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Some Concerns

DC Universe Online Columns - By William Murphy on January 20, 2011

Some Concerns

We’re now past the one week mark with DC Universe’s live version.  In that time I’ve probably spent about 15 to 20 hours playing the game (thanks to being home from work on MLK Day).  I’ve done three of four available alerts, participated in two of three available arenas, and fought my way through each of the available Legends arenas as well.  This morning before work I hit level 20, at which point I have roughly eighteen skill points through relentless feat hunting, alongside my ten power points.  I’ve enjoyed the dozens of missions and solo dungeons I’ve partaken in, and I’ve spent ample time hunting down heroes both by myself and in groups.  I’ve beaten down canonical characters such as Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Bizzarro, and Power Girl.  I’ve done tons of exploration quests across both Gotham and Metropolis.  In short, while I’m still anxious to try my hand at the end-game content, I’ve done and seen a lot of what DCUO has to offer in the first week.  It’s no secret that DCUO is an MMO with a lot to offer the time-limited gamer, and I’m not here to start a debate over whether or not there’s enough content in DCUO at launch.  Thus far, there seems to be a bevy of material to play through.  But I could also probably write an entire article on how SOE absolutely needs to come through on their monthly content promise, but I’ll save that for another time. 

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It should come as no shocker that leveling to the cap is an easy task in DCUO.  There almost seems to be a flat (if slightly arched) curve for getting from level one to thirty.  However the game comes with a built-in alternate advancement system that not everyone seems to notice at first.  It’s bound to take character development far beyond simply getting new gear once you’ve hit the cap.  For every 100 feat points you score by completing the game’s “achievements”, you are awarded a skill point.  Feats award anywhere from ten to twenty-five or so points, and the skills offer some of the best additional stats to flesh out your character with in the game (especially when you start working on a secondary weapon set and open up boosted stats like toughness or dominance).  I honestly think the staff could do more to make sure people know just how important Feats are to character development, as I can’t count how many times I’ve explained that you don’t want to abandon quests (even if you could). 

But that’s a minor concern, really.  Players will learn as they spend time in the game.  After one week live, a few very important things have come to mind, that have nothing to do with the brisk pace of leveling.  Until I spend some time at 30, I don’t feel I can judge whether the end-game is designed well or not.  What I can point toward however is the dire need for better chat, more social functionality, and better powers descriptions.  These are things that don’t necessarily hinder the actual gameplay, but do hinder the way in which players interact… which is just as important in any MMO.

The chat system serves its basic purpose, if the basic purpose of chat is to have players use /shout to communicate the entire time.  There’s no serviceable /help command to get a listing of chat commands, and now that I’ve made my way into a League, I find out that League chat doesn’t work all the time either.  Harumph (yes, that’s a word – because I want it to be).  Luckily my folks use Teamspeak extensively, and so far when I’m in a PUG the in-game voice chat has been working well too (though I hear mixed results from others).  We could argue back and forth over whether or not DCUO is hampered or helped by being simultaneously designed for the PS3.  I see ups and downs to it really.  But one area which seems obviously garnered more towards the console crowd, given the nature of voice chat used in console gaming, is chatting.  Our own Izabelle Parsely would not find much to love about the chat system in DCUO, and would not be pleased with essentially being forced to use voice to communicate.  The game’s nature makes voice very helpful, considering its fast pace, but that doesn’t mean the game shouldn’t have a more robust and easily used chat system.  When I look at EQ2’s chat, I wonder how it couldn’t just be transplanted into Gotham and Metropolis.

Now that I’m in a League, it’s nice to have a constant group of folks to play with.  But what’s disheartening is that to my knowledge there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of built in guild functionality.  No calendar, no League roster, none of that.  It’s basically a specified chat channel and tag below your name right now.  It needs to be more, and I hope SOE’s already on it.  For as fun as the game is, and as fun as it can be when played with friends, it needs far more UI support to garner player connectivity.  If it’s not improved within the first update or two, there will wind up being a lot of angry clans/guilds/leagues. 

Lastly on my list of main concerns are the power descriptions.  There’s simply not a whole lot of info as to what each really does.  There’s a vague description of what you’ll see when you use it, and info regarding what they do depending on your role, but that’s it.  You wind up picking a skill somewhat blindly and without the ability to test it, only to sometimes find you want to re-spec and get that point back.  The weapon descriptions and stat buff descriptions are fine… it’s the powers that need more info.  Barring that, there should be a place where players can test skills before buying them.  This is certainly one thing that Champions has over DCUO, and a feature that should be imported to the latter.

Now I’m sure a lot of my detractors will read this and think either A.) that Bill’s just writing this to appease those of us who say he’s biased or that B.) I’m writing it because the shiny has worn off.  On the contrary, I’m writing it because I intend to use this as a measure for my eventual review of the game.  Reviews are ultimately detailed opinion pieces based on one’s experience with a product.  These issues are affecting my experience, and hence I feel the need to mention them.  These are also concerns that I expect to be rectified soon, and if they’re not they will affect my final judgment of the game.  For though MMOs are constantly evolving, at some point we do have to review the product: it’s the nature of our work.  My goal is to wait three to four weeks, enough time for me to see the life at end game with DCUO before publishing the review.  Even if these things are fixed, they will be still be mentioned as launch issues when all is said and done.  I just hope that’s all they are, and not lingering problems that we’ll  be talking about when the game turns one in 2012 and we publish a re-review. 

DCUO has been an utter blast thus far.  I’m seeing green investigation markers when I close my eyes, and I keep wishing I could use a grappling hook in my real life to scale buildings instead of climbing the stairs or riding in smelly elevators.  DCUO is easily the most enjoyable experience I’ve had with a new MMO in years.  But that doesn’t mean it’s without faults, and these are just a few that I hope SOE is aware of.

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.