Last time we ended with me hitting Club L'ex, right after saving Metropolis from a devastating Brainiac attack. And that was just the tutorial. For part two of my Level 1-9 experience, let's go into combat specifics and how questing in DCUO actually works. Suffice it to say, you don't start off just killing rats in this game. You'll feel like a badass from the very beginning, and it's an extremely potent gamer-disiac.
By the time I hit Club L'ex as the villain The Ancient, I was level four and I had about two main powers and two weapon skills. Travel and Iconic power sets don't start to become available until around level 10. It's worth noting that all power sets in DCUO serve as "DPS", but each one has another role that functions as control, defense, or healing. More examples? Gadget is control, Nature is healing, and Ice is defense. These roles, I'm told, become increasingly important later in the game. So while everyone can serve as a DPS class, you will wind up needing some healers in the later instances and raids. Fans of support classes, you can breathe easy knowing you're still necessary in an action-based MMO.
Sorcery is a healing set, with bits of control and damage dealing tossed in for good measure. You have two paths: one is for summons and the other is for more direct spell-casting. I decided to go the way of summons, and as I leveled up I had access to a totem that emits an aura of damage to characters, and surrounds me in the aura as well. If I was under this aura, my first spell (a basic ranged attack that stuns) would turn people into harmless dogs for a period of time... I was "sheeping" bad guys like a pro.
The weapon skills play out in a different sense. I look at the way DCUO is structured this way: your powers are for class roles (defense, control, healing) while weapon skills are straight up combat and DPS. The staff skill tree starts out with a basic attack, but as you delve deeper into it you get additional benefits. One such skill is by simply clicking and holding the right mouse button, I charge up a ranged attack that has a chance to knock an enemy on his butt, plus it does a fantastic amount of damage. Another has you click and hold the left mouse, and your character will launch himself at an enemy from great distance and absolutely smack the ever-loving dung out of him. Both server similar purposes, but the latter can actually break through an enemy's blocking. Later in the tree there are actual combos, like clicking and holding three times in order to produce an a large amount of damage and knock the enemy down. Nothing major, nothing too difficult for those who fear the notion of "combos", but they add flavor to the combat experience that's not like anything else in the genre.
At first I was worried that DCUO would just be a button masher which require little thought and skill. But as I played I realized that it was a button masher that requires both thought and skill. DCUO doesn't stay an easy game from the tutorial for long. You can and will get surrounded, and you will die. Luckily, the worst that happens to you is some item degradation, and that can be repaired at the vendors inside the safe-houses. Different mobs have their own abilities. On one character that I made with the Joker as my mentor, one of your early opponents is Bane's gang of venom-injected thugs (in-fighting is commonplace with villains, you know). The big bads who venom up and get bulky aren't that tough, but the little buggers called Hoppers do some major damage but quick. If you're not paying attention, and if you're not ready to block when they begin their combos, you're going to wind up hurting badly because they don't usually attack you solo. If the roles which each power set are intended for really do come more and more into play, DCUO is proving to be a fairly intense experience.
The quests thus far have been fairly diverse as well. The usual culprits of "kill such and such this many times" is there, but the presentation is solid enough that it's not just you out in a field killing one mob at a time. As an example, Lex Luthor contacted me and told me that Queen Bee's henchman are hijacking a bunch of his exobytes, and I needed to go stop them. This is all done with your "communicator", so very rarely will you ever need to run back and forth. It does happen with some of the lesser, as I call them, "supplemental" quests but for the most part everything is handled via your communicator. Anyhow, I hop up and fly over to the area surrounding the Metropolis arena to see tons of Lex's STAR Labs folks under attack from the Swarm. I zoom in, and help the STAR Labs guys fight off the drones and eventually I hear one of them audibly thank me and then they run off with the exobytes before the Swarm returns.
Additionally with the same quest, I have to stop twenty of the buggers from running off with the exobytes. Twenty may seem like a lot, but there's a literal stream of these guys hauling butt towards their drop off point. I swoop over to them, drop a totem, and start pounding them with my staff and magic spells. Before long the twenty are toast, and I get the mission update to talk to Lex via my communicator. Basically, that means get to a safe spot and open your menu to continue the next quest. No running back and forth between quest hubs, none of that. You're a supervillain for crying out loud. It's about doing wrong, not sitting in traffic (RE: I know there's no game that makes you actually sit in traffic, I was just illustrating a point).
One thing I did notice however, and one of the few downsides I've spotted thus far, is that aside from the main storyline quests given by your mentor (of which there are six different varieties across hero and villain sides) are pretty much clones of one another. Let me give an example. Queen Bee's folks stealing exobytes from Lex turns into Bane's gang stealing gas from the Joker. Now, the style and set ups are different, as is where each takes place, but it's transparent to see that one quest is just a re-masked copy of the other. This is really no different than having to kill ten orcs in one place, while you kill ten humans in another, but I thought I should mention it. To me, the game's mechanics more than make up for it, and at least there are six different ways to level through the game even if some of the quests seem a little too similar.
The game's not all about solo-play either, though I've had no issues doing just that. In fact one of DCUO's best features is that solo players can help one another on quests without stealing mobs, or objectives. One example is a quest that had me protect released felons after releasing them from SWAT vehicles. As I was doing this, I stumbled across one SWAT truck that was already being defended. I jumped in on the action to help the other player, and found to my surprised and joy that I got credit for it as well when we successfully protected the felon. The same thing goes with objectives that have you destroying objects or even killing mobs. You each can get the kill/collect/complete so long as you each put forth some effort. No fighting over mobs, no waiting in line for objectives. Just playing. Grouping itself is fast and furious and quite easy. We had access to the Area 51 alert during this first phase of Press beta, but since this piece is running long we'll save that till next time.
There are some obvious "polish" issues that will need to be ironed out before the game drops. Bugs like getting stuck inside of a solo instance with no discernable exit, or my weapon disappearing out of my hands while I'm using it so it just looks like I'm swinging an imaginary hammer. The social aspect of the game is currently lacking as well, in so much as that friends and guilds don't seem to be in yet, though I'm told a whole host of social features is on the way to beta soon. Also, while SOE went to great expense to hire a star-studded voiceover cast, a lot of the voiceovers aren't fully implemented. A good example is when you working with Catwoman, getting quite charmed by her voice, only to have it revert to a gruff man's on the next time you talk to her. But the bulk of the gameplay is solid and smooth, and while I feel like a broken record: it's just a lot of fun to play. If the core of the game is this addictive, I'm confident that they can shore up the details before launch (whenever that is).
Granted, I've only played nine levels of an overall thirty. I have no idea what's in store for users at the max level, or how the PVP arenas, Alerts, Raids, Duos, and Dungeons play out. What I do know is that I can't stop playing DC Universe Online, despite the fact that I know its beta and none of this is permanent. It's incredibly addictive and fun to play both solo and with friends, and even strangers. There may be no crafting, but there seems to be an absolute abundance of things to see and do throughout both Gotham and Metropolis. I haven't even touch on collections and movement mode challenges, which add some padding to the regular mission and combat game. We'll cover more of that in part three next week.
Simply put, the SOE Austin team has done an excellent job crafting huge and varied cities, and I can't wait to see how the game evolves later in levels. Is DCUO a theme park MMORPG? Yes. But I liken it to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. It's the theme park with the best rides and the most thrills I've seen in ages.