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Diving Deeper Into the Game

William Murphy Posted:
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Last week you were treated (or tortured with depending on how you look at it) the second part of my level 1-9 experience. I wrote the entire article long before last week, and was away since December 3rd in preparation for and celebration of my wedding and honeymoon. I’ve only been back a day (minus a whole day spent traveling) and I’ve had a chance to boot up DCUO again this week to see how the latest patch has affected my overall experience and to start climbing a little higher up the leveling ladder. Overall, it seems a lot has been improved with the game but just as many things may have been worsened. Such is beta-life. And seeing as the NDA for all beta testers has been dropped now, it’s clear to me that SOE Austin finds enough confidence in their game to let the players start sharing their experience across the board.

I won’t go into as much detail with this week’s article. Partly because I’m extremely tired from jet-lag and partly because we’ll be taking a much closer look at the game’s many individual facets with a series of articles to come. But instead I think it’s a good a time as any, now with over twenty hours played across a butt-load of characters, to talk a bit more about how I perceive the game over all.

With my first two beta articles, I wrote about how DCUO seemed to be a great breath of fresh air in the MMO industry. Its action is addictive and fun, its presentation second to none, and while it plays like an action-RPG there really is a world to be explored in SOE’s latest as well of plenty of finer details that MMO gamers are used to. Now with several characters in their teens, and many others deleted who I no longer care to play, I still think DCUO is poised to be one hell of a hit for Sony. It’s still the most fun I’ve had playing a superhero MMO, and really the most fun I’ve had playing an MMO period in a long while. When I sit down to my desk and would prefer to log into a fleeting beta experience over anything that’s actually in a live state, that’s a pretty good tell that a game has me.

All that said however, there are some chinks in DCUO’s armor. If every superhero has to have weaknesses, it’s only fitting that DCUO has a few itself. I’ve now made it into my teens (and have a lot more playing to do to catch up to the rest of my server it seems) and while at first I was able to progress by working for only one mentor, eventually you’ll find yourself having to work for at least a second one. As an example, I finished a Headline (think of that as a storyline) and found out that Lex Luthor had no more work for me for now. The only thing I could do short of running around randomly killing mobs, was to pick up work with Circe or the Joker.

It’s a little disjointed, as you basically pick up with either of the other two mentors right after the game’s first major solo-instance, and unless you’ve played through that story with another character you won’t know what the big-bads are talking about. Luckily, the Headlines themselves aren’t so linked that you won’t quickly pick up on the storyline, and the missions and solo instances are fun and diverse enough that doing “non-mentor” work doesn’t drag you down. The real downside is that I was growing used to the idea that DCUO would have six distinct paths from level one to thirty. In reality, it’s more like having a path that will get you most of the way there, but eventually you’ll have to meander off course to keep progressing. In familiar MMO terms, it’s like starting your adventure as a dwarf separate from humans but sooner or later you wind up having to work with your taller cohabitants. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

The new patch really shined up the look of the game’s UI, but it’s still clunkier (that’s not a real word) than I would like. I know that the team is trying hard to make something that works on both PCs and PS3s, and really in that they’re doing an admirable job. But it’s slow as molasses to navigate between UI sections. When you pull up the menu system with either a hotkey, the ESC key, or your controller’s start button you can cycle between menus with the mouse or the left and right triggers. Both work, but the lag between changing each menu becomes frustrating after a while. There’s an odd disconnect in the time it takes to pull up the UI and cycling through it that can really be a pain in the butt. And while the chat system and social systems are making strides, both have a long way to go to be on par with the other games in SOE’s stable.

In short, the game’s still easily the most addictive MMO I’ve played since 2004. But that’s not to say it’s not without fault. And hey, it’s beta, right? If the fundamental design of the game were not there this late in the testing process, I’d be worried. But things like UI design and content overlaps are trivial to me and don’t really affect my enjoyment of the title as I test it. As long as they’re fixed by launch, I’ll be a happy camper. There are more niggling downside opinions I can offer on DCUO, but I’ll save them for the individual write-ups we’ll be doing in the coming weeks. The honest to gods truth is that I still can’t stop playing the game, and that’s got to mean something.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.