Friday, February 11, 2011

DC Universe Online

Meet Robot Teacher's Assistant!
DC Universe Online is an MMOAG (massively multi-player action game) centered around the DC Universe and iconic DC characters therein. Up until recently you had to purchase the base game itself and pay the typical MMO fee of $14.99 per month. It is now a FTP (free to play) game with perks for being a paying customer, either through buying items from the shop using real-world currency of $5.00 or more which grants you premium access, or you can opt to continue paying the monthly subscription of $14.99 which grants you legendary access.

So what's the difference? Well, for starters legendary access obviously nets you more perks. Such as additional character slots for a total of 16, all available DLC for free, 60 inventory slots, 48 bank slots, 20 auction slots, the ability to form Leagues, the ability to trade items and cash, unlimited in-game currency, 1 vault ticket per day, and the full range of social options.

Premium access is unlocked once you've spent a total of $5.00 or more on in-game items. Premium access nets you 6 total character slots, 42 inventory slots, 24 bank slots, 5 auction slots, the ability to join Leagues, the ability to trade items only, up to $2000 in-game currency, 1 vault ticket per 3 days, proximity voice chat, and up to 6 text messages per 30 seconds.

Free access is available to everyone and includes the base game as well (making the entire experience 100% absolutely free), but is pretty limiting. You only get 2 character slots, 28 inventory slots, 12 bank slots, no auction slots, the ability to join Leagues, cannot trade, up to $1500 in-game currency, 1 vault ticket per week, and 6 text messages per 30 seconds.

You can view a hand dandy chart here.

You can play as either a hero or a villain. The choice you make will drastically alter the story of the game as you play. If you are playing PVP, this will mean you can freely attack members of the opposite faction in the world when you come across them. Naturally, I made a villain.

Don't put too much thought into whether you really want to commit to possibly being ganked while questing or miss out on PVP entirely forever. You can freely switch between PVP and PVE at your factional headquarters at the Phase Shifter. It works like any other teleport pad in the game except it switches you from PVE to PVP or from PVP to PVE instead of physically changing your location.

This is handy if, say, you'd like to complete a quest but are finding it all but impossible due to an excessive amount of PVP. This usually isn't because people are just griefing twats though, fact of the matter is that most quests in the game share areas cross-faction. In example in one villain quest you are stealing civilian souls, but the hero version of that same quest line has them defending civilians in the same spot. You will run into PVP a lot, which makes questing more exciting, but at times may slow your progress since you're too busy fighting actual people to fight the NPCs you need.

You may also find yourself separate from friends if you login. Don't worry, you can play together. The game creates instances of areas and covertly dumps you into them based on population  at the time to make your play experience run more smoothly. If you and your pal can't see eachother, form a group and then sync phases.

Anyway, let's review things.

Character customization is a very precise process which will allow you to truly diversify your character's appearance. Unless you're copying a DC character, you're unlikely to come across another person who looks exactly as you do. You can also change your costume and color palette in-game after creation at any time. So if you later decide that bondage mask was a bad idea, you aren't stuck with it. You should also be aware that the options present at character creation are only the base of what will later be available to you. Throughout the game you will discover and unlock a plethora of new styles to further customize your ideal costume.

You start out with a series of choices. Gender, physical build, power type, transportation method, weapon specialization, and mentor. Some of these are obvious, the others I'll explain briefly. Transportation will dictate how you traverse the DC world. Your options are flight, super-speed and acrobatics. Power type defines your super powers. Things like telekinesis, gadgets, ice, fire, and magic can be expected. Lastly, your mentor will determine where in the world you start out and a bit of your story arch. Each has their own area of expertise. As a hero you can choose Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman. As a villain your choices are The Joker, Lex Luthor, or Circe.

There is a lot of controversy about the control set-up being too 'console' in the PC version of the game. Most of these complaints seem to be from people who expected DC Universe Online to be an MMORPG. But like I've already mentioned -- that's not what it is. Anyone who has ever played an action game on their computer will find the controls similar to that. WASD for movement, mouse look, 1-6 for actions, 7 uses consumables, and 8 fires your trinket if you have one equipped. Left mouse is used to perform melee attacks and right mouse is used to perform ranged attacks. Hitting them in various tapping and holding combinations will perform styles you've specced into. Tab cycles through nearby enemies, Ctrl loots, spacebar jumps, and Shift is used to break crowd control. Pretty basic stuff there.

The game itself is visually impressive. The environment is immersing, with locales such as Metropolis and Gotham City fully explorable. It's reminiscent of MxO's game world, which I gave a glowing review of back in the day. Unfortunately SoE has a difficult time maintaining IP licenses and The Matrix Online no longer exists, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The soundtrack is fitting for the world and whatever you happen to be doing in it and it seems as though every NPC in the game is fully voice acted. For better or worse. Some of the voice acting is top notch. Some, not so much. That seems to often be the case, though.

The gameplay, once you're accustomed to it, is intuitive and entertaining. Keep in mind, once again, that it is not an MMORPG. It is an action game. So it will play differently than what you are used to if you're coming from the typical MMO background. No auto-attack and no sticky targetting (not to be confused with target lock, you can lock targets).

Stability is something of an issue currently as SoE merged all of the servers together. Why? I don't know. Merging them all together seems excessive no matter how poorly sales might have been. I guess they like making their playerbase angry (SWG, anyone?). But I digress.

You have EU-PVP and EU-PVE which is effectually a single server and US-PVP and US-PVE which is also a single server. Characters however cannot interact with eachother unless they choose the same server type. While those playing PVP are on the same server as those playing PVE, they're invisible to one another. This causes population problems during peak hours where you'll either find yourself waiting in a queue to login, or find yourself suddenly staring at your desktop when the server crashes. If you're playing for free though, you can't really complain too much. As a legendary access member you'd probably be livid though.

In addition to world PVP (if you play PVP) there are also battlegrounds you can queue up for. Be forewarned though, BGs were clearly an afterthought in this game. Once you die in a battleground you must wait upwards of 7 minutes to respawn, which means you basically lose if your team dies because the whole round only lasts about 15 minutes total. There also seems to be some issues with leaving a BG once you're inside of it. I got trapped for a good 4 additional minutes last night and then once I was finally able to leave my client crashed. So, queue at your own risk. They have fixed the BGs and they are now quite fun to partake in. Queue up while questing and it really breaks up the grind to 30 (level cap btw). Since the game is skill based and not so much level based, this means you can join the fight at any time and still stand toe-to-toe against even cap level players.

Summary? The game is definitely fun too play, even given the inconveniences caused by over-crowding. Since it's free, I see no reason why  you wouldn't play it, unless you're short on HD space. The game is large. 17 gigs off of steam and 14 gigs if you download it from the official website.

P.S. Don't judge the game based upon my screenshot. My laptop is atrocious and my graphical game settings reflect that.

Edit: I love it when I feel my review of something has been justified. DCUO was voted MMO of the Year shortly after this was written!