For the last few weeks I have been locked away in my room, playing the new DC Universe Online MMO. Being a self professed World Of Warcraft addict, I normally expect other MMO’s to pale in comparison, but I have found this title to become massively addictive, especially for such an early stage of development.
The characters in the new DC Universe online really need no introduction, and this will be the primary appeal to many online gamers. You don’t need to explain that Batman and the Joker are enemies, you also don’t need to explain that Superman is crazy powerful, in the right hands. What I do need to explain however is that the combat system is surprisingly intuitive and fast paced. Let me reiterate the point – DCUO’s combat is great, it is almost tantamount to the amalgamation of an MMO with Street Fighter. Ducking out of the way of projectile attacks, while planning your new countermove is all part of the fun.
Battles look epic, an interactive cartoon on your computer screen. Mr Freeze is my favourite character, when you turn an enemy into a block of ice, no feeling is quite as good, even if you accidentally target the wrong person. Technicans can repair his suit. Fast reactions are a must, if you react too slow, you can be sure that some kid pumped up on sugar from a foreign isle is just going to hand you your ass, with a wicked smile on his spotty face.
Attacks can be arranged at the bottom of the screen, only six at a time, as simple to activate abilities. Combos are executed by combining ranged attacks and melee attacks with the left and right mouse buttons in a sequence. This can interupt and deal AoE damage for special moves. My favourite WoW works slightly differently, as you can mash the toolbar until someone dies. This new system is more delicate and refreshingly different.
Unusually for an MMO, there is a lot of skill involved, and often even high ranking hero’s can get mauled by lesser, sharper players. This really brings a whole new dimension to the game, because most other MMO’s solely revolve around a character level.
Graphically the game is quite impressive, although some of the animations are less than stellar and I have experienced some textures loading incorrectly, meaning you can end up with a low texture resolution version outfit. It isn’t a major issue, but clearly there are some bugs still to iron out in the early months. The physics are certainly worth a mention as the attacks can take on a whole new dimension with particles and moving secondary objects adding a depth to the moves. A moving vortex is a sight to behold, tearing up the environment, pulling objects into the mix and spitting them out in random directions.
Much of the environment can be torn apart, set alight, smashed, shattered and destroyed in various ways, adding to the realism of actually being in a fantasy world populated with super heroes. I threw a park chair at Superman and watched it shatter off the back of his head, making him spin around in anger. All of these comical situations are yours to play with, and its a hell of a lot of fun.
The quests are tied into story arcs which take the players on comic length adventures that usually revolve around a specific DC character, such as Power Girl or The Joker. These stories normally last around an hour and culminate in fantastic instanced encounters where you can fight alongside or even against them. This makes levelling a lot of fun and with such a talented list of voice actors in the wings, it all is presented with such dramatic flair. Mark Hamill again deserves special mention for his ripping rendition of The Joker.
While the quests work fantastically on a story based level, they aren’t bringing anything new to the genre. You simply have to kill, protect or collect items or people to be successful. To be fair, the designers have tried to push things a little further by offering a few new things, such as carrying large objects to specific locations.
During combat, everyone who hits an enemy earns experience points and quest credit for the kill, pressing the control key auto loots everything in your vicinity and you will automatically receive new quests when you enter a specific area.
Sadly, the amount of content right now is limited when compared to titles such as WOW, and I reached the level cap in just under 30 hours gametime. Again, to be fair, the game is new on the scene and as such it needs to be weighed into the buying decision. To help round out value for money, there are six difficult dungeons and two mega hard eight player raids. Daily missions are delivered, mainly quests and reworked solo instances to keep people entertained.
When the level cap is reached the player can change weapons and respecify powers at any time to change the playstyle and you can be trained in multi weapons which is helped along by collecting achievements which gives you more points to spend on weapon skills.
Every character has two roles they can alternate between – a utility mode and a damage dealing mode which is determined by the power set available. Fire and Ice can tank, Gadgets and Mental can control enemies and Nature and Sorcery can heal. The six PVP maps are well created and feature capture the flag or control point gameplay.
One of the weak points however is the character creator, especially when compared next to City Of Heroes. DCUO gives less options initially and you can earn the more distinctive costume pieces as you play. It takes a little getting used to, but it offers more long term reward, some people like it, others don’t. Easter eggs and collectibles are scattered throughout also to enhance the exploration reward system.
DC Universe Online has certainly had one of the strongest and most effective launches I have seen and the action based design will appeal to another audience, those who are maybe a little bored with WOW. There is a good selection of content for such an early stage in the development cycle and I hope it will improve over the coming months. Rating an MMO at this stage is difficult, but I give it a 3.5/5 for showing a huge level of potential, but the development of the game is critical over the coming months to keep it alive and thriving. Some have failed in the past, and a few have been a success, we hope this is one of the success stories, but time will tell.