DC Universe Online Review (PS3)

MMO’s seem to be a rapidly filling genre, with more and more being released every year. Even the ones that are already around are constantly being updated, expanded and added to in an effort to keep players playing, and to attract new players to the title. The problem with MMO’s however, is that they tend to stick to a very particular pattern, and in many cases it can feel like ‘if you’ve played one you’ve played them all’. One of the draws of DC Universe Online (DCUO) is that it takes a well-established and popular license and uses it to draw players into a world inhabited by heroes such as Superman, Batman and villains such as The Joker.

Although DCUO is an MMO, it eschews the more traditional feel of your average MMO, and focuses mainly on combat. By mainly, I mean almost exclusively. If you aren’t busy punching or kicking someone in the face, then chances are you’re on your way somewhere to punch or kick someone in the face. The games progression through the character levels is also quite fast paced, meaning that players are able to get at the end game content quite quickly.

"Nice night"

While the speedy leveling might seem a positive, when combined with the games relatively low level-cap (30), it means that you quickly reach the end-game point and stop gaining new skills and powers, leaving you with only the fairly repetitive end-game content that rapidly becomes old. The game also lacks any sort of normal diversions that are often seen in MMO’s such as crafting and gathering.

The games character creation is potentially disappointing, especially if you’ve played MMO’s with more detailed character creation – creation will give you just enough options to style your character the way you want. Once you’ve decided on an appearance, you then choose your weapon. Whether you want your character to be a punching and kicking martial-artist, or you want him/her to stand at the back with a pair of pistols there is a weapon skillset for you. With each weapon set possessing both melee and ranged attacks, you have the option if you are ranged, for example, to stand and fight in melee rather then flee from a group of angry melee enemies. Next you choose a power-set, choosing from Fire, Ice, Sorcery, Nature, Mental or Gadgets. Your final choice is your selection of Mentor, choosing one of three iconic heroes, or villains depending on your choice of morality, such as The Joker for a villain, or Batman for heroes.

Once you’ve left character creation, the options for your characters appearance expand considerably. By completing missions, or spending money you acquire new equipment, which can radically alter your characters appearance and boost stats such as health and armor at the same time. One of the great things about DCUO is that equipping a new piece of gear doesn’t necessarily mean changing your looks. The game allows you to collect the appearance of your items, and switch it later, meaning that if you don’t like the way a new piece of gear looks you can just change it back to what it was before without affecting your stats. You can even buy items that do nothing but allow for different appearance options.

After character creation, the game kicks-off with a short tutorial which does a good job of teaching you the games mechanics, such as combat and movement modes as well as introducing you to several of the games more important characters and explaining why the world is suddenly teeming with super-powered people. The game quickly demonstrates the effect of its action orientation and it won’t be long before your beating down alien robots, villains and heroes. Like most MMO’s you have a health bar, which lets you know how much more damage you can take, and an energy bar, which fuels your superpowers such as turning foes into blocks of ice, or throwing nearby objects telepathically.

Do the Leprechaun!

Combat is fairly smooth and responsive, and there is a negligible amount of the lag, which is common amongst other MMO’s. The combat is quite fun to begin with, but like other aspects of the game, it can become repetitive as time goes on. The most impressive, and damaging, moves are unlocked at higher levels, by purchasing combos with skill points. These combos are generally quite easy to pull off and often result in you character performing an impressive looking stunt, such as leaping backwards whilst firing a pair of pistols, or punting an enemy away. Other moves are accompanied by an after effect, such as stuns, or knocking your opponent off their feet, allowing you to press your attack. There is a massive drawback in combat, however, when it comes to targeting. There is no ability to select your target meaning that when it comes time to throw punches your character often will swing for the person closest to him. While fairly annoying, this isn’t a major problem most of the time, however there are a number of places where you may want to throw a fireball at a certain person, only to find someone else nearby on the receiving end of your attacks. This is especially problematic if the person you hit brings his friends with him when he comes to take his revenge for being set on fire.

Missions take place in hubs across the DC cities of Gotham and Metropolis, with your main objectives delivered to you from your mentor via communicator, and secondary missions picked up on site. These missions almost always fall into the category of ‘Kill X amount of this enemy’, ‘collect X amount of object from enemy’ or ‘interact with X object’. While these missions get boring swiftly, each mission is part of a chain, which leads to an instance, which typically culminates in a fight with a famous (or infamous) hero or villain. These fights are typically a bit more interesting and often require you to do other things as well as beating down your target, such as turning The Flash into a gorilla. Once you’ve beaten your foe you are treated to a comic book style cut scene. These cut-scenes are beautiful, and often provide background on a character, or an event. They are all well animated and appear as if you are reading an actual comic.

"It glows, we get it"

There are also Alerts, which act similarly to dungeons from more traditional MMO’s. These instances are long, and self-contained and have a series of objectives, which need to be completed in order to move forward, such as defending soldiers from invading alien robots. After the objectives are completed there is a boss battle, which while tougher then your average enemy, are not usually that challenging. They also drop high quality gear for your characters.

DCUO also features Player vs Player (PvP) entertainment. Whether it’s encountering an enemy Hero in a Gotham City back-alley, or fighting it out in Arkham Asylum, PvP action is always there if you want it. At higher levels fighting in the Arenas allows you to earn points which can be used as currency to purchase new gear upgrades, making your character stronger (and cooler looking).

The games visuals are generally quite good. Gotham City and Metropolis are both beautifully constructed. Whether flying above Gotham’s rundown docks, or standing atop the Metropolis University bell tower, you can see the effort that has gone into creating the cities. From the bell tower you can see a cloud hovering above the Metropolis Metrodome, where the HIVE and the forces of good and evil are battling it out. These details make travelling from one mission location to the next more interesting. When travelling you should also keep your eyes open for glowing markers, indicating the presence of a point of interest. Taking the time out to investigate these things gives a little information about a backstory, and usually falls into a themed group. Completing the investigation of the group results in a reward, so they are worth keeping an eye out for.

While for the most part the games visuals are good, there are a number of issues with textures not loading. This often results in seeing characters without faces, or other details. The game also has some sound issues. Most of the missions are narrated by your mentor, however there are times when the sound completely fails to work, which takes away from the immersion into the DC world. Sound effects aren’t without issue either. There are times during fights when the satisfying sounds of your blows landing on your enemies skulls just aren’t there. When the sound does work, it’s hit and miss. Most of the famous characters are voiced quite well and the lines are delivered with enough skill to bring you deeper into the world. Indeed, Mark Hamill’s Joker is consistently fantastic to listen to as it always is. Minor characters and enemies on the other hand, are less easy to listen to.

Cut Daft Punk fight scene from Tron

"HAMMAH TIME!"

The console version of this game is also held back by slow menu access. Opening a menu to change gear, change appearance or buy new skills quickly becomes a chore you dread doing. You’ll come to want this over and done with as soon as possibly, merely because of the lethargic response times in the menu. Likewise the console version also suffers when it comes to interacting with other players. Without a keyboard, players have to rely on using voice chat, which seems to work correctly only when it feels like it. Or you can try using the PlayStation’s onscreen keyboard, which is frustrating to have to use at the best of times.

Overall DCUO is a game that is great for younger players, or those who have little or no experience with MMO’s. It is fun, action packed, and makes terrific use of a license, which is well loved. It is easy to pick up, and easy to play. For MMO veterans, DCUO burns itself out all too quickly, becoming repetitive and eventually tedious, especially when combined with its other problems. If you are new to MMO’s, love DC Comics, or are just looking for some casual gameplay, DCUO should keep you entertained for a while. If however you’re a veteran MMO player looking for the next big thing, you may want to give DCUO a miss.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

About the Author

I'm a student who, like many, spends more time studying games than my coursework. Games are a bit like food. You need to try as many different types as you can, otherwise you might miss out on something that you didn't even know that you liked.