Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is taking a new approach to the traditional MMO with their action based game, DC Universe Online. Set in the world made popular by DC Comics, this game operates on a real time action system, not dice rolls. SOE is bringing shooter and action features to an MMO genre that lacks this type of game, without losing the roots of what makes the company one of the largest MMO developers and publishers in the industry. Comic-Con's exhibit hall hosted the first ever public playable version of the game so far, and for an early Alpha version, it looks impressive. Metropolis was shown in all its glory, and several different character types were available for people to play.
There is of course a lot that can't be talked about or may change drastically before release, but what I saw with Associate Producer Fannie Gunton excited me for the future of this breakthrough game. You'll hear the term "physics game" thrown around a lot during the ongoing development cycle. This means that items in game such as cars, buses, and even other players, can be used dynamically, allowing you and others to use them freely. Not to mention powers that create objects to interact with (energy balls, ice blocks, etc.,) The best example given is turning an NPC enemy or opposing player into an ice cube with your super powers, then lifting and throwing them.
I had a hard time understanding why that would be desirable or cool at all, until I actually did it. After trying it one time carrying around buses and slamming them into things became the love of my life, instantly!
Along those same thoughts though, as you're shooting, another NPC can walk into your line of fire, or in PvP a fellow player can block an incoming shot just by inserting himself between you and your target. It's much simpler to think of the game mechanics as a shooter, though it's dangerous to categorize this game as such, simply because it truly isn't. SOE has really thought of a new way to bring MMOs to a new market while keeping the MMO part of the game we all love an integral part of the process!
The game right now is running PS3 and PC versions on one server and the devs are hoping to keep it that way. Things may change, however, as the process continues, but there were more people using controllers than the keyboard on the playable version. I couldn't get an answer on how customizable the game controls would be, or if one account would give you access to both login types, it's simply too early for details like that to be released.
Character customization wasn't shown but I was assured it would be robust, even allowing players to choose their power sources. Every avatar has a light and heavy attack, along with special moves tied to timers of different lengths. How these skills will be gained, and powered up has yet to be announced. Running up buildings, flying, being invulnerable to bullets, and ensuring your character looks how you want, while keeping the best stats and bonuses of equipment you may not enjoy the look of, are all customizations and fun you'll see implemented.
As you move through the game you'll join either the Justice League of America or the Legion of Doom, though these factions do not present a PvP faction system. Creation will allow you to either create a customized hero, or choose one of the many different standard types you can find in the game.
Consensual PvP is being built into the game using arenas and PvP servers only, at least at launch, but no word on how factions will work, or what rewards and specific obstacles will be put in place to help players on the PvP servers enjoy the game.
The creative director is renowned comic book artist, and dedicated gamer, Jim Lee. Mr. Lee's "Art of DCUO" panel at Comic-Con was filled with his unique look at what the game is accomplishing. He's looking to make a game "addictive as hell", and fun for everyone, comic book fan or not! He actually extended his contract with DC to work on this game, and if you're not excited about that, you definitely should be!
Fannie mentioned that working with the folks at DC was a fantastic experience, and that the back and forth of getting the game to have the DC Universe feel was something that the whole team had taken to heart and worked very hard on. It shows. I'll be honest and say I'm not really into comic books, comic books worlds, movies surrounding them, or characters in them, but from what little I saw this game has a feel of fitting perfectly into the world they're going for and those of us not as familiar with these worlds won't feel out of place.
Details on housing, crafting, gaining experience and such are on the way. Quests and killing NPCs will be a large part of the game, but how you level up and gain skills exactly has not been fully worked out. Storyline quests will help to place the world and the comic book universe into the same setting, and be prepared to see comic book artists and the game developers often pulling from each others work. One note on gaining experience is that by default your skills and abilities are set to level up equally, but you can change that as you see fit.
Places within the DC Universe we can expect to see? They'd like to launch with the cities of Metropolis and Gotham and at least one area such as the Bat Cave. Whether more will be released as free content updates or expansions has yet to be decided. Speaking of launch, questions about beta and launch dates were laughed at, somewhat manically. Players and press alike looking at the game were reminded that they are in such an early alpha phase that speaking of such things was utterly ridiculous. The game will be launched when it's good, ready, and done, and not a moment before. It's a good sign that SOE is aware of the problems launching an unfinished game can cause, though let's face it, no game in the MMO industry is ever complete.
The areas they're developing are huge and, honestly, game play takes place in areas much larger than what we're used to. It's so different from how we play any other game out there, I have a hard time explaining it, except that you'll not just be fighting the one guy, or one spawn of five guys, right in front of you. Instances are utilized to get you closer to the DC Universe characters we all know, and to help make fighting these large areas less confusing. Zoning issues are still being discussed.
Vivox has partnered with SOE on other games for in game voice chat and while they're not announcing the details for support in DCUO, they said it's safe to assume you'll see voice chat from the company implemented. Whether that support will combine the PS3 and PC versions is still unclear.
While showing a playable alpha, one has to remember that it's so early in the development cycle, not many details about mechanics are being released. I personally have to wonder how much extra effort went into making it as playable as it was, without adding actual progress to the game. Hype, marketing, and player interest have to be attributed to the process, I suppose.
We're not likely to see this game any time soon, but know that a talented and dedicated team is working on bringing the DCUO world we all want to see to us!
Becky "Tovin" Simpson
Allakhazam News Editor & Staff Writer