Game Review: DC Universe Online
So here’s my dirty little secret: I’m a video game junkie. I didn’t intend to be. I didn’t plan it. It just sort of…happened.
First you play a little Pacman, then a little Street Fighter 2, and before you know it you’re up all night playing Diablo II’s Secret Cow level on Nightmare level, cackling like a fiend at a rare rune drop. It’s a very slippery slope, my friends. My latest near-relapse was caused by the free-to-play MMO DC Universe Online.
Since I lost 30 hours of writing time to DC Universe Online last week, I thought the least I could do is get a blog post out of it. A couple of basics and then on to my thoughts. First off, it’s PC and PS3 only. PC requirements are fairly low, both computers in our house ran the game with no glitches or graphics issues and they’re both several years old. If you’re a fan of MMO’s or the DC Universe, this game is worth downloading and checking out.
I’m more of a Marvel guy myself, but I can appreciate that both franchises have their appeal, and fans of DC will have a great time making characters and tooling around Gotham, Metropolis, the Watch Tower, and the Hall of Doom.
Extremely fun character creator. We had fun making all kinds of crazy characters and I had particular fun bringing to life characters from my writing, including zombies, demons, sheriffs, wizards, and tomahawk-wielding teenagers.
Initial game-play is easy, intuitive, and fun. Leveling, powers, equipment, movement, are all standard MMO/FPS-based and if my 6yo can run around Gotham throwing batarangs, then so can you. Higher level instances, shifting powers, weapon combos, and on-duty possibilities are not as easy as they should be, but they aren’t rocket science either.
Gotham and Metropolis are well designed, expansive, and interesting. Gotham is dark and rainy with lots of elevated train tracks and dark alleys, while Metropolis is bright, sunny, and all gleaming metal and chrome. They feel like the characters that give them life in the comics; Batman and Superman.
Leagues/teams/duos make for fun times. I had a blast playing with my sons as a super team. Getting together and staying together is made really easy through the interface. It’s also really easy to join up with random folks if you wish to complete missions, but playing with friends and shouting as someone does something cool is the real fun in this game.
Character creation is limited. I know, I know. I just told you it was fun and you could make all sorts of crazy super heroes. What I didn’t tell you is that they all fit into a few archetypes during actual game-play. You choose a side (good/evil), you choose a mentor (Batman/Superman/Wonderwoman) and then you choose a power and a weapon. It’s the second two things that leave me rather cold. Every character must have some sort of power, even if it’s gadgets, and a weapon combo, even if it’s as simple as brawling. Ironically, what this eliminates is the way to make iconic characters like Superman, who either has no powers but near-invincibility or all the powers depending on which comic nerd you ask. The expansion packs add in a few powers, like the light powers of the lanterns, but overall the only difference in game-play between ice and fire power are the on-screen sprites, and that’s just disappointing. I’m convinced it was the only way to have balanced game-play across thousands of possible choices, but after playing 7 characters for 30 hours…it feels lame.
The missions are boring. I’m sure others have complained, but if I have to break out of Brainiac’s ship one more time I’m going to fucking break something. Once or twice is fine, but let players bypass this 20 minute grind once they know the basics and get on with it. Beyond that, the missions are all extremely predictable smash and fetch roundups. The only thing that changes from mission to mission is the particular sprite you’ll be beating the shit out of while you smash and fetch. There are no real puzzles or mysteries, and nothing that even takes particularly good teamwork. You are cast in a strictly backup role to the main heroes who you see every once in a while as you fuck shit up that they apparently don’t have the time for.
Equipment is the real equalizer. I know this is pretty standard for MMOs these days, but I can’t stand the idea that a rare armor drop is the difference between life and death for your heroic Green Lightning Bug-man. Once you get into the mid-levels (10-20) the only thing you’re really after is new gear to boost stats. In a world filled with Booster Gold clones, that might be fine, but all you have to do is look at the iconic heroes to know where the game went wrong. Does Superman or Wonder Woman run around with a red exobyte-socketed chest plates and synthium boots of courage (or whatever). No.
VERDICT: No rehab for me.
I’m relieved to be able to put this one aside after playing through most of the missions and instances and getting some cool “oh hell yeah” moments out of the game. My kids will probably play another 100 hours, but they don’t have the aversion to level-grinding that I earned from long hours of addiction.
See you in Gotham, DC fans!