First Impressions: DC Universe Online

DC Universe OnlineRecently, a friend who is far more enthralled with comic books than I am recommended I try DC Universe Online, since I don’t have the money or the time to justify spending the money to play World of Warcraft anymore. My first question was, of course, “Can I be Power Girl?” due to an inside joke about my… well, nevermind. Anyway, a day and a half of downloading later, I opened up the game in Steam and created my character, loosely based off of Power Girl. Her name was Crystal Shards, and she was to be a hero.

DC Universe Online
Systems: PC (Windows), PS3
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment, WB Games
Release Date: January 11, 2011
MSRP: Free to Play

DCUO started out as a subscription-based MMO, much like WoW is. The original cost to play the game was about $15 a month, but they changed to Free to Play in the beginning of November. There are three levels of players: Free (what I am); Premium, which is achieved by spending at least $5; and Legendary, which is achieved by being a subscriber. This move has gotten them a 1000% increase in the number of players on the game in about a week’s time, something that comes with its own benefits and its own costs.

The first thing I noticed, other than the long waiting period to get into the game, was the graphics. The game is very pretty. Obviously, the opening scenes are more finely-tuned than the actual gameplay, but overall, I was impressed by how nice everything was. Additionally, the voice acting can be really good or really bad, but I have to say I’m impressed with the amount of voice acting that’s in the game.  Throughout the game, there are tons of times you’ll hear from people like Booster Gold and Superman without necessarily activating an event. Most games deal with cutscenes and then the rest is text-based. This game gives you more than that and integrates it with the storyline and gameplay without forcing you to sit through a cutscene. Many characters are voiced by someone who has played that character before, and several others are voiced by people who are complete badasses. For example, James Marsters (Spike from Buffy) voices Lex Luthor and Adam Baldwin (The Hero of Canton, a Man They Call Jayne from Firefly) voices Superman. I kind of question using Gina Torres (Zoë from Firefly) for Wonder Woman instead of Susan Eisenberg, whose voice I remember from my Justice League days, but there may have been an issue with getting her to voice it. I can’t say I’m as excited over the background music, though I guess it could be worse.

Another thing that caught me right off the bat was the storyline. Initially, I was wondering how the game would justify having millions of superheroes. But the opening scene actually felt like watching a movie: you start out seeing Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, and eventually Superman fighting against Lex Luthor, Superman’s arch nemesis. Everyone ends up dying but Batman, the Joker, and Lex Luthor, but Brainiac’s fleets swoop in. Then, we cut to a scene where a future version of Lex Luthor is telling Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman what happened next: Brainiac had been downloading the superpowers of both the heroes and villains for some time and used that data to instigate a war between the superpowers. Once they were killed off, he created an army of what he called metahumans to finish everyone else off. Lex Luthor designed (or stole, we don’t know) a time machine, somehow managed to steal some of the “exobytes” Brainiac used to create his metahumans, and released them into present-day Earth’s atmosphere so that they would “infect” the current population. He asks the Justice League to train these new superhumans so that they too would become superheroes, and perhaps stop the madness that is the future.

However, in another trailer to the game, we see that perhaps this isn’t true. In this trailer, Lex revives Fracture and explains to him that Brainiac has penetrated the Fortress of Solitude’s outer defenses. They run into a chamber where Batman is stabilizing a time portal. More of Brainiac’s forces are entering into the chamber, so Lex Luthor lies and says that his armor is too badly damaged to fend the forces off. Batman instructs Fracture to enter the time portal with the exobytes and goes off to kick some Eradicator ass, and just as Fracture is thanking Luthor, Luthor kills him. Batman sees what happens and screams, “Luthor! I’ll be coming for you!” Luthor responds with, “No, you won’t,” starts the auto-destruct procedures, and walks through the portal, leaving everyone inside the Fortress of Solitude to explode. We see Luthor walk out of the portal and hear someone say, “You’re late.” Present-day Luthor walks into the light and future Luthor says, “Well, hello, Old Friend.”

So where do we come in? We’re the superhumans that get infected. Character creation is pretty simple: you can either create one from scratch or base your character off of a hero or villain already in the game. In order to create Crystal Shards, I created a female character with short hair and a medium build based off of Superman, which makes sense considering Power Girl’s his cousin. Once you’ve determined all that, your character gets created and you get to wait to be put into the game. You go through a quick tutorial of how to do close range, long range, and special attacks. You also learn how to fly (well, I learned how to fly; others learn different skills) and do all that fun stuff. That’s easy enough to pick up. On the PC, you basically alternate between left clicking and right clicking for battle, though sometimes, I can’t really tell what the difference is between the two. Since I chose ice skills, I got some special attacks dealing with that as well. That’s simple enough.

The game can be pretty user unfriendly at times. Typed chat is a mess, and I haven’t tried out voice chat yet. I know sometimes I’ll try to talk to my group and end up trying to talk to a league, despite the fact I’m not in a league. When doing events, it’s difficult to understand what’s going on as far as tanking vs. damage vs. healing goes. Until level 10, you’re stuck as damage, but from what I’ve heard from a friend who is nearing the max level, there’s really no explanation of how choosing your role works. Just because you click tank doesn’t mean you’ll get switched to tank mode. The first-person view is also a mess. Want to use it while flying? That’s okay. You get to see your character’s ass instead.

The user interface can also be particularly daunting. You stop moving if you look at the map, which is annoying. Compare that to other MMOs that let you keep moving in the direction you were going while looking at the map. There’s also no real explanation for what you can do, so generally, you have to either look online for the possibilities or ask someone who has been playing longer than you have. It’s difficult to find what you’re looking for, and if you do find it and want to make it accessible through hot keys, that’s often not an option. So you’re left to forget what you did to get that menu and take five minutes to find it again later. Oh, and want to find a friend? Good luck. That’s all I can say.

Trying to customize your character’s looks can be daunting and confusing. Some stuff seems like it automatically saves, some stuff doesn’t, and it’s hard to pick the exact color you want unless you’re looking for something like pure red or pure black. You get a palette of three colors, so good luck getting your character to look how you would like her/him to look.  Right now, my character is all white because I can’t give her a red cape and belt like I’d like to. I will say this for the styles: it’s pretty cool that you can lock your character’s style if you want to, so instead of looking like an ugly mess with twenty different types of armor on, you can pick and choose what you want yourself to look like, even if you get new armor. Of course, you can change your mind whenever you want as well. This prevented me from losing the “window” on my costume, which is pretty much Power Girl’s defining characteristic, when I got new torso armor.

Another problem with this game is waiting times and lag. Because of the quick increase of players, the server has gotten pretty full, and if I try to get on in the evening, there’s a queue of at least 3000 players before I can even get into the game. This usually amounts to a wait of at least ten minutes, which can be a real deterrent for playing the game. A weird twitch also happens sometimes when you’re moving. You’ll be going along and everything will be fine, and then without warning, you’ll be a few feet behind where you just were. It’s a lot like if you were to travel back in time three seconds. It can be really annoying if you’re running toward an enemy and are gearing up a shot with limited range.

One thing that I think would have made this game better—along with and a lot of MMOs, to be honest—is moral ambiguity. There’s plenty of ambiguity in the trailers for the game, but beyond that, you’re kind of stuck with stereotypically good versus stereotypically evil. In WoW, you choose Horde, you align with Horde. The same goes for Alliance. That’s how it will always be. Here, it’s much of the same: If you choose to create a hero, by golly you’re a hero, even though you just started the game, just got your superpowers, and have virtually no idea what’s going on. You’re a hero! The same thing goes for if you create a villain: You’re a villain. You don’t really know why; you just got your powers and there’s no motivation to really be evil, but hey! You’re evil. You’ll stay that way. There’s no choice to be a neutral character or someone who was good but is evil now or vice versa. That’s disappointing because this ambiguity would make this game pretty amazing.

The quest system is kind of interesting. Generally speaking, instead of running around looking for NPCs to get quests from, you’ll get a call from Oracle (if you’re a hero) or Calculator (if you’re a villain), and they’ll tell you something has happened. Then you go to your journal, pick a quest to track, and they’ll tell you how to get there and what to do. Pretty standard for an MMO, but it’s interesting that you’ll get calls from Superman, for example, and he’ll tell you that he figured you’d be the perfect person for the job. I really have no idea what Superman is up to, actually. I know I saw Flash messing around on a computer at some point. It is neat to defeat bosses with the occasional help from a hero (I defeated Gorilla Grodd with the help of Flash, for instance), but it would be nice to see them at least flying around every once in a while. I mean, they’re supposed to be working with you, right? This is also the first MMO I’ve ever played that requires carrying things as a quest; for example, transporting a certain amount of people from one place to another. Other than that, things are pretty standard.

Over all, I’ve enjoyed the game so far. I am interested in where the story is going, and the game goes at a fast enough pace that it holds my interest. I also haven’t met an asshole yet, whereas in WoW and other online games, I met several within the first hour of playing. In my experience with DCUO, people have been generally helpful. For instance, I went into an event to kill Scarecrow with three other people. I died twice thanks to not really understanding how healing worked and quickly apologized for being new, expecting to get kicked. Instead, when the instance restarted after three-fourths of us died, someone gave a few helpful tips and we tried again. Drastically different from my previous online experiences.

Hopefully, SOE fixes the features and bugs that make this game less fun to play. The biggest thing they need to focus on right now is server control. Queuing sucks but is a lot better than the alternative, which is having the server crash every ten minutes. If they want to increase the amount of players who go Premium or Legendary, though, they’re going to need to make the game more user friendly. There’s a lot of potential here, but it needs to be unleashed.

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