When Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel created Superman back in 1932, it would be hard to believe that these two gentlemen would have had any idea where the Man of Steel would be going throughout his now storied presence in comics. In 1939, Bob Kane and Bill Finger probably had no idea as to the depth to which future writers and artists would take their own creation, Batman. William Moulton Marston and Harry G. Peter's feminine icon, Wonder Woman, made strides for female characters when she came on the scene in 1941, but she has come so far even since. If these six men had been told, when they sat to create their icons, the impact that these three characters would have not only for pop culture, but on an individual level with hundreds of thousands of people, they would have thrown their drinks in your face and laughed until the war was over.
Here we are now, 70 years later, and the cultural impact of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and DC Comics in general is stronger than ever. And there isn't just the big three. There's the Green Lantern Corps, The Flash, Martian Manhunter, the entire Bat-Universe, the Teen Titans and the list just goes on and on. DC Comics is present and accounted for in 2011. So it only makes sense that an MMO be released under its banner. Now, we've been talking about DC Universe Online for quite some time, but something that often gets missed in the dissection of an MMO, is the world in which it takes place and, in some cases, its tie to the original source material.
Metropolis is one of two major starting points for characters, depending on your mentor, and it's also presented in such a large scale that it's almost a bit intimidating to attempt to summarize it succinctly. Your primary stomping grounds, whether your mentor is Circe, Superman, Wonder Woman or Lex Luthor, and the center of Metropolis in DCUO, is the borough known as New Troy. In modern comics, New Troy resembles New York's Manhattan as an island predominantly made up of skyscrapers and business. The massive borough includes Chinatown, where you start your game as a follower of either Wonder Woman or Circe, is the magical center of DCUO, and is clearly reminiscent of the comics. Head to Madame Xanadu's Magic Shop and save Zatanna, because, really, who doesn't want to save Zatanna? The Tomorrow District stands tall with its achingly alien architecture where you can check out STAR Labs or try to climb all the way to the top of the Science Spire (Okay, don't, because last time I tried, I couldn't actually get the whole way up. Stupid atmosphere). Little Bohemia is where you spend most of your time under Luthor. The HIVE have commandeered the baseball stadium for their exo-byte mining, Gorilla Grodd's force of De-evolution devices have infiltrated Queensland Boardwalk in a disturbing combination of Sun, sand and Primates, or become a Freshman at the University of Metropolis, or, fight evil there. One of the biggest thrills for me, as I made my way through Superman's sprawling city came as I wandered into the downtown core. I could march through Centennial Park and tand before the Memorial Superman Statue erected after the man of steel died fighting the villain Doomsday. I flew to the top of LexCorp tower and went AFK for a while. I flew up the outside of one of Brainiac's mammoth bottles and peered inside to see the golden globe of the Daily Planet staring back at me.
Gotham City is the dark epicenter of crime and punishment that anyone who has ever picked up a Batman comic would expect. It's always dark. It's always gritty. It seems like there's always some by-stander in the night screaming for aid. As a hero, needless to say, sometimes it feels like you're not doing your job enough. The villainy is palpable. You can almost feel the hatred, anger and disappointment as it courses through the veins of Bane's, the Joker's or Scarecrow's henchmen. Wayne Manor is, of course, out of view, clouded by the translucent blue hue of a Brainiac bottle, as are several of the other major Gotham landmarks, such as Arkham Asylum. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty to be found in Gotham for those manic fans of the Bat-Verse. Wander into the Gotham Botanical Gardens where (Predictably) Poison Ivy has taken control. The East End of the city is where you'll find Bane (down by Cape Carmine and its lighthouse) and the Scarecrow (Whose Fear gas has been unleashed on the entire East End), or follow the Joker into Otisburg and pull some of Gotham City's finest off of the abandoned roller coaster track at Amusement Mile. As a player and a comic book fan, though, two of my greatest thrills in playing the game came in Gotham. In exploring the city, I came across Crime Alley. For some of you, I know this probably holds no weight other than the inevitable utterance of "Well, that's a pretty lame name" and while I do agree with you about the name, allow me to explain to you why this is important. Crime Alley is where a young Bruce Wayne watched, helplessly, as Thomas and Martha Wayne, his parents, passed on into death. The other standout for me is the simplest and probably most stood upon object throughout the entirety of the DCUO Beta: I climbed onto the GCPD's MCU and stood upon the Bat Signal.
In the end, the developers took their time to ensure that the world of Metropolis and Gotham City are those that are remembered fondly not only by those fans of the movies. Deep in its heart, DCUO seems to be a love letter to anyone who has ever picked up a DC logo-emblazoned comic book and loved it. If you want to take full advantage of the work that the developers have done in those two cities, be sure to partake in the Booster Gold Kiosk missions, in which the enigmatic hero takes you on a series of Tour Quests throughout each of the cities, teaching you about their significance and roles in the DC Continuity.
My favorite moment in playing, however, came one day as I played with our Managing Editor and an old friend of ours who had also gotten his beta key. In achieving the quest to explore the Justice League Watchtower, we marveled as we passed by Super Girl, Alan Scott (The original Green Lantern), The Flash, Beast Boy, Batgirl and so many others. We stood atop massive bronze sculptures of Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. We were giddy with the inside references, the dialogue that called away to other characters off-screen and the vastness of the heroes lair. Naturally, we jumped shipped to our evil characters almost immediately to explore the Hall of Doom. Bizarro, Deathstroke the Terminator and Catwoman. Harley Quinn, Two-Face and The Penguin. Even a crouching Giganta is there to sell you stuff!
While it's important that a game based on a pre-existing source material be as inclusive as possible in order to draw in players from a broader base, hardcore DC Universe fans can take solace in knowing that their world is not tampered with (no more than most modern comic writers do now anyway). First and foremost this seemed to be a game made for us, the MMOGamers and us, the comic book fanatics. Without the depth of the universe in which it takes place, DC Universe Online would lack that immersion that is necessary in MMOs today. We can feel ourselves as a small part of this bigger universe. We are able to become the Shuster & Siegel, the Kane & Finger, the Marston & Peter. We create our own icon. We build our own history. We redefine heroism in a world already so keenly defined that we feel like we're a part of something bigger. Something better. Something heroic.