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When we last left our hero (that would be me) I had just crawled out of a pile of rubble during an alien invasion. The city was in danger, the people needed me, and I couldn’t reach my publicist. I’ve just been sent to speak with the Chief of Police and see if he needs any help in his not-being-conquered-by-aliens project. I don’t get the ability to fly until I leave the tutorial area, which means I must jog as heroically as possible down the street.

I don’t like where my career is headed so far, as I seem to be moving down the chain of command. At level 1 I was working for the self-aware super-intelligence of the city. At level 2 I was working for the Mayor, and heading into level 3 I’m working for the Chief of Police. If this trend continues I’ll be the world’s most powerful assistant meter-maid by level 10.

Getting to the Chief of Police means going through waves of enemy bugs, some ambushing fliers, and a minefield. This sounds bad, but the truth is that under normal, non-alien-invasion circumstances, this section of the city is home to groups of level 28-ish criminals who are so bloodthirsty they will attack groups of superheroes. On sight. But right now it’s just overrun with simple level 1 and 2 bugmen. Despite the wreckage, this is actually the safest this part of the city has ever been.

I elbow my way through the enemy forces and arrive to find the Chief of Police doling out little homework assignments for the never-ending parade of heroes. I run up to him, rip up the nearest street lamp and then stand there holding it over my head. He doesn’t comment or take notice at the fact that I’ve just flagrantly and senselessly vandalized the city right in front of him. This is because about half the people who come to speak to him do exactly the same thing, and he’s pretty much used to it by now.

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“Did you… um… order a streetlamp perchance? No? Right. I’ll just fling this at the wall then.”

Champs Online uses a context-sensitive action key. Use the key on an NPC, and you’ll talk to them. Use it on a door, and you’ll go through. Use it on a streetlamp, and you’ll tear it free and brandish it like a weapon. The problem is that if you’ve got more than one interactive object nearby, it picks the least appropriate one when you press the key. If you’re looking directly at the Chief of Police and invading his personal space, and if there is a streetlamp somewhere behind you and off to the left, then you will, without fail, rip up that streetlamp when you hit the use key.

I have leveled a lot of characters and I’ve probably done this newbie zone over a dozen times, and the only time I don’t make this mistake is when the streetlamp isn’t there because someone else beat me to it.

I can’t put the streetlamp back, so my only choice is to fling it at the wall and try again.

Then, at long last, I am able to greet the Chief of Police. This act is so momentous that I ascend a level on the spot.

Chief has a few jobs for me, all of which basically boil down to different excuses for killing aliens. I need to kill aliens who are menacing civilians. I also need to kill aliens raiding medical supplies from ambulances. And finally I need to free people from debris. This last job, while not explicitly calling for the deaths of aliens, is pretty much impossible to pull off without fighting the aliens between my heroic self and the rubble-bound citizens.

Right. Before I leave, I survey the area and see if anyone else needs my help. Ah yes:

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A citizen in need. Clayton Griswold has lost his luggage. He was about to go on “the vacation of a lifetime,” but then the aliens attacked and he lost his suitcase and an alien took his his passport and some other guys got all his airline tickets and…

This conversation is starting to get a little uncomfortable. Ten feet away a couple of women are bleeding out on the sidewalk, and Clayton here is sobbing about lost airline tickets. I agree to help him just to shut him up.

He claims that he “dropped” the travel stuff, but judging by the number of different aliens I have to pummel to get all of the tickets, I’m pretty sure he handed them out like leaflets. I stride over to a group of bugman nearby and punch them until airline tickets pop out.

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This is the guy who has Clayton’s passport? I can’t believe I’m killing him for a passport and not because he’s invading the city.

I’m having trouble figuring out why the aliens took the time to collect airline tickets. I would think that anyone arriving on their own spaceship wouldn’t really have a lot of use for them. Maybe after exterminating and enslaving humanity they plan to engage in some sort of scam involving frequent flier miles?

Next I have to free people from the rubble. This is fun. Thrown objects do tremendous damage, so I lift rubble off of a bystander, hurl it at a bugman to kill him, and recover the medical supplies he drops.

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I return to the Chief who coughs up my XP bounty. Then I hand Clayton his luggage, but of course he can’t go anywhere. This part of the city is sealed off by the aliens. Even if he escapes, I doubt the airlines are going to be doing their thing with aliens in orbit. I don’t think Clayton really thought this through. I leave him to sit alone and dejected, with his suitcase and his airline tickets. Loser.

The Chief sends me to see the Silver Avenger, a fellow superhero. Finally, I will be rid of these nagging civilians and we can do some real superhero type stuff. I wonder what sort of exotic missions we’ll undertake together?

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The mission to see the Silver Avenger is titled “Silver Avenger Sandwich.” I have no idea why, and I’m MUCH too embarrassed to ask.

She’s standing next to a SWAT van, but it’s too heavy for me to lift so I manage to speak with her without hurling the thing. It turns out that her plan is: She stands around while I go kill aliens. This pretty much what I’ve been doing since I crawled out of the rubble, is killing bugmen for NPCs who have lists of things that need punched and excuses why they can’t do it themselves.

Silver Avenger gives me a zap gun and asks me to zorch three aliens with it. I strongly object. I’m Star On Chest. I’m not Gun Man or Captain Shooting Stuff. This whole gun thing goes completely against my nature, my powers, my moral code, and character concept. My agent would go bonkers if he even saw me holding a gun. Do you think Altmier’s Brand Zesty Hot Sauce, with their authentic south-of-the-border flavor and easy-pour spout in three amazing flavors wants a spokesman who goes around shooting people? I assure you, they do not.

But she insists that this is a special science gun. It will do some sort of science-y thing to the aliens that will help us understand something or other that I honestly couldn’t follow. I ask her if they could make the gun do the science stuff without hurting the aliens. I mean, I could do that. It would be like taking their picture. I get the readings, then make with the punching. Sadly, they can’t do that.

I’m really uncomfortable with this, but I grudgingly agree to take the gun with me and maybe or maybe not use it against some aliens, I can’t make any promises.

She also asks me to destroy some alien equipment. Can do.

She just wants me to destroy one alien console, but their stuff is so sad and flimsy it would be really hard to destroy just one on my trip through the city. I decide to destroy every single bit of alien technology with my bare hands in order to make up for the whole gun thing.

I go down a side-street and smash up some alien stuff with great relish. Then, looking around to make sure nobody else is around, I use the gun to zap a few dudes.

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This just doesn’t feel right. These aliens will pay for making me break from my character concept! Thankfully the green ooze they spit is obscuring my face.

Meandering around, I get a notice that fellow superhero Kinetic needs my help! I’m sure he just wants me to do what I’m already doing (punching things for people with no ambulatory abilities) but I decide to track him down and see what he needs. XP is XP, after all.

I pass some people trapped in the rubble, and others being menaced by bugmen, but I filled my quota already and there’s just no percentage in going overboard with a job like this.

Aside: The game has a really, really unique take on earning XP. You know how in your average MMO it’s pretty easy to earn XP by killing baddies? In WoW, I think you can ding level 2 in about 15 kills. Well Champs Online is balanced so that an overwhelming majority of your XP comes from turning in quests, not the fighting. Even at level 1, you’d have to grind mooks for an hour or more if you wanted to level. You can just barely see the bar move. This means that unless you’ve got a quest to beat up some bad guys, there is almost no incentive for doing so.

On the upside, this means the game is built so that you should never ever have to simply grind bad guys for XP. The downside is that there’s basically no in-game reward for sweeping the streets for fun.

I manage to track down Kinetik. He’s in a spooky back alley filled with green fog. He’s being held prisoner. By an alien.

That can’t be right. I mean, one alien? I count them again, and sure enough: one.

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I shout past the alien, who doesn’t care what I do as long as I don’t get too close, “Hey! Kinetik! I don’t want to be rude, and please don’t take this the wrong way, but are you absolutely sure you’re a superhero? Don’t answer right away. Think about it for a second.”

He doesn’t answer.

“Who was it that told you that you were a superhero? Did this person mention you having any specific powers?” I continue. “Was this person, in fact, your mother?”

Kinetic shuffles his feet and looks away.

“Kinetic, what is going on with you, man? You’re trapped in a flimsy alien cage and held prisoner by one dude. I killed a dude just like this a few minutes ago for a passport for the dumbest man in the city. I’ve ripped up and thrown heavier objects than your cage by accident while trying to talk to people.”

After a moment of reflection I realize I just can’t, in good conscience, rescue Kinetic. Doing so would lower us both in so many ways. “I’m sorry, Kinetic. You’ll have to escape on your own or suffer the terrible fate of… being in a flimsy cage. Good luck.”

I leave Kinetik behind and go on to finish the job Silver Avenger gave me. She said that after I was done… uh, “using” the gun, I should take it to Dr. Silverback.

Problem #1: Dr. Silverback is a holographic projection. How do I “give” something to a holographic projection?

Problem #2: Dr. Silverback is an ape-man, and “silverback” sounds a lot like an awful racist slur against ape-people. I that really his name? Was she hazing me by trying to get me to call him silverback? Is this like sending the new recruits to get elbow grease? His name is probably “Dr. Parker,” and I’m going to walk up and call him “silverback” and then it will be all awkward.

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“Hi there… guy. I’m supposed to give you this gun?” I congratulate myself on the clever name-dodge.

“Correct,” replies the ape-man hologram.

“Just for the record. This isn’t my gun or anything. I’m just delivering it for some guy.”

“I’m sure.”

“Because I don’t shoot people.”

“The data, please?” he says impatiently.

“But, you’re a hologram. Do I just leave the gun here or… ?”

“Just plug the gun into the base of the holo-emitter.”

“Right. Of course. I knew that.”

Dr. Hologram seems happy enough to have the data. He looks at the “readings” and gets all excited. But then he gives me a new job: He wants me to go help superhero Ironclad.

Right, right. I can see where this is going. Fine. Let’s go talk to Ironclad.

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Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.

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