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DC Universe Online

Not necessarily final box art

Review by Liam

The NDA has finally been lifted on DC Universe Online and as promised here are my first impressions. Please keep in mind that the game is technically still in Beta so none of this is finalized.

Let’s start with the storyline that is shown in the video I am sure most of us have seen. The basic idea is that a Future Lex Luthor has come back to enlist the help of today’s heroes in cleaning up his own mess. Seems in his timeline he actually defeated all of the Super Heroes. And the moment the last one fell, the true enemy surfaced (Brainiac!) and destroyed the planet. Lex survived by living in the air ducts. He’s come back and insisted that we need a much larger super hero force to defeat what lay ahead. He brought something to help, modified Brainiac spores that contain the powers of heroes from his timeline. He has released these on to our unsuspecting world to create new heroes. Obviously this is where you come in. You take the role of one of these newly created Super Beings who has been captured by Brainiac and the tutorial is your escape.

The character creation is very lacking when compared to other Super Hero Multiplayer games. The idea is you should created a “base” costume (you are a prisoner after all) and as you get drops from doing missions and beating up on people, you will get more specialized gear. This incorporates the MMO standard of “phat loot”, while still allowing you to choose if you actually look like you are wearing the item or not. The major problem here is even with the drops and styles of costumes, you could collect every piece of it and still come nowhere near the offerings of City Of Heroes or Champions. Many people have begged for more costume options. It’s one of the biggest complaints in the beta.

The second biggest complaint is the power sets. First off allow me to explain a rather complicated combat system. First off, everyone has a Base Attack and a Ranged Attack. Even if you are a “Pistol” user, you still hit people with your pistol or shoot them. The choices for the Attack Styles are decent enough and with the loot in the game you can quickly change your choice of weapon into something you can live with. You have basics like Brawling, Martial Arts, Pistols, Rifle, One Handed, Two handed, Staff and Hand Blast. Without even getting into the actual Power Sets, let’s look at combat with just the Attack Styles. On the PC your Melee attack is the Left mouse button. So to hit something you click. To hit it again, you click again. Now let’s say you want to mix it up and use your ranged attack. Well that’s the Right mouse button. So combat soon becomes a carpal tunnel educing combination of right and left clicks to take down your foes. After just one day of playing, I went to my local game store to purchase a game pad. There really is very little way you can play this game with mouse and keyboard and expect to be able to use your hands later. As a side note, the game is being released on PC and PS3. However, when it comes to controllers on the PC, the PS3 controllers will not work. You must get a wired Xbox 360 controller. Since that’s made by Microsoft, it’s plug and play with Windows 7. Again, the game is in no way ever going to released on Xbox 360, but the only controller you can use is an Xbox 360 one plugged into your PC. As a result, the game indicates you should push your standard PS3 buttons (since it knows you are using a game pad), but since you are using an Xbox controller, none of the buttons are labeled with those symbols! In other words you must know the layout of a PS3 controller just to use a 360 controller on your PC. Sound convoluted? Yes. Yes it does.

Now that you have all that, let’s add in the actual Power Sets. These come in only three flavors. Two powers for each flavor. You can choose to be Defensive, Controller or Healer. As Defensive you have Fire or Ice. Controllers have Gadgets and Mental. Healers have Magic and Nature. That’s it. The way these powers play out is as follows. Let’s say you took Staff and Nature. When you hit something with your staff, you will get nature graphics and colors to your attack. Then once you gain super powers, you will do things like Vine Whip to pull things closer, bloom to heal yourself and team mates. Or you could go the other way with it and transform yourself into a gorilla (a la Beast Boy). There are options, but they are very limited. Which is the real draw back to any sort of creation in the game. There simply are not enough choices when you compare this game to any other Super Hero game out there.

To make things more complicated, each side (Hero and Villain) has three story lines, depending on who you choose as your Mentor. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman will lead you on the Hero side, while Joker, Lex and Circe are your choices for Villains. Not only do these define your storyline but they also define your “gear”. Joker/Batman are Tech, Lex/ Superman are Genetics and Wonder Woman/Circe are Magic. I played through most of these up to the first “Boss” battle. They are designed to let you “live” in that character’s world. For instance Batman sent me to first fight off some Scarecrow bad guys, Superman was after Parasite, etc. This part of the game is the most confusing for new players because they are asked to make a choice that is not clearly defined in the creation process. Go with your gut, choose who you like. I spent more time in Batman/Joker than anyone else because Gotham is my city of choice. The Tech,Genetics and Magic parts really just effect the vendors you will use in game.

The story is interesting and the characters you run into are a fans wet dream. Within moments of signing up with the Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill!), I was talking to Catwoman and Two Face. My big boss battle was with Huntress (Catwoman fighting by my side). The flavor of the game is dead on and plays directly into the fans wanting to interact with the people we know from the comics. However traveling through the city (Flying, Acrobatics or Speed are your only choices. I suggest Acrobatics. It’s a lot of fun, but actually plays more like Spiderman than Batman), it feels empty. Unless you are in the middle of a hot zone, there never seems to be much going on in these huge cities. You see a few people on the streets but nothing like what you’d expect in a major city. Not a huge deal but it feels much more like you are playing on an abandoned movie lot than a thriving city.

The real problem here is the combat and game system itself. The first rule of this game is to forget everything you know about MMOs. If you try to compare it to any other MMO you will simply fail. This is not a “Target, Click, Wait” kind of game. It’s much more of an arcade game or an action title. If you played any of the X-men Legends or Marvel Ultimate Alliance games, you will feel right at home. It’s basically those games taken to a single character perspective (instead of a team of four). From punching and kicking to using your powers, this is action game play. If the game had been made into a single player, stand alone game this would be fairly on target. But as a “pay per month” Multiplayer game, it’s very repetitive and dumbed down. Your success in the game has much more to do with your ability to mash a button faster than your opponent than your “power” as a hero or villain. The game does look great it’s just a shame that it doesn’t play as well. Since this is in Beta, there are several voices missing, several missions that don’t work and other small issues, but it’s very easy to see these things being polished off before release. I don’t see the actual game play, costume selection or Power Sets getting an overhaul any time soon and these are where the main problems are.

If anything I could see someone buying it and using the free month to see what there is to see. What I can’t see is paying $15 a month for something that is sub par to many of the other (Free To Play!!) MMOs now flooding the market. If not for the subscription fee, it might be worth it just for the fan service. As it is I can’t see myself paying money for a game that simply doesn’t offer what I want in an MMO. Even with my pre-order, I don’t think I will see the launch of this one.

PSN Premium Members will get an offer to test the PS3 Beta after the first of the year and the PC PreOrders should already be in the game. By the time it releases anyone who was interested in the game should have had a chance to look at it. I don’t think this will be as bad as All Points Bulletin (an MMO that has already closed it’s servers only a few months after launch), but I don’t see it putting much of a dent in City Of Heroes or Champions Online’s memberships. And with Champions going Free To Play next year, if anything I see their numbers growing.

I am a disappointed fan. I love Jim Lee’s work. All the voices I expect these characters to have are in game. I love the universe this thing is set in. But there just isn’t enough actual game here to keep me interested more than a few days. Nice try though.

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December 9, 2010
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