Feb 15 2009 1:23pm

DC Universe Online: First Look

While at New York ComicCon, I got to check out the demo of Sony Entertainment’s upcoming Massively Multiplayer Online game, DC Universe Online. Based on the DC Comics Universe, home to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (among many others), DCUO allows you to create your own character inspired by popular DC characters and participate in adventures with other live human beings.

Anyone familiar with World of Warcraft will understand how things work here. You create a character who will then take part in online adventures with other people’s characters. So my hero, LOLcat Man, can play with Geranium Lad from Brazil and Lady Hello Kitty Death Ninja from Japan. Or you could play a villain. DCUO doesn’t discriminate. While you won’t be playing Superman or Batman, you will be playing in a world populated with DC Heroes and Villains. The alpha build demonstrated at NYCC showed a mission where you fight against Doomsday alongside Superman. Or, if you are a villain, you help Lex Luthor instead.

Visually the game is impressive. Metropolis looks like Metropolis should, complete with skyscrapers, vehicles on the streets and pedestrians. The character being demoed could fly and could explore the city in all directions, including up. Speedster characters can run up walls, too.

Metropolis was the only environment being demoed at the time, but they are also going to include Gotham City to start, including the Batcave, which will only be accessible to heroes (of course). I’m hoping Arkham Asylum will be included as well, and a jailbreak there would be a no-brainer mission. Other locations will doubtless follow. With DC’s slew of fictional cities (Star, Keystone, Central, Opal, etc), this should allow for expansion in different directions.

Jim Lee had a big part in the design of the characters for the game and it’s fair to say that all are based on his versions, though don’t expect them to be necessarily classic. For example, Lee tweaked Doomsday’s design a bit, making him bigger and giving him more spikes—which comes off better in the game world.

In addition to Lee, Sony has brought in comic writers Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Flash, JSA, Superman) and Marv Wolfman (Crisis on Infinite Earths, New Teen Titans) to work on the game, a move I see working to their advantage. Johns helped with the overall storyline of the game and Wolfman will help create the individual adventures. Both are veterans and popular favorites and are used to moving around large casts.

Like World of Warcraft, you can choose to play on either PvP (Player versus Player) or PvE (Player versus Environment) servers. The default will be PvP where heroes can fight other heroes or other villains. I asked if this would potentially devolve into one huge superpowered battle and the Sony rep smiled and said how that was part of the fun. On the PvE servers no player-player combat is allowed, and there will be Roleplaying servers where all communication is typically done in character.

Details are still being worked out, but updates will likely come both as DLC (downloadable content) and in larger expansions. They will likely add new areas, new characters, and new missions, among others.

Right now they haven’t finalized a pricing model yet, but the likely outcome will be the monthly subscription model (in addition to the price of the game, of course). The representative I talked to compared it to the price of a movie: If you play for a few hours a month, you’re getting value for your money. Your opinion may, of course, differ.

Most DC-based superhero games have been disappointments in the past, both those based on comics and those based on movies. It’s good to see something like this shaping up and being given the attention that it deserves. I’ve largely avoided the MMOs, save for a brief foray into World of Warcraft, but DCU Online could be the crack that makes me an addict.

It remains to be seen how the final version turns out, but I can say that they are off to an impressive start. Of course they are facing competition from a number of games, with Star Trek Online poised to enter the marketplace, and a similarly themed MMO, Champions Online.

There is no release date yet for the game, but it should be available in late 2009 or early 2010 on PC and PS3.

1. JohnP
So, like 'City of Heroes' but DC-licensed?

That wouldn't be a bad thing at all - CoH is one of my all-time favourite games. And the chance to have some licensed DC action at the same time would be excellent.
2. Cat Rambo
Is the character creation as detailed as in CoH? That's my main complaint with World of Warcraft - you can't customize the look much.
Rajan Khanna
3. rajanyk
@Cat - They claim that players will be able to customize their characters, both to distinguish them from other characters, but also for variety (I guess adding different suits or whatever). The character creation is based on four different attributes, which seems like a small figure, but Sony claims that there will be plenty of options for customization.

I'm looking forward to more information on the character creation process.
Carlos Hernandez
4. Yokozuna
In reference to the CoH/Champions connection -- Cryptic Games, the makers of CoH, are designing Champions Online, which is based on the Champions RPG. For those who don't know or remember, Champions was one of the most flexible RPGs out there when it game to character creation.

I played CoH for a long time, and read the boards fairly religiously. I remember the designers lamenting the fact that, for reasons of game balance, they limited character powers and abilities more than they had originally intended. I see Champions Online as a second shot at getting it right.

DC Universe Online's main advantage is that, duh, it's the frickin' DC universe! But I don't know -- if Champions Online imports everything that CoH did right and addresses some of the issues that it had, DC might be in trouble.
Rajan Khanna
5. rajanyk
@Yokozuna Yes, it will be interesting to see how both games compare. Unfortunately, I missed the Champions MMO panel at New York Comicon. I do remember not being blown away by the graphics, but that might have been an early example.

I used to play Champions way back, so I'm also interested in seeing that world brought to life.
Phil Frederick
6. flosofl
For example, Lee tweaked Doomsday’s design a bit, making him bigger and giving him more spikes—which comes off better in the game world.

You know, that actually makes sense as long as it's post Death of Superman but pre-Superman vs. Doomsday (which is apocryphal I think).

In Superman vs. Doomsday we learn that each time Doomsday dies, he comes back stronger and invulnerable to whatever it was that did him in the last time. That, and the fact he was genetically engineered by pre-cataclysm Kryptonians.
Matthew Stevens
7. kent_allard
I really liked City of Villains, at least (I found the Hero side a lot less interesting), and I thought it was better designed than World of Warcraft. I stopped playing, though, and returned to WoW because:

a) My friends were on WoW, not CoX
b) There was a lot less to do in CoX than in WoW

(a) is a hurdle that any new MMO will have to face, and the only way they can do so is to tackle (b). There has to be lots and lots of varied content. If DCU missions are all "beat up X of Y" the game won't go very far.

I think the trick to any superhero MMO will be tackling the Secret Identity side. Superheroes have friends, girlfriends, parents, bosses, business partners, etc., and the heroes have to do things for them. Part of the superhero challenge is getting Aunt Matilta to the hospital while stopping Doctor Death from taking over the city at the same time. An MMO with those sorts of missions could really steal some of WoW's thunder.
Eugene Myers
8. ecmyers
The only thing saving me from the addictions of DC Universe and the Star Trek MMORPG is the fact that neither of my computers are likely to meet even the minimal specs to run them. Thank goodness.
9. Fantasy Name Generator
cool...another city of heroes. I loved that game but had to give up wow or coh and wow always wins.

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