DC: Universe Online - A Hater's Guide
With the release of DC Universe Online, there are going to be a lot of people with a lot of cash burning a hole in their pockets for no other reason than the fact their favorite superhero publisher is now an MMO franchise. That's great and all, but there's a few things you should know about this game before you turn into a gooey, gelatinous mass of fanboy.
To be fair, we'll go over what the game got right first.
In a word, the environment DC Universe Online crafts is very nearly epic. The DC franchise has over fifty years of lore to draw upon and Sony puts every single last bit of it to use. If one were to draw comparisons based on the audio and visuals alone, DCUO would utterly devastate any other hero game you care to mention. Gone are the artificially subdivided zones of City of Heroes or Champions Online. Each city in DCUO is a fully realized construct that doesn't just give you a few square blocks of load zone to play in, it's a world unto itself that leverages every piece of DC lore Sony could lay its hands on and renders it in exquisite detail.
The audio and visuals are so well done that it makes you want to lust after the game on their merits alone; almost painfully so. The atmosphere is absolutely perfect in a manner you rarely see in MMORPGs these days, and fans will instantly find themselves at home fighting iconic villains alongside iconic heroes. To effect, the game is not just full of voice overs and cinamatics, but full of *quality* voice overs and cinamatics.
And then it all turns to crap.
The most damning element of DCUO is that it is, first and foremost, a console title. This may not seem such a heinous crime until you realize the full portent of what I'm describing. This is a console game. Made on a console, for console controls and with a console audience in mind. If that doesn't mean anything to you, I'll be blunt: It's dumbed down to the point where it barely resembles a role playing game of any sort.
At its core, DCUO is little more than hack and slash title; taking only the vaguest stab at true character management in deference to what is in reality a first person shooter environment. If one had to draw a comparison, DC Universe Online holds more in common with the likes of Dynasty Warriors than, say, Guild Wars or World of Warcraft. Even worse, this game was obviously made for gamepad and thumb controllers with absolutely no effort to port it over for PC use. As if to emphasis this fact, mouse look is permanently enabled and players will find little to no options concerning their GUI manipulation.
Bastardized console controls you can get used to. A hideously realized menu interface is just salted glass on the proverbial open wound. In some cases I can see where they embraced the aforementioned philosophy of console first and foremost-- For example, you can't simply enter in a name to add a friend. You have to sort by zone, or level, or who's the closest, then select the person you're adding after navigating what is about the most unintuitive menu structure ever envisioned for an MMO. It's not just because the GUI was structured for console thumb controls... It's because it was designed by lobotomized monkeys.
In fact, there's very little to DCUO that's intuitive in nature, which ultimately strives to undo any good will accumulated by the stunning environment. Even questing comes across as a disconnected experience. You receive the initial quest, kill things and have to click the 'complete' button to end it and receive your reward. Rarely will there be any call to actually return to the quest originator and most quest lines chain via communicator. This, in turn, renders the need to click 'accept' or 'complete' even more redundant since the quest sponsor is apparently going to do everything for you. To that end, your quest reward is apparently airdropped directly to your person for your convenience and immediete use.
I'll be honest. In the end, it's very hard not to like this game simply because it front-loads so much win from the outset. The premise and opening movie are well thought out, and everything from creative direction and lore simply rocks. There is literally no comparison in the field today, and that alone is almost worth the price of admission.
For everything DC Universe Online does right, it does the rest horribly wrong. If you're on a console, you probably won't be disappointed much. Why? Because you're more than likely already inclined to play twitch games. DCUO is every bit of that and more. It's Dynasty Warriors with a coat of DC slapped on it and a vague smattering of RPG with a bunch of people. Navigating the obtuse and needlessly complex menus on a d-pad will be aggravating, but you're probably somewhat used to that as well. DC Universe will sell on a console because like Golden Eye in the day, it'll be the best in a very small pond.
For anybody expecting a real MMORPG, DCUO fails beyond comprehension. It certainly attempts to tells a story and immerses you in the DC world, but contains all the depth of shallow puddle of pond scum. Where it completely destroys its contemporaries in world structure, the polar opposite is true in regards to complexity. Even the worst Hero MMO will have more than DCUO, especially when questing boils down to little more than "Stage complete! Next level!" ala any console you've ever played. That may very well be enough for some people. DC Universe Online is an over glorified button masher, but even I'll admit, it's a damn good one. It's really what Vinductus should have been from the outset, ironically.
Finally, there's also a point of principle... I'm not going to pay retail plus subscription for Dynasty Warriors or Unreal, even if you slap a coat of superheroes on them. Playing through the actual story with other live players is definetly a draw, but I'm going to have to pass until the next real MMORPG comes along; Not a simplistic console franchise that wants to punish you for playing on a PC.
[Update 12/28 6pm]- /WRISTS. Seriously. Just ran through my fist instance. It was the most skitzophrenic, chaotic experience I have ever endured in an MMO, bar none. I though I waould run a healer through just to see if it ran according to expectations, and sadly it did. Targeting fast moving, bouncing allies proved to be next to impossible, nor would they (not they I would expect them to) stay still long enough not to have the heal blown because they were out of the cone of heal. There was no communication because action generally prevented typing and- as mentioned -this is console game that obvious expects you to speak into a mic, not type like a PC. In fact, it's structured in such a way to where if you do stop to type, you're not contoling anything else.
This all the makings of a great console game and every bit of fail for anybody on a PC, save diehard DC fans or those just looking for mindless, button-mashing action. I'm putting this game aside for a bit until my fustration wears off.
[Update 12/20 8pm- Cautious Hope: A 2gb patch just hit (v220.127.116.11), making a lot of changes to the GUI. It actually made life navigating around the wretched GUI... less wretched. If they can keep up with real, measured forward progress, this game might be salvagable. Normally betas aren't quite this hoping so late in the game, so I'm plesantly surprised in spite of the text below]