After an extensive beta that left the game polished unlike most other MMO releases, Sony Online Entertainment’s DC Universe Online has launched to extremely strong response by both PC and PS3 games; and for good reason. This third Superhero MMO ended up becoming one of the most accessible and fun to play MMOs ever released, so it’s no wonder that the game is selling out on both platforms and new servers are being brought online to handle the increasing player load. The polish in the game shows why you don’t release a MMO until it’s ready. Something other MMOs should learn from.
If anyone tries to tell you that DC Universe Online is nothing more than City of Heroes or Champions Online with a DC Comics skin, ignore them as they’re just trolling and haven’t touched the game at all. The action-based combat is unlike most MMOs out there, with only a couple fantasy-based games have attempted this (DDO and Vindictus are two) and none have done it to this level. The game actually plays more like a console-based action game like God of War with its button combos and fast-paced combat, as opposed to the turn-based button presses that nearly every MMO (including Champions and CoH) have used since EverQuest.
This combat is the game changer that MMOs have been waiting for. The genre has really become stale with no real innovation in the last few years, and by making a real massively multiplayer action game; SOE has set DCUO apart from the rest of the competition and it has what it needs to stand on its own and attract people who normally wouldn’t play a MMO. And no other upcoming game, even the hallowed Old Republic, can claim that. The combination of the action combat and the DC license is just what the game needs to do very well, and the initial reaction on both the console and PC is proof enough of that.
In DCUO you’re allowed to create either a Hero or Villain, and again there are CoH and Champions players complaining about the game’s creation system. The difference between DCUO and those games is that DCUO actually has content and loot, and by playing through the content and earning loot you unlock new costume pieces. The game has a appearance system from the start, so no matter what piece of armor you want to have for the stats; it can also have any appearance you’ve collected through loot or mission rewards. In the end, the DCUO system of customization is better than the previous two comic book MMOs. Instead of giving you everything at the start and really giving you no reason the play the game like in Champions or CoH, DCUO puts that carrot in front of your face and makes you want to keep playing just to continue to customize your character. And once you reach level 30 and start earning the Iconic armor, things get even better.
That’s right, as of now the level cap in DCUO is 30. It won’t take you long to hit the cap, but once there the game gives you plenty to do. And you’ll also want to level both a Hero and Villain to 30 as the experiences are different. At thirty you unlock raids and duos, and while it can become a little grindy like WoW’s endgame; playing those raids, hard-mode alerts, and PVP is how you earn the tokens you need to get your Iconic armor. And you’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to run around Gotham with the Batman armor or fly around Metropolis with the Superman armor.
But there’s a lot more content to the game than just the alerts (dungeons), raids, duos (which are you and another facing an instance), and PVP. In fact, the game has about as much content in terms of things to do as WoW did at launch. Besides all those leveling instances, there are tons of missions that are actually fun to play. At level 30 you’ll find yourself going to complete all the storyline missions in both Gotham and Metropolis not only to experience them, but also to earn feats and complete investigations and other collections. Everywhere in the world you’ll find green, yellow, or blue question marks that unlock parts of investigations and collections, which earn you some really cool and unique items. There are also wandering “raid” bosses that require a whole group to take down. These include characters such as Bizarro in Metropolis and Solomon Grundy in Gotham.
The feats system is similar to achievements in other MMOs. However instead of them just contributing to a useless number like in WoW, you earn skill points for completing them. Skill points are then used to upgrade your weapon and travel powers; so you’ll definitely want to earn as many feats as possible. Some are easy, such as finding the Bat Signal in Gotham, while others are more difficult such as completing an instance without dying.
I mentioned the storyline missions, and these are one of the highlights of the game if you’re a DC fan. They usually have two or three phases of missions in the city to complete before heading to a solo instance to fight an iconic boss (Gotham has it best with you fighting through Batman’s Rogues Gallery). While the missions follow a familiar structure, the objectives are always different and the boss fights are unique. For example when fighting Giganta to rescue Wonder Girl, she can’t be injured until you destroy these pylons in the room. Once the boss is defeated you’re treated to a comic-book style animated cut-scene called a “headline”, and unlocking all of them is something most players will want to do.
Graphically the game looks, and runs, incredible. It uses Unreal Engine 3, but it’s highly optimized to run smooth on both platforms. Character models look and animate great, and the cities are huge and filled with detail. And the audio is even better with most of the big names from the DC Animated series providing their voices. That means you get the best Batman and Joker ever with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, Adam Baldwin as Superman, James Marsters as Lex, Arleen Sorkin back as Harley, Gina Torres as Wonder Woman, and Wil Wheaton as Robin.
If you’re looking for a new MMO, don’t hold out for The Old Republic based on blind hype. DCUO is here, it’s revolutionary for the genre, and it’s fun. In fact, for many people, it’s the most fun they will have had in a MMO since Ultima Online or the original EverQuest. It’s that much of a breath of fresh air, and it’s something the MMO genre has needed for a long time.