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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

DC Universe Online Review

This review will focus on everything DCUO offers except for end game content, and PvP, as I have not had the chance to partake in either of these as of yet, however I will either add a separate review or build upon this one when that time comes.

So, you want to be a superhero, do you? Or maybe even a super villain?! Is going into warehouses that look the same and beating up on no name thugs that you don't feel any particular emotion for starting to get stale? Or maybe you're tired of doing the exact same thing, minus the warehouses, with cell-shaded graphics? Must superhero MMO's really be this bad? Well, the answer is... no.

The process begins, and as you start the game you are treated to a nice in game cinematic scene that explains the story of the game, and why you are who you are, and how you got there. You start by choosing if you are going to be a Hero or a Villain. Being awesome, I started with a hero. Afterwards, you choose a mentor. For the heroes you have Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, and on the side of evil you have the Joker, Lex Luthor, and Circe (who is very hot, I might add). Your mentor does not effect the build your character will have or their powers in general, but how the story of DCUO is told. Each mentor has a different series of opening quests, so it's always neat to go back and try another mentor to see the differences.

After that you pick your powers, which define your special abilities that you will have as you advance in level. They are currently limited to Fire, Ice, Gadgets, Mental, Plants, and Magic. Each super power has a different Power Tree that you can choose from as you level up. Fire, for example, has Immolation, which concentrates on blowing yourself up in various ways, or you have Ignition, which is more of a ranged caster style. Each of the power trees are vastly different from one another from the experiences I've had so far (I've made Fire, Ice, Gadgets, Mental, and Plants so far), so the options look smaller than they truly appear to be. You can have a Human Torch knock off that charges into battle and explodes in flames, or create a pyromaniac fireball blasting guy like Pyro, two totally different characters (and from the wrong Universe I might add). All in all, I was satisfied with the powers, and with the promise of more powers in the coming future, it can only go uphill from here.

Time for a travel power. That's right, level one travel power. What more could you possibly ask for? That's just plain awesome. I remember having to get a travel power in City of Heroes, waiting until level 14, it was a nightmare. Running around the city like some scrub in a costume, and actually taking trains to get to different parts of the city. It was embarrassing. DCUO doesn't humiliate you like that, as a hero or villain, the game respects you right from the get-go.

Then you choose your fighting style. This is your prime way of dealing damage outside of your superpowers. There are a lot to choose from, ranging from bows, energy blasts, two handed hammers, brawling, and many more. I thought I should add that as you progress through the game, you can unlock more weapon trees, meaning you can have a dual pistol wielding hero who also whips out a two handed weapon from time to time. With that being said, this choice doesn't need to be made as wisely as your superpower choice, considering later on you can re-trait your hero and just go down a different weapon tree instead of the one you originally chosen (although you are still forced to have that first initial point in your original weapon tree).

Now for the best part, costume. I had a very enjoyable time creating my heroes (and 1 villain). The options aren't as broad as some other superhero MMOs available to you, however all of the options that are present are solid, fun to work with, and allow you to easily create a very cool looking character without any trouble. It's also worth mentioning that as the game progresses, you will find more gear, which will unlock more looks for your character, so as far as looks go, it isn't over after you finish generating your hero or villain. It's also worth mentioning here, since we're on the subject, that if you don't like the way a specific piece of gear looks on your character, that you can always go back to how you looked before equipping said gear piece, but you can keep the gear's stats! This isn't the first MMO to do this, but it should really be implemented in all MMO's out there, heck, apply it to any game that changes the way your character looks based on gear, it's such a great idea. I always hated playing games and loving the way one of my items looked, and then having to replace it with something awful looking just because the item had better stats. Not the case in DCUO!

On to the opening tutorial. The game does a pretty good job of holding your hand and showing you the ropes. I am playing this game with my XBox 360 wired controller, and the controls are a blast. To compare however, I also gave the game a shot on the mouse and keyboard, as did my girlfriend, and we both think the controls are pretty solid in that department as well, but for the sake of this review, I am going based on my controller experience, which I might as, was very splendid! The controls are fast and fluid, and combat is always a joy to get into. The action packed gameplay is an amazing change of pace from your average MMO, and a very refreshing taste in the mouth of anyone whose been playing other MMO's for a great many years, especially if you love action games (which I do, btw). Anyway, the tutorial lasts about ten or so minutes depending on how fast or slow you can get the swing of things. It all ends with the Man of Steel himself coming in and helping you take down Brainiac's forces! Such a bad ass, that Superman.

Now you are tossed into either Gotham City, or Metropolis. Comparing these cities is like day and night, and you can take that literally too. In Gotham, it's always nighttime, and in Metropolis, it's always sunny. Of course there are some weather effects like rain and such, however the time of day will never change in the two cities, which is fine by me because it makes sense. As for the way these cities look, well, it's fantastic. Exploring each city is a lot of fun, and there's plenty to do and see in these breathtaking places. You can find the Bat Signal in the sky, head down to WayneTech, or the Daily Planet. Any comic book fan will eat this stuff up, I'm hardly a comic book reader, and even I was giddy as I looked around for familiar sites.

Time for the real meat and potatoes of the game, I'll be talking about questing, downtime activities, and instances for the duration of these paragraphs. I'll start with quests, which I must say is your very standard affair for an MMO. Go beat up ten of these thugs, or find five documents, or gather this item and bring it to a certain drop location. Some of the quests can be different, like this one that turns you into a giant zombie, but for the most part, they won't deviate from this formula. Now, while this appears to be repetitive, the game masks this very well through its well told story arcs, which are usually narrated by your choice of mentor, although later on every jumps in on talking your ear off, mentor or not. For the most part, the voice acting is very good, some of the unimportant characters like vendors don't have good voices, but quite frankly, who cares about them? Oh, and Batgirl's voice is rotten, but other than that, VO's are great. The music has its moments too, but for the most part its on the "eh" side of things, but I usually have my own custom soundtrack playing anyway. I mean, who doesn't when they plan an MMO? Tangent alert! Anyway, before I finish talking about quests, I should also mention that after you finish each story arc you are treated to a sweet, fully narrated comic book-like cutscene! These are pretty nifty, and always a joy to watch. The artwork in this game rocks! Also, I should mention that my current character is level twenty-six, and I've never felt like any particular level was an awful grind that I hated playing through. Each level comes at a smooth pace, so just when you're about bored of your latest combo, or newest superpower, a level up swoops in and saves the day and spices up the experience enough that you want to get back into the action! This style also encourages making alts and getting them to a high level, and thats good, because nothing is worse than an awful grind that you don't want to do at all (which for me was usually the case in any MMO I played). In DCUO it's a delight to roll a new character, and try out the various skill and power combinations, as opposed to it feeling like a dreadful job that you will dislike once you get to a specific level. Screw grinds, they suck!

Now for downtime activities, first I must mention that people are complaining that there is no crafting. Really? People enjoy crafting? I, for one, am as happy as anything that there is no boring crafting nonsense to do on my downtime. Yeah, because when Superman isn't out saving the world, he's sitting in a lab working on making purses to hold his items, or some little trinket. Yeah, okay, give me a break, superheroes are not crafters, they're heroes, that's their occupation. Now that I got that rant out of the way, in DCUO you can actually do FUN things with your downtime, instead of boring, monotonous tedium that allows you to make in game money by taking advantage of other people who would prefer to have fun and not work on such boring nonsense. You can partake in activities such as doing timed races (which unlock more emblems for your costume when you beat the Platinum time record), exploring (which will usually involve Booster Gold rewarding you with a ring slot item), unlocking feats (another way of saying achievements, which are actually USEFUL in this game because they unlock skill points every time you reach 100 feat points, unlike SOME other MMO's I can think of), and uncovering investigation tokens (these tell you more about villains or heroes, and is usually narrated by one). Besides, next big content patch will be including an Auction House most likely, so for you assholes who love exploiting people by playing the market, you'll get your fill soon enough! I wouldn't be surprised if crafting is on its way too at some point in the future, unfortunately. Anyway, downtime in DCUO is very solid, and enjoyable (for a change), and even rewarding! Just about every downtime feature unlocks or gives something back to your character instead of just feeling like wasting time for the sake of wasting it.

In this game group dungeons are called "Alerts." The Martian MANhunter will contact you every now and again to let you know when a new alert is available. Getting into a dungeon is pretty simple, just go to your menu and into the alert tab, que for an alert, and in a couple of minutes, off you go. In the beginning, they are pretty simple, and don't require much group co-ordination, however as you go on, you will need a well made group, which includes: Tank, Healer, Controller, and Damage. In the beginning you will most likely be seeing a group of 4 damage dealers, partly due to the fact that the game doesn't do a good job of explaining how to change your role, and what exactly the benefits are of being a different role to begin with. Each power set has a damage role, and a secondary role (defense, controller, healer). However, you have the power to read this review, and with that, you will now know that changing your role is useful, and better suited for group play! Damage is great and all, but without a defender to soak up all the enemy attacks, and without a healer to get said defender back up, you're going to be going down the river of styx rather quickly. One thing I'm not particulary fond of about Alerts is that they feel too much like a regular in game quest, except on a much larger scale. Instead of killing ten of Joker's clowns, now you have to kill fifty. Instead of disabling five transmitters, now you have to disable twenty-five. The boss fights, however, are more fun, and usually have some kind of mechanic that you must exploit and conquer to win the day, it's just the battles prior to reaching the bosses that could use a lot of work. That's not to say that the Alerts aren't fun, by the way, I always enjoy grouping up with people and kicking the crap out of stuff, I just feel there's a lot of untapped potential here. However, I'm sure with time there will be more interesting and thought provoking alerts added into the game.

This is a pretty damn long review, but I think I just about covered everything I could. If you're looking to play a non-grind heavy, action packed, story-driven game that looks and plays awesome, then look no further, DCUO is the answer to all that. Get a few friends into it and that'll spruce up the experience ten fold. I also have to mention, the game is a great, and this is just the launch of the MMO, which in my experiences, are usually pretty weak. That can only mean great things for this game's future if Sony Online Entertainment can keep at it (which based on their past MMO's, I would say thats a sure thing). If you've finally had enough of WoW or CoH or whatever MMO you currently play, and want something fresh and new (yeah, something that's kind of unheard of in the MMO world) then you're going to want to pick up DCUO... now!


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