Choose My Adventure: Two approaches to whining about DC Universe Online
So this week, you get to choose the column you want to read. There are two spoiler warnings below: one covering my thoughts of playing the game from a strictly game-based perspective, the other one being my thoughts of playing the game from a comic book fan’s perspective. Read one! Read the other! Read both! Theoretically you could read neither, I suppose, but then you would have clocked out before you were done with this introduction.
Click for the gameplay column!
There was also a really fun sequence in which I got trapped between two enemies who liked to chain-stun me, thus making the process of actually fighting anything really fun. But then, that was sort of combat in a microcosm to begin with.
Allow me to make my bias rather clear here. There’s not much else to DCUO aside from fighting things. The whole gameplay of things like races is pretty cool (although I have yet to find one in Metropolis, but that’s mostly on my lack of sufficient exploration), but at the end of the day the game is going to be heavily focused around combat. The game has crafting of a sort, thanks to the Research and Development system added well after launch, but it doesn’t present as a core necessity at all. This is a game about fighting.
The problem, of course, is that if your game’s biggest takeaway is combat, it needs to have really good combat. And DCUO doesn’t. DCUO has the action combat that feels like what The Elder Scrolls Online felt like at launch, almost down to the nature of powers.
Some of this might be because of my power choice. But I don’t really feel like I understand my powers at this point, and I can largely ignore them aside from a self-heal. Things die more easily to a weapon combo anyhow, and my powers feel oddly lacking in impact. There’s no sense that I’m flattening my enemies with superhuman abilities, just that I can sort of stun one dude occasionally.
That would make a bigger difference if I felt as if the targeting system were more responsive and let me stun whom I wanted stunned, or if I felt as if the stun mattered, or if basically every combat round didn’t pit me up against multiple opponents to make stunning one target pointless. Or, for that matter, if big setpiece fights against notable heroes didn’t involve said heroes being immune to my stun.
Yes, I realize that stunning big enemies can cause gameplay problems, but that is literally all I’ve been given as an option thus far. At this point, it feels like my powers are “hit things with a staff” far more than “use atomic energy.” I mean, I love fighting things with a staff, but I would have appreciated being consulted on that wild deviation.
Even without the power issue, combat feels oddly floaty. It’s hard to make a choice between “hammer the attack button” and “tap, hold, tap” as worthwhile differences in battle, since they feel as if they have functionally the same impact in the end. Which means I often wind up going with the former, just because it feels like less thought.
This is why I’m often not as fond of action combat mechanics; in this case in particular, it doesn’t feel like it makes the game more interesting, it makes me feel as if I have less control over what’s happening. I’d prefer to just be able to select my abilities with a traditional system and enjoy things, and…
Well, now I’m just pining for some other superhero game, so perhaps I should put that down there.
Thus, from a purely gameplay perspective, I haven’t been impressed. It was a whole lot of floaty combat and not much else, marred by technical issues that made it far more difficult than it should have been to just keep progressing along the wholly linear story path. I recognize that some of this is just down to the nature of the game’s early levels, but it felt like the sort of game you wouldn’t give a second look without the fiction to support it. That’s not a good place to be.
I mean, surely they wouldn’t have stories in which you’re just a relentlessly evil monster doing monstrous things for no reason other than “because a guy told me to,” right?
Oh. Yeah, that’s basically how this first story arc goes. Lex Luthor wants to turn a whole lot of humans into mini-Parasites because… well, who knows why? It’s never explained. He just wants to do it. Then, you have to work with the Parasite to beat the snot out of Power Girl. Only… not kill her? But maybe kill her? It’s really, really unclear what the end goal here is, and it makes the whole thing feel like a muddled mess.
There are hints about what the game is trying to do with the storytelling, but it kind of started hitting me cold as soon as you had Lex basically creating these little parasites for no reason beyond “I can do it and want to.” That doesn’t feel like the Lex Luthor behind Lexcorp and the general “respected evil businessman” trope; it feels like the sort of thing you’d get from the Superfriends, where evil schemes exist because you’re evil and you do evil and evil is fun.
And then you have seven or eight million quests in which you sabotage every effort to reverse the condition you inflicted, which at this point has long since left any sort of “for science” explanation in the dust. All to take down Power Girl, which strikes me as a bit like burning your house down to get rid of a spider. (And, if the little animated bit after the last quest is any indication, to watch the spider scurry off as you stand before the burnt wreckage.)
You also have the problem of fighting cops. To be fair, fighting the police is a long tradition in DC Comics; Batman himself does it every Tuesday just to stay sharp. And there’s also a long tradition of the police being able to deal with some degree of meta-human threat, to boot; it makes sense that if you live in a world with Superman, you want to be able to deal with Superman just in case. I don’t have any problem with that.
The problem is one that we see come up elsewhere: It doesn’t feel super satisfying. It doesn’t feel as if you’re fighting someone’s henchmen; you’re just beating up people legitimately trying to help your victims.
And some of that is the problem with adapting an existing comic book property to a video game like this. City of Heroes could be created from the ground up to be entirely new, so every group of evil henchmen and minions had big names and people to take down, rather than having a whole lot of heroes and villains off in space (so to speak). The game even created stuff like Longbow to give villainous characters some properly heroic minions (with appropriate punch) to face off against.
DCUO doesn’t have that out of the gate because it can’t. It’s got a whole lot of heroes and villains running around who do not fit into that sort of structure, and as a result the whole thing feels… well, kind of arbitrary. As silly as it might sound, that was in my head the whole time. It’s not that it destroyed the experience, but it meant that plotlines were oddly juxtaposed. It’s an MMO story trying to pretend that it’s a comic book story, and it just doesn’t quite work.
It doesn’t help that thevoice acting is bad. The cast itself isn’t bad, but it’s a real victim of poor direction; everyone’s speaking lines into closets instead of to other people, and it shows. Voice acting is hard, but this is not a good example of how it can be used effectively.
I don’t want the takeaway here to be wholly negative, so let me just say that having swapped to the controller, it is quite clear how heavily this game really was designed for a controller player. Lots of things feel far more organic with the buttons, and while there are still some issues (like how I find the tap-hold-tap combo a bit awkward still), they’re diminished rather than compounded with this particular option.
I could rant a bit about why I generally don’t like having my game played on a controller, but that’s largely immaterial in this case. Suffice it to say that I think it’s a definite improvement, and I’m glad the vote went as it did.
For that matter, I don’t even want to say that I’m not having any fun; I’ve played games where I’ve had to dig deep for any sort of enjoyment and this isn’t one of them.The game is perfectly fine, but the more I play, the more I find myself thinking that it’s not to my taste. For the reasons listed above, and perhaps other reasons that are unconsciously swirling in my brain without me even realizing it. Like anything, it’s complicated.
Of course, I don’t want to leave off this installment without a poll, but there aren’t many choices I’m aware of about where to go. So instead, this is going to be a rather meta poll about the column structure here: Did you enjoy it? Should I do it again?
CMA: Like the whole dual-column thing?
- Yes, this was cool, do it again. (83%, 89 Votes)
- No, please don't do this again. (17%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 107
The polls close at the usual time, so if you loved it or hated it, you’ve got plenty of time to make your voice heard before next week. Yes, I’ll be back again next week, and until then you can leave feedback down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.