Since the game’s launch, I’ve spent a fair amount of time tooling around Metropolis and Gotham in DC Universe Online. Sony Online Entertainment’s most recent entry into the MMO genre, DCUO is a highly action-oriented romp through the mythological streets of comics’ most famous cities. As of this review I have one level 30 Villain character in DC Universe Online. With that character I’ve completed several Duos, a few Hard Mode Alerts, and participated in one pick-up group’s Raid to get a taste for how those go. I’ve relentlessly participated in Legends PvP to earn my Bane, and done plenty of Arenas to work toward my PvP armor set. I’ve done all of this in roughly fifty hours of playtime since the game came out on January 11th. It’s a title that can and will divide gamers. It’s also a title that will need to rely heavily on promised monthly content to keep players flying around in tights. But ultimately, it is this gamer’s opinion that DC Universe Online is one of the most entertaining releases in recent memory, despite what flaws it may have. Read on to find out why.
Boy is it Purdy
There’s an obvious benefit that comes from having Jim Lee (Batman: HUSH, Uncanny X-Men) serve as your game’s Executive Creative Director: it looks phenomenal. The only negative things I can say about the visuals is that textures can’t yet be turned to high, anti-aliasing is missing, and the vertical sync option is locked at 30 frames per second instead of the customary 60. Really, the visuals are like the game as a whole: extremely pleasing but not without nagging hiccoughs that keep it from the true greatness of a 9 or a 10.
Still, Metropolis and Gotham are rendered to incredible detail, using the IP to its full extent: Big Belly Burger, the STAR Labs building, Stryker Island, ACE Chemicals, Arkham Asylum, and Wayne Tower. And it’s something of a nerd dream to not only fly around both doing good and evil, but also to see characters like Batman and Green Lantern loitering in unexpected places. I was in the middle of a race (which we’ll get to later) when I ran smack dab into Deathstroke and freaked as he spoke a few words and flew off. The power effects for the most part are appropriately “powerful” looking, and the animations for the weapon combos are extremely well done. The architecture and atmosphere of every location throughout the game is inspiring and makes you certainly feel a part of the DC Universe. In short SOE has taken the reigns of the Unreal Engine 3 and used it masterfully.
Louder than a Locomotive
SOE has spared no expense when it comes to the presentation of their latest effort. DCUO sports a cast of voice actors from Mark Hamill to Wil Wheaton, James Marsters to Gina Torres. Some are voices that made characters for my childhood, and others are voices that I know from some of recent nerdom’s most exalted television shows. The only voice-work that I found a little off was that of Gina Torres’ Wonder Woman and Michelle Forbes’ Circe. It’s not that they were particularly bad, but rather that the lines they were forced to read sounded too hammy, even for DC comics. The music isn’t particularly memorable, but it does fit the theme of the game and its many different settings and moments well. The sound effects are spot on also and blend into the action seamlessly, helping you to feel every punch you land or every explosion you cause.
The downside, and frankly something that shouldn’t be an issue in a live game, is that the heavy use of sound effects and voiceover can cause a skipping problem where the voice playback will loop the same fraction of a second over and over until you zone and sometimes until you log out. On top of this, while the game has built-in voice chat, its functionality is spotty at best and getting PC users to actually make use of it is a whole other story. It wouldn’t be a problem were the chat interface better but let’s save that discussion for later on.
Building Your Super
The character creation and customization in DCUO is probably one area that seems most contentious. When looking directly at games like City of Heroes or Champions Online, it seems at first glance that these older titles have more in the way of customization. Indeed they do have more straight-up power sets, but the skills and travel powers of DCUO round out the depth of customization. For instance, while there are six basic power sets, each one has two distinct paths of progression with different methods of play. There are also the “Iconic” powers which are sampled from some of DC’s most famous characters (Batarangs, Venom Injection, Heat Vision, etc.), and the travel powers themselves each have their own trees of additional powers and skills. Sure it would be wonderful to have more power sets to choose from, and I’m sure they’ll come in time, but the six available at launch, when combined with the travel powers, iconics, and multitude of different weapon sets make for a very diverse set of combinations.
Initially when creating my characters, I felt a little down on the fact that I there seemed less style choices than I was used to. I mean there are still a great many costume pieces, but after previous hero games it seemed underwhelming. The thing is it was designed this way. The first costume pieces are your character’s starting point. As you play the game and grow you get brand new styles, and by the time you hit the level cap you’ll wind up having a slew more choices that you never would have had at the outset. There are certainly a great deal of ways to make your character look unique, or even like your favorite hero if you so choose. The only real downfall in style comes in the form of body shapes and size, and character faces, of which there are few. Still, as one of the game’s better innovations, as you progress with your character you’ll gain more and more styles to choose from in your “style tab” allowing you to change the look of your character on a whim from a catalog of your collected items without changing your stats from the gear you actually have equipped. It’s a feature that more games would do well to emulate in the future.