SOE Disclaimer: I attended a DC Universe Online event hosted by Sony Online Entertainment. Sony Online Entertainment paid for my flight, hotel and meals in connection with the event.
I spent last week in Austin, TX with the team at Sony Online Entertainment at their studio where I was presented with the opportunity to tour the facility and chat with members of the development team. Perhaps most exciting, though, was that I was also granted the opportunity to have a little one-on-one time with the game itself, DC Universe Online.
While I'll be happy to let you all know what I thought, please note that this is one person's opinion of a game, pre-launch. Right off the bat, there are some players who I just know will not be into what this game is presenting. The deviations from the norm, for some, could be alienating. This isn't a stick-to-the-status-quo MMO. For every player, however, who finds the new combat system alienating, I believe there will be one player who feels refreshed and awakened to a new world of MMO presentation. Like me.
We start off with the back story, the one that everyone has heard already. Lex Luthor returns to the past from the future to warn the heroes of the bleak future that Brainiac has created. He has stolen Brainiac's Exo-Bytes and, with the co-operation of the DC Trinity (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) uses those Exo-Bytes to create a new world of super heroes (and villains). We slide right into the character create.
Character create was the focus of many articles leading up to this event, as it was sort of DC Universe Online's baby in the preceding weeks. What surprised me, finally having my hands on it, was how robust what was there actually was. Yes, there are only six possible mentors. Yes, the “super powers” selection is limited to six options (Fire, Ice, Sorcery, Nature, Gadgets & Mental), but the choices you make for your character as he/she advances in level adds to the experience. Each of the six options has two trees of powers, so that there are, in fact, plenty of options. Fire, for example, presents you with the two trees: “Immolation” (setting yourself on fire) and “Ignition” (doing the same to others). Each one has built in choice. In addition, your super powers have a third tree from which you can choose, The Iconic Powers tree. This is an area where you can use your power points (granted through traditional level advancement, every second level) to upgrade to powers that do not necessarily fit within your chosen power option, but are common to super heroes (selections included Heat Vision, Super Strength, and the like).
In addition to your Super Powers, you are also presented with an option for combat. Your mouse-click attacks, so to speak, rather than your hot-keyed attacks. The options here I was mostly pleased with; brawl, martial arts, bow, rifle, dual pistols, dual weapons, single weapons, two-handed weapons... the options were most certainly there to have a robust roster of characters in your Guild of choice. These options complimented the super powers, but more on that in my touch on gameplay.
Finally, you select your alternate method of transportation. Why? Because walkin's for chumps. By pressing the F button you can circle between normal, on-foot transport and, depending on which you selected, death-defying acrobatics, super speed or, the ol' standby, flight. Like powers, you have a second set of points collected at level advancement, these ones called Skill Points. You can then choose to advance either your transportation method (faster flight, etc.) or your chosen combat style.
Within the advancement of the combat style is where you get into what, for me, is one of the things that makes the game most worth playing and most worthy of my subscription fee every month. By slipping skill points into your combat style, you build up different combinations of button presses that you can use to unleash untold amounts of damage on your enemies. That's right, combos.
On that note, I'll dive into my thoughts on the gameplay itself. Like all MMOs, DCUO has a suitably grind-y tutorial mission that you realize you don't want to play again the moment you create a second character. In the climactic scene in the tutorial, when your mentor arrives at your location and helps you destroy score after score of homicidal robots, you can't help but smile. There's something about fighting alongside Superman that does, and probably always will, do it for me.
The combat system could be what splits the crowd on this game. You have your hot-keyed Super Powers (of which you don't get your first one until second level) that are always a good time, and help to keep the enemies going down, but the key to this combat system for me is the combos. Obviously, combos don't really lend themselves to the standard MMO Combat style. That's because DCUO doesn't subscribe to the standard style. They merge the typical console-adventure, hack-and-slash game, with the MMO. It's not turn based combat. If I can click my mouse buttons fast enough, I can put these clowns down before any real damage is done to me. When I gave my character Dual-Wield, I wanted to go in there and beat the Hell out of thugs with my swords. And that's exactly what I got to do. Combat elements like a block, dodge, stun and knock-back also had a place in this game, again, seem to further that marriage of the MMO with the standard console beat-em-up. Through devastating combos and my Meta-Human powers, I had fun breezing through enemy after enemy.
Make no mistake, there is still challenge to the gameplay. Dying was simply a part of my experience (especially when I tried my hand at the PvP beta server. I got schooled. I was sad). The new format for combat doesn't make the game easier, but more hands-on, more immediate, and more interactive.
Quests are typical “Kill X amount of _____” and are given to you by either your overseer (Calculator if you're a bad guy, Oracle if you're good), your mentor, or one of your mentor's allies. The good news is, as a super hero, you're equipped with a communicator, so you can finish your quest without hauling butt back to wherever the quest giver was. This makes for a more streamlined gameplay and feeling like you can go from point A, to point B, to point C rather than point A, to point B and back to point A.
If you're a comic book fan, particularly of the DC Universe, you're in for a treat. While I was originally one of those people who was disappointed at the lack of options for your mentor (seriously, where was Booster Gold?), after seeing the game in action I can honestly say that they've done a very good job of integrating the world of DC Comics beyond the DC Trinity and their respective baddies. You get all the famous heroes, the ones everyone knows, but even for the hardcore DC Comics fan, you're bound to find something that will make you smile.
It could be said that DCUO sets the bar for MMOs, but I think it'd have to be said that it's only for a certain kind of MMO. People who are married to the traditional, which I do understand, will probably have some reservations about not only playing the game, but liking it. It's all simple preference. Where the game won me over, though, was in its differences, in the deviations from what we have come to expect from your standard MMO. Will they lose players based on this? Absolutely. But, the format also potentially broadens the base of players, especially given the IP on which it's based.
To sum up, I, for one, found it refreshing. Will everyone? No. Not at all.