Cryptic's superhero MMO Champions Online will be free to play as of early next year. You'll be able to download the client, create a hero and jump into Millenium City without having to worry about buying the game or paying any subscription fees.
Champions Online is the follow up to the fantastic City of Heroes, and lets you create your own caped (or horned, or beaked, or robotic) crusader and take on evildoers wherever they can be found, which is mostly in condensed groups near quest givers. This will probably be worth a download for the character creator alone, which contains so many body parts and accessories that it's almost impossible not to make something weird and unique. Once you reach a certain level, you can even design your own nemesis and the minions they control.
While the game will be free to play, additional costume pieces, powers, and questlines will be available for purchase from the C-store, an in game and web based item shop. You'll still be able to pay a subscription fee for the game to become a 'Gold member'.
There are also going to be some significant changes to the character creation process in the form of 'archetypes'. You can select an archetype when you create a new hero, giving you a themed character with a structured progression of powers. Cryptic say that many players are overwhelmed when they are confronted with the ability to mix and match from hundreds of powers, so have created archetypes as a way for those players to get into the game more easily. Here's the rub, if you're playing for free (ie. you're a Silver member) you will have to choose an archetype from the start, and as a result won't have the same freedom to pick and choose your powers that subscribers will. There's a summary of the differences between Gold and Silver members on the Champions Online features matrix .
If you're already playing Champions, there will be a restricted beta starting early in November, and Cryptic say that there may be opportunities for other players to get in on the beta at a later date. Meanwhile, if you can't wait till next year, there's a demo over on the official Cryptic site . For more information here's Cryptic's infosplurge , which includes a Q&A on their decision to make Champions Online free.