For the last few days I’ve been lucky enough to spend some quality time in the virtual cities of Gotham and Metropolis within Sony Online Entertainments upcoming MMO DC Universe Online. Having played through the first 9 levels of my characters progress DCUO reminds me of a slew of various MMO and action RPG titles, such as City of Heroes and Crackdown. As a super hero in the DC world you will be fighting alongside numerous Justice League Heros as you try to rid the world of various villains and their henchmen and save the planet from total destruction. While the cities you fight in are living and breathing similar to other popular MMOs there are a quite a few differences mainly in the combat and controls aspects that set DCUO apart from the crowd. But don’t worry many aspects of current MMOs do show up in the game as well. One thing is for sure DCUO offers a bit for MMO gamers and a bit for action gamers in one nice package.
To begin you start with character creation, where you will build your super hero. You’ll create their personality along with their all important costume. There are a decent number customization choices and lots of areas that you can customize to your liking. If you want to quickly jump into the game you can just pick a random creation based off your favorite hero or villain. For instance you can pick a Batman pre-set which allows you to use gadgets and hand to hand combat, or Superman which allows you to fly and use powers. Don’t worry if you’re one who likes full control, you can go in and alter your power-sets and abilities such as movement type and even weapon type. For myself I wanted gadgets like Batman, flying like Superman and opted for dual hand-guns. Once your personality and traits are set, it’s own to the costume. You have choices for everything from your emblem to your shoes. While the number of different items for each part of the costume are a bit limited it’s important to remember your going to be getting gear as you play. And one of the neat things about DCUO is as you get new gear you have the choice to show that new gear or show parts of your created costume while getting the new gears stats. But from seeing some of the upper level gear in trailers I’m sure you’ll be showing most of it once you earn it.
Once you have your alter ego all set you’ll be brought into the world starting aboard the ship of Brainiac who is launching war on the world. The first 30 minutes or so you’ll be making your way through the ship learning the basics of the game and how your abilities work. The controls are fairly simple and less like a typical MMO and more like an action game. Using the right mouse button I control my guns, the left mouse button is my hand to hand combat. And as you progress and learn more skills that will find you using various mouse button taps and holds to perform the skills, similar to an action fighting game. Hand to hand and long range weapons aren’t your only offense. You’ll also be learning various powers and abilities, which are broken down into various point trees. As you level you’ll get points to spend on both active and passive powers and abilities. These include increased flight speed, to deploying things like a gun turret. And those are just two of the lower level ones.
Now using these learned skills is similar to other MMOs they fall onto and action bar on the bottom of the screen. They have various cool-downs and requirements in-order to be used. This is where the games controls are similar to a typical MMO, however the action bar doesn’t seem to allow you to have all your skills available at the same time like in WoW, it seems like you’ll need to create sets and pick and choose which set to use. Now I say seems because at level 9 I filled my actionbar but haven’t been able to buy another ability yet. I have a feeling this is due to the fact that DCUO is also on the PS3. And while being limited will work on console, on the PC with a mouse and keyboard MMO gamers might be a bit annoyed. It will be interesting to see how the abilities/skills/powers work once I hit higher levels and learn more of them.
Control-wise overall I’m quite happy, the combo system is quite nice and breaks out of the MMO mold. For the first 9 levels I’m quite happy with how the controls work, but once I progress further I’m a bit leery on how the increased number of skills will be handled. For the most part the controls are tight and work well with the targeting system. You can either aim at a target and or lock on with tab. Since the combat is action based there is a bit of a learning curve as you’ll have to get use to combos and block/defense. But once you get the concepts down, you’ll be tearing through hordes of villains in no time.
Moving onto the missions. DC Universe Online offers a variety of missions and tasks. You’ll have both PvE and PvP action. From the various tasks in Gotham and Metropolis, to PvP team matches, and you’ll also have PvE team instances. The PvP matches come in two flavors either play as yourself or play as a legendary DC Hero or Villain. The PvP was fun and very fast paced, the control difference from WoW really made it difficult for me but after spending more time getting the controls under my belt I felt a little better in the PvP area. The PvE instance on the other hand was much easier to grasp, more then likely do to the fact your just taking on AI opponents. In the PvE instance “Area 51″ you and your team are in a secret military base trying to wipe out the enemies. This instance was laid out similar to a Bad Company 2 multiplayer map, where you clear/ do a task in a zone then face a boss then move to the next zone in the base. One thing is for sure there is no real who’s the leader indication and unless you are on a team that communicates it’s pretty much a free-for-all and very difficult. The bosses you’ll face really require people to work together, other-wise they will be very difficult to beat. Similar to recent World of Warcraft updates getting into these various instances all use a queue system that is accessed via in-game menus. This makes it real easy to find and get in on the action, as I hated trying to find groups in the older days of WoW. As of now there is only access to 1 PvP instance and 1 PvE instance but more will be playable down the road. Also throughout your missions you’ll run into some of your favorite DC Heroes and Villains who will fight alongside you.
The missions throughout the cities are also much more like a typical single player game with some teamwork mixed in. And the way the missions are presented and flow together are put together quite well. You’ll be doing multiple missions that tie to one storyline, like getting medicine for citizens then going to administer the medicine. You’ll also come across non-mission related tasks similar to Red Dead Redemption. Like you’ll find trapped citizens, or maybe an escaped convict running around. By doing these secondary type tasks you’ll earn a few extra bucks or an extra point or two of XP. And just like RDR these little tasks you run into really bring the world to life.
Speaking of the world, both Gotham City and Metropolis look great. The art department deserves major kudos. Gotham is dark and scary, with evil lurking all around the many run-downed corners. Metropolis on the other hand is bright and shinny and clean. Flying through the cities really feels like your in the pages of the comics. Lighting and building textures are extremely high in quality for an MMO. I ran into very few graphical hiccups, even for a game still in Beta. I ran into the normal pop-up in the distance, but this is to be expected with any online game when flying high above the city. I would have liked to see some more environmental interaction available, I mean you can pick-up some barrels and things, but you can’t just pick-up a car or rip a telephone out of the ground. Also while you can do some decent destruction to things like fences, piles of boxes and other objects, they do re-populate really quick, which looks a bit funky. Obviously that’s something that I’m sure they can and will tweak over-time. My biggest graphical negative would be the HUD, while the color scheme and icons do have the comic feel, the HUD itself is just big. It just doesn’t have a sleek clean feel and seems like it takes up a lot of space and blocks the gorgeous environments. Besides the HUD the game is graphically very pleasing.
DC Universe Online is a decent mix of MMO and action RPG. The few hours I’ve spent in Gotham and Metropolis have been quite enjoyable. The action based controls in an MMO world are quite fun, though a bit of a shock when coming from a game like World of Warcraft. I can see the game really started off as a console focused game, as the controls have been simplified quite a bit. I’m curious how the actionbar/powers/skills will work once I move above level 9. The visuals are a big plus for the game and the world design is amazingly well done. The art team has done an amazing job bringing these comic book cities to life. Character creation is also decent, while a bit limited in some costume choices to start, I do have a feeling the higher level gear will fill your costume desires, also the ability to turn on/off visible costume parts will lead to some neat looking characters. So far I’ve only played through the first 9 levels and will be bringing you another preview soon of my experiences through level 20.