DC Universe Online
Sony Online Entertainment
Price: $59.99 with a $14.99 monthly subscription
Released January 11th, 2011
DC Universe Online is not the first superhero Massively Multiplayer Online RPG to be released, but it is the first to have a major license behind it and it has been widely anticipated by its audience. Thanks to this game, players have the chance to fight alongside some of their favorite characters as well as interact with other fans. The game doesn’t stray too far from the formula perfected by World of Warcraft, which is a good thing, because the setting is really the selling point of the game. Never before have players been able to explore a living, breathing DC universe in this way. However, the game is not without its flaws, and those looking to check it out may want to wait a few weeks while the inevitable bugs are worked out of the system.
The story sets up the flavor of the DC universe right from the start. Lex Luthor has traveled from a future in which he has defeated Superman, but met defeat at the hands of Brainiac. He has traveled back in time and released those most precious of plot devices, nanobots, into the atmosphere in order to turn ordinary people (the player) into an army of superheroes that can defeat Braniac. It doesn’t take a masters degree in DC history to keep up, but a lot of the fun of the game is seeing your favorite DC heroes and villains brought to life and fighting beside them. It also helps to know some of the creators behind the books, as many of the locations are named after famous writers, artists, and editors.
I haven’t played too many Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Games before, but I can see why they could be hard to review, especially if you’re basing it on the first week after release. There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes, and it seems like a lot of MMO’s are buggy, lacking features, and generally not as polished at launch as they will be later in their life cycle.
This is the case with DC Universe Online (DCUO). There have been server issues, particularly in Europe where Sony Online Entertainment had to add a bunch of servers due to overwhelming numbers of players. This can be a good thing; it means there are a lot of people looking to play, but it does cause annoyance to players who expect to be able to play the game they paid for. The game has crashed on me several times for no apparent reason, and there have been times when server overload has caused the other characters to show as nothing but a black silhouette. These are largely minor annoyances, but they do keep me from enjoying the game as much as I would like to. However, it is the first week, I have faith that the games creators are listening to issues and working to get them fixed so I will give them a chance. If you’re looking for a perfect game, check back in a few weeks to see if things have improved.
Like I said at the outset, this game borrows its structure from World of Warcraft, but then again, so do most MMO’s. Players create their own hero or villain and run around the world getting missions from famous DC characters. The missions generally involve the player going to location X, knocking out Y number of enemies, and collecting Z number of widgets. What usually happens is there will be 3 or 4 missions in the open world, at which points the players will be sent to an instance, they will fight through a dungeon and eventually have to fight Lex Luthor or Superman or some other major character. The fights really bring home the flavor of the universe and it’s a lot of fun to take down these characters. Each mission rewards you with experience and new equipment as well as advancing the story somewhat. Aside from the standard play mode, there is also Legends mode, a Player versus Player section where players can take on the roles of the actual heroes (only Batman family characters at this point) and fight other players for more rewards. Then there is the Arena mode which features team PvP play using your actual characters, Alert mode which has team Player versus Environment encounters, and finally classic Raid mode, which opens up at level 30, and pits large groups of players against each other. All in all, there are a lot of different things going on to keep players occupied.
Combat is also similar to WoW in that players have normal attacks and boost those with special attacks that do more damage or have special effects. Classes are based on the power source that players choose at character creation with six classes available (fire and ice are tanks, gadgets and mental are controllers, nature and sorcery are healers). Players also get to choose between flight, acrobatics, and super-speed as their means of transportation throughout the game, with certain skills available for each method. The last choice players have to make at the start of the game is who their mentor will be. A mentor guides the player through the game and these mentors determine where you start off and which missions are available at the start, although the other mentors missions are also available. The mentors currently available are Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on the hero side; Lex Luthor, The Joker, and Circe for the villains. Once you’ve got a character and they start leveling up, you’re able to decide which weapons to use, what skills you want to take and how you want to equip your character. Combat is largely enjoyable, if a bit repetitive and the use of combos make this a bit more action based than other MMOs. I played on the PS3, and the controls felt just right to me.
The graphics in the game are pretty decent for an MMO. The locations have a lot of detail to them and so do the characters. I have run into some not great looking character models (Supergirl was pretty bad) but by and large everything looks pretty good. There are lots of options for players to make their characters unique and I haven’t run into a million Batman clones, and I’m excited to make more characters and see what I can do with the character creator. The locations look great, with Gotham being cast in perpetual night and Metropolis basking in the sunlight. They get the feel of the two cities right, and that is a big part of the game.
I do wish there were more areas to explore. There are only two cities to explore at this point, Metropolis and Gotham City. While these two areas are quite large, there’s only so much real estate and it makes the world seem a little smaller. Players are given the chance to visit other locations in certain raids and other instances, but I just wish there were more. Fortunately, there are plenty of locations they can roll out in the future (Coast City, once the Green Lantern movie hits, the twin jewels of Central/Keystone City for a Flash expansion, too many more to name). I think part of the problem is that players are given the ability to fly or run or jump around the city right out of the gate, so exploration is encouraged but there’s not enough game to explore. As with everything I have to say, it’s the first week, and there will be time to expand.
One of the things the game has gotten right is the voice cast. There’s a mix of classic voice actors (Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker) as well as some new actors (James Marsters as Lex Luthor does a particularly good job). The voice actors bring the dialog to life and add another layer of fun to the game, and I can’t wait to see who else they bring into the game.
I haven’t had a chance to check out voice chat on the PS3 yet, but communication with other players is extremely limited at this point due to the awkwardness of trying to input chat with the PS3 controller. I’m sure the servers on the PC side are much more talkative. There are ways to communicate with other players with short, pre-programmed answers (Yes, No, Follow Me, I need healing, that kind of thing) but it takes too much time to scroll through the options in the heat of battle, especially since combat never stops. If you’re trying to decide to buy the PS3 or PC version keep this in mind.
Is this a must buy? No, at least not at this point. If you’re a big DC comics fan and a big gamer, you will have fun with this game, but there are some serious system issues currently and it may be a good idea to give the developers a chance to release a few patches to fix those issues, as well as giving them time to release a bit more content. There is fun to be had, and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the game, but I can’t say if the game is worth your money yet. If you’re still having fun with WoW, for all means stay there, but if you’re looking for a new MMO to waste tons of hours on, this is a good alternative.
I’m giving DC Universe Online a 3 out of 5 for right now. Up, up and away.