E3 2008: Sony Online Entertainment
07.16.08 - 11:33 PM

Sony Online Entertainment showed off two of their upcoming MMORPGs at E3: DC Universe and Free Realms. Targeted toward two completely different demographics, DC Universe Online is an action-oriented MMO that places players in control of their own man or woman in tights as they fight alongside and against some of DC's greatest characters. On the other end of the spectrum, Free Realms is a free-to-play MMO targeting kids in the 8-14 year old range.

DC Universe Online, developed in-house at SOE, throws players directly into the world of DC. Players can create their own hero or villain and will be fighting alongside heroes recognizable by everyone from grandparents to young children. The developers at SOE are working with this pre-existing world and rather than trying to abstract the game design process and figuring out what would be a good piece of design and implementing it, they asked questions like "What Would Batman Do?" and turn them into viable portions of the game. It's not as if SOE is limiting players to actions that Batman might undertake, however, as the good side isn't the only playable side. At the same time, players may ask themselves, "What Would The Joker Do?"

DC Universe Online uses a physics-based, action-oriented battle system, which is unique in regards to persistent-world games. Say, for example, your character has ice powers, they might be able to freeze an enemy in a giant block of ice and use them to block a doorway or smack an enemy around with their friend who just happens to be a villain popsicle. DC Universe Online was unfortunately not playable at the show this week, but comic fans will be able to put their own hands onto DC Universe Online next week at the San Diego ComicCon. No release date has been set for DC Universe Online, but it will be available on both the PC and PlayStation 3 platforms.

Free Realms is an entirely different beast of an MMORPG. Designed to be easy to play, easy to jump into, and accessible and appropriate for kids, Free Realms is, as the title suggests, a free-to-play MMORPG, though it will have a microtransaction system. The game actually has no installer to manually download - as players create their avatar via a flash website, the site streams the client to the hard drive. The entirety of the base client is only about 30MB, so by the time players have finished creating their avatar, the client is ready to toss them into the world.

Players will be able to change their classes on the fly in Free Realms, somewhat similar to Final Fantasy XI. Different classes will give players the ability to access different minigames, as well. SOE showed us some bits of the postman job, who took mail around a snowy town and fought off dogs in the process. Every minigame functions like a quest in an MMO, with a beginning start page and completion screen with the rewards. Not everything is available through the gameplay, however. Some special bits of the game are available only through the microtransaction portion of the title. As this is a title targeted towards kids, though, there is a parental control aspect. Parents will be able to provide their children with a wallet - something akin to the way the PlayStation Store or Xbox Live Marketplace works. They'll deposit a preset number of funds and the children will have access to that bit, keeping little Jimmy from asking for the credit card every day. Free Realms is slated for release next year, but should be entering beta sometime before the end of this year.

SOE wasn't showing a whole lot about their flagship EverQuest franchises, but keep your eyes peeled to RPGFan next month when we're at the SOE Fan Faire for some juicy news about EQ and EQ2.


John McCarroll