When DC Universe Online was first announced my first thoughts were anything but positive. The very idea of being a spandex wearing peon grinding through dull urban environments was enough to make me gag. Besides, I don’t really like MMOs to begin with. With the sole exception of Guild Wars, my attempts at trying to get into anything else (WoW, EVE Online, Champions online etc) failed miserably. After a point, every one of these “games” starting feeling too much like “work”. The exercise of “grind till you level” is pretty much the opposite of fun in book. As an added headache, having to pay a monthly fee made me feel like I HAD to play the damn things even if I didn’t feel like it at all. This is part of the reason why Guild Wars grabbed me. There was no feeling of obligation plus no grinding of any kind.
However, seeing as how there was suddenly a huge amount of positive press around DCUO right before launch, I must confess I was more than a little intrigued. And let’s not forget Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) has had some good titles in the past. Everquest was THE game to play before WoW came along.
Arguably, reviewing an MMO is almost pointless. The very nature of the product means it is constantly evolving. The game that is reviewed today may be completely different six months from now. EVE would be the best example. At this point, even WoW may as well be a different game altogether. So keeping that in mind, I am not posting this as a review. It will simply be a dairy of sorts, a record of my experiences in the DC universe as it were. Hopefully it will give most readers a good idea of what to expect from what is still essentially, an MMO.
Before I start however, I must make this very clear: your enjoyment of DCUO will be directly proportional to how much of a comic nerd you are. I frequently found myself giving the game a lot of benefit of doubt purely because it caters to my inner fanboy. If you couldn’t care less about Batman and company, your mileage will vary significantly. That being said, let’s get to it.
After a hefty install, the first thing I had to do was choose a version of the client to run, ie, US or EU. I chose US as in my experience; the 12 hr time difference is actually less awkward than the 5-7 hrs in Europe. It makes putting a group together a lot easier. Secondly, I had to decide what kind of server I wanted, PvE (player vs environment) or PvP (player vs player). I chose “Death and Glory”, a PVP server. To the uninitiated, the difference between the two is significant. In a PvP server, any player of the opposite faction can essentially battle with you regardless of whether you want to or not. It’s not uncommon to find a bunch of high level players ganging up on some poor newbies just to mess up their day. If you have had bad experiences at the hands of a bully during childhood, you might want to stick to PvE, where any player on player combat is allowed only under specific areas. The advantage of a PvP server should be obvious; it’s a lot more interesting.
The character creation came next. The options at hand are not as robust as seen in Champions online but is still enough to keep one busy for a fairly long time. I spend 40 minutes creating “Shadeheart”. The key things here are choosing a mentor (Batman in my case), a weapon style (dual wielding), power (sorcery) and ofcourse movement method (acrobatic). This should be an interesting experiment as the “Sorcery” line is tagged as “Healer”. Anywhere else the idea of a dual wielding healer running into combat would be suicide.
Oh, I should mention that the game does have a feasible story. I won’t spoil it, but if you are even remotely interested, you should check out the intro video here. Trust me, it’s pretty awesome.
For what is essentially a tutorial level, the first few minutes of the game are impressive. I seem to be held prisoner on one of Brainiac’s ships. Time to bust out then. With a little help from Oracle of cource. This is also the point where I recalled something Sony was making a huge deal about, ie, the game is fully voiced. There are no lines of boring text to read in order to get a quest. NPCs will literally tell you what needs to be done. How this holds up throughout the game remains to be seen.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the real star here is not Shadeheart but the combat system of DCUO. The game plays like a third person console brawler like God of War or Darksiders etc. I haven’t seen anything like this in any other MMO and it is obviously going to take me a while to get used to. I mean it’s got “combos”! This should prove to be very interesting indeed.
Alright, so I’m a few mobs in, the battles aren’t as tricky as I thought they would be. It certainly looks spectacular and has me feeling like a bad ass. This dual wielding sorcerer thing might just work. I’ve also gained a couple of levels real quick. There are skill points and power points to distribute and it’s way too early to decide how to progress. The summoning line looks like fun though.
A few minutes (and some weak mobs) later I run into Superman! The tutorial ends with a mega free for all with Mr Krypton giving me a hand. If there’s more of these “fight alongside your fave heroes” scenarios on offer I shall be most pleased. For now though, it’s time to get off this ship and head to: Gotham City baby!
Well a Gotham City Police Station to be more precise. This is obviously a safe house of some sort. The MMO equivalent of a friendly city where one can gear up, check e mails and collect quests etc. After taking a quick look around its time to go out and beat up some bad guys. And who better to send me on my way than the Dark Knight himself. Voice acted to perfection by Kevin Conroy himself no less. My inner child smiles.
At this point the movement system really comes in its own. Running up buildings and gliding off them is a lot more fun than I expected. I end up spending the next five minutes just jumping around.
As expected, the first few quests are easy. It’s typical “go there beat up ten of those or collect five of them things” fare and after the impressive tutorial, it is mildly disappointing. The only draw here (apart from the combat of course) is the fact that Batman wants me to do this stuff. It seems silly, but having his voice tell me that the Scarecrow needs to be stopped brings a sense of urgency that would otherwise not exist.
Right before I log off for the day I realize that in my first few hours with the game, there hasn’t been a single typical launch day hiccup. No crashes, bugs or glitches at all. This is without a doubt the smoothest MMO launch I have seen or even heard about. Even more amazing is the fact that there is no discernable lag of any kind. Excellent job devs. I can’t wait to jump back in tomorrow.