DC Universe Online can best be summarized as the console equivalent of World of Warcraft. You create a character, level up, there’s a monthly subscription fee, and you can easily forget to eat supper if you’re not careful.
What separates this massive DC comic inspired game from WOW, however, is it was advertised not as an MMORPG but an MMOAG (Massive Multiplayer Online Action Game). But is this project just another WOW clone in tights, or is true to the hype?
The setting of the game goes as follows. A version of Lex Luthor from a dark future arrives to warn the Justice League of not only their imminent death, but the unstoppable invasion of Brainiac to follow. To help change the future, Lex stole from Brainiac trillions of superpower granting nanomachines called Exobytes and released them into Earth’s atmosphere, giving birth to thousands of new superhumans, also known as Player Characters.
You start at the Character Creator, which determines your character’s gender, size, appearance, morality, name, mentor and combat style. While the first couple of categories are purely cosmetic, the last two are a bit more substantial. Your mentor is pretty much a DC character that trains you or oversees your performance, and based on who you pick determines the kinds of adventures you have as well as where you’ll be spending most of your time.
For comparison’s sake, if your mentor is Batman, that means you’ll be spending most of your time in Gotham City fighting the likes of Bane and The Joker, whereas if Superman trains you, you’ll be spending more time in Metropolis saving the world from the newest plots of Gorilla Grodd or The Hive.
As for your combat style, it’s broken down into three categories: your powers, your skills, and your movement ability. Your skills refer to your primary attack style. Do you lumber in with a sledgehammer or are you a fast martial artist? Your powers, for Street Fighter fans out there, are your Hadokens and Sonic Booms, and range from controlling fire, psychic abilities, or being a gadgeteer. As for your movement ability, it’s how you get around, which comes down to flight, super speed, or acrobatics.
After making a hero, you are taken through a tutorial, after of which you are given an introduction to the world by your mentor and are thrust into the main game. It’s at this point that DC Universe Online starts to show itself as something different, namely in its core gameplay. When looking at combat in WoW, it comes down to number crunching and calculated use of buffs and attacks, which sounds cerebral and deep but translates to clicking the mouse several times and waiting for the enemy to fall over.
DC Universe Online by comparison feels a lot more like an action brawler. You want to beat some robot coming after you? Okay, square is punch, triangle is to shoot, chain the attacks to your powers and have fun. There’s a level system identical to WoW, except instead of it just being new stats, leveling up allows you to learn new attacks or obtain new powers, all of which slowly makes combat more exciting.
Since that sounds a bit too much like an excuse for bad design, let me cite something from my experience of the game. I played my first character as a Gadget powered, gun toting Batman inspired character, lovingly named Shadowman, and ran off to beat up thugs. In a fight against two thugs, I was able to chain air combos to setting sticky bombs at their feet in terms of melee but when I switched to my guns, there was a noticeable change in aggression and fluidity, namely down.
Fast forward now to Shadowman being level 10, after finishing two major story arcs or so, facing off against half a dozen Hive drones. In the span of about thirty seconds, there is an attack combo ranging of 98, and there are two hive drones left, one stunned by a taser lasso, and the other currently getting ripped to pieces by a show of Gun Fu that wouldn’t look out of place in the film Equilibrium. In short, you start off as some rookie white belt, but as you go, you build up to being Bruce Lee.
While the core gameplay is truly entertaining, it’s the background details that get a little iffy. The biggest complaint I have is the interface. Whenever you’re not saving the planet or planning to blow it up, you can pick up new bits of equipment that will adjust your stats and appearance, go into lobbies for a special team oriented mission or free-for-all slugfest, chat with other players, or adjust your settings. Basic fair for an online game, the problem is how it is presented.
There is no real in depth tutorial to use the various options at your disposal, save for leveling up and equipment management, making the interface genuinely overwhelming at first. Seriously, I’m still working out the voice chat options. Also, in terms of text chat, try as hard as the developers might, a console controller typing is a lot more tedious than a keyboard. It gives the impression that the interface was meant for the PC version and hastily ported to the PS3. Despite this complaint, it doesn’t get in the way of the main gameplay but it will require some trial and error.
Compared to other online superhero games, DC Universe Online is probably the best looking out of all of them, then again, considering this is a console first and the only other comparisons are to be made to PC exclusives from as far back as a decade, that isn’t saying much. Gotham City looks as dark and dangerous as can be, Metropolis is as sunny and inviting as Superman himself, and everything in-between is just spot on in terms of style.
Notably, for a first time launch, there is no texture tearing or visual irregularity that can be seen. Internet connection strength might contribute to some small jumps in responsiveness and mild rendering issues, however.
The voice acting in DC Universe Online is good overall. Notable voice actors include Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. Good as the voice work may be, there were moments where the voices would cut out and I would have to restart the game to have them return. This issue goes to other mild sound effects such as gunshots or connecting attacks. As for the music, it is minimal but atmospheric nonetheless.
This is where some console oriented gamers might be a little thrown. Buying the game of DC Universe Online at the retail price of an average game gets you the full game as it stands now but for only one month of play. A subscription is required or advance payments through Playstation Network for you to play the game on a monthly basis. Also to note, make room on the hard drive because installing the game and setting up an account will take about sixteen gigs out of your Playstation 3 hard drive. Compared to games that are released then done, this might sound like a rip off, but consider that this game won’t stay the same. There will be expansions, new features added overtime, six months from now it might play totally different. All the while there being hundreds of hours of gameplay with what’s on the disc already. In other words, this game takes a lot out of you, but it will give back a lot more.
DC Universe Online is a bold experiment in not only bringing MMOs onto consoles, but also giving it a shot of adrenaline and in this case, it works. If you have the time to spare, can ignore a user interface on the level of an Excel spreadsheet, and want to know how it feels to fight alongside Superman, I recommend DC Universe Online.
+ Action packed, satisfying combat
+ Diverse enemy types
+ Good voice acting
+ Great look and scale
- Sound might cut out at times
- Labyrinthine options interface
- Major hard drive space required
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