DC Universe Online Preview
Metropolis is in ruins, the heroes of the DC Universe have fallen to their villainous counterparts and mankind’s last hope is dead. In their quest for revenge Lex Luthor et al have unknowingly released a much greater evil upon the earth, Brainiac.Realizing the gravity of what he’s done, Lex Luthor travels back in time to warn our heroes, and offer them a solution. That solution is to create super humans or ‘metahumans’ out of the general public using ‘exobytes’, energy stolen from Brainiac in the future. Despite their reservations, the earths last hope is to train these new found ‘metahumans’ before Brainiac arrives.
Earth’s last hope comes down to Gamebrit’s characters; Faing, Lagus, The Messenger…
…Or anyone the players imagination can conjure up. Before battle can begin, potential superheroes must first start at the character customization screen. Here players have the options to either build a character from scratch or use an existing superhero or villain as a template. Options for customization start at the basic and run through to the not-so-basic, including but not limited to; gender, build, personality, movement, power, weapons and costume.
The majority are self-explanatory and/or have little impact on the character abilities. Personality, for example, despite sounding important and asking players to select whether their characters should be powerful, comical or flirty amongst others, this only seemed to affect the how the characters stood and walked. The three that have the greatest impact are movement, power and weapons. Movement obviously affects how the character moves, whether it is acrobatics like Cat Woman, speed like the Flash, or plain old flying like Superman.
Power is the most intriguing choice as it determines which skills you will get access to throughout the game. Whether this be an elemental force such as fire and ice, mental skills which unlock the ability to use telekinesis and illusions or perhaps gadgets to give you a veritable utility belt of abilities to rival even Batman. There are plenty of options of offer and the amount of abilities these develop into as you level up are both varied and make you feel like a true superhero/villain.
While powers replace the typical MMORPG magic sets, weapons are available to perform standard melee attacks. Once again the options on offer are impressive and range from swords and two handed powerhouse weapons to firearms, bows and even hand blasters. Armour also makes an appearance but, presumably in an effort to keep your character looking coordinated, all match your chosen colour scheme.
DC Universe Online certainly has plenty of customisation on offer so players can create their ultimate superhero/villian. One option that would of been beneficial would have been a chance to ‘try out’ your chosen combination beforehand to save restarting should it not be to your liking. However because most MMORPGs don’t feature this it’s a suggestion rather than a criticism.
Once you’ve finally created your avatar, you get thrown into an introductory tutorial mission which needs completing before you’re unleashed upon the world. This serves up the very basic controls, and while this is useful, it still neglects to explain some of the features of the game such as switching loadouts so you can have access to more than just eight abilities (including healing items) or how to find your friends to play with. Ultimately you end up feeling like you’ve been thrown in at the deep end when it comes to trying to navigate some of the extensive menu options. Let’s just hope the full release includes all this in it’s manual.
This in part is not helped but the games obscenely small font size. With the pause screen comes selection of menus, along with the usual quest information and map, the characters features can be altered, powers upgraded and collected items viewed. Here the problem is not with the information itself but the manner it which it is presented, the information has been condensed so much that it is barely readable. A small point but hopefully on the developers will take heed to, after all you wouldn’t expect a superhero to save the world without making a few notes first.
However once you find yourself in one of the available cities then the game opens up a lot more. You are free to roam around, and because of your movement skills, to scale buildings and go where you please. This freedom of movement is absent in a lot of MMORPGs and is one place where DC Universe Online truly shines. Unfortunately the cities, at least at the time of beta, seemed to lack atmosphere. While it would be a bit ambitious to expect the hustle and bustle of a metropolis teeming with excitement, it just felt empty and lifeless between the mission areas.
The combat leans more towards an action game than a typical RPG so you’ll find yourself button mashing for the majority of the time. As you add powers into the mix it does add a lot of possibilities but for the standard missions there is barely any need to use them. One issue that pops up is found when escaping an encounter where you are burdened by slow movement and your weapon(s) remains drawn until you get a certain distance away from your enemy. This is presumably to stop people from needlessly starting battles and running away but when coupled with the ability of flight, it does make the characters animations look very strange.
The missions are full of the usual staples of MMORPGs focusing on collecting and killing a certain number of enemies or items. One bonus however is that unlike a lot of games in a similar vein, you can complete the majority your quests from within the menu rather than having to return to the person you received the quest from. This saves a lot of backtracking although with the enjoyable movement options this is actually less of a chore than most MMORPGs.
With DC Universe Online developers Sony Online Entertainment have attempted to rejuvenate the superhero based game, add an injection of MMORPG elements into a genre that up until now had been on a single player sandbox experience, and you’ve got an intriguing and altogether mouth watering prospect. The question is will console players used to the free-roaming, missions based linear adventures of the typical superhero title embrace these new found RPG elements? Alternatively will fans of the MMORPG genre find this amalgamation too shallow?