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The sun is setting over Millennium City as I return to Socrates. I have recently rescued a shipment of ping-pong balls from a gang of slapstick robots who were using them as bait in order to ambush a superhero. I am not proud of this. Someday I hope to get my own comic book, and I have no idea what we’ll have to do to make this job sound heroic. Lies will not be enough.

With a certain degree of hesitation, I return to Socrates for my next assignment. Hopefully the last job was just a warm-up of some kind and we can now get down to some real superhero work.

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Socrates has a job for me all right. He explains…

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This one is a little perplexing and I have to go over it with Socrates just to make absolutely sure that the crazy person in this conversation isn’t me.

“Okay, so let me get this straight: Foxbat stole the comics, in order to remove them from circulation.”

The voice of Socrates reverberates from the speakers, “Correct, human.”

“Okay. Then Foxbat – and maybe I heard you wrong here – but it sounded like you said Foxbat left them on the ground? Right outside the comic-book shop?”

“Again, your recollection matches the events as they are recorded in my database.”

“But Foxbat didn’t, like, keep them or burn them or leave nasty creases in all the covers?”

“To my knowledge, all of the back issues are intact.”

“So – and I’m just offering that as a suggestion – how about the shop owner walks outside, picks up the books, and puts them back on the shelf? This doesn’t sound like a superhero-level problem. I mean… the car fires and the prison break… There are other problems in the city, is all I’m saying. This isn’t even a heist. This is just… littering.”

“Foxbat has left his battlebots behind at the scene of the crime.”

“Waitwaitwaitwait. So you’re telling me that there are killer robots loose in this public place with civilians around, and you’re sending me to save the comic books?

“Please return to me once the comics are safe.”

“Are you sure you’re working right? Is there a tech support number I can call?”

“Also, Foxbat has kidnapped comic book writer Steve Short and artist Deano Deschesne in order to force them to make comic books about him.”

“Oh? So he took them back to his hideout or … ?”

“No, they’re still in the parking lot with the comic books,” Socrates replies calmly.

“So it’s probably more accurate to say that he’s considering kidnapping them.”

“Good luck Star on Chest.”

“Fine. Bye.”

A short flight later I arrive at the comic book store.

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Hm. We’re here to stop this place from going out of business. Looks like we might be about a decade late. A man is fleeing from the battlebots. But screw him, we’re here to save the funny books. If I’m very lucky, then I’ve arrived just in time to rescue the comics from being slightly misplaced by evil robots so that the illiterate comic store in the condemned building can continue to serve the slums of Millennium City. At least until the robots kill everyone.

The forces of Foxbat consist of foam-fingered fanboys and robotic stage equipment. (And by “robotic stage equipment” I mean “robots with cameras and microphones for heads.”)

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Two questions come to mind:
1) Why would a foam finger do “slashing” damage?
2) WHY ARE THEY USING FOAM FINGERS?

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The cameras have a special attack where they zap you with a ribbon of film, after which your character is immobilized. The immobilization takes the form of sparkles and flashbulbs going off while you flex and pose for the cameras. And the enemies beat on you.

The fanboys are more dangerous than you’d expect for scrawny guys that hit you with big foam fingers, which ought to pose the same threat as a caged houseplant.

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I scuffle with the robots and the fanboys. Eventually I get a little spot cleared off. After making sure nobody is looking, I rescue a box of comics. One box of ten.

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Ten? Are there even ten boxes in the parking lot?

No, not as such. With other supers flying all over the place doing the same mission, competition for comics is furious. Don’t do this one as part of a team, because you don’t share comics. So you’ll need 10xN boxes, where N is the number of people on your team. Respawn rates being what they are, you’ll be at this one for quite a while on a team.

And if your team meets another team doing the same mission… Well, I hope you went with the lifetime subscription plan, because you’re going to be in the parking lot for a long, long time.

A word about XP here. Earlier in the series I said that combat gave very little XP. I’m level 16, and it’s just about 158,000xp from this level to the next. Each fanboy (which are admittedly a level below me) I put down is worth just 65xp. I’d have to knock out well over 2,000 of them to level. For contrast, turning in a level-appropriate quest in going to net me between 10,000xp and 15,000xp. If the quest has me fight 20 guys in the process of completing the quest (which is about what I’m doing here) then (very) roughly 8% of my XP will come from combat. Other games seem to have this inverted, and quests are just a way of organizing combat and directing you to level-appropriate foes. In the other MMO’s I’ve played, combat seems to form a significant portion of your overall XP, perhaps even a majority. In Lord of the Rings Online, it seems like about 100 foes will advance you to the next level at this same point in the game. (A level sixteen character.) I suspect World of Warcraft isn’t too different.

What’s strange about this setup is that the combat in Champions Online is a blast. This is one game where I wouldn’t mind grinding (fighting the same guys in the same area over and over) in order to to level. It’s fun sweeping the streets, but the reward for doing so is so very tiny.

At any rate, every box of comics is near at least a couple of bad guys. So the worst thing you could do is team up for this mission. It’s the new frontier in massively multiplayer gaming: Forced soloing!

I rescue the writer and artist, and gather up a big ol’ stack of back comic books for the comic store. Now they won’t go out of business because they’re out of stock, and will be free to go out of business because of any of the other dozen or so things that are wrong with the place. So the city has that going for it now.

Let’s head back to Socrates and see what the bats in his boot-drive want me to do next.

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Check out that quest reward. A flame “retardent” costume. Awesume!

Now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s face off against this guy at long last and punish him for all the really trivial bullshit he’s nearly inflicted on the city.

A few minutes later I arrive at WCOC studios. It’s just on the other side of the toppled building and fifty burning cars.

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Fine. We’re at the station. Now… how do I get in? The main entrance? No. The other main entrance? Not that either. Not the garage doors in back. Not the roof. Not the side door.

People asking “How do I get into WCOC” in general chat has become the “Where is Mankrik’s Wife?” of Champions Online. The actual door isn’t hidden, but it seems to confound people anyway. It’s actually beside several larger, more prominent doors.

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After wandering around outside, peering in windows and jiggling doorknobs, I manage to find one that’s open. Good thing Foxbat didn’t lock this door, because I’m way too polite to bust it down in the process of saving a TV station from… whatever it is that’s happening here. I step inside the disused rusty fire door and…

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… find myself on the other side of a slick modern glass door in a swank lobby. Ubuhwhat? Did I do that wrong?

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Hello? Anyone home? I knocked and it was open so…

Suddenly we cut to the studio to see…

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Ah Foxbat. There have only been two animated cutscenes previous to this one. The first was Ironclad launching himself at the alien mothership, and the second was at the finale of the crisis zone where we fought captain suitpants and his energy blades of pinkness. Yeah. I’m not hunting around, looking for silly stuff in some obscure Easter-egg sidequest. This is one of the central quest-lines in the game and a place where time and effort were spent on scripting and voice acting.

The newscast Foxbat is interrupting is a rip-off of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Every character in the news studio (aside from the bad guys) is a slightly altered version of a character from the cast of Anchorman. But that’s as far as it goes. The game doesn’t go on to do any jokes, satirize the movie, or say anything interesting.

Like all of the “humor” surrounding Foxbat, the game tries to remind you of things that you may have found funny elsewhere without telling any jokes of its own. Winking at the audience and paying homage is something you do while telling jokes, not instead of.

Foxbat! That maker of mild mischief! He’ll never get away with trespassing on studio property and interrupting a news broadcast. Actually, I guess he already got away with that. Well, I came all the way to the studio. Might as well beat him up while I’m here.

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Foxbot fanboys throw these yellow triangles at you if you’re overhead or at a distance. I always thought that the triangles were those folded paper footballs, but now that I’ve gotten a close look at them in a still shot I have to say they’re very clearly I don’t know what the hell.

So here he is. The dumbass himself. Although, for all his ranting about wanting to be on TV he hasn’t bothered to step in FRONT of the cameras yet.

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Foxbat opens the fight with a gun that blows a bubble. It looks kind of like bubble gum.

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Whoops. It IS bubble gum. And when it pops, I’m trapped in gum.

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And then a huge weight falls out of hammerspace and zonks me on my exceptionally heroic and handsome head.

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And once I get out of that he hits me with a stink cloud.

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Finally I am angry. Okay Foxbat. Prepare to face my ULTIMATE WEAPON!

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…which is also my regular weapon. Which is just hitting people.

Hey, sue me. It may not be the most creative solution, but it works, okay?

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/spit

Suddenly I feel an intense sensation of shame. I feel like the bully who just got caught picking on a little girl. Like the guy caught taunting the “retarded kid”.

Rob Mahogany wants to congratulate me on a job well done. Everyone is so happy that I saved them. Saved them from this Wile E. Coyote style villain. And what does that make me, I ask you. WHAT DOES THAT MAKE ME?!?!

I run out of the studio hiding my face in my hands, screaming “Leave me alone! Just leave me alone!”

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A while later I’m up on the roof of a building having one of those “inner turmoil” moments. It always seems so cool when Batman or Spider-Man do it. Then again, Batman is usually obsessing over his dead parents and Spider-Man is in anguish because he’s worried about his aunt. I’m upset because I was just in a battle that would have made the Three Stooges look like the Fight Club.

I really think this place is starting to get to me.

NEXT TIME: Will our hero quit in shame?

Well… WILL HE?!?!

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