Who doesn’t love a good board-game? There’s nothing more fun than having a few friends over, downing a couple sodas, and playing some good old Scrabble! Board-games have existed for over a century now, but video-games have been around for a lot less than that. Board-games and video-games are different in a lot of ways, but this hasn’t stopped the two pieces of entertainment from crossing over.
Adapting board-games into video-games isn’t something that’s new, especially when it comes to tabletop RPGs. I can’t tell you how many Dungeons & Dragons video-games there are, due to new ones coming out with each passing year! D&D isn’t the only tabletop game that gets adapted into video-game form, but it’s definitely one of the bigger ones.
One tabletop game that got the video-game treatment was the “Champions” board-game, which was a part of the “Hero System” brand. This was a board-game in which you could create your own superheroes, and go on your own adventures with them. It was a basic superhero setting, but it definitely had room to develop into something greater.
Let’s flash forward to 2007, which is often heralded as “the best year in gaming”. Cryptic Studios had just sold off the rights to their immensely successful superhero MMORPG, “City of Heroes”. It didn’t take them too long to bounce back, since they ended up snatching up the the rights to “Champions” the very next year. They purchased the ENTIRE franchise, including the boardgame itself. This was a genius move, since it meant they weren’t restricted by any license holder.
Champions was now in the hands of a talented development team and things were looking up for fans of superhero MMOs! At least, it was at first. The game ended up coming out in 2009 to generally positive reviews, which definitely made the game appealing to a lot of people.
However, things started to fall apart once people actually played the game. While Champions Online had superior graphics and gameplay to City of Heroes, it lacked the heart and soul of what made that game special. It was also lacking in meaningful content upon release. Even to this day, the game’s quests and the characters who give them to you are both painfully bland. The heroes in this game were just generic comic book fodder, while the story was as bland as you can get. The voice-acting was hammy, but lacked the charm that made comic book dialogue so endearing.
Worse still, the missions lacked any weight or significance. For example, the tutorial was just you entering a VR simulation of an alien invasion. Nothing you do in it has any consequence on the world or story, and the repetitive dialogue makes it a chore to get through. Compare this to City of Heroes, which has 3 different tutorial scenarios to start off your game with.
One has you breaking out of prison, while another has you help some heroes during a “real-life” alien invasion. Unlike the one in Champions, you actually get to team up with a bunch of players to fight a giant badass monster. Heck, that tutorial even gives you the choice to either save or kill another superhero, which will define your alignment for a large chunk of the game. Meanwhile, in Champions you end the tutorial by fighting a generic guy in a mech suit.
While this free-to-play game certainly wasn’t restrictive in allowing you to engage in its story or gameplay, it did feel like a far cry from what City of Heroes pulled off. Don’t get me wrong, this game is still amazing on a technical level. Its cell-shaded graphics meant that the game would age well, regardless of what year it was played in. The combat was fun and fast, despite playing like a typical MMO. You could do attacks by pressing the numbers on your keyboard, but your character would react faster than he would in CoH.
Is it unfair to compare this game to CoH? Well, it was made by the same people and using the same general concept: A superhero MMO where you create your own hero and do missions. Champions is so identical to CoH in so many ways that it kind of feels like Cryptic was just doing the same thing all over again, just in a less entertaining way.
The thing is that Champions never really took off like CoH did in its heyday. The game enjoyed its popularity for a few years, but dropped off in popularity once other MMOs started dying. Nowadays, barely anyone plays Champions. The game is basically dead and I only bump into a few people online when I play the game nowadays.
Traffic for this game has died down and the servers are barren. It’s especially sad when you consider that City of Heroes’ private server saw way more traffic in the past 2 weeks than Champions has seen in over a year. CoH just has better characters, a better world, and a grander scope.
Champions isn’t a bad game, but it just lacks the things that make a really good superhero MMO shine. While the game is great, it was missing the ambition and uniqueness of its spiritual predecessor. While Champions Online did manage to outlive CoH by a large margin, it sadly does not change the fact that the game feels lacking in meaningful stories and character. The game manages to be a fun comic-book-ish game, but fails to do much more than that.