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Vicarious Existence

To blog about what is going on in the MMO genre from a casual MMO player's viewpoint.

Author: UnSub

Superhero Smackdown: CoH/V vs DCUO vs ChampO - The Weigh-In

Posted by UnSub Tuesday July 29 2008 at 4:41AM
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With ComicCon having wrapped up, it's time to take a look at the upcoming superhero MMO battle coming our way in 2009 (and perhaps beyond, depending when some of these titles launch): you've got the established veteran in City of Heroes / Villains (CoH/V), the heir to the throne in Champions Online (ChampO) and the surprise newcomer in DC Universe Online (DCUO). It's still early days, but it is worth having a look at what each competitor is bringing to the table, both in a positive and negative sense.


City of Heroes / Villains

CoH/V is four-and-a-half years old by this point. It's launch in April 2004 helped (along with games like Freedom Force) to dispel the dreaded superhero curse and to breath some fresh air into the MMO genre by adding superheroes alongside fantasy and sci-fi settings. Developed by Cryptic Studios, CoH was seen as an incredibly casual friendly game and a MMO that was fun out of the box - sadly, something that was seen as lacking in previous MMO launches.

Jump to now and CoH/V is still generally well regarded within MMO circles. Cryptic sold out their share of IP rights to NCsoft (the publisher) in 2007 who started a new studio (NC NorthCal) that took on board the entire CoH/V development team. While some point to the repetitiveness of combat or missions, CoH/V has managed to hold on to a reasonably sized player base (approximately 134 000 at last official count) and has released 12 free issues (i.e. content updates) and one stand alone paid expansion (City of VIllains that launched in October 2005). Recently announced was all access to both CoH and CoV sides of the game regardless of which version you purchased, so the barriers in CoH/V between heroes and villains have been reduced even further. CoH/V is also PC-only, unlike its competitors.


  • CoH/V is the most established superhero MMO - it's had time to iron out its kinks and to add in additional content; often this content has been demanded by players
  • Gameplay is still fast and involved
  • Character customisation is still the best in the MMO genre, even after 4 years
  • CoH/V also has an incredibly community orientated development team - red name posts get made every day by the people who do the development work, not just community managers / moderators
  • On the books is a player customised mission system, allowing players to develop their own missions and let other people into them (details to be released)


  • Although CoH/V has an active community, it is a community that is slowly dwindling... the introduction of two competitors may shake out these numbers further; efforts to date haven't seen the number of active subscriptions increase
  • Although it has had first mover advantage, CoH/V also suffers from first mover disadvantage - it's successes and failings will have been extensively scrutinised by its upcoming competition who will probably avoid some of the traps CoH/V fell into
  • A number of promised systems - the website-orientated Vault, the Cathedral of Pain trial - have been in limbo for a long, long time
  • UPDATE: One thing CoH/V doesn't have that is promised by the other superhero MMOs is full power customisation, which could be huge attractor to a lot of players


CoH/V has been a fun superhero MMO for over four years, but does it have the stamina to take on two younger faster opponents?


Champions Online

Cryptic had previously announced they were working on Marvel Universe Online, the Marvel Comics MMO, so perhaps it wasn't a surprise when they sold off the CoH/V IP rights to NCsoft. But then came the news that the Marvel MMO had been cancelled. What was Cryptic going to do? Iron out a deal with an established superhero IP in less than a month and get to work apparently.

ChampO has been biding its time since announcement generally releasing lore and development profiles, with two videos existing to show it in action. Reactions to the visual design have been mixed - some see the thick lines as too cartoony - but the design looks better in action than it does in a screenshot for the most part.

The reality of ChampO is that little is known about the in-game mechanics. Apart from aiming to be an action MMO on both the PC and Xbox360 as well as having full power customisation, the details as to how such things are going to function are fairly limited. To date, Cryptic is being, well, cryptic over where it is taking this title. The expected release date is 2009; some sites have claimed as early as Q2 2009.


  • Based on an established superhero IP, Champions Online has a lot of lore to rely on; it also has been using recognised comics writer John Layman to develop mission content
  • Cryptic has the experience in developing a superhero MMO from its time at CoH/V, which should see some of CoH/V's design issues avoided
  • ChampO's strength is meant to be in its character customisation - full costume and power customisation is meant to be possible, as well as customising your characters arch-nemesis (or three); also secret identities are possible
  • Cryptic also has a somewhat responsive developer relationship with the fan base, but the community managers are the ones doing most of the talking right now


  • The Champions IP probably isn't going to be bringing in a lot of fans; given that Cryptic isn't going to be using an exact translation of the Champions RPG ruleset anyway, these kind of fans probably aren't going to be interested in ChampO because of that
  • The Champions IP is already rather generic and cliched; the best way I can sum it up is in describing how Grond got transformed into a monster (and I wish I could find the link for it), which was by signing up to an experimental test and drinking their solution only to have an adverse reaction that caused him to run into other experiments which covered him in chemicals and set the lab on fire which caused him to run outside only to get hit by lightning and transform into Grond. Either some guy had the WORST. DAY. EVAH. or that is some lazy, lazy writing
  • ChampO is meant to be a very black-and-white, good-and-evil kind of world; as someone who likes moral ambiguity in their superheroes, this is a negative
  • More information is needed on how players are going to spend their time in-game is needed - what's going to keep me playing past the first month?


Cryptic have the experience with superhero MMOs that will give it an edge in development, but can it overcome a niche IP to take on an established opponent and another MMO with a killer IP?


DC Universe Online

Sony has held the rights to a DC MMO since 2005 when it bought The Matrix Online and (probably its real target) the DC MMO license off Warner Bros. For three years, there was little news - Jim Lee came aboard, it would be playable on the PC and PS3 - but for most players it was considered a vapour title.

Then DCUO showed off its first gameplay video for E3 and then let people play it at ComicCon. Jim Lee, John Blakely and Chris Cao were everywhere. DCUO was everywhere and getting mostly good reviews for its ComicCon display. After three years of nothing, DCUO was back on the map.

Beneath the flash of DCUO's information launch, not much is known about the game. It will be on the PC and PS3, the art design is by Jim Lee (well, him and his studio of artists, anyway) and you can play your own character (hero or villain) in the DC Universe alongside Batman and Superman. Other areas of this MMO haven't been fleshed out with publicly available information yet.


  • DCUO really seems to have nailed the action side of things - although I think the combat is still a bit too choppy and lacks impact (too much animation, pause, opponent reacts to animation) with some polish it could be a fantastic experience
  • That players can play alongside the key characters of the DCUO, even get access to their powers, will be a big thing to those interested in DC's characters
  • Superspeed's ability to run up walls and over objects shouldn't be understated - it just looks fantastic
  • SOE has just shown the MMO industry how to promote a MMO title - it was vapourware until June and suddenly it is one of the hottest MMOs coming out


  • Apart from Jim Lee and the DC IP, what else is DCUO really offering? What is going to keep players playing after the first month?
  • Some MMO players publicly refuse to buy SOE products; how strong this feeling is could determine how the MMO market reacts to this title (although I think those players offended by SWG actions probably aren't closely linked to the DCUO crowd)


DCUO has gained a lot of momentum very quickly, but can it keep up against two competitors who have more superhero MMO experience?


So there you go - the weigh-in for the three big superhero MMO titles that will be competing in the not-to-distant future. I plan to keep a watch on this, especially as ChampO and DCUO release more information and actually launch just to see how each one stacks up.

UPDATE: I found that link with Gromm's origin:

"They accidentally shot him with the wrong serum, a variant of a super soldier [formula] that had been in development," explained Emmert. "He broke out of his restraints and, in crazed mania, crashed into a shelf full of chemicals which all spilled on him. So he's burning and in a rage, races outside in the middle of a thunderstorm and gets struck by lightning. Now singed, Sidney then tumbles outside the gate into a drainage ditch filled with toxic chemicals. Hence, Gromn was born."

... hmmm ...

grimfall writes:

I think the 'refuse to buy SOE products' crowd is not really a consideration.  Maybe it's a 100K people, and most of them dressed in Storm Trooper costumes to see The Phantom Menace, shrug.  If you build it, they will come.

The game looked a lot like a console fighting game to me in the Comicon video, though. I'm not a big fan of that style of game play.

I played CoH for a few months, it was fun, but I kept just making new characters, I think the highest level character I made was about 17.  It's just the same thing again and again, no matter what level you are.  Once you can fly, pretty much you've seen all the game had to offer.  It will be a challenge to make a Super Hero MMO that doesn't have this same problem.  The Super Hero genre just doesn't lend itself to MMO's like fantasy RPG'ing does.

Tue Jul 29 2008 6:51AM Report
tyanya writes:

I returned to CoX after a 3 year absence and was pleasently surprised with what it had become, base content pvp and extra zones all integrate coherently with the IP and reinforce the game as a whole making the overall experience much improved. That said its age will inevitably be an issue when younger fresher alternatives show up.

I hope for the best of both CO and DCU, there have been many lesson to learn and the time is ripe for all MMO's to evolve into more than the generic gridfests that characterise the majority of ones operating today. The genre is saturated with kiddy friendly elf wonderlands so a trio of Superhero worlds dont come accross as overkill imo and I will look forward to sampling them all.

Tue Jul 29 2008 10:21AM Report
Kalafax writes:

Well first, DC Universe is out the window for being done by SoE the killer of MMO's, plus why would you want to be playing with Superman and all the heros you know when you could be creating your own unique superhero, whos prolly cooler then those guys.

Champions Online looks good, as a fan of Tabletop games, I have looked at the Champions system before but never accualy ran a game, but it would make an amazing MMO, especially with good developers working on the quests and they match it with a good story line.

Coh/CoV, yes amazing character customization, and the fact that it broke the mold make it good, but it gets rather boring after just going around doing mission after mission, no crafting or other things that should be included in an MMO.

Tue Jul 29 2008 3:17PM Report
chase17tn writes:

im going for the  champions online for the fact that its gonna be a cross-over mmo for the 360&pc that should be really fun ^_^ but we will see if it is better then the coh/v game which i loved and had alot of fun with.

Tue Jul 29 2008 4:14PM Report
Cursedsei writes:

In all honesty, I dont think the DC MMO is going to survive.


AoC: Look at all the press for the game before its release, all we saw was great looking graphics, working demos and the like. Really hyped, based off a big IP, and had an early fanbase. Release came, and the game sold well, but the backlash was equally large.

now DC has the same thing, its a well-known IP, with a large fanbase. I dont find it hard to believe that the same thing will occur, specially with the stale taste SOE leaves with many of its MMOs... I also remember reading about how DC online will have a system, which lets quest-givers remember if you failed a quest or didnt do one from them, and it affects the player negatively... not fun in my opinion.

CoX will last, I think it will shrink to a dedicated fanbase who have already put alot of work in their characters, and as long as NCSoft can deliver free, consistant and well made updates, it will keep those fans.

Champions Online, for me, is the winner. Its being made by an expert in the genre with a strong IP behind it. And yeah Grom seems to suffer from a strong case of bad luck, but looking at some of the super-villians, not every character is serious. Take a look at Foxbat if you dont believe me, the devs are making some characters that seem more for comedic relief than seriousness. The sheer customization being promised is another strongpoint for me.

Tue Jul 29 2008 4:57PM Report
MuffinStump writes:

On a side note..anyone remember Villains and Vigilantes tabletop game? I have fond memories of that one although I think Champions was the superior system.

At any rate, I think the game that lasts of the 2 new offerings (and it is possible that all three will keep going) will be the one with the best initial combat flow and most complete character customization at launch.

While many aspects of the game keep people coming back for more and flesh out the world such as; bases, secret identities, arch-enemies, costume changes, crafting, etc. the videos of a large battle with glowing graphics and smoothly integrated combat moves will ultimately sell a game.

Sad perhaps, but if there is a tangible difference in graphics and action then the 'victor' will be decided.

Tue Jul 29 2008 6:52PM Report
Bahman writes:

CoH does have crafting and trading and with the Mission Architect coming out players will be able to make their own content so that will probably eliminate the boring factor. I try to keep optimistic but CO and DCUO are looking more and more like vaporware. What's so hard about making a Super Hero MMO when it's already been done well twice? I don't see why it's any harder than doing a fantasy style one.

Sun Mar 15 2009 10:37AM Report
spdkilla writes:

Only time will tell....   Looking forward to trying out all of these Super Powered MMO's (yes even Sony's)


- Still hate the look of the Joker.  What are they thinking?

Sat Apr 04 2009 3:13AM Report writes:
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