, PvE, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

One of the things I absolutely hate about comics is waiting. When I read Detective Comics regularly, I used to patiently wait while re-reading my old issues, wondering what was going to happen to Batman next. Eventually, I got into manga a little bit and was totally spoiled by the graphic novel format. Now I only read comics (or novel series) if I can get an entire plot arc in one shot. I hate waiting. Heck, I prefer to watch an entire TV season on Netflix instead of waiting for each episode to get released.

Unsurprisingly, I played through the first three issues of Aftershock, Champions Online's new comic series, before I decided I was irritated with waiting every week for the latest issue. I was sort of put off by bugs in the first issue of the series, and I decided that waiting for the final release would give the devs time to polish out the bugs. New content is new content after all, and when it's released weekly, it doesn't get a lot of time on PTS before it gets pushed to live.

Issue #6, The King is Dead, was released a few weeks ago, and the devs have put the finishing touches on Aftershock. How does it match up with the rest of CO's content?

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Behind the Mask: You wouldn't like me when I'm angry

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

There are quite a few controversial powers in Champions Online, such as Inertial Dampening Field or Dragon's Wrath, but there are no more controversial mechanics in CO than the Enrage and Focus mechanics. Both of these buffs provide tremendous bonuses to offense for very little opportunity cost. Focus provides a damage bonus to melee attacks which scales with DEX, while Enrage provides a damage bonus to all attacks which scales with STR.

Focus is often scrutinized more heavily than Enrage, simply because DEX is a better stat than STR. However, because Enrage can be applied to ranged attacks, it has more potential for abuse. Focus is limited to melee attacks -- although some builds use ranged attacks to build Focus with Form of the Tempest, these builds inevitably close distance and strike with Dragon's Wrath, Dragon's Claws, or Ego Blade Breach.

This week, we're going to look at Enrage -- ways to build and maintain it, and ideal ways to use it.

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Behind the Mask: The truth about healing

Super-hero, Game Mechanics, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

One of the main reasons I decided to cover the Inferno archetype a couple weeks ago was because I felt I should showcase the importance of a self-heal for all characters. In Champions Online, freeform characters can select any powers they want, and the most important powers to choose are heals. Why?

There's a lot of core elements of CO's design that correlate well with having healing powers. In any game, self-heals are effective, and unless they perform poorly, they tend to be highly valued. When a hero can select any powers, heals just naturally gravitate to the top of the list. But there are a few other things that make this pattern more significant.

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Behind the Mask: Welcome to my lair, do not touch my radio

Super-hero, Culture, Patches, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Hands-On, Roleplaying, Champions Online, Behind the Mask

Hideouts are the one of the most anticipated features in Champions Online. Players have wanted their own personal space for a while, especially because City of Heroes has had supergroup bases for a very long time. Ever since Champions launched, players have wanted space to call their own. Most roleplayers have made do with private mission instances, but this was a tenuous situation at best.

Do Hideouts live up to the hype? What do they mean for roleplayers, or for the average player? Are they worth purchasing? After the jump, we'll cover the consequences related to hideouts and some of their implications in the CO roleplaying world.

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