Choose My Adventure: Slowly acclimating to the goofiness of DC Universe Online

    
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Boy did this one start out strangely. Apparently I have played DC Universe Online a few times before — I even have a level 19 hero and level 12 villain — but I don’t remember too much. I do remember the starting tutorial bit because I like making lots of alts in superhero games and that stupid bottle ship sequence has been seared into my brain. I also played on a gamepad that probably wasn’t aligned properly because when I started up the game I was met with gamepad control prompts, a character that was wildly spinning in place, and the need to hold down the left mouse button in order to mitigate both bits of madness and actually navigate the UI.

So that was my first few minutes in this one. Mercifully, I worked through the strange garbage, righted the ship, and got to work on putting together a new character for this adventure. The polling saw a 50/50 split between Celestial and Gadget powersets, and a toss of the coin saw Gadgets win out. It was here that I sludged through another bit of weirdness: the game’s character creator. Seriously, what sort of monster created this UI? And why are the choices so awful at the interim? Do the developers hate me?

Weirder still is when I had a moment to myself to navigate the options and readjust to controls, I apparently could unlock more costume options that my previous characters earned with one of the game’s currencies. I actually ended up with more choice by getting out of the character creator. What the hell, DCUO?

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, though. In the interest of fully remembering how this game operates, I elected to go through the damn bottle ship sequence again. This time, though, it was a little bit different, with a whole lot more combat, a lot less being forced to haul boxes around, and a fight against Brainiac alongside members of the Justice League. These were all pretty good touches and got me into DCUO’s combat model.

…which is, once again, very goofy. I remember combat in this game feeling very slippery and loose, like a Magikarp coated in engine grease, and that feeling hasn’t really changed all that much. Combo timing feels sort of weird, block timing never really felt right, and movement overall just feels like everything is on a sheet of ice. At least that was when I was directly engaged in fighting; I went with dual pistols as my weapon (an extension of gadgets was my rationale here) and spent most of my combat time hanging in the back line and holding down the right mouse button to fire my ranged shots. Occasionally I would toss out a gadget, but only the fear gas one — the other gadget I had drew enemies to melee range and I really didn’t want that.

These complaints aside, Gadgets doesn’t feel like a completely awful choice. It sort of reminds me of the Trick Arrow Blaster set I started my life with in CoH, so that felt very much like I was back at home. Also, the shield ability feels kind of like cheating. And while the decision to have more costume creation and customization happen in the regular game instead of at the character creation screen is certainly a choice, it is nice to be able to mold my character’s look the way I want to.

With Batman as my mentor owing to my tech origin, the rest of my time was spent in Gotham City fighting the machinations of Scarecrow and Bane. Over time, I started to unlock more weapon abilities and find enjoyable new combinations of weapon attacks and gadget abilities. I can’t say that combat started to tighten up, but I started to learn how to skate on the ice rink at least. When I hit level 10 and was able to swap to the Controller role, things started to feel a little bit better. I can’t claim to love this game’s combat system, but I am appreciating it a little more.

I don’t know that I’m having fun yet, though. Getting acclimated and finding enjoyment are two different forms of progress, after all. Still, I’m trying to look on the bright side here — progress is being made, both in comfort level and character level. It’s just been a really really goofy start.

At this point, I feel like I’ve hit a couple of crossroads, so that means it’s time to post some polls. First off, I’ve since opened up the ability to dump points into a new weapon style, so I’m curious if fans of this game recommend specializing or branching out. Thus, poll the first:

Should I pour a point or two into a different weapon?

  • Yes. Diversify! (24%, 24 Votes)
  • No. Specialize. (76%, 76 Votes)

Total Voters: 100

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Next up, it’s a question of content focus. A couple of new avenues have opened up here and I’m willing to chase what the readers think should be focused on next. So, poll the second:

What content should I chase next?

  • Stay in Gotham. Zatanna wants to say hello! Or olleh. (41%, 41 Votes)
  • Go On Duty. You unlocked the feature, use it! (25%, 25 Votes)
  • Go to the House of Tomorrow. Might as well get that done. (33%, 33 Votes)

Total Voters: 99

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As ever, polling will wrap up this coming Friday, September 17th, at 1:00 p.m. EDT. For now, I’ll put a hold on things as usual and see how polling shakes down. I have to admit that this one has my curiosity but not necessarily my interest. I’ll still see this through to its end, however. One way or the other.

Welcome to Choose My Adventure, the column in which you join Chris each week as he journeys through mystical lands on fantastic adventures – and you get to decide his fate. Which is good because he can often be a pretty indecisive person unless he’s ordering a burger.
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Bill Mann

I’ve played since Beta and can safely say the game has changed tremendously since then (even since first going Live).

Combat itself is pretty straightforward: you have powers, you have a weapon and you can block so you use all of that.

The intermediate level has a little bit of a curve. You learn about the pros and cons of blocking and block-breakers as well as which powers/moves/stats are the best for your powerset and weapon as well as if you are the type to want to use weapons more, powers more or use a combination of both.

The more advanced level has far more of a curve as it is learning the best power and/or weapon rotations for your powerset and weapon, the best Artifacts for your powerset, whether you want to run primarily in your Role (Tank, Healer or Controller… which you can be is dependent on the powerset) or if you want to run primarily in DPS.

And keep in mind that in all of this the movement powers themselves have powers to choose from too.

A fair critique is that blocking/block-breaking/breaking-out-of-animation times can be a bit slow sometimes. It’s not as responsive as I would like but I think that has more to do with trying to balance it across multiple platforms than any lack of intent by the devs.

With all that said it’s important to understand that the desire behind DCUO’s combat has always been that of a fighting genre game (Mortal Kombat, etc) but in an MMORPG setting.

From here it’s important to note that the early game (levelling from 1 to 30) is more akin to the traditional MMORPG where you are doing a lot of stuff solo (think City of Heroes). The post-30 game is 95% group content with solo content being repeatable dailies for each DLC (although there were a few which had no solo content). The new House of Legends change made all of that older content (over a decade’s worth) more viable once again but it’s still nothing like the 1-30 “introductory” portion of the game.

This, to me, is where the game begins to err. Players WANT to get deep, multi-part missions from their Mentors (or other heroes/villains) as part of their play. This is far more immersive than what we see as the norm now (DLC = a raid or two, an alert and then either a duo or instanced solo along with 3-4 repeatable daily solos in the open world and 2-3 repeatable weekly solos in the open world… these repeatable missions aren’t rotations between 4, 5 or 6 different ones, they are the exact same. Every. Day. and you do them for the months until the next DLC). What it really needs is a larger development team making actual expansions which mirror the format of the original 1-30 game.

The way the game plays from 1-30 makes the player feel like they are important to the game world. The post-30 game makes them feel like just another face in a sea of other faces.

And then there’s PVP… or what is actually the lack thereof. When the game started, PVP was created and considered to be an equal part of the game. As new powersets emerged and the devs had trouble tuning them to be balanced against other powersets, more and more problems were created. Eventually changes were made based on poor feedback from players who wanted only what was best for their style of play and it made PVP poor for the vast majority of players (so many ended up no longer PVP’ing, eventually even those who pushed those poor ideas). Since then even worse ideas have been pushed (like removal of RPS and astronomical prices on gear) and made PVP to the point where the most done is 1-on-1 challenges for trash-talking in /shout. There hasn’t been any sort of work done on PVP, not even a new gearset nor styleset, in years (pretty much since Jens Anderson left).

Since coming on as CEO of what is now Dimensional Ink (the part of Daybreak containing DCUO) in 2016, Jack Emmert seems to have been able to push some of the ideas which made CoH so successful but the form they’ve taken within DCUO haven’t seemed to work as well (like Rikti-invasion events being implemented as rotating world bosses in the Wonderverse DLC – my belief is due to game engine limitations, which they are reluctant to fix through upgrades due to various costs).

The current game is now largely level agnostic with a clamping up/down system, except for the 3 most recent DLC’s (which will rotate into agnostics as other, newer DLCs are put into the game). For players above the intended content level the clamp is content level + up to 10 levels with things like bonuses from Skill Points, Augments and Artifacts being applied after the clamp (meaning endgame players are still powerful enough to carry weaker players through the older content but not enough so that they can faceroll it into triviality).

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Christopher Watson

Day one player here. It’s definitely an adjustment as DCUO is not your typical superhero game. For the most part, they have reasoning behind their design. (Controls, movements, etc.) But it all kind of comes together. The more you play, the more you find that there are power interactions within each powerset. And the weapon system also has upgrades where you combo into other weapons. These make for more fun and better efficiency. But as the game is over 10 years old, we are due for a newer version. The updates that they are continually introducing just aren’t enough to make up for the poor graphics. Don’t get me wrong, they were great for their time, but games like Red Dead Redemption show just how much better the graphics can be. I feel it’s time they get back to the drawing board and find a new center between form and function. The technology has come a long way since the initial launch.

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Neurotic

This is what I remember about DCUO, that the character creator is aesthetically stunning, but functionally a nightmare.

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bahramnima

i want to play dcuo but my game is still crashing after like 2 hours, i went and limit the frame rate to 60 in nvidia panel but the game is still crashing making it hard to play.

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Andrew Clear

My first ever (and highest level on the PlayStation version) is a controller with the gadgets power set. I used to love it, but don’t anymore.

My highest level overall, is on the Switch, which I play the most, and it is a healer with the nature power set. For some reason, I really love that set.

Bow, is my weapon of choice.

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Crowe

I only have vague memories of running a character up to 30 in DCUO. It just doesn’t leave much of a memory, fond or otherwise. It’s a bland game; obviously, IMO! I know other folks who love it but it just never hit on any of my main interests other than genre.

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Greaterdivinity

I actually ended up with more choice by getting out of the character creator. What the hell, DCUO?

For as well as it’s done over the years, DCUO still has a really bad character creator for the genre it is. And yes, you get more and more options in-game as you unlock more appearances. IIRC it’s free to change out outfits at any time, so at least there’s that.

movement overall just feels like everything is on a sheet of ice

It’s been a while, but depending on what movement skill you choose it can get a lot worse. Flying may be the most visually boring of the bunch, but I’ve found it the easiest to deal with over the years. The others constantly run into movement issues, especially when dealing with vertical movement.

I’m curious what you think about the quest system in the game though. It was a highlight for me when I first played, was surprised with both how quickly you hit mix level (think it was like…a few days of casual play after it went F2P?) and how well the main mission delivery worked.

Like, having the mentors call you and deliver missions verbally while you’re in-transit to that location is great shit, 10/10, doesn’t interrupt gameplay and makes sense in the context of the universe (THEY DO HAVE PHONES!). You’ve still got NPC’s for side missions, but unless it’s changed in a huge way in recent years I remember it being a very smooth leveling experience, even as you transition between locations.