DC Universe Online Review
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
By now, you may be sitting at your computer and thinking “Hang on a minute, this game has been out for over a month now and it’s been reviewed by pretty much everyone under the sun! Are these guys slow or something?”. Well before you go elsewhere in a bit of a huff, we feel at GodisaGeek that a MMORPG deserves a bit more time to review, they simply cannot be reviewed in full a week after the release, or by the beta alone.
The amount of depth that these type of titles have are usually mindblowing and now, after over a month of exploring the cities of Metropolis and Gotham, we now feel that this game has been played and experienced for a decent amount of time to justify a proper, in depth review. Myself, Adam Cook and Calvin Robinson have been actively dashing/flying around the DC Universe and if you’ve been playing, you may have seen us kicking around, fighting evil and wearing it on our heads as a decorative hat.
DC Universe Online (DCUO) is an action MMORPG that casts players into a scenario where you can fight alongside, or against, some of the most iconic heroes and villains of all time. Created by Sony Online Entertainment, the title has been eagerly anticipated by DC fans and fans of the MMO genre. However, this title is up against some titans of the MMORPG world, the most popular being World of Warcraft.
What everyone wants to know is will DCUO fight against all odds to become the greatest game in the genre, or will it suffer from a massive overdose of kryptonite and fail to save the universe from utter annihilation?
STORY: The main storyline was previously mentioned in our preview, but to recap, the heroes (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman to name a few) and villains (The Joker, Lex Luthor, Black Adam) are in the midst of a truly epic fight and end up absolutely destroying each other in what can only be described as a super human Armageddon. Thanks to an outstanding opening movie, after the dust settles it leaves Lex Luthor as the last man standing. Unfortunately for him, his victory is short lived as one of Superman’s Greatest Foes, Brainiac, arrives on earth with a seemingly limitless robot army to take control of the planet for his own dastardly schemes. Luthor, realising that he has made a grave mistake with his own deluded hopes and plans, travels back in time to meet with the current day Justice League of America to warn them of Brainiac’s impending attack.
To assist the human race, Luthor releases small nanobots called Exobites in the Earth’s atmosphere, which give humans super powers, with his reasoning being that if every human is a superhero/villain then Brainiac cannot take control of Earth. The Justice League, which are not entirely happy with Luthor’s plan, agree to his plea to mentor these new super humans and prepare them for the epic battle that will soon confront them.
Now, as we all know, Detective Comics has a massive following and it would be fair to say that fans would hope that it remains true to the comics. Thankfully this has been addressed as DC has lent some of its most influential creators of the comic books to assist in the creation of this title. First of all you have the legendary comic book artist, Jim Lee as the executive creative director. Then for the storyline, renowned DC writer Geoff Johns is on duty to ensure that the game remains true to the many overarching stories of its character. Extra quests and in game events are written by the comic book genius that is Mary Wolfman.
In general, the storyline is worthy of any DC comic and is fun to go through, though the story does go at a snail’s pace. The majority of the game is a lot of side stories, where you’re helping other heroes/villains accomplish their missions, after which you get rewarded with a comic book video of the main hero/villain in question. Every now and then you do get to do a main mission, but you pretty much always get a thank you from your mentor and another little comic video. A lot of the time however you will feel that your character is a bit of a third party to everything going on, but as you progress your character starts to become more involved with the main story, which in the end is quite satisfying.
GRAPHICS: The amount of detail that has been put into this title is absolutely brilliant. Powered by the Unreal Engine 3, the sheer scope of cities are highly detailed, rich in colour and ball achingly massive. Metropolis and Gotham feel like they are living breathing cities with all the famous buildings there (like the Daily Planet or Arkham Asylum) and in some of the missions that you undertake, you get to enter them and explore. The Justice League of America’s Watchtower and the Villain’s Tower of Doom is brilliant to explore and highly detailed, and also houses most of your favorite superheroes/villains, along with some of the famous vehicles (the Bat Wing for example).
However, there are some problems with the graphics. As you enter a city, you find that the game is still loading up. The buildings are just grey blocks and take a little time for the detail to appear. When you find yourself traveling around you still find that the buildings are loading, and when you finally reach your designated area (which is highlighted with a red square on the mini map) you find that your character will start taking hits from invisible enemies, and when they finally load up so you can see what you’re hitting, your character very low on health, or in some cases knocked out. To that end, you have to hang around the outside of the area until everything has loaded up and then you can carry on, which is quite infuriating and can slow down the pace of the game a little.
You may also find your character falling through the floor into nothingness as well, and you either have to wait until the game decides to kill you or reset the game, which is quite a long process as you have to go back to the PS3 dashboard to then reload the game. The loading splash screens are very well drawn but you only ever seem to have the same four pop up, namely Wonder Woman, The Joker, Lex Luthor and Harley Quinn. With all the characters in the DC Universe, you would’ve hoped for a bit more variety.
SOUND: The musical score for this title is reasonably good and gives you the feeling that you are in quite a special world. It is very well produced and serves its purpose well. However, the music often jumps and makes you wonder if the game is going to crash, which is quite worrying, if a PS3 or a high end PC can’t handle something as simple as the music score. The fighting sounds are as they should be, but a negative about the sound is that all of the civilians residing around the city pretty much say the same things over and over again which can test your patience.
The voice acting of the main characters is very well done, with the likes of Adam Baldwin as Superman, James Marsters (of Buffy fame) as Lex Luthor and Mr. Mark Hamill portraying the voice of the Joker. However, you will find at times that the voices jump as well as the music, occasionally sounding like a scratched CD. The developers should’ve done a lot better to keep this in check, and hopefully in future patches will look at it, but surely this should’ve been addressed and fixed before the game was released, as that is surely what a beta is for. Although you can tell the developers have put a fair bit of effort into it, it’s a shame that these bugs put a downer on things.
These problems may seem trivial and you can put up with them to a certain degree, but the worst thing about the sound in this title is the voice communications. Although the facility is there to chat with your friends during gameplay, it’s about as useful as a tortoise with brake lights. First of all, before you set up your character, you have to adjust the voice communications menu to your liking, as you can’t change them during the game, even though the menu is there. But then if you and your friend have your headset on, group up then select voice chat to your friend in the social menu, they can hear you but you can’t hear them.
Then you have to reset the game and let your friend set up the chat. But then the problem is that you can hear them and they cannot hear you. For an MMORPG, voice chat is absolutely essential, whether it be with your friends or someone you have just met, and because of this, it completely ruins the multiplayer experience. To be able to actually chat to someone, I had to use Skype or the Xbox 360 Party Chat system, so essentially using two consoles to play one game!
GAMEPLAY: First of all then, you have to create your character. There are many choices you have to consider when doing so, including sex, powers, character traits, mentor, weapon and costume. There is quite a wide variety of options to choose from but the power you choose is the defining characteristic about your created hero. For example, my chosen main power was fire, and then all the abilities that you choose when you level up will be fire based. There are also iconic powers available, which are from all your favorite characters (Superman’s heat vision, Wonder Woman’s super strength etc).
DCUO is very much a single player game to begin with, to allow you can get your characters stat’s up to enable you to be a serious force in the game. There are multiplayer options available and these will assist in making your character more powerful. These include arena’s, where you can go head to head with other players to achieve an objective (i.e. capture the flag), and alerts, where you work together with other characters to take down a boss and his army in other area’s away from the cities.
The fighting mechanic is quite simple. The square button is for all your melee actions and the triangle button is essentially your shooting/projectile items button, depending on the weapon you choose. At first the melee aspect is fun but as you progress you find that there are only about 5 different combo’s to choose from and only 3 for the projectile, and you can’t really combine them. This makes the game a bit of a button basher, but thankfully powers and skills are available to add some variety and you gain more powerful ones as you progress through the levelling up system.
The leveling system is a little different that other games of this genre. You still have XP, but you only level up based on the completion of missions. It seems to have been designed like this so you don’t have to slave away to earn your points and make yourself stronger. There are also side missions that will earn you cash, equipment, and items that can bolster your characters stats. Because of this you will find yourself leveling up quite quickly initially, but as the missions get harder, it will take longer to level up. The maximum level in DCUO is currently 30. The missions are achievable if you pick ones that are under the current level of your character, as the mission difficulty is depicted via character level. If you find yourself wanting a bigger challenge, you can take on a mission that is a level or two higher than yourself.
The mission layouts are pretty simple. Firstly you select the task you wish to conduct via the pause menu, and once accepted you then have to travel to the first area, using the arrow on the mini maps or the prompts in the bottom right of the screen. Once you arrive at your area, which is depicted as a red box on the map, you carry out the mission as directed in the bottom right. Once this has been achieved, you then go to the next area, and after conquering a couple of these you then get to travel to a building where you get to enter and make the last push towards the boss of that storyline. This is very well designed as you get to see most of the city you are in whilst traveling, and the missions are a joy to play through. The only bug bear is in the boss mission where you have to enter the buildings. If you get quite far into it and you get knocked out, you don’t re-spawn close to where you were put down. Instead it takes you to the entrance of the building and even though the enemies you have destroyed stay that way, it is a little annoying to have to fly/run all the way back to where you fell.
Initially, DCUO is brilliant fun to play. The excitement of dashing around as a superhero or the thrill of conducting evil deeds as a villain is fantastic, and with a wide variety of missions there is plenty to do all whilst feeling that your character is getting more powerful all the time. But from level 25 onwards, you start to find the missions start to thin out and the only ones available are the difficult ones. Once you reach level 30 though, the sense of achievement is brilliant. From there you have a mission where you have to save your mentor, and once you have rescued him/her you get to meet them properly and join the Justice League or its villainous counterpart, depending on the morality you chose at the beginning.
From this point, you have to earn renown and special tokens, or marks, to enable you to gain access to the more powerful equipment that will enable you to progress. However, this is where it get’s very, very hard. The only way you can get the marks and renown is to do missions that are impossible to do on your own. Sadly, this isn’t explained very well, and you can find yourself at a loss at what to do. When you do work it out, you will have to join others to attempt these missions, but therein lies the problem. To have a chance of completing these missions, you need better equipment and good enough stats to survive. But to get this equipment, you need marks from your respected factions and renown for the associated factions. But to get these marks, you need to complete the mission. To achieve this you then need to play the game as an MMO.
MULTIPLAYER: As you play through the multiplayer, you will learn that there are different classes available to your character. These include Damage, Tank, Healer, and Controller. Having these classes enables you to form up a team, with different roles to encourage you to attack the enemy with tactics. For example, your damage characters can dish out some pain and then leave the tank character to lay the smack down on them while they get healed by the healer. In theory this is a great idea to get you through the later missions but sadly it just doesn’t seem to work, in the sense that it may get you a little further in a difficult multiplayer mission than when you’re on your own, but doesn’t really do enough.
Once you’ve reached level 30, the missions get harder than Superman when he is aroused, and you’d think that teaming up with fellow level 30 players would enable you to get through all the missions, not necessarily with relative ease, but would hope it would make the remainder of the game challenging and fun to play. Unfortunately, you will find that it is still insanely hard. Yes you can deal with the lesser enemies after getting your ass kicked a few times, but when you get to the main bosses it is damn near impossible. The truth is you don’t know how hard the missions are going to be as the previous level difficulty on the missions has now disappeared. You will spend a lot of time trying to find a mission that you and others can finish, but in that time you will get your ass handed to you and spend almost all your cash repairing your armor or buying health drinks (Soder Cola) to make sure that you can carry on the mission without getting knocked out.
With this and the voice chat problem previously mentioned, the multiplayer aspect of the game almost ruins the entire experience. If you endure and put an epic amount of hours in, you will probably persevere. But to go from fun and challenging to bastard hard in the blink of an eye, you may find yourself rage quitting quite often and paying a subscription fee for essentially getting the living piss beaten out of you, may leave some people with a bitter taste in their mouth.
LONGEVITY: Potentially, DCUO can keep you playing for quite a while and will be enjoyable for the first fortnight/month, depending on how many hours you put in, as there are plenty of missions to do and a wealth of places to explore. The main turning point is when you get to level 30. If you have the patience of a ninja and are willing to battle on through, then this title will keep you going for a while, providing you pay the subscription fee. If you don’t however, then playing for a month at the most will probably be sufficient.
VERDICT: DCUO has many strengths but also has many flaws. Maybe if the developers sort out the main problems via a patch, or ensured that the majority of these bugs were fixed, then this game would’ve scored higher. But to release this game with the bugs and flaws that it has is quite a shame. The start to the game is fantastic, and working your way up to level 30 is great fun and will keep you happily occupied for a long time, maybe even making you fall in love with it at times. But once you get close to achieving top level and then attempting the multiplayer aspect, you find that it becomes a bit annoying and that it lacks a little depth when you compare it to other MMORPG’s.
This title would probably have been better if, after reaching the level cap, you ended up having a massive fight with Brainiac and his forces and ending it there, or maybe even renting your services out to players who are having difficulties. But with that, it wouldn’t be a MMORPG, but an action adventure game with loads of other players flying around. As an MMORPG it may be a nice little starter for players who have never experienced one before but for the hardcore fans out there you may just play a little then start to feel “Bah, not as good as…(insert favorite MMORPG here)”. In summary, sadly, this could’ve been a game of super human proportions, but instead it’s just a normal, albeit talented, man or woman.