Monday, January 17, 2011

Review-DC Universe Online

At a Glance-DC Universe Online

Being that I grew up as a comic book AND a video game enthusiast, it was easy to decide whether or not to give DCUO a tryout. What was more difficult was tempering high expectations for a game that I hoped would really deliver for me. DCUO is a rather large departure from my gaming preferences over the last decade that was dominated heavily by games like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Lord of the Rings Online. Would this flashy, pseudo-arcade-style-throwback of a super hero MMORPG be able to fill the void where swords and sorcery have dwelt so long?

Premise (Minor Potential Spoilers)

When you begin DCUO, the inhabitants of the DC Universe are about to take an unforeseen evolutionary step. To avoid the potential devastation of Earth, future events unfold that sends super-powers to the past (our present) amongst recipients all over the world. Suddenly, normal, every day people like you and I are being imbued with these super-powers, and we must turn to Earth's greatest heroes (or villains) to learn how to harness and utilize these powers that we may help avoid the grim annihilation the future has in store for us.


I would like to take a brief moment here to iterate that the scope of this review isn't a "top to bottom" look at DCUO. My intention is to give a stark look into what my first weekend with DCUO looked like, my initial impressions, and some of the things you can expect to see and do. I probably played about 8 hours in total over the weekend. So, even though it is an incomplete picture, it is a scrutinized look of what you get when you walk through the door.

Starting the Game: Character Creation

Other than strictly cosmetic choices, creating your character consists of four major choices:

I. Super-Powers
A. "Tanking" Subset-these powers inherently give your character tougher physical abilities so you can be on the front lines of battle.
1. Fire
2. Ice
B. "Control" Subset-a choice from these powers will enable you to incapacitate, knock-back, or otherwise stun your enemies. You will not be as sturdy as your tanking counterparts, but you will be able to defend yourself well.
3. Mental/Telekinesis
4. Gadgets/Technology
C. "Support/Heal" Subset-those that wield powers in this subset will be able to bolster and heal their companions as well as summon defenders to help in the fight.
5. Sorcery
6. Nature

II. Weapons
One of the great things about DCUO is that, regardless of your super-power choice or role, all classes get a weapon and can DPS. There are advantages and disadvantages to every weapon type, and one will want to consider their super power when making a weapon choice (for example, a melee weapon might be better for a tank type that can sustain more incoming damage from the fray).

As a whole, weapon choice is very balanced and there is no single weapon you can point to and say, "This does the most damage." In fact, you can choose the one that "sounds most fun" to you and feel confident you aren't being penalized because the uber leets are running "Weapon A".

For a complete list of weapons, please refer here:

III. Mode of Transportation
Now that we are ready to kick booty, how are we going to get there? DCUO offers the following for comic-inspired movement:
A. Flying
B. Fast Running (Think The Flash or Quicksilver) This includes the ability to run up walls at great speed.
C. Acrobatics-I have just been calling this "Spiderman" (Peter Parkour?), climb walls and jump from building to building.

IV. Mentor
Your choice of mentor will dictate the types of missions you get to start out with.
A. Heroes
1. Batman
2. Wonder Woman
3. Superman
B. Villains
1. Circe
2. Joker
3. Lex Luthor

For the record, I made a total of four toons and took them through the intro sequence. I subsequently chose a hero and finished up the initial Gotham/Scarecrow quest line (to about level 7), and started the initial villain quest line to about level 5. Here are the builds I toyed with:

Fire->2 Handed Weapon->Flying (This guy was so tough he was practically invincible in the intro.)

Sorcery->Martial Arts->Super Speed (A very exciting build, even if Sorcery wasn't necessarily the best choice for a melee fighter, a little squishy.)

Mental->Hand Blasters->Acrobat (I only had to play this build ten seconds to realize this is what I wanted. This became my main hero, "KidMasterBlaster".)

Gadgets->Rifle->Acrobat (Another really solid build, this became the villain I tested.)

Starting the Game-Intro Sequence

We all know the drill here, our n00b toon gets babysat through a Carebear solo instance and fights gingerbread men wielding lollipop weapons, right? WRONG! DCUO probably has one of the more interesting and visually-striking openings of any game I have played. Even though there are tutorial hints dropped in at certain times (like when you level up), it is not so didactic that you feel like the game is preaching to you as if you were an illiterate moran. (Intentional, I swear!)

(Potential Spoilers)

You start out on board a spaceship that you want to escape from. A communicator chimes in to help give you directions to get out. The catch? Just a bazillion of Terminator robots on steroids between you and the exit.

I was real pleased that DCUO decided to put so much initial quality in the intro area to really hook you into the setting and the story. The spaceship is beautiful and you get to explore it in all three dimensions up and down various corridors, maintenance chutes, and what have you.

The patrol mobs, for the most part, are pretty soft (a trend that continues until about level 6). Even when you seemingly get in over your head, you can usually button-mash your way out of bad spots. However, there is one pull about 3/4 through the intro that can be a little tricky if you aren't careful.

The intro finishes with a cool rumble in the spaceship where a "friend" will show up to help you battle through several waves of patrol robots. It's a very therapeutic and exciting fight, mash them metal freaks into scrap!

Starting the Game-Settling In Back On Earth

Now that you are free, you will find yourself in "headquarters". The tutorial will have you look around the shop and the mail room, and then send you out into the real world to start the questing! Good luck!

A More Pragmatic Look At Things

So, now that you have a better idea of what this game is about, I am just going to point out a series of pros and cons regarding anything from forums and UI to quest lines and server activity.

Cons (since I would like to end on a positive note, I will start with the negatives)

-My one biggest beef, that is really just a personal preference but it bothered me all the same, is that my first mission as a villain in Gotham was to go kill cops. I just didn't like it. I doubt I will ever play villain much (if at all) anyway, but it chagrined me that it was an option.

-Controller vs. keyboard: I have seen on the forums many criticisms of the player controls, and have had unbiased third party testimony to the same. Even though I personally do not find the UI difficult at all, I can understand how people could feel limited. There isn't a whole lot that can be done to meaningfully remap the keyboard, and I wasn't able to do anything worthwhile to set up my controller the way I would have preferred.

-One minor aspect that was also a bit of a disappointment was how...chesty they decided to make all the female character models. I mean, I understand it's comic books, but there are a lot of interesting female comic characters (past and present) that have more to offer than their busts.

-As of this writing, the game has been live for barely six days. They have experienced some rather predictable server downtime. Some people deal with this better than others. Which leads me to...

-Forum whiners: Same dime a dozen crap you see on any MMO forum. Switch out the name of the game/company and the arguments are identical. I wish there was something constructive that could be done to change the culture on MMO forums, but as long as there are raged out, entitled, pampered, snotty, idiotic lolkids, there is going to be unfortunate ignorant garbage spewed on the forums. However, this sort of works as a good segue into the "Pros"...


-Aside from the whiners, there was a really great Beta community. They put up a ton of great stuff on the forums and had a vault of useful information they passed along. They had a really upbeat and gung-ho attitude and are a great asset to the community.

-I was taken away by the ability to customize your appearance. This game offers the kind of choices I used to dream about for character customization. It is a really brilliant design, and I love it.

-The game plays SMOOTH. I personally experienced no lag at any point, or even skipping in the most rudimentary sense.

-Simply put, the game is cool. Just really cool. It looks great, plays exciting, and is just flat out fun.

In Conclusion

In case it hasn't been made obvious in the course of discussion here, I generally view DC Universe Online favourably...very favourably. It has been a refreshing departure from the more "classic style" MMOs, and the DC/Warner Brothers product is one that has been very interesting the past ten years (movies/cartoons/games).

I feel a little silly trying to score this game when I have such a superficial experience with it at this point, but if someone put a hand blaster to my head and made me scribble down a score, it would look something like this:

8.75/10.0 - If you are interested in comics in even the most pedestrian sense and enjoy video games, you will have a hard time NOT enjoying DC Universe Online. Once they get over some of the "growing pains" of a new game going live, this title has all the potential in the world to become more than just a niche game. I have not encountered anything that has made me regret spending the $50 to get going. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Please click on any of the screenshots below to enlarge them.

Tech specs (my rig):

Alienware M15x

Intel Core i3-330M 2.13GHz (3M cache)

4GB Dual Channel DDR3 at 1066MHz 2 x 2048MB

1GB DDR3 ATI Radeon Mobility HD 5730