As I wait for the servers to come up (and for the delivery guy to drop my copy off), I'm tasked with writing this launch day preview based on my experience throughout the beta. It's no secret that I'm a fan of the game, but this isn't about my own personal preference for the action found in SOE's latest release. This is about me going through the ups and downs of the game as they stand right now and making a suggestion to all of you who might be on the fence, sitting at your desk, hovering over the button to pay for and download your own copy. DC Universe is going to be a very divisive game in its first month or two. It's not exactly a standard-fare MMO, and for as many things it does well it does others poorly. People will argue over why crafting is not included, and they will argue over the decision to have only six power sets and limit the amount of skills on one's hot-bar. But ultimately, at the end of the day, I believe that SOE has designed a truly compelling experience that is only limited by the expectations you have going into it.
This isn't our final review, as we'll save that for some weeks into the retail, experience. Rather, consider this our guide as to whether or not DCUO is worth your time. Now then, let's get to the plusses and minuses, shall we?
The combat: Some will call it button-mashing; others will call it a revolution. It all depends on what you want from your MMO. If you can imagine a game that takes the physics based action of titles like Prototype or Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and blends it with the DC Comics IP and puts it all in a setting where thousands of heroes and villains interact, you've got a pretty good idea of what DCUO is all about. Chris Cao said to me in a recent interview that they're goal wasn't to make a good MMORPG with the DC label on it, but rather to make a really fun superhero game that you could play with your friends and countless others month after month.
The key to that in my eyes is the combat. It's the main way we interact with the game world, and in DCUO you'll be "interacting" like you never have before in the MMO genre. Throwing cars, flying down onto your enemies like a freight train, calling meteors from the sky, scaling buildings with a grappling hook to run away like a school girl in a jam... it's all very dynamic and fun stuff. If there's one thing that I feel SOE really got right for their hero MMO, it's definitely the combat. Put in the PvP setting, and the fun ratchets up to an all new level. Again, it won't be for everyone as it's far more "twitch" than many might like, but for my dollar it's right up my alley. Still it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable if they didn't capture the look and feel of the comics so well.
Metropolis and Gotham are rendered to extreme detail and for anyone familiar (even if only a little bit) with the locales will find plenty of things they recognize in the game. Whether it's the Ace Chemicals plant, Arkham Asylum, or the Daily Planet there's a lot to see in DCUO. And knowing full well that there will be a cadre of explorers in the game, SOE's put in plenty of quests tied to seeing the sights as well as the collections for scouring the landmarks' nooks and crannies. The cities certainly feel large and open, but in no way are they of the size and scale that some folks might be used to. They are however quite layered and varied in their many different sectors. And there's nothing quite like bumping into Batman when you're out and about doing your business (good or bad). Plus there's the top-dollar voiceover work by Mark Hammill, Kevin Conroy, and a slew of other recognizable memories from my childhood to keep me immersed in the lore and storyline DCUO is working with. The storylines themselves, though I only made it to mid-game in beta thanks to sever altaholicism, is the stuff of Silver Age genius. DC has always been a little less serious than Marvel in tone, and writers like Jeph Loeb and Marv Wolfman have crafted some extremely fun tales to play through.
The game's character creator may seem slim when you're designing your first character, when compared to CoH or Champions, but this is partly due to the way in which gear works. Unlike the other two hero games, gear in DCUO is obtained often and directly affects your looks. You can always use the "style" tab to make sure your looks are just as you want them, but every equipped item short of rings and necklaces makes your character look different in some way. The style tab is easily one of DCUO's best ideas, as it takes the ability to change your looks in other games, and adds the notion of character progression to boot. There are some small downsides to the character creator, namely in the way of faces and body sizes and shapes, but what's on hand serves the purpose well and I've yet to see my clone which is very important to avoid in these kinds of games.
The group content in the form of Alerts and PvP, as well as the world bosses like Bizarro, make for some great multiplayer action. Later in the game you'll gain access to Duos (which are just as they sound) and Raids (groups of eight), and the development team is promising a new instance or two every few months on top of regular monthly content. So while the bulk of DCUO's leveling content can be done solo, there's still much to do in a group, and until late in the game when roles matter more, you'll find that just about any group dynamic can manage some of the earlier alerts... though as always it's probably in your best interest to find someone who won't mind healing. Luckily the game's match-making system does a fairly good job of grouping folks together, and there's no penalty for higher level players helping out in lower alerts either.
Still, the game's not all roses all the time. Let's talk about where it needs some work.