Sometimes I know I shouldn’t do what I’m about to do, and then I go ahead and do it anyway. For example, I watched the Justice League Snyder Cut. I had a gut feeling it wasn’t going to be any better than the original, but I watched it anyway. My gut was right. It was longer. Much, much longer. But it wasn’t any better than the first time I watched it. I’ve never played it before, so deciding to give DC Universe Online (DCUO) a try for this month’s MMO Reroll wasn’t quite the same experience, but you all warned me not to play DCUO when I mentioned it a few Rerolls ago. Did I listen? Of course not. Should I have? Maybe. Probably. Ok, definitely.
Even though I’ve never given it a try before, DC Universe Online should be a game that I would enjoy. I may not be the biggest DC fan out there, but I like the superhero genre and have enjoyed several other superhero games, both single-player and MMOs alike. Specific to DCUO, at the core of the leveling experience is a superhero storyline filled with just about every major DC hero/villain rivalry you can think of, and I’m allowed to join up as either the hero or villain, an option any self-respecting superhero MMO should have. Most of all, according to the DCUO website, developer Daybreak Games says that the action combat will allow me to fight in a way I’ve never fought before:
“DCUO features fast-paced, physics-based action combat that will give you the incredible feeling of being truly in the action. Pick up items and smash them into your enemies, leap across chasms in the height of a skirmish, and feel your powers impact the world around you as you summon energy for amazing feats.”
That all sounds pretty amazing, right? If it’s so amazing, how come I’ve never played it before, and why did the mere mention of DCUO during my Reroll of Champions Online lead to so many adverse reactions?
The first part of that question is pretty simple to answer; I simply don’t have enough time to play every game that piques my interest, and at the time DCUO released I was involved with other games. With so many new games coming out all the time, I’m also terrible at going back and checking out older games. So here I sit, ten years after DCUO launched, finally making the time to give it a try.
The second part of the question - why DCUO garnered so many negative reactions - is for all of you to expand upon. I can only speak of my experience as I see them. And on that note, it’s time to get into my Reroll...um, make that my first roll in DC Universe Online.
Let’s start where we always do - character creation. Right from the get-go, DCUO gives you plenty of options during character creation. For anyone who doesn’t have a specific theme in mind for their character, you can choose from one of the pre-made characters inspired by a lengthy roster of DC characters from both sides of the law. There’s a total of 15 Inspiration characters to choose from for free, with an expanded roster for anyone willing to shell out the cash for a Daybreak allaccess membership. You can also buy each pre-built character à la carte, but at $6 a pop, going with the $14.99 membership is your better bet.
I’m not a fan of spending money immediately on a free-to-play game, so I went with a custom build. Regardless of how you choose to build your character, you start by choosing male or female, followed by a small selection of body types. There aren’t any sliders to make minute adjustments at this point, just short, medium, and tall heights and spry, athletic, and large builds.
Just because you can pick any color in the universe doesn’t mean you should.
The next couple of options mainly impact the storyline in DCUO. You choose whether to be a villain or hero, followed by your origin - magic, meta, or tech. These choices determine your superhero mentor and the allies and enemies you will encounter in the world. There isn’t a way to respec these primary options, so make sure you are making choices that appeal to you or you’ll have to restart with a new character.
The second paywall you will run up against in character creation comes when you select your power set. Just like the inspired pre-builts, you can buy individual power sets for $6 apiece or get them all with a membership. Unlike the pre-builts, limiting the free-to-play power sets makes a significant impact on character design. Not only does your power set determine your attack skills, but it also determines your secondary role. You get the typical fire and ice along with a few other magic-type classes for free, but a lot of the more exotic styles are locked away if you plan on staying free-to-play.
Next on the character creation slate is picking a special movement type and weapon. Almost all choices are unlocked here, so unless you want to float around on discs or make a Captain America shield user, you get plenty of freedom to flesh out these last abilities. Your weapon type does determine your fighting style and combo abilities while attacking with your non-superpower attacks, so be sure to take a moment or two to pick something that sounds fun. All of the weapon types have melee and ranged attacks, so weapon choice isn’t too important. Not to mention you can pick up other weapon types during your adventures if you wish.
Last and definitely not least, for a superhero game, you get to customize your costume. You get a good selection of apparel for each body part, with all starting options available for free. Each piece of your outfit can be further customized with up to four color channels that you get to pick. Daybreak won’t win any awards for customization during character creation, but the choices are a good start to creating a unique look for your character. And later, as you progress through the game, there are also a bunch of other outfit pieces that can be collected in-game.
From the moment I stepped out of the tutorial, I enjoyed the world of DCUO. The most positive takeaway from my time with DCUO was the feeling that I wasn’t alone, something where many MMOs miss the mark. There were superheroes and villains all over the place. Between Gotham and Metropolis, the base map of DCUO is pretty big and makes for a good setting. Many gamers don’t like to have the same areas reused throughout a game, but it really works keeping all of the players in a central location. Even in games with massive open worlds, the bulk of players end up gathering in a few primary areas, leaving the rest of the world empty.
Dark. Dirty. Ace Chemicals. Definitely Gotham.
It was more than just the number of players, though. As I flew around, I couldn’t help but appreciate the style of the cities. Sure, many of the buildings are just copies of each other, but the cities displayed just enough of their iconic structures to be familiar. Regardless of whether I was exploring between the glass skyscrapers of Metropolis or flying past the gothic buttresses and rusted water tanks in Gotham, I felt like I was in the cities I knew from other source material. I spent almost as much time exploring to locate investigations, getting platinum medals in the aerial challenges, or doing other fluff activities as I did running missions with my character.
A Little Help, Please?
I’m sure it’s out there, but I didn’t find much helpful information when it came to hunting down helpful beginner tips on the internet. Most beginner guides did an excellent job of going through the character creation options. Then they would say something like, “Level up to thirty by playing the story missions. Be sure to collect as many feat points as you can. Then, once you hit level 30, the fun really begins. The End. Have fun!”
In one sense, that isn’t a whole lot of help. I was left stumbling through the leveling of my character. None of the beginner guides covered whether I should be focusing on weapons or superpowers, where to spend skill points, or any other useful tidbits to guide me along the way. And while the tutorial system in DCUO did an adequate job of introducing me to all the different activities I could participate in, it didn’t really explain anything in depth. Since I like figuring things out for myself, I don’t personally mind this type of approach. However, some players like being spoon-fed, and I can see this minimalist style turning them off.
In stark contrast to the absence of leveling guides, there is an untold number of guides that focus on level 30 character builds. Although I didn’t understand why there was such a lack of information between character creation and max level, it only took leveling up a few levels before I quickly realized it was because it didn’t matter. The whole trek to level 30 was one big yawn fest. I tried using loadouts focused on just weapons and was able to mow down everything I came across. I had the same result with builds centered around superpowers. Mixing the two combat sets didn’t work well for me. I didn’t gain any benefit from mixing things up, and the multiple combat styles didn’t fit together at all.
It’s Just A Starting Point
I know that hitting level 30 isn’t really a sign of reaching the end game in DCUO. It’s more of a minor step in progression, with a wealth of content and grinding to follow. I know that there are solo missions along with duo, 4-player, and 8-player content to play through, with an accompanying gear, feat, and character rating grind that should keep someone who finds DCUO’s combat fun and engaging busy for a long time.
And therein lies the rub. I just didn’t find the combat all that fun. During the first 30 levels, I never got to put my weapon combos to good use. Depending on the range to my target, I basically just ended up spamming the same two or three combos over and over, with the targeting system conveniently directing my attacks at whatever enemy was nearby.
Level 18 and still a long way to go.
Using superpowers was just as unfulfilling. Rotating through a couple of skills ad nauseam goes against everything I want out of action combat. I want to have a handful of skills at the ready, something that DCUO delivers, but I want those abilities to be situational. I want precise points in the action where I have to make a split-second decision on the best skill to use. Skill use in DCUO doesn’t provide that instinctual feeling. Instead, you are left spamming whatever ability is off cooldown as you nod off to sleep.
Solo missions were all slugfests that had me rushing from one red blip on the map to the next without worrying about my health bar. The only time I died while leveling was when I accidentally attacked a world boss without anyone else around to help.
Combat just isn’t immersive. Hearing the same canned responses from enemies as they perished or civilians as I saved them grates on my nerves. And standing toe to toe with five or six minions only to have them die in one or two hits while my health bar barely moves isn’t satisfying at all. I now understand Saitama from One Punch Man feels, and it ain’t good.
Although they helped break up the monotony of leveling solo, the easy-mode content carried over to the instanced group content. With four players flying around, enemies melted away. That went for the boss fights as well. Nothing can destroy the low-level group content faster than a group zerging through the map, so at least it was nice seeing other players engaging in support roles during the instanced missions, even if they weren’t necessarily needed.
I was also pleased by the overall friendly player base. I grouped up several times with random players while doing general missions just by sending random invites, something that I miss from the old days. There wasn’t a lot of conversation to be had, but what was there was polite. Besides a few toxic messages in chat (and a ton of gold spamming), all of my interactions with other players were positive.
Grouping with a few randos is always a good time.
It wasn’t all just random people flying around either. There were a lot of active guilds, and the group of heroes I joined up with was friendly and helpful. There were plenty of veterans in the league, and they were always willing to answer any questions I and the handful of other recruits had. The group was more social than anything, but I am sure I could hunt down a more event-focused guild if I planned on extending my time in DCUO.
At the end of the day (or month in this case), DCUO just isn’t for me. Ultimately, it’s the combat that has turned me sour on DCUO, not the player base. It may be different later in the game, but there’s nothing about my time so far that makes me believe my opinion would change. It’s the core design that I find lacking, not the amount of combat, content, or ability to find people to group with.
That doesn’t mean it should be avoided by others, though. DCUO still gets a checkmark on so many of the things I’m looking for in an MMO. It’s still full of players who seem willing to group up to actually work through the content together instead of zerging everything in sight and immediately dropping group as soon as the final boss is down. And as far as content goes, Daybreak Games just put out Episode 40 - World of Flashpoint. That’s a lot of extra content to work through.
Maybe I’m just missing something. I mean, I’m sure some people liked the Justice League Snyder Cut even though I didn’t. DCUO is free to play after all, so what do you have to lose giving it a try to see if the combat works for you?
MMO Reroll Rankings
DCUniverse Online seems to have a healthy player base, and Daybreak Games is still regularly putting out new episodic content for the MMO a decade after its release. It’s too bad that I didn’t find any action in its action combat, or it would have fared much better in the Reroll Rankings.
- Final Fantasy XIV - FFXIV still sets the bar when returning to an old MMO. That’s due in part to the active player base, but after playing DCUO, there’s no doubt it also has a lot to do with the core gameplay that FFXIV offers.
- Blade & Soul
- Champions Online - There are a lot of similarities between Champions Online and DCUO. Both have friendly players. Both put a lot of their character customization behind a paywall. But DCUO’s iconic setting can trump the more enjoyable combat that Champion’s Online has to offer.
- DC Universe Online - Deciding where to rank DCUO against the other Rerolls I’ve done has been difficult. This is the first time where gameplay trumped the social aspect of MMOs, pushing DCUO further down the rankings than its player base deserves. And while I still stand by the ranking of every other Reroll, this is the first time that I may have to adjust this list at a later date.
- Dark Age of Camelot
- RIFT - Another game that was released about a decade ago, Rift has had a very different trajectory than DCUO.