A New Look at DC Universe Online
MMORPG.com's Carolyn Koh takes a look at DC Online, the superhero MMORPG in development by SOny Online Entertainment.
When we last saw DC Universe Online, it was the very first look at the game, wonky camera angles and all. Six months later, it continues to look better and better as development moves right along. At CES 2009, Creative Director Jens Andersen and Senior Producer Wes Yamasagi were enjoying themselves by playing the game and showing off their latest developments.
Jens ran through the various attributes a player could select to make a unique character in character creation. First, there's the ability to play either a hero or a villain, then the player selects the Super Power like ice, heat, sound or radiation to name a few, and the way it manifests. Perhaps you want to use a ring like Green Lantern does or perhaps you prefer gadgetry like Batman, a mace like Hawkman, cast magic like Zatanna with just the spoken word or just throw fireballs with your hands. Players also get to select a Movement type like Flight or Acrobatics. The "Origins" attribute seems to have gone by the wayside and now we have Traits which Jens said he'd explain during the demo, but somehow I never quite pinned down, I'm afraid.
Acrobatics as a movement type was in game and it manifests as the ability to make super long leaps crossing both the X and the Y axes, the ability to cling on the side of buildings to scale it in several jumps and do "air dashes" which was the ability to change direction while in the air and cover short distances even faster. In that manner, he was able to keep up with Wes who has super speed as a movement type, in traveling from one area to another.
Another new feature they talked about was the "Inspiration" option in character creation. A player could start character customization by selecting this option and select an original DC character. You could select "Inspired by Green Lantern" for example and a Hero character would be generated for you that had flight and power that manifests through a ring. From there on, you would tweak every aspect from gender to costume, from affiliation to powers. More artwork has gone in for costumes and all the characters Jens had in his stable looked spiffy smart. In-game, Jens' costume was a skintight leotard with sexy leg wrappings. Er... his female character that is, not Jens himself.
The UI has gone through a new iteration, the looks of which I liked very much, but it was still not finished of course, and not what they were showing off. A small icon on your character panel showed the role you had selected and are playing. The ability to pre-load skills for different role profiles such as attack, defense and support (basically different macro bars) was easy to use and these profiles can be swopped out on the fly. That is to say if your support guy goes link dead in the middle of your caper, someone in the group can easily switch quickly into that role.
"We've got much more of a world now," Jens showed me as we ran around Metropolis. "Remember when all you could do was run around a single street at FanFaire?" Indeed I remembered as I had gone the wrong way and suddenly run out of NPCs and other street objects. The DCUO version of quests is known as Cases and Capers; Cases for the heroes and Capers for the villains. We took on a Case and Oracle spoke up in a pop-up interface to guide us to our next objective, once that was completed, it led on to another objectives and eventually, we were directed to assist Superman in Star Labs.
As we ran along the streets, we also found passersby running in the opposite direction as well as friendly NPCs that have been knocked out. Reviving the NPCs meant we had allies to help keep the yard-trash down. Jens was rightly proud to show off the world they had created. Great urban-scapes, new water graphics and a raised mono-rail high above the city. I managed to tease Jens into scaling a pylon and running on top of the mono-rail to get to Star Labs instead of running on the ground which he did magnificently until he fell off.
Cases and Capers can be found both in public areas and private (instanced) areas. Players often start quests in public areas before moving into private instances where they could interact with boss mobs and original DC universe characters. In this instance, we were sent to assist Superman in securing Doomsday and Star Labs. Lexcorp goons had infiltrated Star Labs and accidentally released Doomsday. Not good, but the super boy scout was there and we were on our way. Players can heal themselves, other players as well as allied NPCs, although it wasn't Superman that needed help as we were knocked out a few times but recovered (or a buddy could revive you) quickly to jump back into the fray. Eventually, we knocked out all the LexCorps minions and secured Doomsday. Not without some collateral damage as it was just too much fun to pick up something big and heavy and hurl it at the goons.
DING! Jens leveled. I swore it was the exact same sound as the character leveling sound in EQ whereupon Wes quipped that it was the SoE signature leveling sound. At this time, SoE has not yet set a release date and this is yet a pre-alpha build. It is still a vertical slice created for a demo, but it certainly is a substantial slice. UI improvements, camera improvements (no more wild swings as you ran / flew around but a much more stable camera view), still not a lot of detail revealed about the different systems, but dang, it looks good. I can't wait to see what it looks like by the time E3 rolls around.