Thursday, March 24, 2011

DC Universe Online Review

I’ve played only 3 MMO’s: World of Warcraft, Aion, and now DC Universe Online. DCUO feels like the other two MMO’s I’ve played; I wish that wasn’t the case. Yes the theme is different. The world is certainly different. But the structure, the tried-and-true structure of a Massively Multiplayer Online game is still paramount.

DC Universe doesn’t break the mold. That does disappoint me, and I won’t sugarcoat that fact. There are some things that I do enjoy.

First, if you’ve played an MMO before DCUO’s formula won’t shock you. Well the story is compelling-- to a certain extent—most of your quests will have you fighting a set number of enemies; recovering a specific drop—from enemies; or deactivating/destroying some form of weapon that has been planted by a villain. The structure of each quest is uninteresting and well the voice acting adds a nice touch, some of the performances are horrendous. There is some good voice work by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy’s Joker and Batman renditions. 

Man, if Captain Planet was here...

Make no mistake the full voice acting adds to the story. And many MMO’s are full of text, and you just don’t want to read it all. Whenever you activate a quest in DCUO Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman contacts you. If you’re a villain then Lex Luthor, The Joker and Catwoman will inform you. If they aren’t available Oracle or The Calculator will contact you on the hero or villain sides respectively.

The story of DCUO, written by Geoff Johns, is your classic comic scenario—for a comic nerd. Lex Luthor finally beats Superman and the Justice League into the dirt. Just as Luthor plunges a Kryptonite-tipped spear in Superman’s back to finish the job, Brianiac comes to spoil the party. Lex probably thinks, “oh…maybe killing Superman right now wasn’t such a good idea. I should have noticed Brianiac’s entire fleet was overhead.” Killing The Man of Steel was a bad move. Luckily, Luthor can travel back in time—DON’T QUESTION IT! —In the past he tells the heroes that unless they band together Brianiac will demolish Earth.

Lex Luthor then unleashes creatures called Exobytes (which have the DNA from heroes and villains) loose upon the Earth. Giving Earthlings’ superpowers seems to be the only way to counter Brianiac’s assault. I guess they had to make some story that explains why you can’t play as Batman and Superman in a videogame about DC comics.

The story works because the character creation feature is robust. There’s a good amount of powers and fighting styles to choose from. And DCUO is all about individual style. Your appearance can reference a pre-existing DC hero/ villain or you can create damn near any look you choose. Unfortunately you have to earn the various insignias and emblems that DC heroes wear. Want Superman’s cape? Sorry you’ve got to earn it. Longing to look like DC heroes/villains will take time to emulate as most appearances are tied to high-level gear. 

DCUO's theme is what makes it.

I’ve spent a good chunk of time with DCUO—as shown in my previous articles. And above all else DCUO is for fans of DC comics. Not just the brand, but the world of DC. DCUO’s pores are oozing with comic and superhero references. Just assisting superheroes as they try to stop Brianiac’s invasion is a treat. Well I’ve stated that all I really wanted was to play a game in the DC Universe…it’s not quite what I’d hoped for.

I love embarking on a quest and meeting up with The Flash, Nightwing, Martian Manhunter, and the Green Lantern Corps. But aside from the latter, most of the missions have you either splitting up from your DC companion or in the case of Robin, saving them. There aren’t many quests from beginning to end where your superhero brethren accompany you. And that’s what bothers me. I thought you’d be palling around with DC heroes (or villains if that’s the side you picked), and completing quests in spectacular fashion. As a team. I understand that having someone assist you on every mission may be unbalanced—as character’s like Superman and Martian Manhunter are exceptionally powerful—but that’s why I bought this game. To team up with my favorite heroes, and you just don’t do that enough.

I even felt that the developers were mocking me in one particular instance, in which I was told to head underground and assist Fire (a superheroine who is a walking green flame), and destroy a rogue AI. Within the first encounter—less than 30 seconds in…yes I timed it—Fire said that she couldn’t assist me and that her powers were useless here… WHAT! Then why the hell did you come down here in the first place? Why is she an option to accompany me? It was the culmination of many situations where DC heroes constantly abandon you to do god knows what else. Whenever there’s trouble they haul ass.

That said there were some scenarios I really did like. The Green Lantern quest comes to mind: in which you assist the Green Lantern Corps as they rally against Sinestro. I'm a big Green Lantern fan so obviously this was my favorite quest/scenario. Unfortunately there are few quests— aside from Instances—in which you’re given assistance from a group of superheroes/ supervillains. 

Iconic gear is time consuming to acquire.

The endgame is enjoyable. Like most MMO’s it becomes team centric, and working together is the key. It’s too bad that most of the Alerts are just rehashes of what I’ve already ran earlier in the game. Sure the enemies are harder and there are some new bosses--like Zoom/Reverse Flash in the Gorilla Grodd quest-- it would have been nice if the endgame mission’s were completely new scenarios. The endgame content is fun, but that’s coming from somebody who hasn’t played a MMO at max level so this is my first taste of this type of team dependant content.

Still the interactions with DC heroes/villains are the most enticing part of DC Universe Online. I just wish it were a bigger emphasis. It annoys me that two quests have you rescuing Robin’s sorry ass. Rescuing heroes is an all too common theme in DCUO, and that’s just not what I want to do.

The biggest positive and negative with DCUO is that it’s for the fans. If you’re not a fan of capes and cowls then this isn’t the game for you. Strip away the aesthetic and DCUO is a fairly typical MMO. But for a person, like myself, DCUO is a step towards feeling like a real superhero. Which is something most superhero games haven’t accomplished.

There’s some fine-tuning that needs to be done to bring this game to the level of WOW, but it’s a reachable goal. The fanbase is there. More content with an emphasis on cameos from heroes and villains is a must. I want to feel like I’m in the world of DC. For that to flourish companionship with iconic DC heroes/villains throughout quests is necessary. As it stands DC Universe Online is an average game, yet somewhat of a poor representation of an MMO. I have high hopes that future expansions will iron out these issues and separate DCUO, from other MMO’s, more for it’s quality rather than its theme.

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