Of the three high profile MMOs from Sony Online Entertainment coming next year to the PS3 (Free Realms and The Agency the other two, both of which have also appeared on this list), DC Universe Online has the potential of being the most successful.
Free Realms may cleverly target the untapped market of prepubescent gamers, and The Agency will surely sate our childhood desires of being a spy, but neither of these properties have the clout of a universe of beloved characters most gamers have literally grown up with. Batman, Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, The Joker, Lex Luthor; these and more are cultural icons, their appearances in comics, TV, film and games too numerous to mention since their arrival on the scene decades ago.
Populating a persistent universe in which players can create their own superhero or villain to co-exist with these legends has been the aspiration of many a comic-book/gamer fan since the dawn of time. The concept has been tried before, of course, Cryptic’s City of Heroes (and, later, Villains) presenting a similar opportunity back in 2004. What City of Heroes/Villains doesn’t have that DC Universe Online has in spades, however, is brand recognition through its cast of hundreds.
Signing up with one of these fabled champions and despots as a mentor, each fledgling greenhorn’s path is set in motion. Pick Superman as your guide to superhero life and you’ll start in Metropolis, choose Batman and your training will commence in the rain-slick, death-trap alleys of Gotham City. Punctuating the normal grind of an MMO are feature story events in which the player will become intimately involved. Rescuing Robin from Harley Quinn in Amusement Mile; preventing the gassing of Gotham by the deranged The Joker; stopping a mutagen outbreak at Star Labs, and engaging Doomsday with both Luthor and Superman just a handful of examples, this final case the first of challenges that offers up a choice of either assisting the Man of Steel and Lex in restraining the destructive, Krypotian experiment (goodie-goodie) or teaming up with the berserk killing machine and unleashing havoc on Metropolis (not so goodie-goodie).
There is a wealth of talent behind the project. Legendary artist/writer Jim Lee worked as the title’s executive creative director, while famed writer Geoff Johns of the sprawling DC Infinite Crisis arc is its lead writer. In other words, smart guys who probably know how to find the lav in the Bat Cave and how much you can actually pawn a Green Lantern power ring for. Much like other MMOs there is an underlying plot, the recently released and deliciously decadent CGI trailer for the game outlining its basic premise, while also offering an explanation as to why the world’s population is suddenly experiencing an upsurge in superheroes. Lex Luthor has travelled from the future to address the heroes and villains of today, warning them of a distant internecine war between both groups that will ultimately see massive casualties on both sides. With Earth unprotected, Brainiac arrives with his alien army to enslave the world. The sole-survivor of this mass-slaughter, Luthor manages to steal Brainiac technology and travel back in time in an attempt to warn the likes of Batman and Superman of the upcoming events, while also releasing exobots into the atmosphere. These exobots have the ability to bestow super-powers on anyone they come in contact with; Future Lex believing that the more super-powered people in existence offering Earth a fighting chance when Brainiac ultimately turns up.
The game’s delays (it’s been in development for over five years) and pricing structure (there has been talk of anything up to $14.99 a month to play – a cost console players are not used to paying) has cast an ominous shadow over DC Universe Online for some gamers. Many would love the opportunity to create a character and fight alongside or against heroes and villains they’ve been watching for years. Whether or not the pricing model or gameplay structure will be palatable for the large number of players the title requires to succeed remains to be seen.
A beta for the game has been recently announced and is open to all PlayStation Plus subscribers. Currently this beta is only on offer to North American users. Expect news of a European based beta in the coming weeks.