I’m here at the New York Comic Con with the rest of the Allakhazam crew and I am excited to report that I was able to get a first-hand look at open PvP in DC Universe Online, courtesy of Jens Andersen, the game’s creative director. As a huge comic book fan, I realize how much pressure DCUO is under to appeal to both hardcore DC Comics aficionados, as well as gamers who are only familiar with the names Superman and Batman. Well, I can personally say at this stage in the design process that PvP in DCUO will make every gamer feel like they’re locked in an epic battle between heroes and villains that actually follows comic book rules. For example, people with super powers are generally really hard to knock completely out of the fight.
Sony Online Entertainment’s DCUO booth was flooded with convention-goers throughout the first day who were eager to catch a glimpse of the game, and Jens was just as excited to show off open PvP in the heart of Metropolis. Before we get into the PvP action, it’s worth noting that Metropolis is huge. As our premade character soared into the sky and buildings vanished into the distance, Jens noted that we were looking at only 1/8 of the city. It really is massive to see, and the art direction of Jim Lee can really be seen in the architecture. And once more pedestrians are added and traffic begins to move through the streets, it will honestly feel like a living, breathing city.
Since players can fly, climb or run to virtually any space in the area, battles can happen anywhere, including on the sides of building and rooftops. This adds a great spin to PvP and grants players numerous options in their fighting styles. The demo for the convention focused specifically on 3-on-3 battles, but numerous NPCs also littered the streets, creating virtual armies working both with and against the players. For example, the demo had heroes fighting against LexCorp forces with the help of NPCs from STAR Labs. If heroes and villains are working on cases and capers in the same area, they’re sure to clash in the process.
With so much PvP going on, some players may be worried they’ll be killed before they can even participate in the fight. Jens quickly quelled those fears by explaining that players who are knocked out may revive themselves after a short period. The more times you’re knocked out, the longer it takes to revive yourself. After a set number of KOs (Jens gave three as a tentative starting point), you’ll need to wait for a friendly player to help you to your feet. As Jens put it, Superman doesn’t just stay down after he’s knocked through a wall. “Part of the fantasy of being a hero is rallying,” Jens said.
This process of reviving players works on the NPC combatants, as well. If a player sees a LexCorp fighter laying on the ground, he or she can get them back in the fight with the push of a button. These henchmen add to the feeling that you’re truly within the DC universe. Remember how Adam West’s Batman would always fight those ridiculous minions while going after the main enemy? OK, it’s a ridiculous example, but this tactic in DCUO truly adds to the depth of the battles and makes them exciting.
So after seeing all this in action, one question immediately popped into my head: How do you win battles if everyone’s being revived all the time? Jens explained it as being a “battle of attrition.” Basically, as players are knocked out it will take them longer to revive, which means fewer opportunities to revive other players and NPCs. While this is a different approach from the more direct “hit an enemy until its dead” approach, it does work well in a comic book setting. The Justice League’s not going to go down without a fight, but if you keep pummeling its members , they’ll eventually stay down. Also, this system gives ample opportunity for the cavalry to arrive in the nick of time to save the day.
Another concern players may have is whether they’ll be forced into PvP mode without any choice. The development team has addressed that in a number of ways. Jens confirmed there will be both PvE and PvP servers, so you won’t have to deal with fighting other players if that’s not your idea of a good time. He also noted players may have the option to switch between servers at will so they can easily play with their friends or hop an a specific server for an in-game event. “There’s 52 Earths, right? Lot of stuff going on on those different Earths,” Jens said with a laugh. He said the server-specific events will fall into their “rule the world, save the world scenario” scenario, which will be revealed more at a later date.
Also, Jens said players won’t be initially flagged for PvP in cities; however, each area in a city will have threat levels for heroes and villains that could quickly change that. Jens referred to it as “probably cause.” For example, if a villain starts robbing banks in Metropolis, his or her threat level will rise. If they’re not careful, they’ll be flagged for PvP so a hero can try and stop them. In a similar fashion, if a hero breaks up a crime ring, his or her threat will rise as villains get word of these events.
These threat levels will diminish over time so players are never permanently stuck in PvP mode for their actions. The best comparison I can think of is the wanted level in Grand Theft Auto games. Players will be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions, which adds to the comic book feel of the PvP system. And Jens said they’re toying with that idea that if a hero wrecks too much property or performs other actions not befitting of a costumed crime-fighter, other heroes will be able to attack them to police one of their own. I personally think this addition would be great for the game since no true hero would ever just sit and watch as another went on a path of destruction through the city.
However, heroes and villains won’t be able to switch sides at will. Instead they will be able to choose “causes.” Jens said he will discuss this topic at another time, but noted that archetypes such as “vigilante” and “defender of justice” are examples of causes that will allow players to further customize how their heroes go about dealing with criminals. These causes will also change which types of enemies spawn in your world. If you’re a vigilante, shadier villains just might happen to appear.
While discussing threat levels, Jens said players can also gain notoriety through the headline system, which basically means their actions have become so famous that they reached the front page of the Daily Planet. “Our headlines can be made up of anything; any stats you can track, or things you can track in the game,” he said. These are basically achievements you can collect for completing certain tasks. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to be on the cover of the Daily Planet?
Of course, there will be more to PvP in the game than wide open battles. Jens said world events will occur (such as an alien invasion, for example) where heroes and villains can work together for a common cause with friendly fire turned off. There will also be arena battles. Jens didn’t provide much detail on arenas, but he did say they can be comprised of one-on-one fights, group fights, and gigantic battles between groups of groups. And you can always flag yourself for PvP at any time if you’d like.
With all of this talk of PvP, I began to question how the developers are balancing all of the various superpowers. If a villain can just fly away from a fight, how is that fair to hero who’s stuck on the ground? Jens explained that crowd control will be a big part of battles. As a villain flies away, for example, they can be intercepted through numerous means, such as being lassoed and pulled back or frozen in a block of ice. But there’s an interesting twist: A player can break out of his or her constraints by mashing a button and hopefully damage other players in the process. The broke shards of that ice cube could certainly hurt and turn the tables for the trapped villain.
Jens was very excited about the prospect of turning a skills test, such as breaking out of crowd control, into more damage. “We’re trying to make it more active and less about numbers,” he said, noting they are truly trying to make an action game. Jens said he wants a player’s skills to be an important factor in PvP, and I can’t help but agree. Most gamers enjoy PvP in MMOs for competition, not a “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, spock” fight between specific abilities.
After seeing DC Universe Online in action at the NY Comic Con, even at this stage of development, I can’t help but be excited at the possibilities it holds to bring the comic book world to life. Huge battles are generally a big part of comics, at least of the superhero genre, and DCUO seems like it will deliver in that aspect. Personally, I’m looking forward to diving in, creating my first character and getting into brawls with other players through the streets of Metropolis, Gotham City or wherever else my capers and cases take me next.
Darryl "Togikagi" Gangloff