"This universe already exists - we just have to open a door". So said DC Universe Online creative director Chris Cao, presenting the game at E3 this week. His team at SOE isn't creating their vision of the DC Universe. They're letting players create their own hero or villain and letting them come inside the DCU as envisioned by Jim Lee, one of the most successful comics artists of all time. You'll see Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham at night, and Superman flying through the skies of Metropolis, and if you're lucky you'll be able to fight with or against these iconic characters as you add your own chapter to the comic book world.
They've got decades of history, beloved characters, infamous villains and settings that some fans no so well they practically live there, but what sets DC Universe Online apart from other superhero MMO games?
The main difference between DCUO and a game like City of Heroes is that you don't slowly earn your powers. If your character has super speed, they are super fast, period. You don't have to level up to gain your speed boost...the Flash didn't have to ding in order to go from 60 to 70 MPH. You have the power you choose, and it's up to you to learn to use it. An example Chris presented was a character with super speed being able to run up a wall, taking them out of range of enemy attacks. You can do this right from the start, as long as you have the skills to pull it off.
Leveling with help you tweak your powers a bit. You see the mechanic in comic books every day...a hero learns some new way to use their powers. The Flash figures out how to create a tornado by running in a circle at supersonic speeds, Superman hones his heat vision to laser accuracy, etc. Other than those tweaks, DCU is a skill-based action game more than your traditional RPG. You want to fly? Boom, you can fly. You want to fly well? That's where skill kicks in.
One thing that really struck me is the use of physics in the game. In a game like World of Warcraft, you freeze someone in place and they are locked in one spot as a particle effect appears at their feet. You freeze someone in DCUO and they don't just get surrounded by a ice block-shaped effect. They become an ice block, which can then be picked up and thrown, The game is dynamically creating objects using powers instead of simply throwing lighting effects around.
Unfortunately DCU Online was not playable at E3, but fans will be getting their hands on the title soon enough. In fact, Next week's San Diego Comic Con will play host to the first playable demo of the game, allowing comic book fans the first shot at becoming a DCU hero themselves.
SOE is opening the door to the DC Universe. Hopefully what we wind up seeing on the other side will be enough to entice us through it.