Cturned from the biting wind to investigate the port-bow again. "Ice," he muttered as he lowered his eyeglass, referring to the limitless expanse of crunchy white stretching to the horizon. "Ice, ice, ice," he repeated, shaking his head, "Ice."
They'd been searching for lost gold off the coast of Antarctica for months now, and his band of Skellington pirate minions were restless. Becoming increasingly aware that his origin story was dragging on a bit, he immediately tumbled into the crashing, icy surf. Frozen in that underwater hell and tormented for centuries by the Antarctic currents, McFreeze swore revenge on Solar, my firey superhero. Why? Well, it's very complicated and probably not worth anybody's time.
And so my nemesis Captain McFreeze was created. Champions Online takes Cryptic's fetish for customisation to incredible levels, offering you the chance to craft your nemesis with as much love and care as you do your own superhero. Choose their minions from a list of presets -from robotic cowboys to pirates and ninjas, and they'll pop up randomly during regular missions in the open world to put you off your stride you not to cook them to a crisp with your fire-breath.
During my hands-on, a whimpering pirate promised to let slip Captain McFreeze's latest nefarious plan - a prison break! That dastardly fiend! Finding out such information unlocks the next mission in your nemesis' arc of quests - a series of adventures which culminates in their imprisonment in Champions' version of Arkham Asylum: the desert-bound Stronghold.
Champions Online will be instantly familiar to fans of Cryptic's first MMO, City of Heroes, a much more avatar-focused game than the World of Warcrafts and Warhammer Onlines of the world. Zones such as Monster Island, Millennium City and the Canadian Tundra allow you to fly about, shooting lasers (which can be customised, coloured and beamed from different places on your body) and lifting heavy objects in front of crowds of impressed onlookers. Your particular skillset is chosen during character creation and is dependent on your chosen origin, while new powers based on your skillset are awarded as you gain experience and level up. Online an "action MMO", one less concerned with strategy, aggro and tactical smarts than with throwing desks, blocking attacks and hammering keys.
You'll have a relatively weak base ability (in Solar's case, chucking fireballs) which increases your energy bar as it does damage. Once you've stored up some energy you can use more powerful abilities. You can charge these powers by holding down the required key - the longer you charge the more powerful the attack. Solar's abilities included a chargey uppy fireball, a fire breath power which damages enemies in a cone, and Pyre, an area of effect ability which burns all enemies within a certain radius.
There are lingering hardcore MMO traits in play here too. Enemies have an implicit aggro radius and projectile attacks will, generally speaking, always meet their target, making positioning and cover redundant. Where it departs from these tenets most noticeably is in the ability to block certain attacks, which are signposted by flashing onomatopoeias above enemy heads. It lends a real physicality to the game's combat, much like Age of Conan's extensive fighting system did.
Co-operative play is key to Champions' instances. In the hands-on, myself and three other heroes were tasked with building a robot using a giant grabbing arm. With each of us manning a direction button, it was a matter of fiddling co-operation and copious luck to get the job done. Difficult as it was when we were shouting at each other across the room, taking this online might prove frustrating when live - one clueless mouthtbreather could ruin the instance for erybody.
As with Cryptic's City of... games, the real triumph here will be the sheer customisability. No other MMO will have you so immediately involved in and tied to your character, so willing to indulge in a 500-word biography detailing their tragic origin, and spend an hour thinking of the perfect name. I want to draw pictures of Captain McFreeze punching his way out of an iceberg, screaming "Solaaaaaaarl?" I want to write a sonnet about my hero's victory over the ice pirate hordes. I want to give Solar a Twitter account and write "I WILL FIREPUNCH YOU ! IN THE BALLS, CAPTAIN MCFREEZE," so everybody knows how awesome he is. Can you say the same of your World of Warcraft dwarf?
Download Champions Online
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode