Serpent Lantern, the first Adventure Pack from Cryptic Studios for Champions Online, came out last week. I’d been looking forward to trying out the new content, even though my level-capped Silver Hunter still has quite a bit to do in Vibora Bay. I’ve been spending more time in the Alpha Quadrant and Middle-earth than Millennium City, recent and I was looking to SL to reawaken my interest.
I finished the AP last night and, even though I did enjoy it, I have to say that the Serpent Lantern is a pretty uneven addition.
You start by picking up a mission from the Until Agent stationed at the hover jet in Millennium City. This will send you over to the Until building (where Until and Unity share space). Do not be like me and go to the wrong offices. Pay attention when you enter the building, there are now two buttons, one for Unity HQ and a second for Until HQ. Until is where the Serpent Lantern missions start. The intro mission sends you to talk with the Until Liaison Agent, who forwards you on to Major Rashida Kwame, she starts you on the Serpent Lantern missions in Africa. Once you pick up the mission, you make your way down to a chopper in the Until HQ’s hangar and talk to Fulani Okonkwo at the Until base in Africa.
The Adventure Pack is split into stages, each stage containing several sub-missions with multiple objectives. There’s also a difficulty setting now (on your team menu): normal, hard, and very hard. I left it on normal since this was my very first run through SL and I was doing it solo.
You’re first mission is a recon of the Viper base, which is a simple go to four different scouting positions and get a report from the Until scout at each one. The second mission is much bigger, you’re tasked with shutting down a forcefield Viper has erected over a cave, unfortunately this requires you to assault three bunkers (Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie) and shutdown a generator in each one.
Before we get into semi-spoiler territory, I wanted to talk about the Viper update in this release. The new Viper organization is much more dangerous than the original. While I was still able to take out a single group of soldiers without too much difficulty, I did have to be careful about pulling additional groups, which didn’t use to be a problem for me. There are also some new air units that have been causing problems for melee heroes without any sort of flight, but I found that as long as I was careful everything went pretty smoothly.
If you don’t want any spoilers at all, jump down to the summary at the bottom.
All three bunker missions are laid out similarly. You start out in an outdoor area where you’re required to clear objectives at three different checkpoints and then assault the bunker itself to gain entrance. Besides the new Viper units, it’s similar to what I’ve seen in other missions: deactivate security or communications, save Until soldiers, destroy tanks, etc. Once that’s completed then you move onto the deactivate generator mission. Again, there’s two sub-objectives to do while working your way through the bunker complex to reach the generator room. This is where a boss fight is waiting for you.
The first bunker generator is defended by Viper X. Not having paid any attention to SL when it was in testing, I was expecting a tough Master Villain level fight, when it’s more of a boss fight in the raid-sense of things. I was defeated a couple of times before finally getting my act together and beating him. The only trick I noticed was trying to keep from getting knocked into the electricity arcing from the generator. I was very surprised at how difficult the fight was based my experience in the game up to 40 and the rest of the mission up until then.
The second bunker is setup just like the first, but it’s generator is protected by the infamous Freon. If you want to know why I call him infamous, go do a search for his name on the forums.
Odd considering he’s the second boss in the AP, Freon was the toughest fight in the Serpent Lantern arc for me. I attempted this fight upwards of fifteen or twenty times before giving up for the night out of frustration. That was a first for me in Champions, and not a positive experience. Somewhere around the twelfth attempt, I looked on the forums to see if I was doing something stupid. I found out that there was a trick to the fight, but in the interests up spoilers I’ll leave it up to you to search if you want to know what it is. Unfortunately for me, the trick did not help me and after many many additional tries I gave up.
After taking a break for a day, I did some reading and figured out I would need to retcon and adjust my build if I wanted to be able to solo Freon. The problem (at least as I understand it) was Freon’s attacks were cumulative and quickly stripping my Personal Force Field off and putting a hold on me which was very difficult to break, thereby bypassing my normal defensive tactic of using my energy shield block. So I used a free retcon (one of four free that I’ve collected from perks and other rewards) and dropped a couple of powers I nearly never used and picked up a HoT buff and two DoTs.
Armed with these new powers, I returned to face Freon. Fortunately I did not have to do the first mission where I assault the base, I started inside the entrance to Bravo Bunker and just had to fight my way to the generator room. It took another five tries this time, but I did defeated him. Actually, I nearly had him on the first try but I got overly excited when I saw how low his health was and fumbled a few keystrokes.
Now, I know there are a lot of players who complain on the forums that Champions is too easy, and I’m sure they’re happy to see a really tough fight in the game. While I’m don’t mind a challenge, I primarily play games to relax and experience content not for any sense of accomplishment, I get that from my job and family. Games where the difficulty curve suddenly goes vertical really bug me, as do games where skills that it’s training you to use as you advance suddenly shift.
Anyway, after my experience with Freon I expected the next boss, Draconis, to be very tough. Weirdly, I was able to defeat him on the first try, making him the easiest of the three bunker bosses. Possibly both of us being Force-based had something to do with it? Or the retcon changes I made? I don’t know, I haven’t run SL a second time but maybe Viper X would be just as easy now.
Once all three generators have been shutdown, Until sends you into the temple to stop the ritual Supreme Serpent is attempting. You make your way through the cavern collecting six crystal fragment and dealing with Serpent Mages and regular Viper soldiers. The first two Serpent Mages were long fights. They use a version of PFF and summon some kind of green fire that will follow you around for a little bit doing damage. My biggest problem was doing enough damage to keep their PFF down and keeping myself healthy. The fights were taking so long because I was having to stay on the move constantly to stay out of the mage’s summoned fire, which meant that I couldn’t get good use out of my charged attacks. Eventually I hit on a better tactic.
Normally in combat I will keep my Force Shield block up to absorb energy and then use Force Eruption or Force Cascade to wipe out my attackers, often slowly shifting position to line up as many targets at once as I can. Using my block made me too slow to avoid the mage fire though. Eventually I remembered that I have the Force Sheathe advantage on my block power, which meant I could block for a second to gain the sheath buff and then move freely using small attacks while still absorbing energy from attacks. Once I was at max power, then I could let off a Force Cascade often taking a big hit at the same time which would completely refill my energy again and then cut loose with a second Cascade. This drastically shortened the mage fights and kept me from having to burn through healing powers and devices or waiting around on recharge timers.
Compared to Freon, Viperia was relatively straight forward. There is a trick to her fight, but unlike Freon the trick is more consistent with how the game has trained you to play and there are noticeable clues in the environment. I was able to defeat Viperia on the first try, even with figuring out what the mechanics were. To me, this was much more fun than Freon. There was still a “trick” but the game wasn’t punishing me with a quick death if I didn’t do it right. Using Field Surge, blocking, and some heals I was able to survive several mistakes and come up with a valid strategy to beat the encounter.
Past Viperia you have to fight your way through the Temple of Nama and defeat 10 Serpent Mages. This wasn’t too difficult for me since I’d come up with a good strategy while fighting my way to Viperia.
At the end of the Temple is the last boss fight, the Spirit Serpent. For me, it was a straight forward, no tricks, fight, although I did die once. It had a couple of attacks to try to dodge or shield from, but I was able to mostly stay stationary and used some fully charged Force Cascades. After the fact, I found that there are actually some tricks you can use to avoid what I brute forced my way though, this fight is definitely a case where the difficulty varies based on your hero’s powers.
For all my complaining about Freon, this fight was disappointing me. If you’re setting up a series of boss fights with special mechanics or tricks, why wouldn’t you save the best for last? Freon should have been as tough as the other two generator bosses, but not the hardest fight in the Adventure Pack. Viperia felt just about right to me, but Spirit Serpent felt weak, actually that fight seemed to easiest of all five.
The story was decent, but it wasn’t up to the standard set by the Vibora Bay Crisis Mission. The new Viper villains are more enjoyable and I’m looking forward to fighting them on Monster Island with my alts. The overall mission design and boss fights were uneven. The missions were too long in some areas with having to clear outdoor areas around each bunker as well as the bunkers themselves, basically the same mission three times. The difficulty on the boss fights was very front loaded with the second one being the toughest, and included a shift in basic expectations of what to pay attention to in combat. That said, I’m glad I came back and managed to finish the mission.
Just keep in mind that Serpent Lantern is not just a set of missions tied together with a single story arc, which is what I was expecting. It is also a series of five boss fights that may require you to rethink your combat tactics, your power build, or learn some tricks. This content is more like the Nemesis Confrontation or Therakiel’s Temple than a set of themed missions.
Screenshots are up on my Picasa account if you’re interested.