Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been playing DC Universe Online for a little over a week now, and I have to tell you: I’m getting very excited for this game. Our “Press” beta server is capped at level nine (of a total 30) for now, to increase incrementally. I assume this is a way for SOE to control what we talk about and when, but I don’t mind because the game’s so refreshingly action-packed and fun from the get-go that I’ve rolled about four characters to the low level cap and plan on rolling a few more until they raid it up to the next cap. I can agree with Drew Wood’s earlier assessment that DCUO will not be an MMO for everyone. Many traditionalists might hate its console-esque style combat. But I, for one, am very pleased to report that DCUO may be the first superhero MMO that truly makes you feel super. When SOE said they were modeling their combat after games like Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, I was worried it wouldn’t translate well to the PC controls. But it does and remarkably so. The storyline is interesting and very well implemented for each of the six mentors, and what’s more is that the game runs and plays incredibly smoothly, but I suppose after five years in development it had better. I’m getting ahead of myself, let me go into detail about the game’s first few levels and I’ll reserve more opinions until the end.
The following will be a little spoiler-ific, so beware.
When you create a new character, each time the rather amazing video from Blur plays (though you can skip it if you’re crazy). But there’s been more added to it, which explains how Lex shot Brainiac’s exobytes all over Earth, infusing millions of humans with superpowers. Then you’re taken into the creator’s UI and a voiceover from Lex tells you that you’re on one of Brainiac’s ship and have been “awakened”, and that you’ll need to help the rest of the heroes and villains save Earth from the bleak future where Brainiac reigns supreme. It’s all very nicely tied together to give you a sense of where your hero comes from, and works well to explain why Metropolis and Gotham will suddenly have several thousand heroes and villains running around.
Anyhow, the actual character creation is not as limited as some folks might have expected. It is certainly true that the figure-modeling from Champions Online is absent and instead you’ll be choosing from very bulky (think Bane), average, and small sized bodies. But I’m going out on a limb and saying that this was probably both an artistic design decision to stay true to the DC aesthetic, and a technical one as animations become a very tricky beast with hugely alterable frame models. And from a personal point of view, I’d much rather see a bunch of attractively shaped heroes and villains than a slew of fat guys in capes roving about.
You can choose either an “Inspried By” template, which gives a you a pre-made character that looks and fights similarly to one of DCs Iconics, or you can make a custom one. I will admit that the “Inspired By” feature is actually a nice feature to have. In DCUO, unless you really love your chosen outfit from creation, you’ll be getting tons of items and gear that changes the way your guy looks. By choosing to be inspired by Green Arrow, I was able to get the power set (gadgets) and weapon (bow) I wanted with the click of a button. I then altered the colors of my outfit so I didn’t look too much like GA, and hopped into the game knowing that in no time I’d have an all new outfit and look anyway.
The option to completely cater your entire outfit and character is still there, though. My first character, The Ancient, was a sorcery using, staff wielding, flying villain of arcane death. I picked every little detail down to the trim on his utility belt. I gave him an undead looking face, partially hidden by a tight mask, with glowing yellow eyes. His outfit was very Halloween-esque in orange, black, and white. He was everything I thought looked awesome on my first try making a character. I imagined him as a dead occultist’s body that was accidentally brought back to life by the exobytes.
But guess what? As I played the game and got some random-world drops and quest rewards, my look began to change… for the better. The problem I always had with City of Heroes and Champions Online was that while I grew in powers, I rarely grew in “looks”. It may be inconsequential for some, but I love getting cooler looking gear as I grow. I liken it to Iron-Man (wrong universe I know). Stark’s first suit was a pale comparison to his current suit. The notion that in DCUO we’re all just starting out as heroes, really plays well into the fact that we’re picking up items off of our foes and adding them to our repertoire. It all feeds perfectly into the universe Jim Lee and crew are creating for the game.
After you’ve chosen your looks, your powers, your weapons, mentor, and of course your name, you begin in the hold of Brainiac’s ship. A voiceover from either Oracle (hero) or Calculator (villain) will guide you through the tutorial. What follows is a good step by step explanation of how to target enemies, how to collect loot, how to use your travel power (yep, right from level one) and how to generally kick arse with your chosen weapon. Normally, tutorials are old for an MMO veteran before they even play them, but I have to say that after at least four times through it I still find it fun enough that it doesn’t drag. It’s a good introduction to your chosen weapon and powers, and the action and pacing are brisk and interesting enough for it to not feel like a chore. Still, I hope they eventually institute a “skip” feature because I imagine it’ll be passé by the time I’ve created my nine-millionth character.
The whole thing culminates in your first boss battle (that’s right, in the tutorial). But don’t worry; you’re in no real risk of death. It’s just a good way to show you how fights in DCUO won’t always be about simply pounding the keys or buttons. It’s fairly straightforward; the main honcho on the ship is getting ready to blast the crap out of Metropolis, and to stop him you first have to take out four large obelisks which will destroy the ship’s gun. Meanwhile a slew of lesser robotic henchmen are pouring in from teleporters at you. If that sounds kind of hectic, it’s because it is. You’re never in any real danger of dying (it is the tutorial after all), but it’s a good way to let you know that DCUO is going to be an absolutely action-packed game. Once you destroy the obelisks, and take out the ship’s boss, you get to fight alongside either Lex Luthor or Superman as the ship’s teleporters are hacked, allowing you to travel to either Metropolis or Gotham (depending on who you chose as your mentor).
By the end of the tutorial, I already had basic upgrades to my gloves, cape, boots, and belt. Each one I could either equip in both stats and visuals, or just stats if I preferred the way my guy looked without them. It’s a feature that I wish every game would have. Basically, DCUO keeps a running tally of all loot a character collects, and each piece’s looks can be accessed via a menu tab at any times. This will literally give you thousands of different combinations for your looks, and thanks to the way in which SOE has set up your color palettes, you’ll never look like a hobo (unless you specify as much at creation).
Once off of Brainiac’s ship, you’ll find yourself in one of the game’s safehouses. For my creation “The Ancient”, since I chose Lex as my mentor, I began in Club L’Excellence in downtown Metropolis. It’s here that you’ll be safe to check your mail, visit vendors for Soder Colas and Soder Energy Drinks (health and energy potions), and in general just relax from the frenetic pace of the world at large. It’s also where you’ll gain access to the Hall of Doom or the Justice League HQ via a portal, both of which serve as “Capitol Cities” of a sort for your characters. But we’ll talk more about those in the second part of this preview.
I’m going to end this one right here, because it’s becoming obvious that I could talk at great length about this game. I will say that it may not be for everyone, but for those who have been complaining about the staleness of the genre this one is proof that change is coming. What remains to be seen is how deep the experience goes. So far up to level nine, I have yet to find myself bored. I’ve created several characters, repeated some content, and because the way the action is structured and the dynamic of the gameplay (and I imagine it only gets better on a PvP server)… it’s just flat out fun. Next week we’ll delve into the actual specifics of combat and skill trees. We’ll explore the Hall of Doom, Legendary Arenas, movement modes, questing, and hopefully the Area 51 Alert. But for now, just rest easy knowing that DCUO plays like a polished and exceedingly fun superhero take on the MMORPG, and there’s plenty of reason to start getting excited.