DC Universe Online Review
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Being a superhero is intended to be a flat-out FUN experience. From
smashing cars over your enemies' heads
to scaling gigantic skyscrapers with ease, MMOGs in this genre have had
a difficult time reliably delivering the thrill of being a hero or
villain worthy of comic book pages.
I'll admit that I was furthermore hesitant about an action-based MMOG
that would rely
on frantic button mashing to defeat my opponents. I was even more
nervous about such a bold move being taken in a relatively weak
sub-genre of the MMOG community. Has DCUO managed to allay those fears?
Can the fast-paced, hands-on combat deliver the excitement of
superpowered combat without alienating traditional MMOG players, or is
this really just a translation of a multiplayer console title? Take a
look at how SOE's DC Universe Online pushes the boundaries of
traditional MMOGs, and whether or not those gambles have paid off.
This game is available as both a PC and PS3 title. For the purposes of this review, only the PC version was played and therefore some of the information contained within may be slightly askew from the experiences of those playing the console version of the game.
Also worth noting, especially for those interested in the console title, is that this game comes with a standard monthly subscription fee of $15/mo, and requires registration of a credit card or pre-paid game card before you are even able to make use of the 30-day free trial that comes with the retail purchase. Visit DCUO's Pricing Page for further subscription details, or check out Sony's Station Pass subscription to gain access to DCUO and a handful of SOE's other online titles, all with a single monthly fee.
Gameplay - 95 / 100
with exploding environments, daring acts of aerial acrobatics and
punches capable of sending foes flying across the battlefield. None of
these are absent from DCUO and every last one is just as satisfying as
they look on the pages of your favorite comic books.
Did somebody order a
Perhaps the best gameplay feature of DCUO is the design of its default
UI layout and keybinds. Instead of the standard MMOG mechanic of
"tab-target, auto-attack, fire-all-your-cooldowns-and-wait-for-refresh"
that leaves you a slave to whack-a-mole style hotbuttons and timers,
DCUO maps the entirety of your primary weapon set to a single button.
Through a series of "clicks" and "holds," your avatar will execute
different combinations of superpowered techniques that are the bread
and butter of your life as a hero or villain. The additional powers you
can use are yours to command at YOUR discretion, not the whim of a
global cooldown, and you may find yourself going as long as an hour or
two without needing to activate a single one. This combination of
simplicity and freedom allow you to do something that has become less
common in MMOGs - you can actually watch the action unfold
instead of always having your eyes fixed to your hotbars. This also has
allowed the DCUO devs to include clever boss fight mechanics that
include a reliance on environmental awareness, since it's easier to see
what's going on around you.
It's ironic that the UI is also one of DCUO's weakest features. In
addition to the sparse default layout, there is also a 10-page UI panel
which is used to access players' inventories, appearances, social
interactions, mission journals, and more. This is, in my opinion, the
single largest feature that makes the PC experience of this game feel
like a lazy console port. Besides being difficult to navigate and
poorly designed in some instances (mission entries take up too much
space and the map and social interfaces are completely unintuitive),
many of these submenus simply cannot be bound to keys requiring you to
open a random menu just to access the submenu bar and then
switch to the menu you wished to access. Given how much of a
character's progression is determined by picking the right gear,
queuing up for PvP or Alerts and choosing the right missions to
complete, it's a shame that these tasks require so much work to
accomplish due to poor UI design.
Foot, meet Face.
Integrated voice chat is a feature that has seen very little adoption
in the MMOG industry as a whole, but SOE was smart enough to recognize
it as a necessity in an action-based game like this. Combat is simply
too fast-paced for you to take the time to type out instructions in the
heat of battle, and even travel frequently requires your hands to be
"at the wheel" much of the time. As such, DCUO features a
fully-functional integrated voice system that can be used in groups and
raids with ease, and even allows for different input and output devices
to be assigned, as well as featuring an automatic volume reduction of
game sounds whenever you or a teammate is speaking.
The ease and excitement of hands-on action, coupled with voice chat and
the universal use of voiceovers (which I'll discuss more in the "Sound"
section) have come together to give gamers an action-filled experience
that many MMOGs lack. The feeling that a hard-won victory or a sudden
defeat is determined directly by your actions, rather than just a
string of random number generators, gives DCUO a tactile, visceral
spirit that is deeply satisfying and completely enjoyable.
Graphics - 95 / 100
Every single area in this game is meticulously crafted to immerse
players in the experience of being a hero in the DC comic franchise.
Gotham City is a brooding, dirty urban jungle shrouded in perpetual
night, while Metropolis' shining skyscrapers are punctuated with
destruction and mayhem befitting of the home of so many superpowered
conflicts. Surprising visual effects await around almost every corner
while exploring the cities, including a Gotham cathedral encircled with
floating ice crystals and drifts of snow, or a gorgeous underground
jungle at the heart of the tech-inspired Hall of Doom.
DCUO's character models have a distinctively exaggerated style that
fits perfectly with the over-the-top action of the game. While the
character art style is an obvious departure from reality in terms of
proportions and range of motion, it perfectly suited to the suspension
of disbelief required to live in a comic book world where gorillas
wield laser pistols and demons are a part of day-to-day living.
Fluid animations for nearly all actions have clearly been given plenty
of attention by the game's developers, as I've yet to encounter
anything that seemed awkward or out of place, even while climbing the
sides of skyscrapers or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with iconic
heroes and villains. The only exceptions to this overall feeling of
seamless fluidity are some of the jerky physics-bending motions
performed by Acrobatic and Superspeed heroes when coming in contact
with the edges of surfaces or corners of buildings, but such actions
don't happen on a regular basis and aren't a regularly recurring part
of every-day gameplay.
For more examples of DCUO's eye-catching scenery check out Ten Ton
of Metropolis and href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/dcuo/guides/gotham-tour">Tour
of Gotham City.
Sound - 87 / 100
various DCUO communities: the voices.
First of all, I want to give SOE a big round of applause for
implementing complete voiceovers for nearly every line of
mission-related text in the game, and also finding the time to
incorporate random 'flavor' dialogue for completely unimportant members
of the DCUO populace. In addition to this skillful implementation of
the voices themselves, they also have gone out of their way to bring in
voice talent from well-known actors like href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000284/">Adam Baldwin
(as Superman), Wil
Wheaton (as Robin), and href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0551346/">James Marsters
(as Lex Luthor), as well as reintroducing us to the well-known voices
Conroy (as Batman), href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000434/">Mark Hammill
(as Joker) and Arleen
Sorkin (as Harley Quinn). The widespread use of voiceovers to
relay mission information through an unobtrusive "communicator" UI
widget allows the pace of the game to continue uninterrupted, filling
you in on the details you'll need to complete the tasks assigned to
you, and understand the story-related reason you're doing it,
without making you stop and read blocks of text or interact with
drawn-out dialogue options. The sole downfall of this is that many of
the voices are either not very good, or a drastic departure from voices
that fans of DC have come to know and love. The primary example of the
latter is Wonder Woman, who in this game is voiced by href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0868659/">Gina Torres
instead of the more well-known voice of acclaimed voice actress href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Eisenberg">Susan
border="1" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0">
small portion of the voice cast of DCUO (from left to right):
Baldwin as Superman, Wil Wheaton as Robin, James Marsters as Lex
Luthor, Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as The Joker, Arleen Sorkin
as Harley Quinn, Gina Torres as Wonder Woman
Sound effects for powers and abilities in this game are
more-hit-than-miss, but occasionally come off sounding like random
white noise rather than interpretations of the actual motions being
performed. This is especially the case in many hand-to-hand moves,
where instead of hearing the hard smack of fists against flesh you
instead hear some sort of zippy-slashy-musically-augmented whoosh. Such
cases aren't the norm however, and special care seems to have been
given to making noises like gunshots and burning fireballs sound as
realistic as possible, even when heard from a distance or within the
echoey interior of an abandoned warehouse.
The musical score is mostly uninteresting and largely absent. But when
it's there it manages to perform its primary duty of setting the spirit
of the particular area while remaining completely unobtrusive. I
haven't found the need to turn it off yet, but I wouldn't even spring
for a download of these musical selections if they were offered
(FYI: There are currently a couple different sound bugs in the game that prevent audio from being played simultaneously under certain
circumstances. These bugs were not factored into the scoring as they were not present
in Beta and will presumably be fixed in an upcoming patch.)
Multiplayer - 70 / 100
organizing a team.
2) The actual grouping experience.
elements leave social interaction as a neglected afterthought.
DCUO is a miserable experience on one hand, and an uplifting romp
through joyville on the other.
Due to the constraints of a console-friendly UI, finding friends and
grouping with them can be a headache. In fact, the
entire social UI is extremely frustrating to deal with and lacks many
of the features that MMOG players have come to take for granted (like
being able to resize your chat window). Adding people to your friends
league (DCUO's guild equivalent) is a convoluted task that requires
various submenus and commands and cannot reliably be accomplished
without relying upon out-of-game resources like message boards. And
while grouping can be as simple as typing "/invite MisterFist" very few
players seem interested in teaming up.
While I should blame this soloist mentality on the players
and not the game, I find that this particular title goes to
distances to reinforce it. Players are not introduced to their
character's secondary role (or "Stance") until level 10 (approximately
3-4 hours of gameplay), and up to that point in time they've already
grown accustomed to fighting as a damage-dealer in their default
Stance. Since the game offers very little in the way of explanation or
encouragement to employ your secondary role, most players seem to
ignore it entirely. Additionally, a player might choose the "Fire"
powerset with the
intention of being a distance-based flame cannon and have no interest
in using those powers as Tank, which is the only
secondary role available to that particular powerset. As if that wasn't
enough to reinforce the solo mentality, there is nothing
stopping a solo player from queuing up for an Alert (which is DCUO's
equivalent to a dungeon or instance) and having them randomly matched
up with other players in an attempt to field a group capable of
defeating that particular content. And while I can see the necessity of
this type of mechanic for the console-based crowd, it does nothing to
encourage a sense of community or socialization, since the prep work
and group invitations are all handled automatically.
However, in spite of these many obstacles, the actual experience of
taking on the multiplayer content that DCUO offers in a well-built,
well-balanced team of superfriends is a blast! Players that know and
embrace their secondary roles as Tanks, Healers and Controllers are an
absolute joy to play alongside, and the various interactions that these
roles have with one another create an enjoyable blend of multiplayer
tactics, as well as allowing for very inventive boss fights that are
far more interesting than your basic "tank and spank" approach.
Legend Play allows all
players access to iconic heroes and villains, like Harley Quinn, for
arena-style PvP matches.
group content that I've seen so far has been well-tuned and exciting,
and the few Alerts I've been able to participate in have felt like they
lasted the perfect amount of time, and would be easily repeatable.
PvP activity in this game is frequently reminiscent of the same type of
matches you'll encounter in many online games, including Capture the
Flag and Capture and Hold type scenarios. But DCUO takes it a step
beyond those simple concepts by allowing PvPers to gain faction
standing and tokens that can be used exclusively in trade for gear
specifically designed to help them excel in future PvP encounters. This
separate form of PvP-centric advancement is destined to create a
subculture within the game of characters that have been dedicated to
laying a smack down on their fellow players. There appears to
be a lot of attention given to ensuring a certain level of balance
among different powersets and weapons. Although I only had the
opportunity to participate in a small handful of PvP matches, I found
them to be very enjoyable and overall balanced feeling (with a few
glaring exceptions) and a very
welcome diversion from beating up another horde of mindless NPCs.
Value - 65 / 100
Despite the growth of "freemium" subscriptions and reduced/free box prices in the MMOG industry as a whole, SOE has chosen to stubbornly stick to its guns and charge a full $49.99 box fee for the PC version of DCUO and $59.99 for the PS3 version, in addition to the price of a monthly subscription that is also platform-specific (paying for a PC sub does not get you access to the PS3 service, or vice versa). A year or two ago, this would've still been an industry standard and a total no-brainer, but the market has shifted and fewer gamers are willing to take the plunge at such a high price.
And to be frank, I don't blame them. Too many hyped up titles end up disappointing their players with glitchy gameplay, frequent downtime, and shallow content offerings.
DCUO is a game that is worth the box price for fans of superheroes, fans of action RPGs, and fans of the DC franchise of comic books. But outside those subsets of consumers, it's a hard sell.
Lasting Appeal - 82 / 100
A menacing-looking high
Getting to the level cap in DCUO (currently level 30) really only takes
a dedicated gamer around 20 hours of solid gameplay. Even now, just
over a week after launch, there is already a substantial cross-section
of the game's population that has reached these vaunted heights and
begun grinding through the available "end-game" content. This also
that all of those capped out players have not renewed their
subscriptions, as they are still within their 30-day free trial period.
So, will they renew? Well, I can't speak for all of them, but I
According to DCUO's developers, they already
have plans for future content unlocks, new Alerts and PvP environments,
and there have even been hints at further powesets. To put it simply,
SOE is considering the ongoing development of this title to be a high
The content pool currently offered is relatively shallow compared to
powerhouses like WoW or EQ2. But the game attempts to make up for that
by encouraging replayability and having players explore different power
sets, mentors and swapping sides between heroism and villainy.
Additionally, completionists will find an almost endless playground of
Feats to achieve through exploration, hidden mission objectives and
costume or item collections, many of which offer unique cosmetic
rewards otherwise unavailable through normal gameplay.
All of that is probably enough to keep even a full-time MMOG player
satisfied for 2-3 months after the first 30 day trial has expired. But
after that, SOE is going to have to start really cranking out new
content at a healthy pace to keep this game's subscriptions going
Pros and Cons
- Easy to use action game controls keep your eyes
focused on the action, not your hotbars.
- Main interface is not cluttered
- Refreshing change of pace from standard MMOG mechanics
- Beautiful scenery and smooth animations
- Voice overs allow action to stay fast-paced
- Fun group dynamics and boss fights.
- Who doesn't love flying? Do it from level 1.
- Unintuitive UI elements make the game feel like a
lazy console port
- Queue system for group content supports a solo
mentality that inhibits socialization.
- Musical soundtrack is boring.
- Reaching level cap can be done in <1 week.
- Content is light and reliant upon repetetive grinding.
developers of DCUO have recognized that fact and made the important
decision to instead make a game that is considered awesome for a
specific type of gamer. They've got a hit on their hands for the fans
of Action RPGs, but I feel they've come up a bit short on encouraging
and fostering multiplayer activities to the degree that MMOG fans will
In the end however, they've pulled off two impressive feats. First off,
they've successfully launched a top-shelf superhero MMOG which has been
a subgenre that has historically been a weak contender in the overall
market. And secondly, they've managed to successfully incorporate
action game mechanics into this title in such a way that it will not
alienate gamers that are used to a slower pace, but will still deliver
pulse-pounding action on par with many single player games.
Ultimately, the lack of a sufficiently robust and user-friendly UI, and
the premium-level financial barrier of entry, will remain the game's
primary blemishes on an otherwise shining report card.
Overall 88/100 - Great
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