Choose My Adventure: Starting out fresh in DC Universe Online

Not so much.
Last week was supposed to be when I kicked off playing DC Universe Online, but thanks to various real-life time obligations, I just didn’t have the chance to dive into it. My original idea of just doing a slapdash job and not actually playing it because Daybreak fans are accustomed to disappointment didn’t go over well, either. So I had to delay until now, when I actually did play some DCUO. It did, in fact, happen.

And much like the first time when I played, I found myself hit with something right out of the gate: There should literally be no reason for me not to like this. I love superheroes. I like action combat. I enjoy colorful settings. I like the things that this game is doing which are distinctly different from other superhero games. I like the whole idea of movement modes and everything. There’s a lot of stuff in here that should be very distinctly delighting me.

But it’s not.

I am also wondering what the hell is going on with her spine, but that's a little different.Some of this comes down to minor design quibbles, like controls. The transition between movement mode and normal mode always feels a touch clunky to me, and the various specialized combos use the “alternate press and hold” style that I’ve never enjoyed. Give me a sequence with several buttons to tap out, all right, but I always hate “press X, X, X, hold X, then press X again” as combo sequencing. So of course that’s the first combo I unlock with my staff.

See, she’s named Demireactor. She’s atomic. It’s a fuel rod. Yes, it shouldn’t make me giggle, but here we are.

Of course, it took me a while to even get to that name because the game both has the usual “one character can have one name and no other” system combined with one server and no workarounds. This is a bit of a problem with superhero games anyhow, just because it feels weird if you have seven or eight heroes running around with the name “Superham,” but the way the game is set up actually compounds the issue. Champions Online wisely decoupled unique names from superhero names, so you never had to worry about your preferred name being taken. It was a somewhat clunky solution in ways, but it accomplished its main goal.

Other minor irritations included the fact that as near as I could tell there’s no way to just hide the UI for screenshots; you can have it hide when you take a screenshot with the in-game screenshot function, but you can’t hide the UI and then take the shot with whatever means you so desire. That bugged me, although I’d love to be proven wrong about that being a thing.

Some of these control issues, of course, may well be a function of the fact that I’m playing on a mouse and keyboard rather than with a controller. I’ve been told by others that while this isn’t disallowed, it’s a bit like using a controller to play Guitar Hero. You can do that, but it kind of misses the point altogether.

My first instinct with 90% of games is mouse-and-keyboard, especially with MMOs, but I freely concede that I might be making life harder on myself. So I turn the question over to you, dear readers, and I ask you to tell me if I should be using a different control scheme.

CMA: Should I use a controller?

  • Yeah, that's half of your problem. With this game. Your other problems are your own issues. (40%, 68 Votes)
  • No, stick with your usual control methods, it's not really any better with other means. (34%, 57 Votes)
  • Isn't, like... everything you use to control a video game a controller? Think about it. (26%, 44 Votes)

Total Voters: 169

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You guys know when polls close at this point, right? I don’t need to insert the boilerplate in the middle of the column? Awesome.

I freely accept that I might feel differently with better controls. I also freely admit that somehow, a lot of the game right now just is not clicking for me. Even understanding more about how the game is set up, it just doesn’t feel quite right to me.

For example, one of the major conceits of the game is that unlike other superhero games, you are not necessarily spamming your powers at all times. While games like Champions Online and City of Heroes treat “throwing energy blasts” and “shooting a gun” as powers with vastly different effects but the same mechanical portrayal, DCUO gives your characters powers and a distinct fighting style. They’re not in the same category.

I believe the tutorial will get updated around the same time that we manage to reverse entropy.

You can, of course, build a character to focus almost entirely on powers or weaponry, but the “default” assumption is that you’re spending equal time beating on people with a stick or your fists or whatever while throwing powers around.

And you know, it makes a certain amount of sense; pretty much every superhero will throw a punch or two along the way, and it gives the combat a very different flow. It just feels a little counter-intuitive to me to hold your powers in reserve for big effects rather than busting them out to weave into combos, since using one stops your combo dead as soon as you trigger it.

The tutorial covers a fair bit of the quirks of the combat system – hold this attack button to interrupt that, use this to block, and so forth. It doesn’t seem to have quite as much intricacy as other action systems, but that does make a certain amount of sense given the source material. Superhuman fighters should be flattening groups of enemies whether or not they take them on with much finesse.

I do rather like the game’s gearing system. You can always edit your costume to look however you want, but you start out with a very small number of appearances actually unlocked. As you get new pieces of gear, however, you can incorporate that and you can alter your character’s color scheme (or the color scheme of individual pieces) as you’re so inclined. That strikes a nice balance between the wide-open functionality of superheroic costume creators and having something to work toward as the game goes on. Full points to the game for that.

It’s not bad at all. In fact, the things I don’t like are all very minor things, stuff that shouldn’t prevent me from being into the game. I really like the systems in place to do things like reward players taking on content in duos, too. But somehow it just isn’t grabbing me yet, and I feel as I play it as if it’s pretty and has some neat conceptual ideas without ever getting to the point of being all that fun. Maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m still subtly expecting something which isn’t there. Hopefully next week will shake me out of that rut.

For now, however, you can let me know your thoughts down in the comments below or via mail to If some of those thoughts include explaining to me how I’m wildly misunderstanding certain mechanics, please, include those without ad hominem; I’m happy to be wrong. That’s part of the learning process here, after all. I’ll see you here next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

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. We’ve made him promise not to use the “bat-channel” line to close off any further columns regardless of thematic appropriateness, so don’t worry about that.
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