I've been excited about SOE's development of DC Universe Online ever since the game was first announced as a viable competitor to Cryptic and Microsoft's Marvel Online. Well, the latter has since fallen by the wayside to see another superhero MMO take its place in the form of Champions Online, and SOE creeps ever closer to launching the first non-Cryptic developed superhero game in the MMO space.
This past week, I finally got a chance to try the game out for myself in SOE's booth at E3. I want to preface anything that I say in this article with the thought that I'm never fully trusting of any demo at E3 that limits play to one specific area or scenario. This isn't at all uncommon at E3, but as you'd imagine, these demos often showcase areas and scenarios that have received the most attention and polish from the developers and may not be completely indicative of the overall game. I'm not saying that's the case here, but I wanted to say this anyway.
The scenario that I played through was a standard capture and hold PvP map that saw heroes and villains go head to head looking to control a map. My character, which had been pre-made and pre-powered for me, was a speedster. As such, I was able to traverse the map effectively, running up and over any walls that got in my way. I'll be honest when I say that controlling a character at those speeds may have been a bit beyond me and would certainly take some getting used to.
Speed was only a part of my character's charm though, as I also found myself the wearer of a Lex Luthor style power suit, able to make use of my technology through a number of different powers located in an artistically different but functionally familiar action bar UI. These ranged anywhere from being able to hold my opponents prone with an energy bubble to summoning a flying droid that helped me to fight.
Combat itself is fun and fast paced and really does seem to play out in a way that mixes the more classic action adventure games that superhero game fans might be more familiar with classic MMO ideas.
The last thing that I wanted to touch on was the fact that I had the chance to play this game on a PS3. Now, I realize that there is a lot of debate over the viability of MMOs on a console, and I'll address that a little bit later on, but I can say here that I found the experience to be a very smooth one, with the abilities in the power bar easily accessible through use of the left or right triggers (left = 1-4, right = 5-8) and the controller's primary buttons. Pushing down on my left stick activated my super speed, while my right stick controlled the camera admirably. This is going to be easy to get into for anyone familiar with console action games.
Things I liked:
Overall feel: DC has more of a super-hero game feel than I expected.
Interactive objects: Being able to pick up and actually use many of the pieces in the environment is not only in keeping with the genre, but is also just flat out entertaining.
Simplistic UI: I was quite pleased to see a UI that was not only fairly simplistic, but that also handled well. I also liked the fact that even at or near the endgame, players weren't bogged down in dozens of abilities. Instead, players choose a few of their many accumulated abilities to use at one time, cutting down on decision requirements and allowing the game to move at its brisker-than-most-MMOs pace.
Pacing: I felt really good about the pacing of the game in terms of its combat, something that's harder than one might think to get "just right" in an MMO.
Art Direction: This game looks like a story set in a DC world with even the created charactrers looking at home among their more famous counterparts.
Diversity: All of the charactrers that we saw not only looked different, but their attacks and approaches were all quite different as well.
Things I'm still concerned about:
Question of Depth: Nothing in the demo really spoke to the depth of the overall game. While we were told that the PvP scenario we were playing was part of the story and the endgame, there's just no knowing how that plays out on an individual and group level.
Story: The charm of every comic book is that the protagonist is special and stands out. There's something about them that makes them different and cool. Remember, on Krypton, Superman is just another dude. There's a lot of potential here for: "Everyone's special so no one is."
Console? Really?: I'm always skeptical when a company tells us that they're going to release their MMO on a console. I've heard it and heard it and heard it, and in the last few years, I just haven't seen it. That said, I've never played an MMO demo on one before. He closest I ever got was a controlled hooked into a PC.
Overall, I'm optimistic about this game. As many concerns as I may have with my own unanswered questions the bottom line is that I went to the booth, I played the game, I had a good time and I left with a smile on my face. That's gotta count for something.