The UI and Social Snafus
Here is where DCUO becomes the most “mixed-bag” and where I found it lacking the most polish, and it’s a shame because as an MMO it’s the social things that help drive the game into greatness. The UI as a whole is easily identifiable as having been designed with both the PC and PS3 in mind. It’s not very wieldy, but it’s functional for the most part, and looks pretty slick to my sensibilities. But it’s very unresponsive at times, lags behind the commands you instruct it, and offers little in the way of customization (again, likely due to the game being on the PS3). Still, the thing works. Its trouble areas come when you look at the social functions and power/skill descriptions.
To put it bluntly, the social menu and its uses are severely hampered. Often you can’t invite someone to group with you unless you’re in the same general location without resporting to /commands. For instance, I was in a nightclub and my friend was in Metropolis and we couldn’t group together until he was in a nightclub (yet not even the same one) too. There’s also little in the way of League (guild) functionality. It’s essentially just another chat channel, and a tag below your character’s name. Coming from the same company (and same designers in some cases) as EQ2, I find that rather disappointing. I’m not even lamenting the lack of guild housing or anything like that, as I hope it will come in time as it did for City of Heroes. I’m more disappointed that there’s not some more perks and tools for Leagues to use like a calendar or a leveling system. In short, it’s just too limited.
Additionally, as has been noted before, the chat system is spotty at best, and often enough you must hold or press enter repeatedly to get the chat log to respond before typing. Until just a day before this review, the profanity filter would also hide parts of words it deemed vulgar. It even went so far as to censor the names of players who might have part of a bad word somewhere in their name.
Last on my list of UI negatives are the power descriptions. Plainly put, they’re just not descriptive enough. The powers and skills in DCUO are unique when compared to traditional MMOs, and as a result need a lot more in the way of detailed descriptions than simply, “this power knocks people back with a powerful blast”. What players will end up doing is testing out powers and re-speccing their characters several times until they find what’s valuable to their sensibilities and what’s not.
On the plus side, the community so far on both the PvE and PvP servers I dabble in has been largely helpful and polite. Players are anxious to band together and participate in the open world PvP events, and there’s always several groups running around each city taking down world bosses (known as Bounties). It’s helpful that the community in the game seems so solid, but it would be even better if they were given the tools to really shine.
More Fun than a Barrel of Super-Humanites
Fortunately, despite its many UI flaws, DC Universe Online excels in one key area: the fun factor. There’s no denying, though its style may not be for everyone, that the action in DCUO is some of the most entertaining in the MMO space. I liken the gameplay of SOE’s latest to the likes of Prototype, or Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. For the first time in the sub-genre of superhero MMOs, I feel heroic (or rather villainous) when playing my character. I can pick up buses and hurl them at my enemies. I can use my grappling hook to scale buildings in a flash, or swoop down from on high into a baddy with my fists sending him flying. I can encase my foes in ice and chuck them hundreds of feet into other opponents. Never have the laws of physics been so used (and often broken) to make combat so fun in an MMO.
It’s not just a “button-mashing” experience either. Perhaps at the onset you can get away with merely spamming your powers and tapping your left-mouse, but as players progress and as they dip into the game’s PvP, they’ll be hard-pressed to succeed by doing only that. You have to learn when to block, when to dodge, when to use your combos and when to use your powers. You have to master your combos, and know which are ideal for each situation when facing both computer and player enemies. DCUO is one of the few games on the market where player-skill can overtake player level. I’ve beaten players high above me with the right use of blocks and stuns, and I’ve been walloped by players who were similarly aware of their abilities. Put this all into an open world setting where heroes and villains clash constantly, and the action in DCUO becomes incredibly engrossing and heart-pounding.
Adding to the strategy is that players can only have six powers on their hotbar at any given time, and no additional hotbars. It’s much like Guild Wars in this way, forcing you to put together your best powers for whatever it is your doing at the time. Each power set serves two roles. The first, and the only one you’ll have until level 10, is that of a damage dealer. But at 10 you unlock your other role, which varies depending on power set. As an Ice user I can perform the functions of a Tank. By merely pressing “T” when out of combat I can toggle between my damage role and my tank role, each with their own specific hotbar loadouts that I specify. While in the damage role, my DPS is increased significantly by my hit counter from weapons. While in tank mode, my defense is increased greatly every time I use a power and a taunt is applied to all targets that are affected by the power, keeping the enemy’s focus on me. Controller power sets like Mental and Gadgets serve as supplies of the blue “power” (think mana), while Healers do the obvious. In the early stages and perhaps even leveling all the way to the cap, these roles aren’t really that necessary. But at the level cap, if players want to progress in the game’s many group endeavors, they’ll need to learn and utilize their roles fully.
The quest content is fairly standard stuff: collect this, kill these. But the way in which they’re presented is much more enticing than it has been of late. There’s something unique about having to kill a bunch of Green Lantern Corps members and stealing their rings for the Sinestro Corps. Am I still doing what I’ve always done in MMOs? Absolutely, but the IP and gameplay of physics-based combat like this makes it much more entertaining. Additionally, there’s something special in the way each “Episode” of the game is capped by a private instance where you’ll take on one of DC’s legendary heroes or villains. When you complete each, you’re treated to a nice motion-comic vignette which further explains the hero or villain and often ties into the overall story. Each one of these so-called “Headlines” is like a self-contained story-arc right out of the comics, and if SOE can keep true on their promise of adding one every month, I’ll be a happy camper.
In short, the crux of DCUO is the combat, and oh is it ever fun. It’s not without its own issues. From the now infamous (and squashed) triple-damage while flying bug, to the way in which some players still seem to be exploiting combo-glitches to straight-up destroy others in PvP. The game launched with a Taunt mechanic for its tanks that didn’t seem to hold agro very well either, but that has recently been remedied as well. If they can keep on top of these sorts of issues as they arise, they’ll be fine. But in a game that’s quickly become a highly competitive, they’d better do so.