Until recently, Free to Play MMOs have had a really bad reputation. Technically, they still do among some folk, but considering all the “free to play” announcements in the industry the past few weeks, I’m guessing things are slowly changing. One of the major gripes people have with F2P is the (not very witty, but neither unfounded) term “pay to win”. You don’t pay for a subscription, but using whatever microtransaction store the game offers would give you an edge over the “dirty freeloading peasantry”.
Cryptic had a slightly different approach to their F2P model, one that I haven’t heard that many complaints over. The terms I’ll be throwing around today are: Silver – non-subscribers; Gold – Subscribers; Premium – content that has to be bought separately and doesn’t come with the subscription. You can always check out the Free-to-Play Matrix on the official site if tables are your thing, but I don’t think it’ll give you the info you get from speaking to actual players.
Comparing Gold to Silver is probably most similar to Playstation Network and Playstation Network Plus. As a subscriber, you get access to a lot of stuff for as long as you are subbed. When you are no longer subbed, you lose all the benefits unless you have bought them separately. What doesn’t fall into “benefits” is actual content, save for the Adventure Packs (which, again, can be bought separately). So, if you know exactly what you want, you could technically make planned purchases without ever paying for a subscription.
The only things that are exclusive to Gold are custom power hues as well as possible freeform character progression. If you’ve already tried playing Champions Online for free, you’re likely to have noticed the archetypes; CO’s equivalent of character classes. There are both Gold and Silver archetypes, the Gold ones being purchasable. All of them cover various roles and types found in the superhero genre. The free ones are the broadest (like fire hero, gunman, blade character, mage, etc), while the Gold ones are more specialized (inventor, blade and gun wielder, and so on). The power progression and primary stats are predetermined, but your choice of ranking up said powers and choosing a travel power is not. You are also able to choose between two different archetype powers at two levels. The archetypes are also locked in roles, so the Soldier will always be in Avenger mode (an offensive ranged role), while the Behemoth will always be in Protector mode (a defensive tanking role). While I have personally not dabbled into Archetypes as much as I could have, to my knowledge, most of them are quite capable at what they are meant to do.
Freeform, the character progression exclusive to Gold (although archetypes can still be chosen) is quite different. This was what CO’s character progression looked like initially, before the F2P relaunch. Rather than having predetermined powers, you get to choose any power from any framework. The restriction is that powers will have prerequisites like “3 non-energy building powers from the Force framework, or any 5 powers”. The higher tier the power is, the higher the prerequisites. In the long run, this means that sticking to one framework will mostly reward you with only faster access to the better powers, so people tend to cherry pick their choices. In addition, you can switch on the fly between various roles, depending on the situation. You can go offensive, defensive or support, whatever you need at any given moment. These roles merely change your energy gain speed, defense and offense, not the actual powers. While all this means that freeform will easily make much stronger characters than any archetype, this is irrelevant because of two things.
First, CO is a PvE game. There is no “world PvP” and as such, even if someone’s custom tank is more powerful than your Behemoth, you are both still capable of tanking without being a handicap to the group. Second, the PvP that exists in the game has two separate queues for freeform and archetype. That means that outside of random duels, you’ll never have freeform characters wiping the floor with you where it matters.
Aside from the powers, easily the most important distinction between Gold and Silver, everything else is in the details. Silver has less bank slots, less auction house slots, less costume slots, one bag slot, less character slots, and so on. Surprisingly, Silver has only around 400 costume pieces less than Gold (which means the starting number is somewhere around 3000). The additional 400 pieces are sold as separate sets if you don’t feel like subscribing, and there are frequent premium sets to purchase as well.
The Adventure Packs will get an article of their own, but what’s useful to know is that they are repeatable mission chains and that they offer the most potent gear at the moment (although gear of the same potency is available in the free Comic Series, sadly only as Bind on Pickup).
It’s worth noting that Gold players also get a monthly stipend of 400 Atari tokens for purchasing stuff from the microtransaction store. There is also a veteran system that gives you new rewards every 100 days you have been subscribed.
A real handicap that Silvers might encounter is being able to only carry 250 Global resources, as opposed to the 200k subscribers can carry. The problem with this is that you’ll be forced to sell stuff in the Auction House at a lower price and won’t be able to buy the more expensive stuff, which is usually over 200G. Of course, this is only if you bother with the AH. I’ve noticed a lot of people, Gold or not, don’t. I have personally found it to be very useful at times and a lot of my main’s gear was bought this way.
As with the Adventure Packs, I intend to cover the C-Store (the game’s microtransaction store) in a separate article. I will note right away, though, that all the devices are there to help you out in PvE and give you a slight edge, and none of them are usable in PvP. Even if you stack up on healing potions, sidekicks and various other things, it won’t enable you to solo endgame lairs.
In the end, does it matter whether you are Silver or Gold for a satisfactory play experience? It solely depends on the player. If you are happy with having access to all the content in the game and don’t care about min-maxing powers, then you can have a satisfactory experience without spending a dime on the game. People aren’t ostracized by the community for merely being Silver, at least not to my knowledge. And I’ve seen both freeform characters do awful in lairs, as well as archetypes do an excellent job. In the end, it boils down to Gold having more choice rather than a relevant edge.
I also recommend checking this forum post on the official CO forums as an interesting breakdown on how much “value” you get from being Silver, Gold or a Lifetime Subscriber. Please keep in mind that some stuff can’t technically have a reliable price put on it (like the freeform progression). Thank you, Starboard_Nacelle, for taking the time to write it!
Experience Points is where we get to talk a bit more in-depth on games we are much more knowledgeable of through extensive playing. It’s not as much of a review as it’s our experience with the game in question
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 1: Past and Present
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 2: Gold and Silver
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 3: C-Store
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 4: Costume Creator
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 5: Nemesis System
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 6: Adventure Packs
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 7: Endgame
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 8: PvP
- Experience Points: Champions Online – Part 9: Community and Communication