DC Universe Online - Hands-On Impressions (1/2)
By James Farrington (12.21.10)

This past week in Toronto, I was given a lengthy preview of “DC Universe Online” from members of the Sony Online Entertainment team. The demo I was shown was running on a laptop, but even still the game looked good and some of the features available in game seem like noteworthy additions to the MMO formula.

How to get superpowers

The overarching narrative of “DC Universe Online” centres around Braniac and a Lex Luther from the future. Luther travels back in time to warn the present day superheroes that Braniac will end up ravaging the earth if something is not done. So Luther releases some of Braniac’s exobytes (a kind of nontechnology) throughout the earth, which transform many of the human population into superheroes. This mass transformation of the populace is Luther’s solution to the impending doom that Braniac will eventually bring; it also offers a handy reason for why there are so many new superheroes and supervillains. But of course Lex’s plan is not perfect as Braniac arrives at present day Earth to collect his stolen exobytes and to, of course, ravage the Earth.


Creating the skin of hero or villian

The player is one of the unsuspecting populace that suddenly gains superpowers due to future Lex Luther’s actions. Character Create in “DC Universe” is as robust as any character create I have seen. Throughout character create the player will choose his or character’s body size, gender, moral alignment (hero or villain), personality, and of course how the character looks in-game. The player can choose to jump straight into custom create where tons of customization options allow for many unique character designs. Or the player can choose to enter the “inspired by” creation tools. Choosing “inspired by” leads the player to a list of classic DC heroes and villains. Selecting one of the heroes or villains in the list will cause the game to randomly generate a character that looks similar to the hero or villain selected. The player can choose to enter the “DC Universe” game with the character the game creates or tweak the randomly generated character with the custom creation tools.

Once the look and feel of one’s character is locked in (it cannot be changed later, except by collecting gear found in the game world) the player selects his or her mentor. The mentor does not determine what kinds of powers the player will have in game but the mentor affects what story the player initially plays through and what gadgets/gear the player will receive. The Mentor based stories are centred around the three types of powers in the game: Meta, Magic, and Tech. For example if the player chooses Batman as a mentor he or she will play through the tech narrative (it is advisable to select a mentor based upon what kind of powers you wish to use in game). There are six powers ranging from elemental powers to gadgets to mental abilities. After the player selects what power they want to use he or she chooses movement type (flight, acrobatics, or super speed). Each movement type also has combat implications and bonuses. Next comes the choice of weapon, which ranges from swords to hand blasts. Finally the most difficult part: giving one’s character a name.


Superhero action

Combat in “DC Universe” seems a mixture of fundamental MMORPG combat (press an attack button and watch the character perform the series of moves the attack entails) and twitch action gameplay (with the ability to dodge and block incoming attacks). Creating combos is also a central aspect of the combat. Combining powers, weapons, and movement types into devastating combos not only nets more damage but also nets the player more experience. In other words, the way one fights enemies helps to determine how quickly one levels up. This aspect of leveling and XP may help to keep the combat fresh and exciting. Rather than spamming one attack all the time the game designers have tried to influence players to use the combat tactics in unique and exciting ways. Will this type of XP reward for flashy combat make the combat feel more alive and visceral? It is hard to say, but at least it is an attempt at keeping the action interesting.

Also every character will have access to both melee and ranged attacks, which is a rather simple way to make sure that a ranged flying character cannot simply dominate a melee acrobatics character. I was also assured that the combat is much more player-skill based than character experience based; meaning that a lower level character has the potential to defeat a higher level character based upon player skill. Whether this player-skill based gameplay actually comes to fruition is a big question and since I was not shown any PvP or any combat against much higher-level characters I cannot say if this is just wishful thinking or actually present in the game.