January 11, 2013 marked the second anniversary of the Sonyís DC Universe Online (DCUO)
, which at launch in 2011 was a subscription based MMO, but which has been free-to-play for a year now. Thankfully, as a comic book fan, it seems this superhero MMO is here to stay, at least a little while longer.
In celebration of DC Universe Onlineí
second year, we will be looking back at the third MMO to try the superhero route with a classic review of the launch game.
I was initially excited for a MMO based on the DC universe. While Iíll always be Marvel fan first, I was disappointed that Marvel Online
(which was being developed by Cryptic Studios) was ultimately canceled for unknown reasons. After playing City of Heroes
for a number of years, and failing to be impressed by Champions Online
, it was refreshing to see one of the big comic publishers make its way into the MMO genre, and try something different.
With art design by one of my favorite comic artist, Jim Lee, and loads of acclaimed DC writers, it seemed for a time that Sonyís DC Universe Online
would be a surefire hit. The game would be developed as both a console title through the PlayStation 3, as well as on PC. It was also penned as the first true action-MMO on the market, which in that regards Sony, did not fail to deliver. However, the road was not paved with gold, but lined with fissures that hampered this MMO from greatness.
Story wise, DCUO
was pretty good. Penned by accomplished comic writer Geoff Johns DCUO
told of a horrific future were a seemly endless war between the powers of good and evil culminated to one final showdown. Revealed through amazing cinematics by Blur, fans witnessed multiple DC heroes and villains fall, including Superman. Lex Luthorís greatest victory was short lived. With Supermanís impaled corpse still warm by his feet, the earth was invaded by Brainiac.
Guilt ridden Luthor travels back in time to tell his story to the big-three: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. About his future and the devastation he brought upon mankind. Knowing that the world would need many thousands of new heroes to stand against Brainiacís impending war and conquest, Luthor unleashes Exobytes, tiny nanobots which bonded with human hosts, giving them superpowers.
Needing to guide these new heroes, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman become their mentors, while the Joker, Luthor and Circe lead the new villains, each in a race against time to stop a future that seems, despite the heroes best efforts, inevitable.
From this point forward players take control of their destiny as they choose whether to travel the path to glory, or crime. In this regard DC Universe Online
excelled. The story throughout the game is wonderful and branches in multiple directions depending on which hero is mentoring the player. With sub-plots aplenty, the general story extends well beyond the level 30 cap, and has since been extended even further with recent updates. Probably the best part, in my opinion, has to be the epilogue to the story-quests, which are comic book still-frames drawn by numerous talents, including Jim Lee himself. Here the panels are voiced by veteran actors from the various DC animated TV series who have graced the small screen over the past twenty years Ė always a nice treat.
Creating my character was probably the biggest disappointment. While it was nice that players had the freedom to create their own versions of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, as well as many other DC heroes and villains through captured or awarded costume garb, the character creation process itself was too restrictive for my liking. There were three non-adjustable body types. Most of the costume pieces werenít very interesting; just a basic assortment of clothing, belts, gadgets and accessories that seriously limited my concept of the perfect DC hero. This was mostly done because of the reward and buy system that gave players new costume pieces constantly throughout the game. These pieces were needed to improve your characterís stats, but many times they undermined my final vision of a perfect DC hero. Thankfully, the visuals of the various accessories could be turned off, but it did not change the fact that when compared to City of Heroes
or Champions Online
dropped the ball when it came to its character creation, making my own, and many other heroes I saw seem rather generic when compared to other superhero MMOs. It was as if the developers were too focused on you creating a carbon-copy DC hero.
What did work great was the general combat. The concept of creating a true action-MMO, where a controller was preferred over a mouse and keyboard, worked great. I enjoyed sitting in front of my computer playing this game, with controller in hand as if I was on a console. The controls were very fluid and could easily be customized to fit your personal fighting style, which evolved with each level gained. This type of gameplay made picking this game up and jumping right into the action (which DCUO
doesnít waste much time in doing) very easy and enjoyable.
Class systems also worked very well. There was no particularly weak class with all characters having passive and power attacks, as well as other support moves. However, it was combining these moves into combos that made leveling and gaining new moves worthwhile. At times, however, DCUO
was a bit too much of a button-masher over the more tactical, turn-based concepts of most MMOs. Nevertheless, it never failed to be rewarding getting new moves and dropping some of DCís most frightening villains with a good one-two combo.
If there was any one serious complaint I had from the start of the game, it had to be the limit to the worlds. While both Gotham and Metropolis were beautifully recreated (Gotham most of all), they were the only locations within the game available for story-driven content. The JLA Watchtower could be visited, and Alerts missions did take players to more well-known DC landmarks, but being stuck in two city zones, which, while detailed were far too small, I found myself getting bored within the first couple days. There simply wasnít enough to see or do. Worse still, each of these cities teased players with their scale. In the distance they seemed to go on forever, but being trapped behind invisible walls within a MMO is a carnal sin in my book.
What I hated most while traveling through Gotham and Metropolis were the never-ending battles taking place. While they served well for respawning mobs, I felt that what I did as a hero had no influence on the game world whatsoever. This was compounded by a lack of character progression. I was in the world, but not part of it. You can save a hundred people from a disaster, but that same disaster will always be taking place Ö just plain annoying.
The player community at the time during which I played was horribly small. Not once in two months did I join a team outside of the Alerts mission (which was a blast). Teams were limited to just four, and with the whole DC universe at your beckoning, should have been bigger. Worse still, the wait time to actual join a team was horrible. I either had to wait idly for several hours in most cases, by which time I was usually involved with my own mission, or no team spots ever opened.
While the main story was great, within the game itself I couldnít help but feel that it was pushed to the side. The world, in a short amount of time is going to fall to the forces of Brainiac. Yet, you as a player are given one mundane mission after another that seem beneath even a rookie. This game should have felt like one of DCís epic events, but most of the time it felt like one long detour from that event, which my small potato would take no part in. Ultimately, most of the missions got horribly repetitive. Every task given by the mentor heroes followed the same pattern: kill X amount of this baddie, then move on and do it again until you have to investigate particular warehouse, and then battle DC boss alongside B and C grade heroes.
The level cap set at 30 was just a crime! Iíve never understood the reasoning behind why anyone would allow such a low margin to be set. At most, with only modestly playing on one character, a person could max out their avatar in a week. Yes there is more content to be had once youíve reached level 30, and yes the missions do start to really ramp up, but the major incentive for many gamers has at that point expired. I know it did for me. Just collecting more loot was not enough to make me care about progressing any further once new moves and powers were off limits.
Less than a year after its launch, DC Universe Online
went free-to-play in November 2011, and has followed up with five DLC packages, and a sixth soon-to-be-released. As Nick Kolan wrote in his IGN review of this game, ďI wish I loved DC Universe Online, but instead I just like it. Itís got a lot going for it Ė a great license, some superb voice actors, a lot of well-crafted settings, fast action-based combat, and an entire market of people who, so far, have barely been exposed to the MMO genre.Ē This is basically how I ultimately feel about DCUO
in a nutshell. I wanted to love it Ė really love it, but it seemed at every turn the developers were more focused on bringing in a new audience who normally would never play an MMO to begin with, than they were those who care more about the genre.
Will DC Universe Online
survive another two years? Itís doubtful if you ask me. It was unfortunately just another brand name franchise that just didnít quite live up to its potential in the MMO world.