Into the Super-verse: Trying DC Universe Online for the first time

    
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While this column will no doubt be looking at the superhero MMO releases that are currently in development, it’s also here, as we said, to look at the past and present titles in this genre. One question that’s been nagging me is why we are so keen to see one of the upcoming titles come out when we already have two games on the market right now.

Is it just a desire to see something new? Are City of Heroes fans holding out for a title that mimics their former favorite haunt? Or are the current offerings — DCUO and Champions — not satisfying that caped crusader craving?

That’s probably a topic for another day, but this line of thinking nudged me over to check out one of those current superhero MMORPGs for the first time. I’ve never really given DC Universe Online much of a look in the past, but considering this column’s scope, it’s high past time I did. So let me introduce you to Metal Ika, my newfound robot superhero who is bringing lies, injustice, and her own brand of infamy to Gotham City.

Character Creation

One of my biggest video game pet peeves is when we’re playing titles that are obviously designed to be compatible with the smaller input scheme of consoles (for example, every Bethesda game ever). DCUO reportedly has seen greater success in its console incarnation, and so I shouldn’t be surprised that the whole control scheme is incredibly console-friendly — and incredibly annoying to PC users.

I mean, look at the character creator. This is usually the crown jewel of superhero MMOs, but DCUO has one of the most awkward series of menu prompts that I’ve seen trying to tackle this complex of a creator. Instead of all of the options for any particular category being onscreen at once, you have to scroll up and down with only a handful showing at any given time. It’s poorly laid out and executed, and as such, trying to make the character you want is more of a bother than a joy. I’m serious when I say that after a while, I almost wanted to click on a randomize button and be done with it because none of this was fun.

To give the system credit, there is a decent amount of flexibility to make the type of character you want and give him, her, or it a distinct look. Some of the visuals are really well-done, and I appreciated that I could choose to side with the villains as well as the heroes and get an appropriate mentor. Although why anyone would choose anyone other than the Joker is beyond me. They got Mark Hamill to do it, for Pete’s sake!

Tutorial

DCUO needs a better tutorial. Oh, it’s not the worst tutorial ever, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t accomplish its aims on any level very well. For starters, for players who want to get right into the superhero setting, throwing us on an alien-looking ship fighting androids or whatever doesn’t exactly fit the expectation bill. And whatever story they were trying to go for here with Brainiac isn’t served well by this confusing architecture and bland approach.

It also made me feel very restrained, with little in the way of exploration, useful teaching on key systems, or immersion. Plus, no matter what travel powers you’ve selected, these closed-in corridors and chambers hamper the joy of using those.

At least there’s an option to skip it if you’ve done the tutorial once so that future characters won’t have to endure this before getting to the MMO proper.

Powers and Combat

Once the game dumped me out in Gotham, I felt like I could breathe and start to enjoy the game at my own pace. One highlight was getting that travel power right at character creation, as it encouraged me to treat the entire city as my own playground. I went with flight (because, again, why would you not?) and probably spent the next half-hour zooming around and getting a feel for the movement and sights.

DCUO has its own “feel” to its controls that’s not exactly as tight as I’d expect for a mouse-and-keyboard setup but is on par for what we see with console titles. It’s a little loose and slippery, but once I got the hang of jumping into the air and then flying around buildings as if they were an obstacle course, I found that it was all well within my parameters for fun.

This is definitely an action MMO, top to bottom, and it handles combat in a different way than I’ve seen in Champions or City of Heroes (although it is very similar to Neverwinter). I had a main attack using my melee weapon (in this case, a staff) that could trigger different types of combos if I had the patience to memorize them. Probably like most players, I just mashed away and got a thrill out of seeing my character beat the living tar out of the “good” guys with style and grace.

But the idea is to weave powers into this melee mix, kind of like special skills popping up in between regular attacks. So as the game went on, I learned how to utilize my mental powers to, for example, grab an enemy and pull him right to me, whap him on the head a few times with my staff, and then finish him off with a powerful psionic blast. I’m not always an action combat proponent, but DCUO kind of pulls it off. I found myself playing longer than I had anticipated because the core combat loop is satisfying.

DC Tie-Ins

This being the catch-all DC title, DCUO makes good on its implicit promise to feature some of both the greater- and lesser-known characters from its world. I definitely applaud how it got me running missions for and interacting with the Joker, Catwoman, and the Huntress early on, and getting those fully voiced interactions brought this whole experience to a higher level.

I should put a shout-out for some big-name voice actors who appear in this game, since this is an aspect that isn’t often exalted about DCUO. Gina Torres, Adam Baldwin, Wil Wheaton (as Robin!), James Marsters, World of Warcraft composer Tracy W. Bush, Michelle Forbes, and Kevin Conroy are just a few of the more recognizable names that you’ll be hearing.

And as comic book fans know, the setting is just as much of a character as the people, and from what I’ve seen, Gotham is marvelous. It’s a little cleaner than some of the film or TV incarnations we’ve seen, but it’s still dark, brooding, and full of deco art style that gives it a timeless quality.

Coming into my own as a supervillain

For the first couple of hours, I simply followed the main storyline wherever it would send me. DCUO might not have the best-looking UI (it’s chunky and obtrusive), but it is remarkably clear as to where you’re supposed to go and what you should be doing.

I found myself shutting off my analytical mind and instead responding to the questing prompts and combat situations. The quests weren’t incredibly special, but they had a public quest-like feel to them as you went into an area and had to accomplish certain tasks. Having the environment often interactive and destructive made it pretty cool — especially when I had a quest objective on the other side of a fence, which I just kicked through instead of flying up and over.

Something that really took some getting used to is how DCUO handles gear. Unlike most superhero MMOs I’ve seen that let you create and stick to a specific look, DCUO skews more to the traditional MMO route of having gear with its own look. So as you get rewards, your outfit is evolving — and I actually like this a lot! It was cool to see how my character’s looks would change from mission to mission, from the visuals of her staff to the presence of a smooth-flowing cape.

There’s certainly a lot more to learn and discover about this game, and now that I’ve put in several “blind” hours into playing it, I might need to buckle down and really learn about how it works. But for now, I can say that I want to keep logging into it, not out of duty or obligation, but because it’s a thrilling experience in its own right.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Eliot Lefebvre and Justin Olivetti covering superhero MMORPGs, past, present, and future! Come along on patrol as Into the Super-verse avenges the night and saves the world… one column at a time.
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Kesko

I played for 2 weeks at launch until I finished all the single-player quest content. Had no interest in endgame / gear hamster wheel / dungeon stuff.

One of the most fun I ever had in an MMO!

After that, I could no longer bring myself to play MMOs that weren’t action combat. Darn you, DCUO.

I checked in a few years ago & heard they never added any more single player stuff. Is that still true?

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Eamil

My biggest problem with DCUO is that it leans heavily on the license rather than making an effort to really draw you into the fantasy of being a superhero and interacting with the DC characters, at least as far as I’ve played it (which is around level 20 out of 30).

Sure, you’re taking missions from Joker or Luthor or Wonder Woman etc, but at least on the hero side, the game makes no effort to make you feel like you’re either teaming up with them, or doing anything independently as a superhero. They’re just on your radio telling you where to go, and you go and do the thing, and they pop up on your radio again to tell you what they learned and where to go next.

It feels very much like you’re a lackey rather than a hero or even a sidekick/student. It’s the standard MMO problem, in a genre that makes it a lot harder to swallow. Even though I find the mission structure very generic and not that fun or interesting, a bit more effort could have improved the sense of immersion enough to make it easier to overlook.

Sure, the game is constantly throwing you into encounters with other DC allies and enemies, but very few of them feel meaningful. You run into a character, they deliver a couple lines of dialogue, then the story shuffles you along to the next location. It just feels like a lot of potential was wasted because they didn’t put in the effort.

I enjoy the combat, but I’d like it better if the sound design had a bit more oomph to it. As a brawler it sounds like I’m whiffing rather than hitting like a truck.

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Tee Parsley

DCUO was always a console Superhero MMO. The action-y combat combined with button and mouse click mashing control on PC shows that clearly. As strictly a console game, it may still be the best for the genre.

There was very little variation in your character possibility at launch. That may have gotten better over time though. Still, Superman was an Ice Tanker. Yeah, right. :(

I was in the beta, and played a little longer at release. No interest since then. Sorry for sucking up some of the good names.

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Hikari Kenzaki

“DCUO is the best Console Superhero game out there.” is the best compliment I could make at launch. It had the virtue of being the only Console Superhero game at the time.

It has certainly gotten better, but at launch, you couldn’t even chat with other players on PC… in an MMO. There is a reason why the RP message boards on the official forums went dead silent 2 months after launch.

It is much better, but you’re right, it will always be a console game first.

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Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

Actually been replaying this on a fresh PS4 account, really forgot how easy fit is to slip back into the groove and get lost playing.

One of my favorite parts continues to be that characters call you with all the main missions. Makes me feel all important while also not breaking up gameplay flow at all.

And as others have said you can lock appearance sets.

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Shadex De'Marr

It has been so long since the game has done any sort of game cleanup on dead accounts you would be lucky if you get anything better than gtchue4gxvh64dgc as a character name. It is a beautiful game but not being able to play the hero you want because someone played that name for 8 minutes back in 2015 puts this title at the bottom of my list.

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leihngwei

“It doesn’t matter if DCUO’s character creator is lackluster. I don’t care what my character looks like and I don’t play alts.”

“Do you even superhero, brah?”

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

If DCUO had been a traditional style MMO a la COH with more content (maxxed 3 characters and was down to nothing but dailies in a week to ten days) I would have loved it but as it was I am not a fan of action combat in MMOs especially combo based action combat AND if it were not pushing duo and group content drops so much (especially when those drops are story content then I would have liked it.

So yeah, I didn’t..unfortunately.

dixa
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dixa

the combat loop is enjoyable for the first bit, but gets annoying when you realize that to be effective you have to do absurd shit like animation cancelling to be considered effective.

and you will never catch up to end game. ever. the power creep is so far and above absurd and they keep adding more and more to it that a new player starting today who does not put 30-40 hours into the game weekly will not catch up before the next power creep.

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Hikari Kenzaki

Couple things.

1) That’s not how gear works in DCUO. DCUO has looksets that are applied to each gear you earn, but you also have the option to lock in a cosmetic look and stick with it or change it anytime on the fly. The gear you have earned overtime increases your available wardrobe, but it never locks you into a look. If it did that, I would have never played it.

2) DCUO does have some good voice acting guest stars occasionally, but overall, the VO on DCUO is horrible. See also, John Constantine.

3) How far did you get into the questing? The stories DO get better, but they’re all locked behind multiplayer instances. If you don’t want to PUG, let us know :)

4) Love that screenshot at the top :) https://massivelyop.com/2018/11/04/one-shots-a-star-is-born/

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Eamil

I think the point was more that in CoX and Champions you make your character at the beginning, outfit and all, and gear doesn’t change your appearance, while in DCUO the gear does have unique appearances that change what your character looks like, and most of them aren’t available at character creation.

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Ironwu

As a PC gamer, the DCUO UI simply did not work for me. Add that to all the other issues with DCUO and I am left with a game that has zero appeal to me. I never made it past the tutorial.

As for Champions Online, at launch they managed to put a 50cal pistol to their head and pulled the trigger. In case anyone is not familiar with how it went down, the game had the usual ‘pre-launch’ availability and pre-order folks could play the game several days before the ‘official’ launch to the general public. Everyone was having a blast. Then came launch day and the disastrous launch day patch. It took what was an absolutely fun game and nerfed it into the ground; they nerfed everything related to character powers and left players as weak, ineffectual shadows of their former heroic selves. CO never recovered from that absurdly stupid decision.

So, for me the only super hero games that I enjoyed playing are COH/COV and I am still quite annoyed at NCSoft for killing it. They could have at least sold it on to someone that would have kept it going.