DC Universe Online ReviewGreg Knoll
It should have been every fanboy's dreameven more so if you were an MMORPG nut. I would know; I'm both. And when I heard rumors Sony was teaming with DC Comics to create a massive universe that would allow me to make my own superhero, fight alongside legends like Superman and Batman while protecting (or destroying) infamous places such as Metropolis and Gotham, I was hooked. I knew I wouldn't see Arkham City until October. It sounded like just what I needed to still my anxious, fanatical soul.
I wanted it. Bad. Bought it the second it came out and played it the moment I got home.
Well, attempted to play it. It took over an hour for it to cram 14 GB onto my hard drive with data and patches, but that really didn't matter. It would be worth it. I could feel it. And I believed my prognostication to be fact when the beautifully rendered cut-scene depicted an all-to-familiar battle between the Legion and the JLA. Green and Yellow Lantern used their incredible imaginations to outdo the other with more extravagant weapons, Black Adam and Batman tirelessly traded punches, neither even slowing down and Lex Luthorstrapped into his battle suitwaged war against his all time nemesis... Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman? What? Was I seeing that right? I was, yes. Luthor, after years of unyielding attacks, had finally driven the Man of Steel into solitude. The moment he was gone, Lex stepped in thinking himself a heartbeat away from world domination. But, come on, it's Superman. I knew before the actual scene occurred that he was watching from afar, ready to interject if things got out of hand, which they do mind you. Not even Wonder Woman could stand up to the mechanical marvel that is Lex's battle suit. She falls within a matter of moments, but in the one second that Lex actually had to end her, the Last Son of Krypton races in to save her.
It was then I saw something I could have never predicted, nor thought I would ever encounter in anything DC related: Lex Luthor kills Superman. And one by one, all other heroes fellalong with my heart. How could I possibly enjoy a game without Superman, Batman or Green Lantern? I couldn't. It's a physical impossibility. Though I almost cursed the game and turned it off right there, I waitedwatched as the skies grew dark, the sun blotted out by countless invading ships. The look on Luthor's face told me everything I needed to know. There are only a few things he fears, and only one has a technology advanced enough to create such ships: Brainiac. Lex had become so distracted by his selfish, egotistical war with Superman that he failed to see Brainiac working his way towards earth. And worse, Lex had left it helpless, robbing it of the only heroes powerful enough to defend it.
Brainiac easily captures and assimilates the entire human race.
Now, Lex is an incredibly complex character and though he fascinates me I can't even begin to explain his motives. Selfishness, conscience, pride. Can't say. But something prompts him to make one last desperate bid to save the earth, stealing Brainiac's data along with powerful computers known as exobytes and bring them to a time shortly before the war and invasion. His plan is to use the exobytes to awaken super powers within every day people to fix his mistake. Rather than kill the few superheroes the world did have, he plans on making countless more in hopes that, maybe, they can save the earth.
Great. Now I was really, really, ridiculously hooked.
I'll admit that it doesn't entirely need to make sense. It's based on a comic book after all. How believable are those? Not at all. But I greatly appreciate that Sony and DC took the time to explain why there were thousands of new super heroes and villains the world had never heard of and provided me with an ending goal to attain. I only hoped they were as thorough and fresh with the rest of the game.
With the character creation, at least, they were. I spent nearly two hours in making my first super hero. Not because it was complex, but because they gave me so many choices. Battle suits, wings, capes, masks, different skinseven strange ones like reptile and icegadgets, armor. The list goes on and on (with even more styles to be found later), and they give you every option to create a traditional looking character or something totally obscure. There isn't too much in the way of customizing the options as there is in games like Smackdown Vs. Raw but they provide far more base designs.
Once your character is designed, the game first has you choose your preferred method of travelsuper speed, flight or acrobatics. Then, you pick one of six source powersfire, ice, gadgets, mental, sorcery, naturewhich are linked to three rolesTank, Controller or Healer. From there, you decide on one of six mentorsSuperman, Batman or Wonder Woman if you're a hero, Lex, Joker or Circe for the villain role. Who you choose determines where you'll be placed and the focal point for most of your story.
My first time, I opted for Ice as my power, Batman as my mentor. So obviously I found myself patrolling the grungy streets of Gotham, one of my first missions trying to stem the toxic outbreak of Scarecrow's fear gas. Eventually I would battle the villain himself. I later rescued Nightwing, took down Harley Quinn and out-muscled Baneall the while getting advice and pointers from the Dark Knight himself (thankfully voiced by the magnificent Kevin Conroy). DC Universe just kept getting better.
Sadly, my addiction became my downfall. I loved the powers it provided and every level gained was something new to discover. Like WoW one of Universe's biggest draws is grinding, gaining levels, completing quests and choosing a path filled with various techniques but DC's battles are a much faster pace. You don't press a button, then strike seconds later. Melee combat plays out more like God Of War or Kingdom Hearts and the powers are even faster. You can have six at any given time, half linked to L2, the other half R2 and one of the face buttons. My first play through, yes in a panic, I slammed L2 and Triangle, True Baby released a laser-like beam of ice that stung a group of enemies and hurled them through the air. Several missions later I added another power, that of an icy tornado that drew countless thugs in, then spun them around in a whirlwind and hurled them every direction. And every new level opened up a new extravagant power.
I had to see more, soas I assume many do with other MMORPGsI created a second character, Mental and a third character, Gadgets. They had even better powers! My mental girl lifted enemies in the air, held them there then chucked foreign objectsbarrels, crates, carsat their helpless body. My gadget guy would race up, strap a bomb onto an unsuspecting GCPD officer then run away as the explosive hammered him three times over. Eventually, I had to make six characters just so I could appreciate all Universe had to offer and switch my time between them.
And I'll be the first to admit that the biggest complaint I have about DC Universe Online could very well derive from how I played it. Choosing a different mentor means you're going to see shifting aspects and varying parts of the city, but that usually lasts until level ten or so. Mentors have missions designed specifically for thembattling Gorilla Grad as opposed to Bane; Dr. Fate as opposed to Nightwingbut those become few and far between and sometimes the leap in levels required to beat them can jump by two to even five. In order to truly gain levels, you need to do side-missions. Sadly, though, those are the main storyline missions with other mentors. Battling Scarecrow was one of the first things I did under the tutelage of Batman but I was forced to do it again with my healer several levels later. Again, this may not be an issue if you play one character to level thirty and then start a new oneas the story may fadebut for me (as I assume a lot of others do) I kept everyone fairly even in terms of growth, so I found myself constantly repeating the same mission two and three times in close succession. Some weren't bad, others like Raven were absolutely ridiculous. You battle three different bosses just to get to her, then enter her psyche where you either try to free or control her and fight mental projections of her. Yes, that was plural. I would like to say it's six times, but I lost count after three. One right after the other, same attacks, same environment, same crappy one-liners.
Alas, yet another complaint. That of the fading production value. Yes, they brought in some big names like Kevin Conroy and Adam Baldwin to voice some of the more important characters but others like Zatanna or Nightwing sound like they just took a voice-acting class from our friends in House Of The Dead. The wonderful cut-scenes become increasingly rare, the powers start to blend together and you run out of customization options.
There are a few things to break up the monotony like Legends, where you enter a famous location such as The Batcave or Arkham Asylum and battle other players as one of the greats like Batman, Joker, Nightwing or Robin for experience, or you can help other players in raid-like PvE non-linear battles upon distant planets. Booster Gold even makes an appearance and gives you a tour of some of Metropolis and Gotham City's more... colorful areas.
Even with that, though, it's frustrating. DC Universe Online started out so incredible, I thought it would be the first game I gave an 11 to. It sadly loses a lot of steam halfway through. It's still a great option for MMORPG fans and one of the best for comic book junkies who are dying to create their own legend, but it also could have been so much better.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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