Thanks to my PlayStation Plus subscription, I was able to get my hands on the DC Universe Online beta. DC Universe Online is an MMORPG developed by Sony Online Entertainment Austin and published by Sony Online Entertainment. Create a hero, and jump into the battle against Brainiac and his minions. Fight alongside iconic DC heroes such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and the Green Lantern, and even iconic DC villains such as Lex Luthor, Cat Woman, The Joker, Sinestro, Bane, and more. Here are my impressions of the beta so far.
In the very near future, Brainiac and his army of robots have conquered the planet by slowly collecting the powers of both the DC heroes and villains. He waited for both the heroes and villains to wipe each other out before swooping in to dominate his opposition. However, Lex Luthor was able to survive, and traveled back in time to warn the heroes of this imminent threat. He was also able to capture the nanobots that held the heroes’ powers and release them in the world. As a result, many civilians were granted with powers. It’s up to the heroes to train these newcomers to utilize their powers in the upcoming war against Brainiac. You play as one of these civilians, and must escape Brainiac’s ship before doing tasks for either the Justice League or the villains of the DC universe.
The customization of this game is very deep. Unlike fantasy MMOs, superhero MMOs allow tons of customization. In a fantasy MMO, it’s expected that the player will collect his own gear throughout the game. However, superhero MMOs don?t work like that, and they will have you customizing every aspect of your hero’s look before you jump into the game. You will still find various items around the world that you can use to augment both your hero’s aesthetics and abilities, but for the most part, everything will be done in the character creator. You can choose from a wide variety of skin colors (including special skins like plant, rock, and demon), tops, leggings, boots, belts, capes, emblems, masks and hairstyles. You have such a wide selection that you will probably find something that satisfies you. The only categories that could use improvements are the power/weapon selection, emblem and hairstyle categories.
The power selection is too small, to be blunt. Your only options are fire, gadgets, ice, nature, mental powers, and sorcery. How am I supposed to feel like I’m creating a unique character when at least one sixth of the userbase uses the same exact same powers as I do? It’s especially irritating to see characters like Superman and Green Lantern have their own unique abilities when I’m stuck with generic powers. I chose fire abilities for my character, but none of the alternatives made me feel like more than a simple grunt.
The emblems aren’t enough in number, and while there are quite a few, you can only use one and you can’t choose the size or position. Instead, I would have rather seen an emblem creator similar to the one in Call of Duty: Black Ops. The player would be able to combine emblems to make their own, and choose the size, color, and placement. The emblem placement should also extend to areas other than the chest, such as the back, shoulders, and cape.
The final area that needs improving is the hairstyle selection. The selection is vast, but many hairstyles come coupled with facial hair. I generally don’t like putting facial hair on my characters in games, and it was very frustrating to find a nice hairstyle only to see that it comes with an ugly mustache. This seems like something fairly simple to do: just make two menus, one for facial hair and one for hairstyles (maybe even split the facial hair menu into two more, one for beards and one for mustaches). The idea for these three menus seems incredibly obvious and I’m puzzled as to why SOE Austin didn’t think of implementing the hairstyle selection in this manner. While the character creator could use some improvement, it is, for the most part, deep and incredibly fun to play around with. I probably spent more time making characters than I did playing with any of them. For a complete walk through of the character designer, check out my videos below.
Generally, I don’t like MMORPGs because of their gameplay. Click this and watch your character kill it? Never interested me. I always preferred to be completely in charge of my character. I dictated every block, every swing of my weapon, every magic spell cast, and when I would inevitably retreat because I had bitten off way more than I could chew. Thankfully, DC Universe Online opts out of that traditional style of combat and uses a combat style more suited to my taste. Hit Square to melee and Triangle to use your ranged attack. Hold L2 and hit Square to use your superpower. As you complete quests and kill enemies, you gain experience that you use to level up. Every time you level up, you receive one experience point that you can use in one of many skill trees to upgrade your weapons, powers, or learn traditional superpowers like x-ray vision.
Each character has his own movement style which is selected in the character creator: super speed, acrobatics, and flight. The movements seem unbalanced. Super speed is clunky (you can run up surfaces and across water, but even bumping into something as small as a fire hydrant will automatically force you to scale the hydrant, which throws you off) and acrobatics are useless (it’s basically super speed minus the speed), making flight the best option. That’s not to say super speed and acrobatics aren’t fun to play around with (well, to be honest, acrobatics isn’t), but flight is the best choice and it’s clear the minute you’ve tried all three movement types.
You can team up with friends and tackle missions together, or fight some heroes/villains (opposite of whatever you are) in some good PvP. These player-versus-player fights can actually become quite massive, with as many as twenty people joining in on each side. Chaotic battles can be tough, but thankfully the game has regenerating health. Battles can become rather repetitive after awhile, but playing with friends definitely increases the player’s patience with the combat.
DC Universe Online is the most fun I’ve ever had with an MMORPG. While I adamantly feel that $15/mo. is way too much to pay for a game, and probably will not be purchasing this game any time soon, I am having a blast playing the beta. Anyone who wants to get into MMORPGs but finds games like Warhammer and World of Warcraft too hardcore can find solace in this title. SOE Austin did a great job of crafting a deep experience that’s also easily accessible to less hardcore MMORPG players such as myself.
DC Universe Online will be available for purchase on January 11, 2011 in the United Kingdom and January 14, 2011 in the United States for the PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Windows platforms.