In comparing two MMORPGs such as City of Heroes/Villains and World of Warcraft what better place to begin than the beginning, i.e. character creation.
As is common for these sorts of games, World of Warcraft has a fairly simple character creator:
First you pick your race which controls which faction, Alliance or Horde, you belong to as well as where you start in the game geographically and what classes you can take. Each race also comes with three minor benefits to differentiate them from the others. For example, humans are natural diplomats and earn reputation with game characters faster than other races while tauren are better herbalists. Next you pick your class. Are you a warrior or a rogue? A priest or a warlock? A hunter or a paladin? Class defines your character's abilities, what armor you can wear, what weapons you can use, and what spells are available to you. Not all races can be all classes so if you want to be a specific class you may find your choices for race limited. For example, the only Horde race that can be paladins are blood elves so if you want to play a Horde paladin you've got to be a blood elf.
Finally there are cosmetic decisions to make; male or female, what skin/hair color, do you wear earrings, do you have facial hair, and so on. The exact choices you get vary by race and gender. Trolls, for example, get to choose from a variety of tusks. You'll notice that aside from gender and skin color, all of WoW's cosmetic choices center on the head. That's because the look of your clothing is determined entirely by what you wear in the game.
City of Heroes has a bit more complicated character creator.
First you choose your archetype (AT) and your origin type. Archetype is analogous to World of Warcraft's classes. Heroes and villains have different ATs available to them but NCSoft is about to implement a system that will allow heroes to become villains and villains to become heroes so that won't be true for too much longer. Origin type defines how your hero or villain got his superpowers. It affects what missions you will receive at the beginning of the game and later on will control what sort of enhancements you can use to modify your superpowers. There's no real game advantage to taking one origin type over another as you probably won't have any trouble obtaining enhancements for whatever type you choose.
Next you choose your character's primary power set and select one of the first two powers from it to start with.
The original design for CoX called for players to have a free hand in choosing superpowers for their characters much like pen & paper role playing games like Champions. CoX's developers quickly discovered a serious design flaw in that approach. In a game like Champions there is one player known as a game master or GM who creates the adventures the other players go on and is responsible for overseeing how the players develop their characters. If a player makes a bad decision, the GM can tell him so and have him change it. In CoX that's not possible and it was quite easy for players to choose powers that would make their characters ineffective, i.e. gimp themselves. So the CoX devs redesigned the game to limit players' choices, making it hard to gimp their characters. Part of this redesign was introducing archetypes that describe general game roles, for example scrappers are hand-to-hand damage dealers, and then giving each AT a set of power sets to choose from that all do basically the same thing but do it in different ways. For example a scrapper could use martial arts, a broadsword, a katana, or claws among other things. Then within each power set there are a variety of powers to choose from. You start out with only one or two powers available to you and as you advance in level more powers are unlocked so that you can choose to take them if you want.
This is followed by choosing a secondary power set. This is sort of a secondary thing your character can do though it's not your primary focus. Since it's your secondary power set only the first power is available to you and the others become unlocked more slowly than your primary power set.
Now we start getting into the meat of CoX's character creation. The comic book genre that the game emulates is marked by highly individualistic costumes. Few superheroes and villains dress alike. CoX strives to capture this and does so admirably well. First you choose a general body type, male, female, or a huge male. Then you choose a general build and finally you have sliders that allow you to modify aspects of it.
Finally comes the actual costume designer. As you can see from the picture, you have many options for customizing your character's appearance. This part has absolutely no effect on the game aside from how you look. Of course final results tend to vary according to the player's design sense. I've seen some really beautiful costume designs and some really bad ones.
Though not pictured here there is one final step where you choose a name and have a chance to enter a battle cry and background for your character. These things have no effect on game play and are there purely for role-playing reasons.
That pretty much wraps up the differences between the two games character creation process.