Superhero Showdown! COH vs CO vs DCUO

It’s a battle of superhero titans as City of Heroes, Champions Online, and DC Universe Online square off to see which game comes out on top.

superhero showdown coh vs co vs dcuo

It’s the cataclysmic showdown that comic-book gamers have been waiting for. Which of the three superhero-themed MMOGs rules the roost? To determine that, we’ll examine of the three contenders (City of Heroes, Champions Online, and DC Universe Online) in a variety of categories and see who comes out on top. Now, let’s don our cape and up, up, and away!


The visual element of a superhero MMOG is vitally important. Comic books are a visual medium and the creation of our favorite four-color superheroes served both as entertainment and inspiration to many a person. Artists like Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Todd McFarlane were a huge influence upon comic-book (and thus, superhero) culture. Thus, the visual element of a superhero MMOG is as important as graphics are in the comics.

While City of Heroes recently upgraded their visuals and Champions Online chose a bold style, the clear winner is DC Universe Online. It may not be fair as that DCUO is the newest hero in town, but the game is simply gorgeous to look at. From the majestic skyline of Metropolis to the gritty streets of Gotham to the orbital views from the Watchtower, the settings, denizens, and foes are all visually striking. I’ve found myself spending a good deal of time just looking at the scenes laid out before me, sometimes not realizing that I’ve gotten to close to an enemy who’s behind me and I’ve aggroed him! The various power effects as you use your abilities really add to the epic heroism feel that any superhero game should look to aspire to.

Winner: DC Universe Online

DCUO is stunning, visually.


A superhero has to have things to do to be heroic; he can’t just stand around weaving a carpet. No, sir! He’s got to have enemies to fight, crimes to bust up, alien invaders to beat back, and so on, which means that there has to be a great deal of content for our hero to partake in. DCUO has been adding new content since their launch, CO has recently beefed up their content with the weekly comic series, but the clear winner is City of Heroes.

COH has been around for seven years, and NCsoft hasn’t wasted their time. They’ve put out twenty issues of content for players to enjoy. With adventures spanning the gamut from time travel to fending off alien hordes, there is a lot to do in COH. My personal favorite is time travel. Going back in time to a lesser-powered version of your hero is eye-opening. You quickly realize how much you’ve gotten used to the higher powers in your power sets, and you have to adapt to being limited to just your first few starter powers. In addition to their normal content, COH really blows their competitors out of the water with their Mission Architect system, where players can design adventures of their own and let other players use them. A rating system helps you wade through the thousands and thousands of adventures that have been created for all level types. If you can’t find an adventure in COH, then you’re just not trying.

Winner: City of Heroes

city of heroes
There are so many player-created missions to choose from in City of Heroes.

Character Creation

More than any other genre, character creation is key to superhero MMOGs. Your superhero outfit serves both as a uniform and as your identity as a hero (or villain!). We know instantly if we’re looking at Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man based upon their costume. Thus, it should be the same way in the superhero MMOGs that we play. A superhero’s look never goes out of style.

COH set a very high bar with their character creator system with an almost infinite amount of combinations to create a truly unique hero. In fact, most new games today don’t has as robust as a character creator system as COH. I’ve written on how disappointed I am with DCUO’s character creation system. I know that you can modify the costume as you pick up costume pieces during your adventures and you can easily choose which options you want to showcase. In their most recent webcast for Update 4, they also announced that there will be a greater number of options to character height, which is a welcome addition. That being said, I want the most options available to me when I begin my superhero career. Did Superman modify his costume over time? Has Captain America’s look changed over the decades? The answer is no. I don’t mind that there might be some special options only available if I unlock them, but I want a huge amount of choice when I initially create my hero or villain.

The clear winner in this category is Champions Online. They took what COH had done before them and added to it. Being able to modify practically each body part (length of arms, length of legs, chest size, muscle mass, bust size) really allows you to customize the hero themselves before you even get into the costume. With robotic, animal, alien, demonic, and even zombie options thrown in the mix, the sky’s the limit on what kind of hero you can create.

Winner: Champions Online

champions online
In Champions Online, you can modify more than your basic costume.


How information is presented to you and your interaction with NPCs can really immerse you into the comic-book universe of a superhero MMOG. While both COH and CO have good presentation and COH has a really good contact system (where you can just call them after you’ve done a mission or two with them), DCUO is the winner here. I absolutely love getting a mission as that the contact’s image will appear in your quest log and there’s a full voice-over describing the mission to you. While not only bringing that contact to life in the player’s eyes, it also helps to immerse you more deeply into the game’s setting. Call me a geeky fanboy, but I still get jazzed when I see, and hear, Superman congratulating me and giving me details on a follow-up mission. If that’s not immersion, then I don’t want to know what it is!

Winner: DC Universe Online

Superman is talking to me! <fanboy squeal>


Powers are the heart and soul of the superhero MMOG. What would a hero be without his powers or abilities? If the Hulk didn’t have his super strength, Batman didn’t have his numerous gadgets, or how about Superman without flight or X-ray vision? The powers a hero has define him just as much as his costume does.

This category has a tie. Both COH and CO have excellent power sets from which players can choose from. Since CO went free-to-play, players can follow an archetype (preset powers) or choose the standard free-form option (for subscribers and those willing to pay for this option) of picking what powers you wish. In both games, players can choose powers from various power sets, with some limitations. In COH, you have to be certain levels to grab a power from another set and in CO, you have to have a certain number of powers in your main power set to be able to get new powers from a different set. Both games also allow you to see what powers are available and when. In contrast, DCUO has you locked into a single power set from the beginning without any real information given to you. While each power set has a lot of options to allow you to really define your role as a hero, the systems in COH and CO are more flexible.

Winner: City of Heroes and Champions Online

champions online
Hmmm...a choice of powers and a description.


How fighting and world interaction is handled is paramount. Superheroes need to throw down constantly to beat back the hordes of evildoers. Throwing righteous punches of justice into the faces of black-hearted villains is how us sensitive heroes express ourselves. Superheroes show their mettle through mighty deeds, which usually involve whipping the butts of many a bad guy.

Both COH and CO have similar fighting styles, but CO adds an extra layer with the ability to block and generate energy through a special attack. DCUO takes blocking and layers it with the fighting style commonly found in console games. The result: an easy to get into fighting system that has multiple combos to be used for specific powers and is fun as hell. DCUO wants you to get into the fray right away and start pounding evil into the ground and they succeed in doing this. Battling villainous foes in DCUO is tremendous fun, which is what any game should strive for: fun. It’s quick, easy, and enjoyable.

Winner: DC Universe Online

Smashing bad guys has never been this much fun.


This category is for those small extra things that really enhance your gaming experience. The winner for this category is COH. The little things like in-game events such as the Ghost Ship or the Rikti invasions help bring players together. CO has added their Blood Moon event and hopefully they’ll add more in the future. Also, COH has bases for supergroups! A supergroup can fully customize their base with useful areas such as work stations and teleporters and the design options are almost limitless. You want a base that looks medieval and magical? You can do that. Do you prefer a sleek sci-fi base with technology dripping off the walls? You can do that too. Plus, supergroups can raid other supergroups’ bases and they can duke it out. How cool is that? CO has just added player bases to their game with some ability to customize it. While not on the scale of COH, it is a welcome addition to the game.

I also need to cite COH’s Mission Architect system again. Being able to design your own adventures and play the missions created by others is tremendous. While you can create your own nemesis in CO, you can do that one better in COH by creating whole story arcs around a specific foe if you choose to do so.

Winner: City of Heroes

city of heroes
The base creation process in City of Heroes. Where do I want my mini-bar?


So what game is best? Well, my answer is….none of them and all of them. I’m not copping out on making a decision. I enjoy playing all three games for different reasons. DCUO has a more dynamic fighting system that I enjoy, but I do enjoy fighting in CO and COH too. Missions are more varied in DCUO, but through player-created content, there are tons of cool adventures in COH. Perks like housing in CO and bases in COH appeal to me as well. Plus, each game has really cool bad guys to fight, each with their own unique styles.

If certain specific categories are more important to you than others, then you’ll gravitate towards one game over the others. Personally, I like the whole ball of wax so I can’t really choose. I enjoy my adventures in all three games and hop from one to another on a regular basis. The choice is really up to you…

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