City of Heroes cast a long shadow over the superhero MMO landscape. There’s easily a half dozen efforts to resurrect the game in some form, either by recreating the original game, or building a clear sequel. As of now, though, there’s only two MMOs that can carry COH’s torch — superhero MMOs where you can build your own hero your own way. And those are Cryptic’s Champions Online, and Daybreak’s DC Universe Online.
Which one is the better game for those who miss City of Heroes?
For this comparison, I tried to make a female version of DC villain Riddler in both Champions Online and DCUO. This is cheating a little bit, as DCUO already has all the pieces of Riddler’s outfit available, including some alternatives. My baby villain, Wy Knot, is wearing most of the Riddler outfit from the Amusement Park episode, along with a T-Shirt from the Vault. This outfit could not be put together by someone new to the game, though all the costume bits are available through normal gameplay for no additional money.
Colors are fully selectable for most pieces in DCUO. Additionally, materials can be bought with in-game currency, or randomly found, that change up the looks of each piece. (My main, Teal Green, uses materials to give her outfit a glowing teal-tinged color).
Costume parts, materials and auras are common drops from missions and dailies. Any consistent player will soon have hundreds of parts to mix and match. Costume design is one of DCUO’s most popular minigames.
Champions Online gives new characters hundreds of options, straight from the start. I wasn’t able to replicate the Riddler look exactly, but I think anyone looking at the character would be able to immediately tell what DC character I used for inspiration, assuming they were at all familiar with Batman’s collection of rogues. Champions locks some costume bits behind a paywall, but there’s enough variety to make a character purely your own.
For a player new to either game, Champions Online has the better costume options, while DCUO’s costumes evolve during gameplay. I personally prefer the graphics on DCUO to Champions, but that’s subjective, and for this, I really have to give it to Champions Online. It best reflects the variety possible in City of Heroes.
Both games give a variety of powers for free, while locking others behind a paywall. Champions categorizes their powers as tanks, healers, support, melee dps and range dps. DCUO has just three categories — tank, healer and control. However, each of these three has a dps mode that can be switched between at any time, and all power sets have melee and ranged components.
Champions Online does a decent job of explaining how each power set works. DCUO tends to compare the power sets to the hero or villain that uses them. This can be a bit of a deep dive to find a hero or villain for every power set.
Both games grant additional powers as you level up. DCUO does not let you choose these powers; by the end of the leveling, characters have all the powers available for their archetype. Champions lets you customize your character by choosing between powers as you level up. DCUO lets you purchase additional powers using skill points, such as the iconic Superman eye beams.
For a new player who isn’t planning to spend a lot of money, DCUO is the better selection. Having all the possible powers to choose from, for both class and DPS roles, is immensely freeing.
Champions Online has dozens of different travel powers, though the vast majority are locked behind a paywall, and most are just variants of one iconic travel power, like flight or superspeed. DCUO has fewer travel powers. Flight is the only one with a paywalled variant, flying disks. The others — super speed and acrobatics — are available from the start.
Champions has all the DCUO travel powers, variants on all of them, and one unique one — Teleportation.
Champions Online clearly wins here.
DCUO has full controller support. It’s the way I prefer to play — sitting back comfortably in my chair, cat on my lap, not hunched over a keyboard.
Champions Online claims to have controller support, but there is no way to map most actions to the gamepad. Targeting, using powers (including flight powers), et al, must be done through the keyboard.
Using a keyboard, though, plays as naturally as any other MMO. You’ll have to leave your controller alone, though.
DCUO is way, way ahead with gamepad support.
Gameplay, guilds, groups, raids, and all that other MMO stuff.
To be honest, I have only played one of these games to high level. Looking at my character selection screen, it’s clear I mostly played Champions Online to make new characters with different powers and travel abilities and then did low level content until I decided to start over again. I can’t play any of those older characters as they are locked behind a paywall now — I’d have to subscribe to get access to them. I don’t believe DCUO will lock you out of your characters if you stop paying.
So as far as “all the stuff you do when you are not creating a new character” — I honestly don’t know. DCUO has a thriving player base, raids, league base customization and lots of player housing. Costume parts and housing items drop frequently. DCUO is still being actively developed, and its House of Legends expansion will transform the new player experience.
It could be that Champions has all these things (although based on Google Trends analysis, I don’t believe it has a huge player base). I’m going to have to call this one inconclusive, but I suspect DCUO would have the clear advantage.
So, who wins?
In the narrow category of games which are more similar to City of Heroes, Champions Online is the clear winner. It has that extreme customization from the start, and that teleportation power. It has the advantage of being developed by the former developers of City of Heroes, so you’d expect that.
In graphics, I prefer the look and feel of DCUO to Champions Online, and feel that DCUO does a better job of replicating the COH look.
Champions’ Millennium City and DCUO’s twin paradises of Gotham and Metropolis both have quests that arise as you follow up on other quests, bringing you naturally through the open world content. DCUO’s episodes tend to have hub-based reskins of those zones. I don’t know how Champions changes as you level — if it’s like COH, more areas of the city will open as you level, but I don’t actually know.
City of Heroes had random dungeons and missions that could pop up for you at any time. DCUO doesn’t have anything like that. I don’t remember if Champions Online does.
For someone looking for a modern City of Heroes experience, I’d say — stick with DCUO until some of the new versions are released.
I’ll be looking at the COH clones and descendants in a later post, once I get a chance to play some of them. And I may play CO more, just to get a better idea of how it works as an MMO. The tutorial zone had a few other players.
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