DC Universe Online
Developer(s) Sony Online Entertainment – Austin
Publisher(s) Sony Online Entertainment
Platform(s) PlayStation 3, PC (reviewed)
Release date(s) Jan 11, 2011 (US)
Mode(s) Multi-player Online only
Rating(s) ESRB: T
Difficulty: Medium Rare
DC Comics and Sony Online Entertainment decided to take a crack at the lucrative MMO market in 2008, and it was a rather large crack at that with a budget of 50 million and alot seems to be riding on the games success, especially in the mostly untapped console MMO market. In my eyes, it’s unfair to compare the game to the beast that is World of Warcraft, even though it can’t be helped. WoW launched 6 years ago and is a very different game today to what it was around launch thanks to updates and expansions, which ultimately enhanced the games playability. DC Universe obviously has issues; you’d know this if you played the BETA, but it’s shortcomings might be fixed in the future. The core of the game is an enjoyable beat em’ up and the pace is a breath of fresh air in the MMO market, it’s certainly a game worthy of your consideration.
The narrative is set in the present day, but the apocalyptic introduction between Heroes vs. Villains is set in the future, where Superman is (hilariously) killed by Lex Luthor only for Brianic to emerge from the skies with an epic war fleet. Everyone craps their pants and perspective changes to a scene with Lex Luthor explaining the story to present day Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Luthor has traveled through time and is trying to warn present day heroes to prevent the war happening again and Brainiac ultimately coming out on top, he wants to prepare for Brainiac’s arrival by giving powers to the public. In order to do this, Luthor stole something called “exobytes” from Brainiac’s mother ship, which Brainiac was already using on earth to slowly steal energy from heroes, hence Luthor’s ability to kill Superman from he’s time and effectively destroy the Justice League. It’s basically a mouthful with the words steal and stolen coming up alot, I admit the first time it was a little confusing wrapping my head around this, but it’s a nice way of putting character creation into context and making you feel apart of the world.
After Luthor explains himself and the fact that he’s made the general public powerful, Batman basically says “ITS A TRAP!” and it’s on like Donkey Kong. Luthor implores the Justice League to train the newly created heroes called “metahumans” because in the future he has failed and was the only survivor of Brainiac’s earth purging. We must make up for Luthor’s failures is basically what Luthor is asking, for some reason he doesn’t want the world to end, maybe because he wants the power himself? Now if you’re a fan of DC comics you’ll be happy with the amount of notable characters thrown into the mix throughout the game, including comic style cut scenes after you defeat mini-bosses explaining their back-story and the like. It’s pretty cool initially but for the less enthusiastic comic fans, such as myself, the loot waiting to be rolled for took priority and ended with quite a few cut-scenes being skipped. When you know a cut-scene is coming at every boss, but you don’t know what loot is coming, I couldn’t help myself.
What does this say about the story? Is it non-existent? Not necessarily, their merely using the DC branding to justify certain missions and grinding involved in the game. The fast paced nature of the combat works against itself though, you’re moving so quickly through levels and quests that the story can feel somewhat shallow and easily be dismissed. But the characters involved make up for the easy to ignore plot points, having icons like the Joker or Batman guide you through quests with voice over’s is cool enough for the non-hardcore fans and I think this is what SOE was betting on. As far as I’m concerned, if people want to role-play and really delve into the world without a detailed story, they’re going to do it anyway because the believable world is good enough.
Comic book characters and heroes/villains are all about their duality and “other life”, and if you’re looking for this kind of depth in a story based around the concept of an MMO, you’ll be foolishly disappointed. Obviously DC Universe doesn’t stay true to this theory, as the environment around you is basically NPC’s to kill and a city in chaos, due to all the new people with powers. You could say that the duality of the heroes/villains is the character you’ve created and yourself living out real life when you’re not playing. But that is being too literal perhaps; the game still makes good use of its fantasy theme, especially with already established characters and cut-scenes that explain back-story. All the cities and locations are accurately recreated with infamous monuments looking great, which suck you into the DC world. What more can you ask for? As I said, it isn’t the deepest or greatest story as far as MMO’s go, but the developers have made a world which is immersive and accurate in terms of it’s branding. It’s just enough to compensate for the sometimes-shallow story, which suffers from the fast paced nature of the game.
Rinse and repeat, such is the repetitive nature of hack and slash combat, it’s no different here and if mindless killing doesn’t appeal to you look elsewhere. This is somewhat dampened by the mix of powers and movement type at your disposal, such as flying, super-speed and acrobatics. As such, traveling through the world is never a drag and the player at the creation screen dictates movement type. Speaking of which, this has slightly changed since the beta and had a few things taken out. Whether or not they’ll be missed is up to personal taste, but I didn’t notice anything significant missing. There’s been a mixed response to the character creation process, but to be honest it’s irrelevant because the possible changes available throughout the game are really the appeal in DC Universe, your initial hero or villain vastly changes. This could be said of many MMO’s, but DC Universe goes the extra mile with collecting every style of gear you touch without compromising stats, the wealth of options is impressive. In addition, facial and hair appearance can be changed later on if you so desire, end-game gear also does it’s job of looking how it should, like it’s the pinnacle of what’s available in game.
In terms of leveling and questing, it’s a fairly quick process and shouldn’t take too long to hit the cap. This takes the long grinding out of the equation, but is it an enjoyable ride? Well there’s alot of fetch quests, that’s for sure, and the only unique quests lie in the mini bosses or alert based instances. There are other variations in fetch questing, such as protect this NPC, while other NPC’s attack and quests that involve throwing objects. However the most fun I had was once instance where I played as a Gorilla and basically whacked the crap out of all NPC’s til the boss, which was also a highlight because the boss required taking on two at once. I would like to see more quests involving transforming, vehicles or group based teamwork, rather than the simple type “Kill this token NPC” and receive hacks loot (i.e. Bizzaro). But the majority of leveling was an enjoyable experience, even if it felt too easy at times; the Action RPG combat and animations are a joy to perform.
I played through the entire BETA with a keyboard and mouse, since the game released I’ve been playing on and off with a PS3 Control connected through USB. Its fairly obvious DC Universe was designed with the controller in mind, rather than the other way around, and in my experience the controller feels better. It’s likely that purists of the keyboard and mouse will dislike the nature of holding down mouse clicks to perform combos, and it’s understandable, but I didn’t find it unplayable at all.
Once you hit 30 things are thrown up a notch in difficulty, especially if your group members don’t know their specific role, which the game doesn’t explain overly well. This wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that some people didn’t even know how to change stances, now that isn’t right. Speaking of classes, they’re split into three types, tank, healer and controller. There’s no purely damage-based class, rather everyone has the ability to deal damage by switching stances (only out of combat though). Therefore players need to decide which stance to select before battling, only later on in the game does strategy come into play, depending on the difficulty and the amount of players you have ofcourse. It’s quite possible if you have good players and decent gear to group with the less than required amount to finish a boss. If you implement the strategy of blocking and rolling to avoid bosses big attacks, while performing your class roles, you can successfully three man certain bosses. It’s these sorts of setups when DC Universe becomes the most enjoyable and challenging, sure there are some hit issues due to lag, but it isn’t game breaking by any means. You just have to find the right players to have the most fun, and like any other MMO starting out, this can be a challenge.
Combination’s have a counter as you attack like a beat em up’, and the more combos you stacks the more likely you are to critical hit. It also relies on the powers you use in between physical attacks, for example starting out with a magical attack then using your weapon is more likely to crit then simply button mashing. The same goes with the stuns available, if you don’t know how to use them or avoid them by blocking and rolling, especially in PvP, you’re doomed to an embarrassing death. PvP currently offers a range of modes, the arenas include three areas such as Area 51 with game types like capture the flag, this is mainly gear based PvP. Then there’s Legends PvP, which lets you play iconic characters such as Batman, Robin etc and practice your skills to prepare for later. Then there’s the obvious World PvP, but it seems alot of people are rolling PvE servers, which doesn’t make sense to me.
PvP is more or less about stuns, blocking and rolling. Once you’ve got the hang of out it, it becomes more enjoyable and different classes cement their style. Right now for me the hardest roles to beat are fire and nature specs. Fire is basically the tank that dots and stuns, which is hard to manage; especially with your health slowly dwindling and you’re being kited. And nature spec is like a druid, (duh) healing and tanking all in one. Also players who chose flying tend to have an advantage in World PvP, especially if they’re being beaten and decide to leg it, which can be very frustrating. But despite these minor issues, PvP is an enjoyable romp, it’s fast paced and action oriented. Not many MMO’s offer this type of gameplay, and DC Universe does it well to a degree. There are issues with performance and targeting, it’s quite easy to accidentally launch at the wrong target amongst the action, or become stuck swinging in the air. It seems this is due to leaving movement on super-speed, which is currently causing them game some issues. For example if i type /dance and immediately turn on super speed, my whole PC has crashed a few times, and it’s this sort of thing that feels like of polish throughout the game.
In terms of raid content and instances, these issues and overall lack of polish is less apparent. It’s likely that future updates will fix some of the issues, but when the actual game released it was more buggy than the BETA, which is strange. I’ve had more problems with performance and crashing than the BETA, everyone cried wolf when the release date was announced for January because of BETA issues. How do the developers think people will react now that the game is out, with more issues than the already buggy BETA? Well it’s interesting that they released this month, that’s for sure, BETA testing is supposed to iron out problems not create more. The developers have alot of work ahead of them; it hasn’t been a smooth launch by any means.
Overall despite issues such as performance, a lack of tutorials in game and the sometimes buggy combat. DC Universe Online is a thoroughly enjoyable game and has a unique place in the market, more so in terms of combat than anything else. At times it can feel like a generic copy of other MMO concepts with the DC branding simply slapped on, but no comic enthusiast will have a problem with that. It’s still enjoyable questing, PvPing and socializing in a different world with fast paced combat. The current end-game content will keep players going for a while as well, cause the challenge is there, until more is released ofcourse. Hopefully with patches DC Universe Online will evolve into an even more playable action RPG, which is the main appeal, alongside it’s DC branding. Right now it’s just another MMO starting out with potential, and like many others at their launch it’s tip toeing a fine line between populating or diminishing in a few months time. It would be a shame to see failure, because it’s been quite an enjoyable ride.
DC Universe Online runs on the unreal engine and depending on your set-up, you may have performance issues. My set up had issues, which resulted in having to turn settings down, although this wasn’t so apparent during the BETA. But the overall game is impressive in the scale of things, running, flying or leaping through the cities at super-speed is a joy and environments are fairly detailed. Combat animations are fluid and their style mimics that of the DC universe, for example the Joker and Batman animate in a familiar way, which is indicative of their character. All the models are also keeping with the style, except for maybe Wonder Woman, which I didn’t think would be so badass/sexy. There are some minor bugs with animations and holding your weapon, such as the weapon disappearing but your character still in the attacking position. Also running, leaping and flying at super speeds through the cities can be cause for concern. You’ll see pop in that’s for sure, but the more worrying issue is latency. It’s expected given how fast you’re traveling, but hopefully this can be alleviated in future, cause it’s one of the highlights of the game.
Other than that and some UI issues with performance, it’s a wonderful looking game. I dare you to run on shiny looking water like Jesus and not be impressed. The effects produced by your powers are a delight to watch as well, they’re colorful, vibrant and suite the destructive nature of the game. Objects can be picked up and thrown and some are destroyable. One of my favorites would have to be accidentally hitting a car while attacking and watching it fling away, along to watch it land on an NPC minding their own business. Another note-worthy effect is the landing animation from a high distance; it results in your character smashing into the ground leaving a crater, which is satisfying. DC Universe had to get this part of the game right, and other than the teething issues, they’re on the money.
It sounds right as well, all the right voice actors are on board and having someone like the Joker guide you through a quest is effective. You can tell SOE tried to make it as authentic to its origins as possible, and they’ve succeeded for the most part. Some of the music is hit and miss, especially in the clubs, which is forgettable. But the sound effects are executed nicely in combat, more so than NPC’s and their banter. One-liners such a “Hey Face, Meet fist!” are funny at first, but can get annoying after awhile. Voice chat in game has issues for the moment; you’re better to use other means, such as vent or steam. It has the tendency to drop out or not work at all, which is ofcourse frustrating given that it worked better in the BETA. Issues aside, you wont be disappointed with the Iconic DC characters, however the soundtrack may be a different story depending on your taste.
Is it worth it? It’s hard to say with issues right off the bat, but hey, every MMO has complex launch issues. It’s no excuse, but it’s a highly enjoyable game that has comic book fans raving. What It doesn’t have is the deepest combat system, the smoothest performance or the greatest questing system. What it does have is addictive gameplay, a rewarding system of gear and a wealth of options for customizing your hero. Throw in the DC Universe and you’ve got some serious fan service, for the non-fans and someone just looking an MMO, it comes recommended. I’m not a massive fan of comic books, but I still managed to enjoy it. The gameplay has a casual streak to it with just enough content to make the monthly cost justifiable, “just enough” being the keyword here. It doesn’t come recommended to the hardcore or theory craft types, or someone looking for a WoW killer, but it’s definitely an alternative offering fast-paced fun in the somewhat slow MMO market.
What would you call this gameplay? Action RPG, Beat em up’ or Hack and Slash with an MMO. Something like that, yeh… It’s fun
A good system of handling customization and gear
Pretty authentic DC Branding, it really does help the raids and instances
Performance issues and bugs
Not the most original questing and lack of tutorials
Amount of content vs. cost right now is questionable, but no doubt more will come
I give DC Universe Online