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Champions Online

Need a hero? Just wave a quest icon and they'll all come running

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The fact that most items (rightly) have no bearing on your custom costume or powers doesn't help make these stat boosts feel like rewards. Nor does the fact that you can often punch well above your weight, resulting in a bag full of useless crap you can't even equip at your current level. It's a ridiculous system that cries out to be ripped right out in favour of a few simple core stats, more flexibility in customising individual abilities, and the occasional cool gizmo to play with. This isn't the only place where it feels like the game's pen-and-paper RPG roots are probably clashing with the more casual game Cryptic actually wanted to make, but it's one that never stops being annoying.

The less statty elements of the world work far better. Again though, first impressions aren't great. As of the launch, you spend the first 30 (of 40) levels restricted to just three relatively small zones: a city, the Canadian wilderness, and an irradiated desert, with only two more waiting in the final stretch.

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Luckily, it's not as bad as it sounds. Champions treats its maps more like worlds in their own right, packing them with quests for all levels. Getting around is painless thanks to getting a travel power (like flying or swinging) right at the start, and while the overall world design is a bit bland, it's spiced by lots of great individual areas, with missions taking you to everything from a seedy villain Fight Club, to a Westworld-style theme park where cowboy robots have gone berserk, to a nightmare graveyard where zombies flood in from every corner for a taste of your sweaty spandex.

Easily the best individual quest we've seen so far is the introduction to Monster Island (yes, really) around the level 30 mark, featuring giant flaming ape-on-dinosaur action, huge robots, and an almost Call of Duty style assault on a fortified beachhead held by a criminal organisation that's supposedly very scary, but which still looks disturbingly like GI Joe toys dressed by a supervillain Gok Wan.

The majority of missions, however, are stock 'kill X of this', 'use Y on that' fare, albeit nicely done. Characters have unique dialogue for each section, most indoor locations are short and to the point, and most major areas have a strong theme, including an Anchorman parody in the city TV station, and the barely-disguised cast of Lost showing up in Canada. Champions also offers 'public' quests, a la Warhammer Online, where any heroes in the area can band together to help protect the mayor from snipers or take down a robot invasion, and the clever concept of 'patrol' missions, where you can run into and accept respawning bank robberies or other set-pieces while travelling round the city map. And if you really must, there are still random 'door' missions for City of Heroes fans.

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One of the best tweaks is that kill-stealing isn't a problem - anyone who lands a good hit on an enemy will usually get credit for its defeat.Unfortunately the same isn't true for escort quests and collecting items, which leads to a lot of waiting around for respawns, and other players running off with your guy after you rescue them. Working in a team can also be problematic, with no easy way to see other members' quests, objectives or waypoints.

By MMO standards, levelling is damn fast. The key words there are 'by MMO standards', which means that it still takes too damn long, and rolling extra characters still means retreading too much old ground to justify having a full stable of different heroes at your disposal . Hit the endgame though, and starting again is about all there is on offer.

There's very little high-level content, PvP mode is just boring duels and simplistic arena fighting, and there's not much in the way of social activity. Millennium City cries out for more inspired pursuits, from competitive crimebusting or a Riddler type character to challenge your heroes' brains.

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