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DC Universe Online: Identity Crisis

By the time you're reading this, the DC Universe Online has been decimated. Beta testers have teamed up with the DC Universe's greatest champions, vanquished their foes and wiped them from existence until everyone can start fresh when the game launches next week. It was a wild Beta period, filled with the usual problems facing an MMO Beta, as well as problems fit for a comic book, but in the end, Cheapshot had a great ride.

When I was younger, I either wanted to be a Disney animator or comic book artist. I spent most summers (and every weekend, really) in art classes and even got the chance to learn from one or two well-known artists. When I wasn't in classes, I was experimenting with layouts and coming up with my own stories and characters. It was probably the most creative period of my life until I become an art major and academia squeezed out as much creativity as it could.

Life and my childhood goals never really intersected, but I still have boxes of sketchbooks in my office and closets and every once in a while, I'll pull out my kneaded eraser and see what my academically conditioned mind can dream up.

By now, you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with the DC Universe Online beta. Well, it has everything to do with it. My characters never got a chance to adventure through the pages of their own comic books, but a few have managed to find a new lease on life through the game.

And, in just under a week, your creations will get the chance to start their own digital hero's journey, so I figured what better time then to lead your through the process and give you a jump on the rest of the new heroes and villains.

The only game I've covered more than DC Universe Online at E3 is The Agency, and every time I ask a developer how they plan to explain the sudden appearance of thousands of new super-powered people in the DC Universe, they always respond with, "We have a plan." And what a plan it is.

DC Universe Online kicks off with the same incredible launch trailer released last year.

The bit of fiction that follows is incredibly cool. Before escaping to the present, Future Lex made off with some of Brainiac's Exobytes, nano-bots with the ability to steal, store and transfer powers. Once in the present, Future Lex unleashes the Exobytes, giving rise to a number of new heroes to help current DC heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman battle Brainiac.

DC Universe Online offers two ways to create you super-powered character. After selecting gender and body type, you're able to either use an existing hero as a template, or create your own. If you want a character just like Batman, you can select "Inspired By," automatically downloading that character's power set. From there, you can jump right into the game, or use the template as a foundation for a character. Ever thought Batman would be cooler if he could fly and had fire-based powers? Now's your chance.

Selecting a custom character opens up a realm of possibilities. Nearly every power in the DC Universe is available. The one major difference between DC Universe Online and other MMOs is the lack of clearly defined classes. There's no "Warrior" or "Priest" class. Instead, you're able to define your own in-game role by selecting from power sets, combat types and other factors.

You begin by selecting a Personality, which determines your character's emotes and how characters will react to you in game. You can choose from serious, powerful, primal... it's all about how you want your character to be seen in the Universe. You can also set up your character's look. DC Universe Online offers a killer set of starting looks and options. If you can't make the character you want, you can at least get really close. Heck, you can make furries if you want! If that's not enough variety, I don't know what is.

Although your character will have an initial look, it will change over the course of the game. As you progress through missions, you'll earn new gear, like body armor, helmets, masks and capes. Think of these as DC Universe Online's version of armor and weapons. Each offers stat boosts, which have a noticeable impact on gameplay. My character, Cheapshot, had no problem taking on gangs of Scarecrow's thugs, but once his armor broke, he could barely make it through a battle.

The type of gear you acquire, and missions you receive, are based on your character's mentor. As part of the creating process, you'll need to choose one of six Mentors (three hero, three villain). Each mentor falls into one of three core categories: Meta, Tech or Magic. You're free to choose whomever you want as a Mentor, though it's best to find one that fits the sort of hero you're going for. If you're building a Magic-based hero, it's probably best to choose a Magic Mentor to ensure you'll get gear tailored towards your style. However, you're not tied to a Mentor the entire game. After tackling missions in Gotham under the watchful eye of Batman, I managed to make my way to Metropolis and take on some of Superman's quests.

Powers are determined by your "base" power. Each set, which includes more common types like Fire, Ice and Nature, as well as Sorcery and Technology, has three separate trees. Some will affect you, some affect other players; the number of options available is just as vast as the types of available gear. For instance, Nature powers offer Poison Ivy's abilities to control plants, as well as Beast Boy's shape shifting.

Although everyone shares the same base powers for their set, though you'll define who your character is through Skill Point distribution. My character used the Mental power base, which split into Telekinetic (TK) abilities, as well as Illusion-based powers. By dropping points into his TK tree, he gained the ability to lift and push objects. Dropping points into Illusion offered powers like "Fear," a debuff for enemies, or a set of incredibly useful psi-ninja stars.

Your role is further influenced by Movement and Combat style. There are three Movement types: Flight, Acrobatics and Speed. Movement determines how your character moves through the world and also factors into combat. Flying characters can dive bomb enemies from the air and Super Speed lets you zoom around and dizzy opponents. Acrobatics offers a midway point between the two; you're a little faster and can glide, but primarily rely on dodging enemy attacks.

Combat style determines what type of weapons your character can use. You can use a bow, dual pistols, dual or one-handed weapons, rifles, energy blasts or just stick with brawling and martial arts. Like other character abilities, new movement and combat abilities unlock as you level, offering even more options.

The idea of an MMO with no clearly defined classes is an adjustment, and something I think a lot of players will struggle with in the first month or so after launch. But, seeing the diversity of characters present in the beta, it might end up as the game's defining feature.

We'll have more on DC Universe Online leading up to it's January 11 launch.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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