Last week, DC Universe Online became one of the only MMOs on the Nintendo Switch, prompting many gamers to give it a look or even a relook. Now, I’m mainly a PC gamer, but I’m also a big Nintendo fan, so the Switch is the only current gen console I own. Previous Nintendo consoles have been mostly passed over by a lot of ports, so when an MMORPG or MMO does launch on my console of choice, I’m interested – and it’s paid off for me. For example, I actually ended up liking Warframe a lot better with the Switch controller than on PC (the keyboard setup in that game always hurt my hands for some reason, no matter how I remapped it).
First, let’s talk about the Switch port itself. Downloading the game took a while, which may have been the servers’ fault since it was launch day. The final install size was just above 24GB, so you’ll definitely need to get a micro SD card for your Switch if you want to play this one. That 24GB is understandable given that this includes every update currently live on PC, Xbone, and PS4. Logging in was simple enough; just agree to the terms, and the game automatically links to your Nintendo account.
There is, sadly, no crossplay or account import from any platform. The Switch, while impressively powerful given its compact size, is obviously a couple of steps behind its current gen competitors at Sony and Microsoft in terms of power. However, given that DCUO was originally designed to run on the PlayStation 3, the Switch has no problem with it. I would say the graphical quality is similar to what we saw on that console: not on par with what you’d see on the PC, but by no means painful on the eyes. In my time with the game, I noticed no framerate drops or graphical bugs, either in docked or in handheld mode.
The flagship feature of the Switch is its ability to instantly switch between a home console and a handheld. The Switch dials back its hardware specs when undocked from the TV to conserve its mediocre battery life, so most games have to reduce their graphical quality a bit when undocked, and DCUO is no exception. You will mostly notice that everything is a little fuzzier/lower-resolution while in handheld mode. The effect isn’t too bad, given the Switch’s 6-inch, 720p screen. The framerate, as I noted, was still solid in handheld mode as far as I saw.
The controls feel good – better than keyboard and mouse, to be honest. It’s clear to me that this game was designed for console first, PC second (you’ll recall that it launched for PS3 and PC at the same time). Sadly, though, there is no option for motion aiming. This is too bad because my time playing Splatoon 2 and Warframe on Switch has taught me that when it comes to accuracy, a combination of thumbstick for quick camera movements and motion controls for fine aiming is the next best thing to a mouse, even if it takes some getting used to. Hopefully this option will be added in a future update.
The character creation process in DCUO is one of the clunkiest I have ever experienced in any MMO, and as far as I can tell, it hasn’t been updated in the years since I first tried it. If Daybreak asked me for one thing to improve about the game, this would definitely be it. Players get to choose one power and one weapon to make up their skill set. Powers have a decent description, describing what your role will be if you pick this set (tank, damage, healer, or crowd control), but for some reason weapons just give you a description of what the weapon itself is. I know what a bow is. I want to know it does in this game and why I would choose it over martial arts.
Character customization is riddled with frustrations as well. The body shape models are pretty limited, as are skins. Also, faces and skins are linked for some reason. At first I thought that I was forced to choose a Caucasian skin tone if I wanted the faces that were happy, angry, etc., but eventually I found that there was a way to recolor skin. Unfortunately, skin tone is chosen using the full palette color picker, so it takes a lot of fiddling to get a natural-looking dark skin, for example. Hair and facial hair are for some reason coupled, so males have to scroll through every permutation of each hair with side burns, mutton chops, full beard, etc. The variety of costume pieces is decent, with more options unlocking as you pick up gear (and you can change your appearance at any time from the inventory menus), but the way colors are applied to costumes is annoying, with one menu to choose costume pieces, one menu to select a palette of four colors, and another menu to actually apply palette choices to each channel on each piece of the costume.
I was glad to hear recently that DCUO was updating its tutorial. Most MMO tutorials are forgettable at best, but I remember DCUO’s being particularly bad, starting you off on a Brainiac spaceship, running down a twisting hallway filled with robots while Oracle talked at you and taught you how to block and interrupt attacks. At the very end, you were rewarded by helping the “real” superheroes destroy the ship’s main reactor.
The new tutorial is… mostly the same. In fact, I would say that the main difference is that you get to team up with Superman right from the get-go, which is a nice touch, but other than that, it’s more or less the same tutorial I remember. It’s the same linear hallway, with the same brainbots and the same Oracle voiceover, but with just one notable exception: They don’t actually teach you anything. There’s no mention of how to block, interrupt, perform combos, or even use your travel power. When you hit level 2, the game shows you a popup on how to use your first slotable ability, but that’s really it. It’s kind of bizarre. I’m told that there are tutorial popups later in the game that explain more mechanics, but it just seems like a step backward for the tutorial. At least it’s skippable now.
When you’re finished with the tutorial, you get dumped into a safehouse, which is basically like a town in your average MMO, with mail, vendors, quest starters, and the like. From there you’re free to roam the city as you wish.
Questing in DCUO is reasonably fun. You can basically pick any direction and bump into some kind of sidequest or other, which gives the city a chaotic feel of being in constant crisis (and let’s be honest, comic book cities are always in crisis). There are lots of guest appearances by all of the DC heroes and villains you’ve heard of (and some that the average person hasn’t heard of).
It reminds me more of single-player open-world action games like the Batman Arkham franchise than of your average MMO. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because I always like a nice departure from the World of Warcraft formula. But it’s bad because, honestly, Arkham, and any number of similar single player games, do this a lot better. Normally I would say that weaknesses like this are overcome by the social aspect of MMOs, but without easily accessible text or voice chat on the Switch, I’m not sure how much of that players will get.
One feature of the game that I enjoyed more than I thought I would are the races that require you to fully utilize your chosen travel power to literally jump through hoops for gear. Again I’m impressed with how well this game handles with a controller. I tried out one character each with the three free movement powers: flight, acrobatics, and super speed. I found acrobatics to be the most fun way to get around the city, with its double jump, gliding, and wall crawling. I think it’s supposed to be based on Batman, but it ends up making you feel more like Spider-Man.
Inevitably, this game is going to be compared to City of Heroes because CoH was the original superhero MMO, and, after a bizarre series of events, it’s suddenly back in our lives and people are thinking about it this summer specifically. They’re both superhero MMOs where you can customize your own superhero and mix and match a variety of powersets, but quite frankly, that’s about where the comparison stops for me. It’s kind of like comparing Star Trek and Star Wars: They’re both sci-fi franchises with “Star” in the name, but that’s really where the similarities end. City of Heroes is an old-school, tactical, slower-paced game with less emphasis on gear and more on teamwork. DCUO is an action combat game that’s all about mashing buttons in memorized patterns in story-focused solo play. Comparing the two doesn’t really make much sense because, aside from the theme, I don’t think there’s really much similarity between the two.
DC Universe Online is an MMO that just didn’t click with me, but it works really well on Switch. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t give you more reason to play on Switch specifically by leveraging more of the unique features of this console, but if you, like me, have a Switch but not an Xbox One or PS4, and want to give this one a try, it’s a great way to do so.
If you want a more expanded look at the game itself as opposed to just the Switch experience, check out Justin’s look at the game for our Into the Super-Verse column from this past spring and Eliot’s musings on his time in DCUO for PC in his Choose My Adventure series from last year. Eliot went a lot deeper into the game and ended up being a bit harsher on it than I was.