alt="DC Universe Online Impressions"
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91806/preview">

What
is DC
Universe Online
?

“A lot of
people think it’s an MMO, an action game
or an action MMO. We like to drop all those terms altogether. Why?
Well, because we’re making something very new.”


These were some of the first
words that Jens Andersen, Creative
Director for href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/1407">DC
Universe Online
,
used to introduce the game during my
recent visit to SOE Austin.
It’s a bold statement, though
once you consider that DCUO intentionally blurs the line between
gameplay genres, it does make a certain amount of sense.

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QUICK
FACTS:

  • DCUO will consist of roughly
    2/3 open world, and 1/3 instanced content at launch.
  • Reaching the level cap (30)
    is expected to take
    40 hours on your first character.
  • At launch, roughly 1/2 of
    the content in the game will be found at the endgame.
  • The achievement system,
    known as Feats, will allow you to earn points that can be spent on new
    skills even after reaching the level cap.

Some of the best titles
released
over the
past few years have
successfully taken this approach by creating a gaming experience that
may have hints of the familiar, yet the complete package defies easy
categorization. A shining example would be Rocksteady
Studios’ href="http://www.batmanarkhamasylum.com/" target="_blank">Arkham
Asylum
,
a title that could
largely be
considered an action game due to the core combat experience, though
managed to draw heavy influence from RPGs, platformers, survival
horror, sci-fi, and the spy genre as well.

This is one of the natural
strengths of the DC Universe in general. As
any comic book fan will tell you, there’s no easy catchall
classification that can define the overall setting, and it’s
in this spirit that DCUO has been created.

As Jens continued his
introduction to the game, he noted that
“Sony Online Entertainment, even back when we first started
href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38">EverQuest,
has been a trailblazer. We were one of the first ones to go
out there and define that genre for MMOs. We decided when we had the
opportunity to do DC Universe
Online
, we were going to commit
to doing
that again. We could have easily just done an MMO with capes. But we
wanted to do something that we thought was really going to represent
the brand and the expectation and fantasy that people have of playing a
hero or a villain in this universe.”

So what is DC
Universe Online
?
That’s exactly what I set out
to discover during my lengthy hands-on time with the game. Before I go
into too much detail about my experiences, it’s worth
mentioning that I opted to stick with my PC comfort zone of playing
DCUO using a keyboard and mouse, though the game responded and felt
just as engaging for the brief periods when I picked up a gamepad to
compare the tactile differences between the two. I also decided to dive
directly into the fire by selecting to play on the PvP server,
something I’ll touch on again in a moment.

alt="DC Universe Online - Circe"
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90951/preview"
width="620">

Along
with The Joker and Lex Luthor, Circe, shown above, is one of the three
Mentor options for villain characters in DCUO.

Getting Into the Game

From the outset, DCUO has all
the bells and whistles you’d
come to expect when first logging into an MMOG, though with a few
subtle additions that make character creation slightly more daunting
than it originally appears. As is the industry norm, some of the most
weighted decisions you’ll make about your character are made
within those first few minutes, but your options extend beyond a basic
class, race, or faction selection.

Mentors, skills, movement type
and powers are all core elements of
gameplay, and will largely dictate what kind of experience you have
with the game on your first character. Here’s a quick and
dirty rundown of what each of these things mean in the life of your
hero or villain to be:

  • MENTORS
    serve a few
    different functions, and help define the Origin
    type for your character: Magic, Meta or Tech. Three different iconic
    mentors are available for you to choose on each side of the morality
    divide based on these origin types, and it’s this iconic
    character that your character will be most closely connected to in
    terms of storyline progression. Then, once you reach the level cap,
    you’ll be able to earn an epic Battle Suit based on your
    chosen mentor. While more of these battle suits will be added to the
    game over time, mentoring with one of the 6 iconics from the outset
    will be the only way to obtain their specific set, so this is worth
    keeping in mind when creating your first character.

  • WEAPONS
    will determine your character’s basic fighting style.
    While you’ll eventually be able to spend points in more than
    a single skill tree, you’ll still want to consider which type
    of weapon would pair well with your playstyle. For example, I chose to
    pair Hand Blast
    skills with the Sorcery
    power set which made my villain
    somewhat of a ranged combat expert. Even then I was far from
    defenseless when faced with melee combat scenarios, and could in fact
    opt to focus my skill points on attack chains that had my character
    leaping into the middle of a swarm of enemies and unleashing
    devastating AoE attacks.



    Weapon skills are going to be some of your most commonly used attacks
    in the
    game, because they help provide the energy you’ll need to
    fuel your various powers. While not a wholly new concept, the
    tug-of-war gameplay element of expending and replenishing your
    resources by alternating between powers and skills means
    you’ll never be forced to rest between fights, keeping you in
    the action for as long as you like.

  • MOVEMENT
    TYPE
    comes in three flavors
    currently: Flight,
    Acrobatics
    and
    Super-Speed.
    More than just a means of faster travel, these will also
    have a certain degree of combat utility once you get a few levels under
    your belt and can begin spending points in their respective skill
    trees. DCUO also features a series of time trials for each movement
    type, some even allowing you to experience altogether different forms
    of travel for a brief period. For example, one such time trial we were
    shown was a group event that would turn your team into gorillas and had
    you jumping between rooftops to try and score the fastest time.

  • POWERS
    are of course the flashiest and most potent tool in your
    arsenal. An important thing to note here is that all power types have 2
    unique trees that you can spend points in as you level. For Sorcery I
    could choose between Destiny
    and Summoning
    powers, both offering a
    different style of gameplay. The same holds true of each power type.
    For example, Fire characters can choose between powers that manipulate
    fire to burn your enemies, or you could use fire to enhance your
    character in different ways instead.



    Upon reaching level 10 you’ll also gain access to Iconic
    Powers
    . These will be
    things like Super Strength
    that will allow you to
    interact with some of the larger physics objects in the game, and can
    add that oddball power to your character that sets them apart from
    others using the same core weapon or power sets. In fact, you can even
    save up all of your power points for iconic powers, ignoring the core
    power trees completely.


As you can see, there are
plenty of variables that make up the overall
build for your character. The system offers a lot for those of you who
love to min/max the perfect powerhouse for the endgame, but if you
really just want to dive into the game without all the fuss, you can
also opt to create a character that’s inspired by one of the
iconic DC heroes and villains such as Batman or the Joker, right down
to the look and feel of your initial costume.

alt="DC Universe Online Impressions"
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/91806/preview">

It’s hard to really
discuss the customization aspects of
DCUO’s character creation process without also touching on
how itemization factors into the game. On the surface, the overall
scope of available options you’ll initially be presented with
seems rather slim. But aspiring heroes and villains need not worry,
because you’ll constantly be given the opportunity to tweak
your character’s costume, including the color palette,
throughout the leveling experience.

By the time I reached level 8
during my hands-on time I’d
obtained enough new costume unlocks through drops, quest rewards and
faction vendors that the rather plain “Inspired by
Catwoman” costume I was sporting at level 1 could be fully
replaced by a set of demonic armor or any of the other cosmetic looks
I’d unlocked so far. This is, of course, by design.
Itemization and the ability to constantly tweak your
character’s costume factors heavily into the leveling
experience and endgame of DCUO.

In this day and age, most MMOG
players have come to expect a robust
endgame experience, complete with plenty of loot piñatas
dressed in their finest boss disguise. This is another area where DCUO
likely won’t disappoint. According to Creative Director Jens
Andersen, the endgame will account for roughly half of the overall
content
in the game at launch. Add to that the fact that the team at SOE Austin
plans to
roll out new content on a monthly basis post-launch, with larger
updates expected to hit roughly every 3 or 4 months, and it sounds as
though players won’t find themselves facing the dreaded
lengthy stretches between full expansions anytime soon.

Along with these updates new
battle
sets will be added to the game, so
the epic set awarded by completing tasks for your initial mentor
won’t be your only option in terms of new parts you can add
to your costume.

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Powering Up

DCUO is
a very story driven game, relying on shorter mission arcs to
help you feel more closely connected to the world.
These largely
function like standard MMOG quest chains, only each will eventually
lead you to an epic boss fight, the first of which you’ll
even get to experience by around level 4 or 5.

These boss fights, even at low
levels, are just as engaging as what you
might expect to see in typical endgame MMOG raid rather than a simple
showdown. One had my villain going up against Raven, a fight that
looked and felt epic from the very outset. As you level, these fights
will continue to push your abilities to their limits, but
it’s a welcome change of pace to be experiencing the kind of
epic battles commonly reserved for high level gameplay from the
earliest levels.

The two main cities in the
game, Gotham and Metropolis, are also
intricately detailed and immersive at every turn. Because I’d
chosen to spend my demo time on the PvP beta server, it also introduced
a dynamic element of danger to the world. Spatial awareness is already
a key factor to staying alive in most heavily populated gameplay areas,
but knowing that at any point another player could swoop down from the
rooftops and put a temporary end to my villainous ways added a layer of
immersion that I genuinely enjoyed, even though I usually opt to stick
with standard PvE servers in most MMOGs.

This is greatly helped by the
fact that, even as a level 8 villain,
when a level 22 hero began attacking me that didn’t mean it
was a completely one sided fight. Player skill accounts for a lot of
your success in PvP, and while you may have more tools in your bag of
tricks at higher levels, a smart low level player can still fight back
and cause some damage. While I didn’t get to see how this
played out in the PvP arenas, it was still nice to see that open world
PvP won’t necessarily devolve into an annoying gankfest for
new players.

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href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/90957"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90957/preview"
style="border: 2px solid ; width: 300px;"> href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/90954"> src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/90954/preview"
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Wrapping it All Up

DCUO works on many different
levels, and in many ways your previous
gaming experiences will largely influence the type of game you consider
it to be. MMO gamers will feel right at home, as will fans of console
action games or even the more competitive minded among you. The game
itself feels largely complete at this point, and
these extra months of
development time have allowed the team to expand on the core experience
rather than scramble to get the game finished which is all too often
the case.

So what is DC
Universe Online
? Based on my
hands-on time with the game,
it’s a highly engaging, immersive world that certainly
won’t disappoint even the most diehard of DC comics fans.
It’s a much more story driven experience than what many of us
have come to expect in an MMOG, but one that doesn’t
sacrifice a vast, open world to make it work. It’s a
min-maxer’s paradise, but easy enough to get into that you
can pick it up and feel comfortable playing no matter what your
experience level. In a nutshell, DCUO is a welcome breath of fresh air,
and so far looks to be one of the most solid titles the wide world of
MMOGs has seen in years.


To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our DC Universe Online Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Sardu 1
Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.

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