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Sony Online Entertainment | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Super-Hero | Status:Final  (rel 01/11/11)  | Pub:Sony Online Entertainment
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Fan Faire Hands-On

DC Universe Online Previews - By Carolyn Koh on August 26, 2008

Fan Faire Hands-On

The Panel at the SoE FanFaire was titled "Something to do with Capes?" No prizes for guessing what this one was about. Creative Director Jens Andersen, Senior Producer Wes Yamasagi and Studio Creative Director Chris Cao were on hand to talk about DC Universe Online in this packed room at the SoE FanFaire in Las Vegas.

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"Rule or Save the World", is the motto of DC Universe Online and players are invited to walk into the DC Universe as a Super Hero and align themselves with the heroes or as a Super Villain, aligning themselves with the villains of the DC Comics Universe. Billed as an action MMOG, there's no auto-attack, no waiting for timers or sitting around waiting for bars to fill. The death mechanic is instant re-spawn with all of your health and power replenished. No potion clicking, graveyards, tombstones or corpses to recover. No running back to your spandex covered body and trying to drag it out of range of the mob camping it, begging someone for a teleport.

Before we go any further, I will remind readers that the game is still in the Pre-Alpha state. Things can, and will change.

Character Customization

There are no base classes in DCUO. In character customization, players will customize their look, but certain combinations will not be allowed as players may not create a superhero duplicate (no SuparManz running around). Players can choose to hide or display any equipment slot on their character. So if you happen to pick up an uber shoulder item which just clashes horribly with the rest of your outfit, you can hide it. Apart from the visual setup, a player will customize four stats: Power, Power Source, Movement Mode and Origin.

Power - this is your super power. This runs the gamut of the various elements such as fire, ice, wind, light (laser, infra red) to mental (telekinesis), atomic (radiation), weather and martial arts. I'm sure there must be sound in there as well.

Power Source - this is how you wield your power, which can be through weapons such as dual pistols, mace, dual maces, sword, thrown weapons, etc. or your bare hands. Yes, you can shoot fire charged bullets from a pistol or fire balls from your bare hands.

Movement Mode - only three were mentioned at this time, and they are: acrobatics, flight and super speed. All movement moves provide a boost in speed and allows a player to surmount some obstacles. For example, acrobatics might allow you to scale the side of a building, flight allows you to fly up and to the top of a building, super speed allows you to run up the side of a building. Each movement mode also has a speed component for ease of travel.

Origin - this is the basis of your power. A player selects between Magic, Meta and Tech. i.e. Magical like Shazam, Metahuman like Superman and Technical, like gadget using Lex Luthor.

As an example, to build a Nightwing-like character, you could choose Martial Arts, Staff, Acrobatics and Tech. For a Hawkman-like character, you could choose Martial Arts, Single Mace, Flight and Meta.

The World

The journey in DC Universe Online is a Hero's Journey. Players will travel through various stories set in the DC world. They will meet different characters from the DC Universe, but they will always travel back to Gotham and Metropolis, perhaps to rest, or perhaps in their times of need. Maybe Metropolis is being attacked by an army of robots and your aid is required. Then you will be sent out into the universe again to complete yet another part of the Hero's Journey.

Instancing will be based on the story encounter itself or PvP and players are always given a choice as to whether or not they wish to engage. There was talk of lairs and secret identities, but at this time, little information disseminated.

Character Development, Combat & Gameplay

There is no base class and abilities can be switched out of the macro bar/face buttons. Players can choose the abilities they wish to level and gear stats will stack on top of them. This is an action MMOG and every action and reaction will have a cool down period, but players won't be sitting around waiting for their health and power bars to regenerate. They regenerate very quickly, and there will be abilities that are available to buff or replenish these bars. XP isn't gained by killing mobs. They are gained by completing objectives, and every encounter may have one or more objectives. Each time you complete an objective, you get XP. When the XP bar fills, you gain points to spend on your abilities. That "Ding!" when your XP bar fills definitely sounds like the "Ding!" in EverQuest. Each and every time I heard it through out the FanFaire weekend, my little EQ geek heart leapt in response.

A player selects four Active and Reactive abilities to take into an encounter. The active abilities are accessed through the face buttons on the PS3 controller, or buttons 1 - 4 on the keyboard. The reactive abilities are those that auto-fire, such as block or evade. All abilities have a cool down time, some lasting split seconds, some more powerful ones have longer cool-downs, so you just might want to pause a second until your defensive skills come back up again before you engage one of Braniac's robots, for example. Everyone though, will be able to pick up a car and hurl it, just because it's cool. However, the larger and heavier objects will require beefed up "Weaponization" ability to handle.

DCUO will use the "dead reckoning system" or aiming instead of dice rolls. Accuracy mechanics will work with the system. The farther away you are, the more objects in your path will all affect your chances of hitting your target, as will your weapon. If you are using a ranged weapon, being too close to your target will also affect your effectiveness.

Players can be heroes or villains and there are PvE as well as PvP instances available for play. A "vigilante" track of quests will be available, but players will not be able to change their base alignments. There aren't any plans for "mounts" or vehicles at this time. Players will not be able to fly a plane like Wonder Woman or drive a Batmobile look alike at launch. Players will monetize through body loot. Stuff you pick up from the mobs you neutralize and take to a fence for your shekels to buy items to improve your equipment. Hero players will have a "Prize Agent" rather than a fence, I would assume, but the principal is the same. Pick up those rat tails young padawan, and sell them.

Group combat is very much like what you expect from the comic books or Saturday morning cartoons. Players with different powers will work as much in a team as individuals, utilizing their powers to best neutralize the different types of threats that can be found in a team mission. Super heroes divide and conquer.

Jens Andersen had a lovely example of what a team could do together. A player with ice power freezes an enemy into a block of ice and stuns it. Team member 2 with electricity charges the object and Tem member 3 with weaponization picks it up and hurls it at the enemy.

Platform Differences

DCUO is designed for both the PS3 and the PC. All gamers will interact in the same world and a PS3 controller and keyboard/mouse set up can be hooked up on either machine and used interchangeably. Each have their own distinct user interface and they switch as each input device is handled. Tooltips are plentiful and simple. When you move close enough to an object that can be interacted with, it changes color and the outline glows. An icon showing the face button or mouse button to press appears.

On the PS3 controller, the left analog stick controls direction and right analog stick controls the camera, and hence the aim. On the mouse/keyboard setup, the WASD buttons control direction and the mouse controls the camera. Where you point your character is where you aim, this is a 3rd person action game and the camera does not follow "over the shoulder" which was a little disconcerting for me. It may be due to unfamiliarity with the PS3 controller, but I managed to bump my camera a few times while accessing the face buttons for my skills, and I'm reminded yet again that this is Pre-Alpha. Things may yet change, and I would much prefer to see the both bottons on the mouse to run and move the mouse for direction with a fixed camera for the keyboard / mouse set up. The current slice of the game looks great and plays well, but the game is still in pre-Alpha. Controls and the GUI will be improved upon.

Tooltips in game are plentiful and similar for both systems. When you approach an object you can interact with, such as a parking meter that you can yank out of the ground and throw, the object will change color and the outline will glow. A tooltip also flashes. The O button on the PS3 controller, the Left mouse button on the keyboard / mouse set up. Access the proper button and your character will perform the action, yanking the parking meter out of the ground and brandishing it over head in preparation for the throw.

Conclusion

So what did I think of it? I found the game engaging in this pre-Alpha playable slice. SoE does have Jim Lee and his team of talented artists behind the art in the game so it really feels like you're walking into the DC comic book world. During the presentation, the mic was passed back and forth between Jens Andersen and Chris Cao, with Jens often saying, "Okay this question has to be answered by the MMO guy." As a combination third person action shooter plus MMOG, DCUO does look exciting, but only time will tell. How will complexity be handled? Will four abilities be enough? Will there be a need to access several sets of face buttons or 1 - 10 number keys worth of abilities for boss mobs? How complex will the interface become?

The potential for a superb game is certainly there and the early start looks promising. Very promising. With the talent evident behind this game, SoE may have found the winning combination, to a great action oriented MMOG that will have broad appeal across many audiences.

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.