Champions Online, a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game based on the Hero System tabletop roleplaying game, was released in 2009 by Cryptic Studios to an average reception. It seems that few wanted to pay $15 a month for another MMO...so in late 2010, Cryptic converted Champions Online to a free-to-play model, similar to what Atari did with Turbine's Dungeons & Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited. The entire Champions Online Free for All game is free, but there are certain limitations on the free account. Custom or special character archetypes (such as a necromancer type called The Void), premium items, and free customer service, are all restricted to what's now called the Gold account, which remains at $15 / month. But the underlying game is now free for everyone.
Champions Online Free for All has you strictly as the hero, unlike DC Universe Online or City of Villains, which gives you the option of being bad. You're given an insane level of customization, even on the free account--more so than any other MMO I've played. Your hero can look strikingly original without a lot of effort. And the animation-style, cel-shaded graphics make your hero really pop out of the background.
Unfortunately, the customization is the bright spot in the game. I'm spoiled by DCU Online, but Champions Online is firmly rooted in traditional massively-multiplayer online games. Your character moves slowly and attacks slowly. You hit the key to perform the special attack and watch it happen, and there are no combo attacks. You don't immediately begin with a travel power and can't scale up buildings or double jump or other crazy things that DCU Online lets you do. Champions Online seems very down to earth and low-key in comparison, so it's easy to get bored with it. The backbone of the game is the same Hero System rules the tabletop game is based on, so veterans of the paper-and-pencil version will feel right at home here.
Champions Online has a lot of content and is certainly better than the aging City of Heroes. (Created by the same company, Cryptic Studios, in 2004, but later sold to its publisher, NCSoft, City of Heroes has quite a bit of content, but the graphics are dated and it's very slow paced and punishing to new players by today's standards.) Neither City of Heroes nor Champions Online really hold a candle to DC Universe Online. However, Champions Online has one major thing going for it ... it's free. And for a free MMO, it's loaded. Even with the restrictions on the free account, you get more and better content than some pay MMOs, let alone other free ones. Give it a try!