In recent years, Super Hero MMOs have been rather hit and miss, with both City of Heroes and Champions Online trying to be the standout superhero title on offer; but the moment Sony announced an MMO featuring all the stars of the DC Universe we knew the battle-lines has been drawn. While both Cryptic and NCSoft both tried to get the upper-hand with their hero wannabes, who is really going to challenge a MMO with the likes of The Joker, Batman and Superman as its coverstars?
Furthermore, add to the fact that SOE has done something that Cryptic teased us with and brought an MMO to the console and you can see why DCUO got so many comic geeks and general gamers excited. But does SOE deliver a title worthy of such potential and hype? And more importantly is the community ready for the MMO genre to explode onto the PlayStation 3?
After an absolutely stunning CGI opening, showcasing some of DC’s most iconic super heroes and villains battling to the death, the evil forces of Brainiac invade Earth and it’s up to a brand new group of superheroes to be created to battle off the waves of enemies that Brainiac has at his disposal.
From here, you are thrown into the character customisation menu, which is a rather hit or miss affair. For those of you who are lazy and want to emulate the looks and skills of one of your favourite DC heroes then you have the option to vaguely look like a range of characters, from Batman all the way to Deathstroke. While these are handy for those of you who want to enter straight into the game with a premade character you won’t get that real sense of your own identity that you get with a fully customised character.
If you do decide to go down this route, then you have the option of choosing to be a hero or a villain, and more importantly which character will be your mentor throughout the game. This determines which characters from the DC Universe you will meet along the way as the quests are distributed along with which city and location you start at and explore the most.
After you’ve selected the background info you can then get down to the nitty gritty experience of creating your character. You can make them as zany and as imaginative as you like. Want a great hulking lava man with wings? You got it! How about a sneaky primeval leopard that hides its identity with a hood? Sure. SOE has offered loads of costume pieces to really create a character that is unique to yourself and throughout the game as you find more gear then your characters can look even better over time.
Unfortunately, you can only select three colours to decorate your character’s costume and when you select them they are split into blocks, so one of them will be the main color of your character, one the secondary and so on. You can customise the color of individual gear items, but you are limited to the three colors that you selected as you hero’s/villain’s colour scheme.
Along with your gear you also have the options of which weapons and powers you can choose. SOE has given a wide variety of weapons to select and specialise in and mixing them with the different powers on offer really gives you an in-depth choice with many players tweaking different classes and weapons to get the very best combo and experience in-game. Weapons range from more powerful brawling skills to bows, dual pistols and even martial arts/dual wielding melee weapons.
Once you’ve selected a weapon it’s all about which powers you can have, with Fire and Ice acting as your tanking classes, magic and nature as your healing classes and finally gadgets and mental as your controller classes. While everyone can play as the DPS role it’s not until you reach level 10 that you unlock the ability to play as your specific role. If you can group up and find players willing to play their respective roles it makes instances and group play a lot more fun, however a lot of the time especially on the PS3 everyone seemed to just play the DPS and attack everything in sight which in some alerts can easily end up seeing your whole squad wiped out.
This is one of the downfalls in DCUO especially on the PS3 there is a massive issue with communication. The whole thing of MMOs is that you need to communicate between your group members and this is very difficult in DCUO. Voice communication is supported but good luck either getting it to work (something SOE is looking into) and when you do get it working it can be very hard finding a group that actually use their mics to communicate. There is a traditional in-game chat box that you can use, but as most gamers don’t have a keyboard for their PS3, it can take a good few minutes to manually input each letter using the PS3 controller. It’s annoying because a key aspect of a MMO is communication and unless you have a group of friends on PSN that are willing to run through the game with you the experience can be a very quiet and boring one.
Which is a shame, because overall the controls and action in the game is outstanding. The button mapping for the game on the controller is so easy to use, and the way the game uses combos to build up your more powerful moves is a unique and very well thought-out approach. Mana is replaced with a power bar that can fill up as you tackle more enemies and rake up more combos using the square and triangle buttons. As your power bar fills up you can then unleash your powers for more devastating attacks. For a healer such as myself this creates a very diverse power management system as a lot of the time you will need to know when the best time to heal is and when the best time to recharge your power is.
Unlike many traditional MMORPGS, there is no click target option, thus creating a fluid targeting system, it also means many heals either target the ally with the lowest health or are AOE spells. It also means you can tackle a mob quite easily as you can switch between the enemies without having to worry about targeting them. In the middle of a quest there is nothing more satisfying than controlling a mob of 4/5 characters at once just by switching your attention between all the targets.
Normally quests are split up between a variety of smaller missions, sending you across a specific section of the city and then accumulating in a boss fight against one of the more predominant characters from the DC Universe after you tackle a mini dungeon. It can be fun seeing the end result of your mission quests but after a while you do get the feeling that despite the locations and enemies changing, the same routine of kill X amount of Y can become a little tiresome.
It’s a good thing that the cities are scattered with loads of collectibles to keep you occupied. Hidden away on rooftops, stairwells, back alleys you will find glowing exclamation marks resulting in numerous investigative collectibles. Most normally just the story of previous comic book arcs while others detail some of the well-known characters of the DC Universe. I once spent about 3 hours trailing throughout the city of Metropolis finding collectibles and can prove a very welcome distraction when you just want to explore the world.
You can travel through the city using one of the three travel skills that your character can choose to use. In the creation screen, you have the option for your hero or villain to master the arts of acrobatics, flight or super-speed. Most of the time, these can be a blast and a much used convenience to get from point A to point B, but sometimes issues with the camera angles can prove quite frustrating. Especially when you’re character has speed run up the side of the building and is now skipping between a ledge and the wall and the only way of orientating yourself is by turning off your movement skill.
Alerts are like your dungeons from World of Warcraft, in each Alert you are sent to an iconic location of the DC Universe with the likes of Bludhaven Village, Smallville and Oolong Island included. Obviously these areas are tougher than the normal quest trails and come with better loot. If you have a well trained group using the correct stances then these can be extremely fun, but a lot of the time they are frustrating, especially with the lack of communication. Also, rolling for loot is rather fiddly with you having to press up on the D-Pad and then finding a button for group loot. Unless you know where to go, you can find yourself missing out on certain items, or if you’re the only one who knows it then you can earn the gear just because no one else rolled for it.
Gear is a vital part of DCUO and unless you keep upgrading with the best possible gear for your class, then you’re not going to succeed. One tip is to go into the stat menu at the beginning of the game and work out exactly what each stat section does. A better tutorial section at the beginning would be recommended as some new MMO players, especially those on the PS3 will not know what stats they may need to make their characters as powerful as they can.
Iconic armour sets are a dime a dozen but when you do have a full set you can truly see that the hard work had paid off. Obviously raids are a huge part of the end-game and with SOE promising more content to be released in the coming months and the massive potential of DC storyline arcs that can be covered then the lasting appeal for DCUO is huge.
With the huge variety of skills, powers, mentors and travel skills players who love the chance of levelling alternate characters will not be bored. While your first level 30 may very well feel like a much deserved hero, you could realise that a villain using a totally different power set and weapon is actually where you should be. SOE has created a huge amount of combinations for characters, and at the current time, with the rapid levelling you could have three or four characters and your main at 30 with a huge variety of powers and weapons at your disposal.
While DC Universe Online makes an impressive debut for MMOs on the PS3 there are still a few questions left to answer about how many of the current subscribers intend to continue their playtime once the complimentary 30 days free trial is over. Either way, the game promises to offer constant additional updates and expansions free of charge as well as premium content. DC Universe Online is a must buy for MMO or DC fans, but may still be too different for some gamers.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Fluid combat and ease of use on a PS3 controller
– Lack of/difficulty for communication