Less than a week ago, I was forwarded a 10-day key for DCUO since I apparently mentioned that I’d not tried it. Having no new content in LoTRO to play with, I figured I’d give it a try. I posted about my first night’s comments, but I would be remiss if I did not post beyond that, because I feel it left an unfair sheen on the game, especially since no one else here has given it a review. I seem to be the beta/trial guinea pig. Maybe I should apply for hazard pay.
Anyway, I’ll get into my usual wordy, detailed review in a bit, but a quick summary for the skim readers: It’s a fun game. It’s the lovechild of World of Warcraft and City of Heroes. Actually, that’s not really true, but that’s a lie you can understand (/hattip Discworld). DCUO is faster paced than CoX, yet allows you to have the same type of fun that CoX does with being super. My main complaint is that it is a very fast burn – I hit max level on day 4 of my 10 day pass.
Let’s start off where I left off – character looks. Anyone who has gamed with me, and/or read more than a few of my posts knows I very much enjoy modifying how my character looks. DCUO is similar to CoX in that you have a wide variety of character looks, however unlike CoX, you don’t get them all at the beginning. You collect them, looting/winning items that give you a specific graphic. For example, you might take down Scarecrow and get his hood, which allows you now to have an eerie hood as an available graphic, which was not originally available when you built your character. All of these items are quickly selectable on the costume menu, which once you understand it is easy to use but are given next to no explanation or even on-screen tips on how to use. Unlike CoX, you cannot quickly swap between costumes with a click, but you can switch to any graphic you choose without visiting a tailor. I liked that a lot.
The missions within the game are largely force-fed to you, although there are many side quests you will likely take. Like WoW’s BC-era dungeons, before you enter almost any instance, you will find someone waiting just outside with a quest for inside. Sometimes this person is just inside as well. These flavor missions help you get even more exp, and add to the story. The story arcs are simple, light-hearted, and tend to be fun. A note, for the more cautious parent, there are FCC-approved swearwords in several of the cut-scenes. The language isn’t much nastier than what was used in Cee-Lo’s “Forget You” on the Grammies last night, but as a parent I figured I’d mention it. I wasn’t offended, but I was a bit surprised, to be honest.
Besides the missions, there are wanted posters where you track down some mega-villains, some known and some new, and these usually require you to get help. DCUO does not appear to have a tagging rule, so anyone helping will get credit. I would say this was bad, except most mobs seem to be almost like overstuffed piñatas with their loot and I’ve never seen a complaint. In the bigger game, there are also several big missions, where you and a random group of people perform a series of missions in an area. All of these I really enjoyed, even the one where half the people dropped because they said we were going too slow. Two more people joined when they dropped and we finished a few minutes later.
The game also has collections, a popular mechanic these days, and “feats” where you have to do a certain task/skill/event a number of times to get a completion. Doing enough of these allows you to access yet more powers. Of all the games I’ve done these in, I found DCUO’s to be very achievable. Some are pretty fun, like the villain and hero spotting ones too, although they can take some time. There are multiple types of collections, both item and mob related. There’s a lot of detail here, and will take a good bit of time to finish them all.
DCUO has a very mild death penalty – a small item durability hit – so death, or being knocked out as they say, isn’t much of a concern. There are times that it is inconvenient such as boss fights, but otherwise almost a non-penalty. Also, like DAOC’s initial release, there is no falling damage. I jumped off the top of the Lexcorp towers, the tallest building in the game, and just made a boom when I landed. It was fun!
PvP takes LoTRO’s model to the next level, putting all players in the bodies of DC characters. This removes most item-based advantages, although the higher unlocked DC chars have better skills. Even the lowest one, Robin, has a skill that deflects 100% of the damage though.
Unfortunately, the game is not perfect, and I should point out issues I saw from my perspective. First of all, the controls are something I feel deserves restating. While I was able to, and now feel fairly comfortable with, use them, having permanent mouselook mode be on makes this feel far too much like a console game and not a PC game. There are several other controls that also make it look like Sony only put this on PC as an afterthought. One of the worst is the power limit – you can only have 6 active powers at a time. The hotbar feature is not new to the genre at all, but here you have only one active hot bar, and it is prefilled with an item slot, a trinket slot, and then 6 blank spots. There is no page 2, so you can have other powers running. You cannot activate a power (like say a robot drone), then deslot the power and put in something more useful as the drone self-destructs. You can have 2 sets of hotbars saved, for your two different roles, however these roles will impact your play style. For example, if I am in DPS mode, as I usually am, I get +35% more damage from my skills. Switching to another hotbar/mode, removes this. I never saw the need. Also, the fact that you get no warning when you buy power #7 (and there are dozens of powers) is an oversight.
You also cannot use the mouse to mouseover a power or UI item and find out more details. You must open your power or character window to get that info. More clicks that are really non-PC friendly. I did try to use 2 controllers and had no luck. Despite using the deeply-hidden DCUO controller setup (buried deep in a folder marked “Unreal” by default), and had them recognized, I could not use them in game. One of these was a Sony PS3 controller, which I found more ironic when I heard that a Microsoft 360 controller is natively supported. No support for your own company’s controller? After asking around, I was told I could download a third party program that would allow me to use my controllers, but I did not. I try to avoid adding non-essential programs to my gaming rig for starters, and if the game does not support their own controller setup, why have it?
A small but annoying issue I had in playstyle was the enormous amount of low level monsters that could easily knock me out of the air or drag me to them. I think this is to avoid people from simply staying at range, but that smacks of the laziness of the “summoning” mechanic from EQ1. Originally, the summoning mechanic was put in to prevent someone from exploiting the monster and shooting at them from a place the monster could not get to, such as hiding behind some geometry that caused a pathing glitch. Later, it ended up being the de-facto way to make a monster harder in that you could not avoid it. Back when it went in, I remember speaking with a dev who told me they were working to find a better way to do it as it felt lame, but they were under direction to quick fix it now and find a better fix later. 10+ years later, the same mechanic is here.
Another major oversight that really bothered me was the mission screen. This mission screen shows your 6 most recent missions, and the rest are scrolled off-screen. There is no scrollbar to move this, nor any keyboard key you can push to see them. People who do not have a scroll button on their mouse will be unable to complete or see these missions. I found this out as I use a trackball due to a wrist injury and most trackballs do not have a scroll wheel. The same would happen to anyone trying to play this on a laptop, using the touchpad. I was able to dig out a mouse with a scroll wheel from storage and whenever I wanted to look at my missions would reach for that mouse and scroll. A silly oversight to not have a scroll bar on this very important window.
The game is also somewhat small. Again, this is a simplification because Metropolis, Gotham, and the Watchtower are HUGE, but these are the only places to go. The Watchtower, while beautifully detailed, only is needed as a transportation hub and the occasional vendor, while the other two are big yet you will finish their entirety, in my opinion, in the first month quite easily (since I’m at 60% after 5 days, per my character sheet). Then what?
Lastly, the other issue I had with the game was it felt too short. Hitting max level in 4 days is too fast. Old quests I turned in gave me mountains of experience, and even now at max level I have a good half-dozen storylines to finish. Gear felt like it would be an issue, as I was never able to find a vendor to sell me things I could use, but I survived fine on quest rewards. I still have many many feats to do, but that should not be the only thing to do at max level. Racing to the finish line is one thing that people complained about when I used to play WoW, although I know going slow to the finish line, as EQ1 always seemed to be, also was a constant complaint. It’s far from an easy balance to make, I know, and so erring on the side of “let’s keep them happy” seems to be the better one. Something I saw in game would detract from this feeling though – on day 31 of the game’s release date, the cities became much emptier. There are a lot of threads on the official boards mentioning the lack of content, although Sony does have a patch planned for later this month. Like my experience in Lego Universe, it seems the plan here is to launch with limited content and then patch content in slowly. To me, that feels more like water drip torture than fun gaming.
On the whole DCUO is a fun game to play. I truly enjoyed CoX, and that is probably at least one reason why I enjoyed DCUO as there is a great deal of similarities. I enjoy games with flight as much as the next person, and so that alone was a perk for me. Of course, if I just wanted to fly around, I could simply play Cloud, and be done with it. If you’re a fan of DC comics, you will likely enjoy the detail the developers have put into the game. Like Turbine, who had the LOTR IP to work with, DCUO leans heavily on its source material. However, as it’s a comic book, you can take any number of story telling licenses out as it’s pretty much how the stories in comics go – retconning the past to tell a new story. Superman died in the 90′s and is back now, quite healthy. Comic books are not the Iliad and the Odyssey, although sometimes they have good stories. Now if I could just get these tights to stop bunching up…