Choose My Adventure: Get out of here, DC Universe Online

So this is an unusual situation for me: I’ve never actually played a game for Choose My Adventure that I’ve disliked this much.

Those of you who have followed my writing for a while know that I’ve played some games I didn’t much like before, but that’s different. Lord of the Rings Online and Black Desert, for example, are games that were not my cup of tea but still had obvious merits I could praise. I’ve played games that I dislike or ones that deserved more criticism than praise when I played them (Ryzom, TERA, the beta period of The Elder Scrolls Online), but still had positive sides. (And in the last case, ESO turned itself around quite well and earned plenty of kudos from me.) Heck, I played Scarlet Blade with as open a mind as I could possibly have.

But not so DC Universe Online. No, this game deserves a pretty thorough drubbing. I can understand why it has fans, but it’s still just not a good game. I can only hope it’s an outlier rather than the norm on Daybreak’s overall catalog, because… wow. This is not fun.

You might be surprised that I’m really kind of heading into outright vitriol here, when it’s not as if my non-summation column have been just about negativity. The reason is simple. Up until this point, I’ve been giving the game as many chances as I can, trying my best to see the good in it. I haven’t been enjoying it, but I figured maybe there’s a point where it turns around, where it starts to get good, where…

I don’t know. It transfigures itself into a game I might want to play.

Or something, anything, to make me care a little.

Perhaps that does happen eventually. But after the time I’ve put into it, I’m not inspired to try any further. I could honestly spend another week or month or year banging my head against the game waiting for that point, but my time on Earth is short and there are other things I want to use that time for.

See, games like Scarlet Blade are bad, but they wear that badness on their sleeve. DCUO seems like it’s in that worst class of game where it clearly was assembled with effort, and yet it feels like every bit of effort went into all the wrong directions.

The combat system, for starters, is an unpleasant mess. It’s an example of all the worst parts of action combat mixed with the worst parts of MMO combat. Powers and their effects feel insubstantial at best and irrelevant at worst, while weapon combos relied on the “tap/hold” mechanic, which I find rarely feels satisfying. (By contrast, I point to the weapon combos in DmC as an example of how to make things feel more satisfying; different abilities and combos required different buttons and juggling weapons, with only one or two moves that even incorporate a pause rather than a long sequence of tapping sometimes and holding others. It makes it much easier to plan on what you’re doing and what you need.)

That’d be bad even if it didn’t feel glitchy and horribly affected by lag, but it does. Combat would be frustrating even if worked correctly, but it doesn’t. I kept finding myself thinking of the game and wishing that it had more traditional combat — it would still be messy, but at least it would feel as if I were in control of the game.

And all of this would be bad in and of itself if you were presented with this combat system. DCUO has this problem, and then it has… virtually nothing else. It has awful combat at the beating heart of the game, and then it has no other real tricks to show you to convince you that it’s still worthwhile.

We'll always have whatever this was. As long as I remember it.In some ways, it baffles me. Bad combat happens sometimes; you try to avoid it, but it does happen. Star Trek Online, a game I’ve expressed a deep and abiding love for, has two combat systems, and one of them is probably just as bad as DCUO’s combat. The thing is that as much as that system is a slog, the game also has a lot of other things to recommend it that more than eases the sting of the ground combat. It might be a disjointed mess there, but it has other spaces to grow and be fun.

DCUO has… nothing. It has the same endlessly bland combat, some races, and then you’re just about done. I am sure there is more to the game, eventually, once you slog it out, but combat is at the beating heart, and outside of a handful of races, I was never presented with anything else.

Comparing every superhero game to City of Heroes might be unfair, but CoH was another game that for a long time had combat and not much else; crafting was a later addition, and you certainly never had housing for individuals. Heck, the game had less-detailed models than DCUO gets to work with; characters had hilarious mitten hands and painted-on faces. Plus, it didn’t have the benefit of an ultra-famous IP to work with.

Yet CoH had combat that was fun. It had a cast of characters it developed over time. It was a superhero MMO that was trying, on every level, to be a superhero MMO. It watched people doing fun and ridiculous things and found ways to encourage that. By the time it shuttered, it had really succeeded in finding the joy of playing a superhero.

Despite the fact that DCUO has been out for six years, it feels like a beta version of itself. It feels like names and faces have been plastered on a game that does not, in fact, feel very much like a superhero game at all. Playing it feels like a slog, and it’s not as if there’s a lot of really cool lore or storytelling waiting at the end of it that isn’t already much more accessible in comics or movies; it’s just more of the same, and it wasn’t fun the first time.

I know the game has its fans. I know there are people for whom this is their MMO, and I feel genuinely bad jabbing at it for those fans. But the reality is that a bad game is a bad game, fans or no. Even the best parts are just kind of there, and it’s an experience I’m glad to put behind me.

I’d always thought of Daybreak games as being short on lore and creative settings but at least given to solid gameplay, but DCUO has proven to be the disappointing exception.

Are you going to make me pay for all those jokes about being in space?

Shrouding and moving along

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, our next month is going to be a case without opening up a vote. I’ve never actually played Shroud of the Avatar despite having interviewed Richard Garriott on a couple of occasions, and quite frankly, I’m curious.

While Garriott has done things to rub me the wrong way from a design standpoint before, he’s also an extremely genial and approachable man in person, and I’ve loved every chance I’ve gotten to talk with him. The fact that bits of SOTA are inspired by the touches of Tabula Rasa that I was originally interested in? That provokes further interest.

And let’s be fair, this is one of the first Kickstarted MMORPG projects that’s really at its delivery point. The game isn’t totally finished, but it’s closer to finished than not-finished. Until subsequent updates, anyhow.

So let’s take a spin through Shroud of the Avatar as someone who still thinks of Ultima as a spell name. We’ll talk more about that next week; until then, leave your feedback in the comments below or hurl invective directly at me with mail to eliot@massivelyop.com.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Eliot each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures — and you get to decide his fate. He will also be very amused by the games people expect him to dislike compared to the ones he actually dislikes; the overlapping area on that Venn diagram may be expressed as a single point on a Cartesian coordinate plane.
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14 Comments on "Choose My Adventure: Get out of here, DC Universe Online"

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charles allen

As a free to play player on a PS 4, who had higher hopes and expectations for DCUO after trying the train wreck of Champions Online, I have mixed feelings.

Story: on one hand, I liked the initial start off point on how you came about getting your powers. However, it really only worked for me story wise as a hero( wake up and use your powers for good). Being a villain, what was my motivation? Why would I join Lex or the Joker?A character background story would’ve help iron that out. The higher up I got, the less I cared about anything other than “what’s to do at the cap?” Not much. Outside of instances that, for the 8 man ones are impossible to run unless it’s a easy one,it leads to my next gripe…..

Grind: we all know every MMO is a grind fest. My fave CoH, for as much as I miss it, was a grinder. But it was fun. Getting people to run missions, even with farming on Peregrine Island, was fun. I guess because you can always put a team together no matter the time of day. On DCU, I don’t know if it’s the player base or the team up mechanics, but it sucks. The fact that the best loot is on the 8 man runs that you can’t get enough to run is kinda backwards in my opinion.

Combat: this is where I think DCUO gets a bad rap. I think it’s better as a console game than a PC game. I always felt that COH, for example, would’ve killed on a console if the controls were mapped right. DCUO controls work in some regard. They unfortunately make you choose powers you won’t ever use because it’s a button masher. I’ve maybe used 3 attacks and if I triggered any others, it was simply because of mashing and not by choice. They should’ve just let you pick the one you want and level up their strength and particle effects with leveling. It beats Champions Online any and every day of the week.

I personally stopped playing because of the team up mechanic and got into Star Trek Online, which I actually enjoy despite its flaws. It too has a bad team up mechanic tied into the loot system but at least lest the space combat is fun if only I get to say, ” Dammit Jim!!” in my head when I die.

Aelzen
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Aelzen

I’m so sorry. I troll-voted for you to “see every part of the game” and check out dungeons in your last column, out of a morbid curiosity as to whether your distaste for the game could grow any further. It was cruel, and I regret it now. Good to hear you’re moving on to greener pastures.

DeadlyAccurate
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DeadlyAccurate

This was the first MMO I actually reached max level in. I played it about 3 weeks, enjoyed my time in the game, and then finished it and moved on to something else.

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Tazuras

I tried DCOU and quit after less than an hour. It just didn’t draw me in. Maybe I would enjoy it more further in, but at this point I would rather play STO.

hurbster
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hurbster

I always enjoyed the combat. Even with a mouse and keyboard.

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Scott Leyes

I didn’t HATE DCUO; but I didn’t LIKE it either.

I spent a couple months in the game earlier this year. I like the DC universe, and the game and story looked interesting. Plus, I figured the game had long enough since launch to iron out the horrible bugs and such all MMOs have in early life.

I leveled a character, rolled a bunch of alts to see who/what I liked, played both “Heroes” and “Villains” to see both sides… and ended up saying “meh”

Face it: with some VERY minor variations, every character’s leveling experience is exactly the same. There are some tiny quest differences based on your mentor, but overall, you end up doing the same grind on every toon.

Then you hit max level, and there is NOTHING to do but run instances. To get gear that will let you do MORE instances. That’s the game.

Crafting? Not really.
Housing? Well… run instances to collect stuff to fill your hole that does nothing and looks sad no matter how much you fill it up.
Cosmetic Gear? Nice, but run more instances or spend a crapton of cash.
Special Events? OK, but quick and end up in more instances.

I can’t speak to the “new” combat systems, but the old one involved going online to look up the ONE set of skills/rotation that maxxed DPS and hitting those five keys, in order, ALL THE TIME.

The final straw for me? I stopped playing, but left my sub going for a couple months, thinking that I might sneak back in again – and at least I’d have some accumulated gems to blow on cool cosmetic items. But I checked my account, and found out that I had NONE of the gems I paid for because they have to be collected/redeemed in the month they are “given” – in other words, “Screw You for not playing”

That’s the sort of crap behaviour that tells me to stay away.

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Arktouros

I find this article, among others, highlights the kind of futility in a CMA series in MMOs where much of the bulk of how MMO game’s actual “adventure” happens well into playing a particular game. That’s not to state that different games have better or worse lead ups/progression to the stage of the game, only that it’s rarely reflective or accurate to what a game’s actual day to day game play is like for those who play it. This series ends up coming off like a sort of “Lets Play” that’s only result is an indecisive review/judgement on a game that usually ends up baffling to those who actually play said games.

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Sray

That’s a really spot on observation.

I think that it really says something not so positive about the state of current MMORPGs (and many other multiplayer genres as well) that the “fun” or “real game” doesn’t start until a player has put anywhere from 20 to upwards of 60 or 70 hours into playing.

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Doc Nova

The recent StatRevamp takes the game back to 2011-2013 era, which was slower combat, (jump canceling powers, trinket or soder used for clipping attack animations). Removing Advanced Mechanics and Weapon Mastery because that made it a cookie cutter build for each power per role and was too easy. Especially with CR differential at that same time. Roleless buffs were added in Alerts because ever since launch, it has been DPSUniverse. Targeting has always been bad in this game. (target object instead of NPC?) There is no Real reason to have two factions. The very few Villain content that heroes don’t get (& vice versa) early in the game was nice, but the end of different content from then on. No more animated cut scenes. No way to skip cut-scenes that you might have to watch 20-50 times during the grind for marks to buy stuff from vendors. Vertical progression that does not end as you obtain the best gear, until the next gear comes out, is tiring. The relevancy window limits content that will reward marks. There has not been new Marketplace items except for RNG boxes that are an alternative means to rank up and earn skill points. Feats for skill points include and are not limited to do specific content 1,000 times. /wary
This game is a use of the DC license.

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ensignedwards

Rarely have I disagreed with Eliot more (except about Draenei). Now, I haven’t spent a lot of time in DCUO, but that’s just because I’m not a DC guy. I dislike the setting. Mechanically, as a game, I thought it was pretty good. Not “best game evar,” but plenty fun. Definitely above average.

In particular I thought the combat was excellent, and that’s a sentiment I’ve seen a lot of people echo, even some who (unlike me) aren’t big action combat fans.

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BalsBigBrother

I feel that this is another article similar in vein to the Elite: Dangerous one Andrew did yesterday and its a case that the game just didn’t mesh for you at all, which is fine. I am not here to convince you that you are wrong to have your own opinion. However, I would suggest to other folks that you go try it for yourself and see what you think for yourself.

Personally I had a lot of fun with DCUO to the point that I carried on into and enjoyed doing the end game progression content that the game has. I have only ever done that before with FFXI so for me DCUO certainly clicked for me in way many other games didn’t and gave me a lot of fun.

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Sray

Agreed. I mentioned in his last column thay DCUO is a game you either “get” or you don’t. It’s defintely not targeted at escapist/fantasy fulfillment/role playing oriented gamers; which is strange given source material. I always found that it was more “intellectual” fun rather than “emotional” fun: I always tended to play with the same type of detachment that one tends to play RTS and 4X games. Again though, source material and game don’t quite align here, so combine that with a tragically terrible UI (M+K or controller doesn’t matter: it just terrible) and that brings us to where those who “don’t get it” live and game; making these sorts of feelings understandable.

pepperzine
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pepperzine

Completely agree. I found the endgame tier progression to be fun and straight forward. I’ve always played as a healer though so I’m not sure if I’d have the same amount of fun as a dps.

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Armsbend

Yes, the fighting is absolutely terrible. I did enjoy the exploration though.

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