Superheroes have had a long history in video games, since the time of the old stand-up arcade games found in the nearly extinct video arcades. Even with the advent of the home game consoles, superheroes have been there since the early days.
In our modern landscape of PC and console games, the MMO (massively multiplayer online) genre has become a mainstay and leader in multi-platform games, that’s a game that allows you to play with different types of consoles, and computers, on the same server. But the superhero game has struggled to find a foothold within this platform.
Considered by many to be the best exception to this rule, especially by those who played it, City of Heroes launched back in 2004 but sadly it shut down in 2012. There are a number of reasons as to why it closed its servers, but doing so left few options for those who liked superhero MMOs. Only two others were out at the time, Champions Online which had been released in 2009, and DC Universe Online which had debuted in 2011. The next major superhero MMO addition didn’t hit the scene until 2013 with Marvel Heroes. So let’s take a look at the three biggest options for playing superheroes in an MMO.
If you like a light, quick-paced, rock’em and sock’em kind of game, then you might enjoy Marvel Heroes. Probably the biggest thing that this title has going for it, is that it lets you play as the Marvel characters themselves. Of course it has a lot of things that you find in other games, like powering up your avatar, and finding loot, but in the end that’s about it. This game is fun for awhile, yet the ceiling for that fun comes quick. Once you get over the novelty of playing as your favorite Marvel character, if they’re available yet, it wears off, and there’s little else.
I think Marvel missed the boat on this one. Instead of giving players a cheap Diablo-like knock off with superheroes, they should have actually take the time to make a more in-depth game, and one that allows you to play your own heroes in a massively open world where you can fight against the popular villains in their universe. If Marvel ever gets around to something like that, it might be one of the most popular superhero offerings available. Until then, you can play Marvel Heroes for some enjoyment, but it is extremely limited.
Marvel Heroes by Gazillion Entertainment is a “free-to-play” system. Like most other free-to-play games, there is content and gear that can only be attained if you pay. That being said, there is plenty to play and see if you like the game enough without dropping a dime.
Champions Online is hands down the superhero game with the most content and customization out there. No other game has its level of customization. Champions allows you to mix and match a staggering amount of costume combinations, and it even allows you to mix and match powers to create your own unique hero. Champions goes as far as to grant you the ability to create a customized nemesis villain who is out to thwart your hero, and pops up from time to time.
As far as content goes, Champions has a huge amount of it. The game has been fairly consistent with getting out updates and new content since its launch in 2009, and Cryptic remains committed to keeping the game fresh.
The only drawback I see is that game play is not as streamlined as some of the others. It’s not enough to really put you off of the game as a whole, but it just seems a little slower when compared to Marvel Heroes and DC Universe Online. All in all, that’s really the only drawback. The graphics have a deliberately animated, comic-book look to them, and there is a fair amount of humor interjected into the scenarios, but I feel that it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the game, or its play, instead fitting into the overall theme.
Champions Online by Cryptic Studios is a free-to-play system. Like all other free-to-play games, they are only free-to-play to a certain extent. Unlike Marvel Heroes, which locks up certain heroes, or DC Universe Online, with pay-protected endgame content, Champions Online is not a pay-to-win game.
DC Universe Online was released in 2011 by Daybreak games. It takes on a realistic feel with its graphics; its combat system is fun and fast paced. Another perk of DCUO is the fact that you can play it with a PC, PS4, and XBOX One. Unfortunately the XBOX players are on their own server, so they don’t get to mingle with the players on PC or PS4.
DCUO does a great job of using the mythos of the DC comic book universe, tying it into the adventures within the game. The game even goes so far as to integrate its content into other DC comics events happening in other media markets. When the Supergirl TV show came out, they offered special deals, and even changed the costume of Supergirl in the game world to match the one used on the TV show. Similar things were done when the Batman v Superman movie came out, and I’m sure they will continue to do so when other movies and TV shows release.
The biggest thing that DCUO has over the other two is letting you play as a villain. Villains don’t get short changed either — they have a full storyline and customization options. You can even interact with the heroes grouped together to form raids and other multiplayer events as part of the Suicide Squad. DCUO also gives heroes and villains both the option of playing in a PVP or PVE environment. So if you’re a villain, and all you want to do is fly around the city and kick some hero butt, you have that option.
There is a fair amount of customization available, but it is still limited in comparison to Champions Online. That being said, they have been very consistent about adding content to the game on a very regular basis.
The biggest drawback to DCUO is that it’s a micro-transaction world. The game is completely free-to-play up to level 30, and that’s when the micro-transactions come into play. While the huge city maps of Metropolis and Gotham are open and full of free content, you will eventually grind out all of it. All that’ll be left is the choice to either start another character, keep grinding the same old content, or pony up the greenbacks to continue on. This being said, you will only max out a character in DCUO if you pay. This can be done with either buying the individual content or paying the monthly subscription ($15).
DC Universe Online by Daybreak Games is a free-to-play system, with a micro-transaction framework for higher level content.
While I’ve played all three of these games, I’m torn between the gameplay in DCUO and the customization of Champions Online. In the end, I find myself spending more time on DCUO simply because I’m a big DC comics fan, and I enjoy the more fluid mechanics.
While I play more DCUO than any other of the other games available, I’m always waiting to see when a new game in the superhero MMO genre is coming out. There are two on the horizon: Valiance Online and City of Titans, the spiritual successor to City of Heroes funded through Kickstarter by its fans. While I have high hopes for them both, they seem to be stagnant in their development. Though they are not moving as fast to launch as they should be, especially City of Titians, I’m still holding out hope.