Super hero MMOs are a tricky business. Unlike their fantasy brethren,
the realm of super heroes is often very black and white: the good guys
are very good and the bad guys are very bad. Their conflict is at the
forefront of every issue, and even when the panel writers begin turning
an artistic flair, the battle between the forces of good and evil still
remains an ever-present figure.
For comic book MMOs, finding that PvP sweet spot is an absolute
priority. While I was attending San Diego’s Comic-Con
International ’09, I had the chance to take a swing at Sony
Online Entertainment’s player versus player encounters in
their upcoming super hero online game known as DC Universe Online.
Unlike previous demos that the SOE team has run, Comic-Con’s
entertainment was focused squarely on providing fans with quick spurts
of (what appeared to be) high level PvP action, which was a different
tact than what reporters and fans had seen previously in the quest
walkthrough. To make sure all of my details and impressions were
accurate, I grabbed DCUO developer Wes Yanagi to answer some of my
questions whenever I was confused.
Before I jumped onto one of the available SOE machines at Comic-Con
(all of which were constantly packed with eager participants), I took a
few minutes to simply observe the game as played by others. The pace
was fast, the combat was over-the-top, and the fights were frenetic.
Explosions and earth-shaking effects were appearing at every turn. The
heroes and villains were divided into three-on-three pairings with two
“boss” NPCs also engaging in the fight. Depending
on which encounter you were running, you had the potential to run up
against Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Lex Luthor, Bizzaro, Joker or
Sinestro among others. According to developer Wes Yanagi, this PvP
encounter was created specifically for Comic-Con and probably
wouldn’t make it into the finished game, but was built to
recreate the sort of PvP action players might see in the finished
Another notable aspect of this year’s Comic-Con was the fact
that the DCUO PvP battle was being fought on both PCs and PS3s, making
DC Universe the first MMO to successfully integrate an MMO experience
into a next-gen console. While Yanagi still couldn’t confirm
whether we would see PS3s and PC users being able to share the same
world at launch, the fact that the demonstration at Comic-Con was
achieving that type of gameplay showed that the potential will
certainly be there. On that note, I grabbed the first open PS3
controller I could find and immediately set to work wreaking havoc upon
Unfortunately, I’m not a huge console gamer, so it took me a
few minutes to really get the feel for the title on a gamepad. The
general lack of precision there is while trying to target characters
with a control stick rather than a mouse was disconcerting at first.
Targeting, from what I could extrapolate and what I was told, is done
in one of two ways with a controller. You can either turn on a sort of
“soft target” mode where your attacks generally fly
towards the nearest enemy to your targeting reticule (center of the
screen) within a certain distance (no fiery curveballs from these
heroes), or you can go into more of a hard target manual mode, that
allows you to stick on one enemy to keep him locked into your display.
With the controller, this was achieved through holding down one of the
L or R buttons and cycling through your targets with the right control
stick. There may be other ways to target your enemies in DCUO, but I
couldn’t explore every option during my limited time with the
Unlike most MMOs, DC Universe Online features physics-laden effects,
which means that every attack and animation in the game has a
“substance” to it. So if you’re targeting
one enemy and his ally happens to jump in your way, your attack will
hit that ally instead. So although targeting may not be as specific as
other MMOs, this opens up a whole new level of strategy and tactics for
gamer groups hoping to take down their opponents in PvP.
As I continued to play through the PvP demo and get a handle for my
controls, the differences in the game continued to be revealed. Players
that are used to having pinpoint control of their movements and attacks
will probably be turned off by the controller functionality. Although
it definitely has an ease of use that the keyboard lacks, the
controller felt cumbersome in my hands... but then again I'm a fan of
the PC, and even when playing on consoles I prefer the sleeker Xbox
controller to its PS3 counterpart.
Still, the PS3 controls were relatively intuitive: each of the buttons
on the gamepad lined up with buttons that you might be used to on any
PS3 combat-oriented game. You had your basic melee and ranged attacks
along with a heavier "scatter" power that could give players some
breathing room. Special attacks - what we MMO gamers know as abilities
or skills - are put in a deck that players accessing by holding down
the L2 button and hitting the four main PS3 keys. The clickable items -
like potions and rings - were activated via the R2 button and the four
main keys. My character was more of a "fire" inclined individual, using
bolts of energy and ground-shattering attacks to scatter my foes before
raining destruction down upon them.
Along with being fire-based, my avatar also sported a pair of wings
that I used to flap around the battlefield. Jumping from ground to
flight was as easy as pressing a button and aiming my character in the
appropriate direction. I could also grab some of the larger objects
scattered about the room and waylay my enemies with thrown projectiles.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to truly get a feel for my characters
strengths - whether he was an offensive, defensive, or support sort of
character - so my blind fighting wasn't as tactical as it could have
In general, the combat encounter presented to the Comic-Con crowds by
SOE was much, much more kinetic than anything I've seen in an MMO to
date. Despite only having ten characters in the encounter, there was so
much happening on screen that the fighting felt very intense, even when
I wasn't being directly attacked.
Dying - at least in this PvP encounter - was little more than a speed
bump. Without any punishment that I could see, my character could
choose to "Rally" or "Flee", which meant I either jumped right back
into the fray - albeit with lower health - or had to respawn at a
resurrection point a short distance away from the main fighting. While
Wes stated that again this would probably be changed before the final
product, I was surprised when the "Flee" command only dropped me about
three seconds from the fighting. All I had to do was jump off a ledge
to continue the battle.
Whether it was SOE's intention or not, I spent far more time watching
the actual gameplay on the screen rather than my UI, which led to a few
deaths that could have been avoided if I'd used the proper items at the
correct times. It didn't bother me though - I was far more interested
in simply "Rallying" and taking down my now debilitated opponents.
Again, death was more of a breather than any sort of inconvenience.
At the end of the day, I felt like Sony Online Entertainment is
certainly on the right track with DCUO. The graphics were gorgeous -
more realistic than those found in Champions Online, for better or
worse - and the action was certainly there. If I were to judge the
potential of DCUO by the size of the crowd at the booth, I'd have to
say that they could have a very, very solid hit on their hands. Couple
that with the audience found in a console-based MMO, and they will -
more than likely - have a winner on their hands.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our DC Universe Online Game Page.