I remember my first play session on DC Universe Online like it was yesterday. Following a 74 hour download (about 6 hours) and a 3 hour long install (not 3 hours) I found myself making a generic character who wakes up on an alien ship. I hacked some robots, dispatched a spider-brain-thing, and was utterly unimpressed. After 30 minutes of playing, I was done. The 154 hour download coupled with an install, then a patch to download a patch, resulted in a terrible first impression.
“Unimpressive gameplay coupled with a subscription fee that could not be justified stood in the way of a mediocre game achieving mediocre success,” I wrote when DCUO first went free-to-play.
That was then, this is now: I'm a hero, a villain, a Lantern, a costumed-freak. I'm a saviour, I'm a criminal. You know what the best thing is? I'm a superhero; I'm MY superhero.
That fateful day when I condemned DCUO happened again. Only this time it had a different outcome and it happened after I finally 'got' what DCUO is.
After spending 30 minutes creating a unique character, who has his own colour scheme, elaborate costume, and back-story, I find myself in character form waking up on an alien ship. Without any hesitation I spring into action and start attacking the robot that stands guard. As soon as he drops, I'm contacted by Oracle, who doesn't have time to explain what's going on, but alerts me to the fact the ship knows I'm awake.
The door slides open and I'm ambushed by a patrol of several robots. As I fight my way through them I come face-to-face with a Brainiac Overseer; a spider-like guardian hell-bent on my recapture. My first real challenge ends with me blocking its attack and blasting it repeatedly with beams of light emanating from my character’s hands. This is DCUO. It's about you, complete with super-powers, battering enemies, growing stronger, and doing it all with flair and finesse.
The square button hits a basic melee, whilst triangle launches a ranged attack. It sounds simple, I know. But when you really begin to understand DCUO, it consumes you, and simplistic combat and weak powers are replaced with intricate combos and earth-shattering abilities.
As your character progresses, you gain points that can be spent in upgrading your weapon skill or your powers. When you put a point into your weapon, you gain new attacks. That means instead of hitting a standard melee or ranged attack; you can thrust into a combo. For dual-wielders, this can be a nine-hit combo that results in massive damage. The simple idea of hit square repeatedly is replaced by learning how your character moves, and when they hit that ninth flourish, holding square at just the right time to end the combo with a powerful finish.
Another example of this would be with the staff weapon. Holding down triangle shoots a charged fireball. Tapping square in succession only hits your opponent. But holding square (to perform a sweeping attack) followed by two taps and another hold, results in a combo that obliterates any who stand before you.
It's simple and accessible for new players, but deep enough for those who want something more from combat.
Of course, in a game about superheroes, you want some kick-ass super-powers. There's a plethora of different abilities for superheroes to choose from; ranging from fire and ice, all the way to sorcery and shapeshifting. Fire and ice focus on high damage via use of the elements, sorcery focuses on healing and magic, and shapeshifting lets you turn into a wererat (it's a werewolf, but in reality it looks akin to a rat).
What power would I suggest? Well, I'd have to say Mental. Psychic and telekinesis powers are normally lacklustre when it comes to supe' games. In DCUO you can blast an enemy and send trucks, buses, rocks, generally anything lying by the wayside, flying into them.
Psychically lifting and throwing a bus. Where else can you do that?
Much like with weapons, as you progress so does your powers. At the start of a fire-toon, you have a fireball and you realise that you're nothing like the Human Torch. As the levels pass, you're able to summon meteors, and ignite the floor; creating a blinding fire vortex that damages any who enter it.
You're not the Human Torch, nor do ever you want to be. You're something else. Something much, much hotter.
One of the many things I love in DC Universe (and there's a lot) is that is doesn't fall victim to the usual MMO tropes. It would have been so easy to follow the MMO rulebook and grant all enemies immense health points and then force players into groups that have to grind enemy after enemy, until the finally reach the cap. If you've ever played Final Fantasy XI, you'll know what I'm on about. Instead, DCUO abandons this archaic concept and allows players to solo their way to the level cap. You can form groups if you want to, and there are always people ready to play, but if you want to go it alone, you can.
This simple – and yet so obvious – way of doing things works especially well if you're the type of gamer who can't afford to put in eight hour play sessions every day just feel like you're achieving something. I work full-time, so while I'd love to spend every hour of every day playing games, I can't. So being able to play an MMO for a few hours after work, and still feel like I'm getting something done, is hugely rewarding.
Another aspect I mentioned was enemies that have huge health bars. These types of enemies only serve to consume time and make a game appear long than it is. There's none of that in DCUO. You're a freakin' superhero. I don't want to spend time creating a character only to have them feel pitiful and weak when they hit their first mob. I want them to glide into a battle like Batman and save the day. Now that's not to say enemies are weak, they're not, especially at level 30. What they are is balanced; they're balanced in a way that they appear as a threat, but a threat you (the superhero) can overcome.
In turn, this also makes boss battles seem that much more gruelling. Killer Frost has been around far longer than you, so a one-on-one fight is sure to result in a loss. But in a team of 4, perhaps you stand a chance of besting her.
What DCUO does better than any other superhero game is that it makes you feel like a superhero. Not the stereotypical superhero though. You're a real superhero; one that has hard fought victories but one that does suffer losses. But Batman always wins, doesn't he? Ask Bane how their fight worked out for him ... Heroes aren't invincible. Yeah they're powerful, but they do lose.
How is Gwen Stacey these days?
Travel powers are an area that helps add to the feeling that you're a real superhero. In DCUO you choose between flight, super-speed, or acrobatics. What's interesting here is that each of the powers, like everything, can be upgraded as you level. Want to run circles round an enemy? You can. Is flight too slow? Speed it up with a skill point in the right place. Getting across the vast cities of Gotham or Metropolis takes time, they're huge, so as you become stronger and want to explore (or in my case visit places from the comics like crime alley or The Daily Planet), your levelled up travel powers allow you to do just that.
The journey to the level cap of 30 can seem quite daunting, for some. It may feel long and never ending, and when you see hundreds of other players in better gear than you (most likely dressed as The Hulk or Deadpool), it's understandable to feel a little disheartened. Do stick with it though. The journey to 30 is only about a quarter of the game. Once you hit 30, that's where the fun begins. You're armed with your first set of hefty armour (Archangel or Blood Bat depending on your faction) and it's off on daily missions. At first, you'll be working solo, in duos, or in groups of four to gain a currency known as Marks of Triumph that allow you to get an even better set of armour from different vendors.
Then you unlock raids.
Raids are a team of eight, all working together to get an objective completed. It's also tough as nails. You'll need a tank, and damage-per-second guy, a healer, and a troll (short for controller) if you plan on achieving any amount of success. It's chaotic, it's fast-paced, blink and you'll die, but when you cross the finish line, you'll feel like you've really earned your cape.
Capes. Of course, how could I forget about capes? Have you ever played an RPG where you get the best armour in the game +1, only to hate it and miss that bag of nails armour you started with? I have. Lots. DCUO combats this minor annoyance by allowing users to lock their styles. That new set of armour has fantasticle stats, great, go ahead and equip it. If you want, you can take the killer stats, but still keep that Superman inspired outfit from the first time you played.
Pretty cool, no?
I'm not blind. DC Universe Online does have its fair share of problems. I still haven't found a way to stop my character from becoming transparent when I spin the camera (You hear me Sony? Fix it!). But the many faults are out-weighed by one simple argument: I can fly.
My character's transparent: But I can fly. I fell through the floor: But I can fly. I blocked dammit: But I can fly.
The faults are over-looked by all the things DCUO does right. You're a superhero. For the first time in gaming you're actually a superhero with real powers. There's plenty of superhero games about that claim to be an ‘authentic experience’. But ask yourself this: How many of these games did you actually feel like you had super-powers? How many of them did you really feel like you could take down an army with such style and debonair?
DCUO is free-to-play on the PC and PS3. There is no valid reason not to try it out. Yes, it's a big ol' download, so download it when you go to bed. If you don't try it out for yourself, then you’re missing out on arguably the best MMO out there.
Name: Wesley Copeland
Born in Cyrodiil but raised in Ferelden, more commonly know as England. Wesley Copeland is a passionate writer with more opinions than an ostrich