One of the things that seem to be often overlooked in recent MMO releases is group content. There’s an urgency to cater to the more solo or casual player, and as one of said players I’m always appreciative of this newfound effort to make content for me. But just because my time limits and play style often keep me from playing group content, doesn’t mean I don’t want there to be challenging and engaging content for those times when I do want to and am able to group up with my friends. I know it’s asking a lot, but I want my MMO to have just about everything I want to do available at my beckon call. I’m not a crafter, so I don’t mind that DCUO isn’t going to offer it. But you bet your spandex-clad buttocks that it had better include some form of group content. The problem is that in many games the group content is difficult to get to, to complete, and more importantly to organize. These issues, from what we know so far about the game, appear to be a thing of the past for DC Universe Online.
Alerts, as we’ve seen briefly from SOE’s recent demos of the game, are the main core of small group content in DCUO. Basically they begin getting unlocked around level ten, and you’ll be able to select them from your PDA (menus). I’ve not seen truly deep details posted on them, but we do know that Smallville, Area 51, the Moon, and Khandaq are just a few of the ones available at launch. What will be interesting is to see how each Alert changes depending on which side you play as. Heck, I’d imagine Alerts are ripe for putting in some sort of Darkness Falls (of DAoC fame) type experience. But I digress.
Now it’s all guesswork as of right now as to how these Alerts are unlocked, but I’m betting it’s a matter of gaining levels and a little questing to begin the back-story. What I do know from the previews we’ve seen thus far is that Alerts aren’t just “go in, kill trash, kill boss, get loot”. SOE’s Tony “RadarX” Jones tells me that they’re akin to dungeon crawls, but allow people to drop in and out at will. There’ll be tiered objectives that have you interacting with the actual level and not just clearing trash mobs, and there will be a definite story tied to each, and cut-scenes explaining your reason for being there.
The real plus though? You’re guaranteed loot and rewards at the end. Of course this means someone could just sit AFK through the whole thing, but chances are you’ll boot them before that point.
But what makes them more accessible? Sure you can pick them from a menu and go into them, but what about forming the group? You’ll be happy to know that you can both take your own team of four in, or hop into the matchmaking queue and wait patiently to be put in a group and then POOF… off you go to your alert. They’re quick and dirty little bursts of action specifically designed to be easily accessible group content to hop into. In other words, they’re perfect group content for players like me. Early on Tony says that you can pretty much go in guns blazing, but that as you get higher into the leveling curve your teammates had better start using their roles or well… let’s just say you’ll spend a lot of money repairing your shiny new items.
So let’s recap. Alerts are small-group instanced content where you get to explore some of the fringe locations of the DC Universe, you get guaranteed loot, and you can queue up for them as you roam about doing your daily business or even hop into one whenever you have a group ready and willing. I’m sure the Raids towards the end of the game (for eight players) will be plenty of fun. I expect the more traditional instances will be story-driven affairs that really flesh out the mythos DC and SOE are creating. But for my money? I’ll be doing lots of Alerts when the game launches in early 2011. Especially when I need a break from being hunted down by overzealous heroes on the PvP server.