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Down to the Wire

DC Universe Online Columns - By William Murphy on December 23, 2010

Down to the Wire

On January 11th, 2010 DC Universe Online will be hitting retail shelves (and digital downloads) everywhere. Me? I’ll likely be home on a “sick” day beginning my life as an Ice-Brawling-Acrobatics villain and paying little attention to my dogs as they pee all over my house and tear up our upholstery. Ah, the simple joys of MMO launch day. Since the NDA was lifted, we’ve seen a lot of back and forth on whether DCUO is one or another gamer’s cup of tea and while I’m firmly in the “Yes, I’ll take that cup of tea and make it a Big Gulp” that’s not to say there’s not some work to be done before the game ships. Thankfully, with the latest beta patch it seems that SOE is on the ball when it comes to addressing the polish needs and wants of the player-base. In what I’m sure won’t be the last check-up on the beta experience before launch (I do have a few more of these columns to write before January 11th after all), let’s take a look at how things are progressing in DCUO.

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As I hinted at above, I’ve been mainly toying around lately with an Ice-Brawling character; though replace acrobatics with flight and villain with hero. I’m working on the goody-goody side right now because I’d rather not spoil much more of the villain content until launch, and I simply can’t stop playing the game so I thought I’d at least give the heroes a shot for beta. Anyhow, I think I’ve finally settled on Ice and Brawling as my power and weapon selections for launch. I really enjoy the strong-man feel of the hand to hand combat when combined with the Cryogenics tree in Ice. I’m even leaning towards flight over acrobatics as my travel power because I’m finding the attacks with the Flight tree to be a lot of fun as well.

In previous patches, the Tank role with Fire and Ice didn’t seem to be working too well, and while I’ve not been able to try it out in an Alert yet it seems certain that my survivability is upped greatly and my damage output decreased accordingly when in Tank mode since the latest patch. In general the PvE content has been tweaked up in difficulty. Not to such an extent that I find myself frustrated, but enough to make me think twice before engaging certain groups of foes. I feel super still, but not as untouchable as I had before this build especially if I’m getting over-zealous and charging into a crisis zone with no regard for my safety. That’s a good thing if you ask me, as without challenge in normal PvE situations the game would eventually lose its luster.

The real area in which the most recent patch has put a shine on the game is in the little touches. The UI menus finally got a much needed and deserved visual overhaul, and the speed by which they are navigated through is finally picking up steam. But in general I still can’t help but feel the social menus are lacking in some way… the game makes it easy enough to play alongside people without grouping up as questing isn’t punished when two solo players hit the same targets, but grouping does make it easier for tagging items that must be activated for a quest and when taking down bosses like Bizarro out in the open. I find myself almost wishing for an “Open Grouping” mechanic as seen in Warhammer Online. Still, DCUO’s UI is making leaps and bounds these past few patches. The Style UI has become much more navigable and even allows you to easily change the color of your specific items (when before you were stuck with the base colors you chose at creation).

In addition Investigations (think of them as DCUO’s own version of EQ2’s collections with a lot more story and lore thrown in) have been given their own set of rewards making the actual completion of them more desirable. Before you would just get some XP and maybe a little cash but now you actually are given item rewards with Investigation specific styles that can only be obtained by completion these collections. It makes exploring the streets, instances, and Alerts of DCUO feel a lot like hunting orbs in Crackdown… you just want to keep looking everywhere to get them all. I imagine it would be a chore on your second or third character, but hey let’s be honest: someone out there within weeks of the game’s release will have the location of ever investigation listed on the internet.

There are more things that need some work, as anyone who’s playing the game will tell you. But this patch also just added in some additional high level repeatable content for players to go after between PvP matches, Duos, and Raids, and the promise of monthly content updates has me thinking that DCUO will be the rare MMO which actually has enough content for its audience. But that all depends on whether they can deliver on said monthly promise. The UI, especially the chat, still needs some work and I’d like to see a more robust social menu with more League and Legion (guild) functions. The power sets themselves are receiving their last pre-launch swaps (I’ll miss you charged hand-clap), but by and large the PvE content seems more balanced these days and more difficult as well. Overall, it’s apparent that the polish is being applied to DCUO at least on my end. My only major worry is that sometimes the sound effects will cause a stutter and crash in the middle of a hectic fight. That’s one thing I hope is addressed before launch, as I’d like to have the SFX volume turned up come January 11th without fear I’ll DC in the middle of a major instance. It will be interesting to see what else changes before the release date, and I’ll definitely be there to see.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.