Heroism Denied! The Failure of DCUO’s Character Creator

After much anticipation, I logged into DCUO for the first time with multiple character concepts in mind, but then I encountered the game’s pitiful character creator. Read about DCUO’s utter failure of character creation.

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When you think of a superhero, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it their origin? Their secret identity? Their powers? The answer is usually no. The first thing that enters a person’s brain when you mention a superhero is their costume. The costume of a hero or villain serves as their identity, their superpowered fingerprint if you will. Naturally, a superhero-themed MMOG will allow for the greatest possible flexibility when creating your hero’s costume. Both City of Heroes and Champions Online have robust costume creators, so DC Universe Online, being the latest and greatest, should up the ante. Sadly, that is not the case. Like an evil plot by Darkseid or the utter futility of Ambush Bug, the costume creator in DCUO is disgraceful.

Before I start my rant, let me digress for a second so that you can more easily understand my rage. I love superheroes and comic books. I grew up reading Batman, Superman, Alpha Flight, the X-Men, the Question, Magnus Robot Fighter, and many, many more. In fact, I learned to read from comic books (my dad used to read me Donald Duck comics as a kid and he would go over the words with me), so to say that I have had a long love affair with comics is stating it mildly. While I no longer collect comics (things like property taxes get in the way), I still love the genre so it’s a no-brainer that I would play comic-themed MMOGs. I’ve played for years with City of Heroes, then Champions Online, and now I entered the world of DC Universe Online.

The graphics quality is impressive, but the lack of true customization is appalling.

Out of all the comic book companies I patronized over the years, my favorite was easily DC. The heroes in DC were heroes because it was the right thing to do, the honorable thing. They saw evil afoot in the world and they felt compelled to do something about it. These mighty titans were not the sniveling, navel-gazing whiners of Marvel, no sir! They didn’t put on the costume because of some angst or emotional guilt; they donned the mantle because good must stand and confront evil. The ultimate example of this philosophy is, of course, Superman. He could be ruler of the world if he wanted or use his powers for self-gain, but he does not. He only seeks to serve and by doing so, serves as the pinnacle of the superhero creed.

I became hooked on DC when they published the original Crisis on Infinite Earths when they shook up the cluttered universe that defied rational continuity. From there I branched into the multiple Batman titles, then Action Comics when it went weekly for a bit. I loved the Justice League, Hitman, John Constantine, Preacher, Sandman, Arion: Lord of Atlantis, Green Arrow, and tons of other titles. I read Marvel, Dark Horse, Gold Key, and other comic companies, but DC was my true love.

The rush of joy when I finally got my chance to enter DCUO was even more pronounced as that I was forced to wait after the game’s launch to begin my DC-themed do-gooding. Nefarious plots such as car repair bills and Sony being hacked delayed my entry into the world of Metropolis and Gotham.

The Bane-inspired costume looks damn cool, but remember to color within the lines!

Whenever I start a character, I usually have a concept in mind. I don’t necessarily min/max my character and I’ll make some odd choices, in the eyes of power gamers, because those choices fit my concept. I sometimes have to make an exception to my concept based on what the game provides, but I normally stay close to my idea. Sadly, DCUO takes a lot of those choices away from me.

Overall, DCUO has 10 steps in their character creation process. Let’s take a look at each and see how they measure up. Remember, Champions Online is two years old and City of Heroes just celebrated its seventh year of operation. Therefore, DCUO could have built on what went before and created an even greater character creator, but they didn’t. The one aspect that is superior in DCUO is the detail of the graphics. Everything looks beautiful, but who cares if you’re not running around with the character you want?

DCUO Character Creation

Step 1: Choose a gender. No problems here.

Step 2: Choose a build. You have the choice of three builds: large, medium, and small. Is that it? No slider to make a freakishly tall or short person? What if I wanted to play a hero similar to the Atom? Both COH and CO allow you to modify your height. CO even allows you to make a fat character if you wish. I guess every hero and villain in DCUO have a really good gym membership. Not having the basic tools to modify your character’s body type is pathetic in this day and age.

Am I creating a hero or ordering a soda?

Step 3: Choose a template. Here you choose to fully customize your character’s costume, weaponry, powers, and such or you can choose a specific hero or villain to emulate. I call this the lazy method, but it is handy for those who want to quickly create a character based upon a specific hero or villain. If you choose to emulate somebody, you are automatically assigned everything from steps 4 through 9. For those of us with some imagination, we press onward.

Step 4: Choose morality. Here is the step where you choose hero or villain. There’s nothing special to be found here.

Step 5: Choose personality. Again, there is no controversy here. Your character’s personality affects some emotes, but has no impact upon combat.

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In City of Heroes (and Champions Online), you can randomize your costume just to see what the game throws at you. DCUO doesn't give you that option.

Step 6: Choose a mentor. Your choice of mentor determines the origins of your powers (tech, meta, or magic) and the categories of weapons and armor allowed. Right off the bat, your first big choice is a limiting one. Choose one way and you limit access to certain items. Character creation should be about options and choices, not limits.

Step 7: Choose power. Here is where you choose your power and character creation goes off the rails. You’re given a number of choices, but no real information on any of the powersets. What powers become available at higher levels? Since you forced to stay within that powerset, your choice becomes crucial. There ain’t no mixing of powers from different powersets here! Both CO and COH allow you to view the various powersets and what powers become available later on. Why doesn’t DCUO offer you the same courtesy? Epic fail.

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Knowing what powers you can choose? The madness of Champions Online!

Step 8: Choose movement power. There are only 3 movement powers to be found in DCUO for character creation: flight, super speed, and acrobatics. I guess there’s no teleportation in the DC universe now. While there are only 3 travel powers (which is kind of sad), at least you start off the game with it. It’s sad that COH and CO both have more travel powers to choose from.

Step 9: Choose a weapon. In this step, you’re basically choosing how you’ll attack in melee and ranged. Once again, there is no more information on what abilities you can learn later on as you level. If I’m doing melee, but want some ranged, what is the best choice? I don’t know as that I can’t look at what I can get down the road! It seems that you have to practically design your character beforehand by using the home site of DCUO or other fansites that have all the abilities listed. It almost feels like you have to study for a big test as opposed to messing around with the options and seeing what works best and what appeals to you. DCUO’s shame grows even more.

Step 10: Make your costume. This is the final shame of DCUO’s character creation process. On the surface, it looks like that there’s a lot of options, but that’s not really the case. Most of the costume pieces are variations of tights with some armor pieces thrown in.

Take hair for example. You have to choose a hairstyle and facial features together. Want an afro with old Western moustache? You’re out of luck. You can’t choose a specific hairstyle and then a totally different facial feature such as beards, moustaches, scars, etc. Accessories? Don’t even think about it! Want to wear some armored pads on your thighs? Have a cool belt of knives slung across your chest? Well, don’t look here because it ain’t going to happen.

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CO has body options, unlike the generic soda options in DCUO.

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You can choose a variety of features just for your head alone in Champions Online.

Basically, what we’re left with is some tights and armor, with a few minor other pieces of costumes for us to mix and match. You’re incapable of adding little flourishes that you can in COH and CO, both of which are older games. What options the game have look damn good, but I would rather have more options to outfit my superhero and look slightly less detailed in the old pixel department. Hell, there isn’t even a randomizer (as can be found in both CO and COH) for you to see what mash-ups the game can throw at you. All you have is some specific looks inspired by certain heroes and villains. I guess the creators of the game never heard the old saying that variety is the spice of life.

Overall, DCUO fails in the central tenet of any superhero MMOG, which is that you should be able to design a really cool looking character that will stand out from the teeming hordes. A superhero’s outfit is his uniform and it is what makes him unique. Both City of Heroes (7 years old) and Champions Online (2 years old) recognized this. DC Universe Online should have used them as a base and expanded from there, but they didn’t. Instead, they took a few steps backwards. Was this because the game was designed for the PlayStation console? I don’t know, but DCUO had a real opportunity to become the standard for superhero MMOGs, but like a wrapped gift from the Joker, it blew up in our faces.

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