DC Universe Online Hands-On Preview – Part 1

DCUO Hands-On Preview

Recently, Sony Online Entertainment had several folks from the media up to Austin to get a glimpse into how DC Universe Online (DCUO) is developing.  In addition to getting a primer at DC University (the gimmick the team put together for the event which was very cute), we got some hands-on time with the game.  What I saw made me very hopeful for the release.

For some reason, hearing about another superhero MMO when we already have two mainstream ones on the market (City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online) doesn’t get most people excited for DC Universe Online.  However, having played the game, I have to say it has something the other games don’t have – an authentic superhero feel thanks to the inclusion of heroes we’ve grown up with – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and more.  Fighting alongside Wonder Woman – well there’s no explaining how that actually feels.  You’ll have to see for yourself.

The event started out with lessons in DC Universe from Professors Jens Anderson, Chris Cao, and Wes Yanagi, after we got an introduction and tour of the office from Dean John Blakely.  The tour gave us a glimpse into how the game is being made, and in addition to seeing the different work spaces each team occupies, we saw the obscenely large comic collection the office boasts and the area where some of the voiceovers from the game are being recorded.

Class began with a history lesson from Jens Anderson.  One thing stressed throughout the entire day was that DCUO was not going to be a typical action game or MMORPG.  It was going to be something totally new.  Players will need to be grounded in the world and an origin movie will take care of this aspect.  The story is fascinating.  Thanks to a massive superhero/villain war, Brainiac finds a way to take control of Earth, harvesting superhero powers and creating an army.  The war ends with the deaths of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman in epic fashion.  It’s very surreal and almost painful to watch for anyone who has loved these characters.  When the light left Superman’s eyes … well, I may have choked up just a bit.

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Lex Luthor is then shown talking to the three superheroes while they are still alive.  He has travelled back into the past to warn the superheroes about the impending destruction of the world.  Once Brainiac had destroyed the heroes, he went after the villains, until there was nothing left.  Luthor was one of the few left in the future and he managed to steal the Exobytes (what Braniac harvested from superheroes for their powers) and distribute them into the Earth’s atmosphere.  Normal humans who are touched by these powers can become superheroes and help prevent the future from happening.  And that’s how you and me will become superheroes.

The next lesson was in character creation.  There are two ways to create a character.  You can fully customize a character or you can choose inspired by for a quicker entry into the game.  Inspired by won’t be a perfect match to the superhero (or villain) you want to emulate, but it will choose a look and abilities close to him or her.  If you’d rather attempt something completely unique, you can choose to create a character from scratch.  Options for customization are pretty deep, as would be expected for a superhero MMO.  Players will choose Gender, Body Type, Personality, Powers, Movement Type, Mentor and can completely customize their costume (although there is a limitation with the costume in that there is a 3 color scheme players will be limited to with their costume, ensuring that no matter what gear you are wearing, there’s a uniformity to the character’s look).

Movement Type will determine how you will travel through the world.  There are three options to this – Flight, Acrobatics and Super Speed.  Regardless of which type you choose, you’ll be able to scale heights and move with great speed to get where you want to go.  Flight is pretty obvious, as it will allow your character to fly.  There are enhancements to flight players can get later on that will let them fly at extreme speeds as well.  Super Speed allows players to run extremely fast, and at these speeds, they will be able to run over pretty much any surface, including tall buildings.  Acrobats are the climbers of the game – they will be jumping and climbing up surfaces, sticking to anything.  Movement choice will also affect how a player engages in combat as well, but just because a player is a flyer doesn’t mean they won’t be touchable – since other players (and mobs as well), will have the option to choose abilities to counter movement styles .  For example, one such ability gives players a grapple line to pull flyers out of the sky and ground them.

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Another interesting aspect of character create is the choosing of a Mentor.  Each side will be able to choose from three – for heroes, it’s Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, and for villains, the choices are Joker, Lex Luthor and Circe.  Each mentor acts as a certain philosophy.  Batman and Joker for Order and Chaos, Superman and Lex Luthor for selfless and selfish and Wonder Woman and Circe for truth vs. lies.

Players will also choose their primary powers, but choosing that power in creation doesn’t mean they won’t be able to pick other powers in the future, since the power system is actually wide open once in the game and players can use skill points to train powers outside their chosen initial abilities.  This opens up the possibility for almost limitless customizations of powers, so each player may have a truly unique character.  In addition to powers, like fire, ice, gadgets, mental, etc, and the underlying abilities that come with that chosen power set, players will also be able to assign points to Iconic Powers later in the game.  Iconic Powers are the unusual powers that give a superhero that extra something, like Superman’s heat vision or Wonder Woman’s Lasso.  The iconic powers mimic well-known superheroes special abilities and players will be able to choose from those, if they so desire.

The actual powers come in two different styles, as well, for each power type.  For example, if a player chooses nature powers, they will able to select powers from either a healing path or a shape-changing path.  So each chosen power-type allows a great range of selection of powers for the players to choose from, meaning choosing nature doesn’t mean choosing just healing abilities to start.  One thing to note about choosing what might typically be thought of as ‘support’ classes is that every character, no matter what their initial choices are, will be damage dealers.  The reason for this is that you don’t really see any superheroes ever standing back in the middle of a fight and just healing their buddies.  Part of being a superhero is really getting in there and fighting.  As a result, in addition to choosing power types, players will also be choosing a weapon type.  Each weapon type will have a distinct combat style.  Some choices include dual pistols, bow, brawling and staff.  During my hands-on, I played with the dual pistols and, thanks to the action feel of the game, it felt very fast-paced and a lot of fun.  I imagine playing with a more traditional style of melee would have a completely different feel to it.  That said, even with dual pistols, I had a melee options – and that is intentional.  The developers wanted to have a melee style and a ranged style available no matter what weapon choice players make.

Coming up in my next article, I’ll have plenty more details about DCUO, including who Booster Gold is and what is so interesting about him.  So stay tuned!