All super hero franchises have had somewhat chequered pasts within gaming. Among countless brawlers, platformers and fighting game mash-ups of varying quality, the comic book titans often struggle to garner respect from the core gamer community. Likewise, it is self evident that the MMORPGs generally suck on consoles. It is thus that an MMO on PC and PS3 inspired by the DC universe seems a rather brave title to attempt but, having spent some time with the PS3 beta of the game, you can rest assured that DC Universe Online will be a stellar title when it hits stores in January.
Straight from the comic panels
Though 2004’s City of Heroes was a fantastic example of mixing costumed crusaders into the MMORPG pot, the benefits of the official DC licensing will potentially lift DC Universe Online to new heights of storytelling. The opening cinematic sets the scene of a battle between the heroes and villains of the DC universe but, after the battle is over and all the heroes are weakened, Brainiac capitalises on this and attacks earth. After digitising all of earth’s citizens it would seem Brainiac has triumphed, yet a lone Lex Luthor is able to escape and travel back in time to warn the heroes and villains of the DC universe of Brainiac’s invasion long before it occurs. He informs them that he has taken Brainiac’s ‘Neobytes’ that are full of data on the DC heroes and villains and has unleashed them into Earth’s atmosphere. As these ‘Neobytes’ land on Earth they grant various citizens of earth their own super powers, and Luthor informs the DC heroes and Villains that they must train these new contenders to help protect Earth against Brainiac’s assault.
It may not be the most original of comic book storyline’s, but the whole thing has a very DC feel to it all with the hero story being very fluffy and protecting and the villain quests being very malicious indeed. Any game that lets me fight crime in the Metropolis alongside Superman is a bit of a success right off the bat, and if it also involves me learning superhero skills from Batman then all the better. The story also sets up and justifies the copious amount of other heroes and villains inhabiting the cities with you and allows you free reign of what kind of hero you want to make.
A faster paced MMO
The character creation options in DC Universe Online are simple, yet surprisingly deep, and offer for some creative and enjoyable power variations. Creating a character is usually one of those things you just try to get out of the way as quick as possible so you can get into the game, but DC Universe Online manages to tap into those childish dreams you always had of possessing super powers. You can opt to choose a pre-made hero inspired by the powers, attire and morality of other classic DC characters, or you can make your own from scratch. You get a choice of your own weapon, super powers and movement powers and are also required to select your morality and hero or villain mentor, both of which effect what missions you will receive in game. What is most inspiring about the creation options are how they effect your game experience. The difference between various weapons and your elemental or mental superpowers will be rather obvious, but the movement powers completely alter the way your character controls and there are a wealth of differences between the hero and villain campaigns that make a second or third play through an absolute must.
Once you get your character into the DC Universe you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the feel of the gameplay mechanics. Long gone are the days of repetitive mouse click based combat. Instead DC Universe Online plays out more like your standard 3D brawler, but a good one none the less. It starts off as a fun, if shallow romp, but as you develop your powers further and team up with others the strategic element of the game comes to the front. What’s more intriguing is the ability to use the environment around you. You can pick up many objects in the game and use them as projectiles against your foes. Some of the mind powers even go as far as to throw these objects for you if you choose to go down that particular avenue of skills. DC Universe Online just taps into the intrigue and enjoyment you got out of comic books as a kid and puts you in the centre of it. Combine this with a fast paced combat engine and deep character creation options and you have a winning formula. It takes everything you’ve loved about the MMORPG and injects it with a dose of costume-clad fun.
It also helps enforce the feeling of progress within the genre that the game looks so darn good. MMOs generally have a tendency to appear a bit behind the times in terms of graphics, but DC Universe Online takes this stereotype and tips it on its head. Soaring through Gotham city and causing mayhem in the Metropolis has never looked so good. It’s a shame that the cities sometimes feel a little sparse and underpopulated, but this is hopefully an aspect that will be improved upon when the game retails in full.
Every silver lining has a cloud
I was generally impressed with the developments DC Universe Online has made with the genre (thus why this has read more like an advert than a preview so far,) but there are some problems on the horizon that need to be sorted before its release if DC Universe Online is to realise its full potential. For a start there are a rather impressive amount of glitches within the game. I know it’s still in the beta stage, but there were far too many instances of falling through the floor, being kicked from the server, textures disappearing etc. for my liking.
Another problematic aspect worth noting is in the menu system. The multi-tiered menu works well within the PS3 context and makes inventory management as easy as can be, even with a controller, but there is the issue of the various tabs of the menu sometimes taking a very long time to load up. Considering the need for quick menu access mid-combat, this could become a major issue if it isn’t resolved by the time the game retails.
The final fly in the soup happens to lie in the general multiplayer aspects of DC Universe Online. There are always going to be problems with communication in console MMOs on account of the absence of a keyboard, but the usual method of using a headset is unlikely to work as a substitute on account of how few PS3 users possessing them. I know Xbox live isn’t always a perfect platform for games such as this, but the bundled headsets with the 360 would’ve somewhat alleviated this particular issue. There are also the issues of guilds, for whilst the normal raids, PvP matches and even legends PvP where you can play as the established DC Universe characters are present in the beta, there is little to no mention of guilds and their benefits. Fingers crossed this is just a feature that is being saved up for the full game, as otherwise this could be a major oversight that could have long reaching implications for the game’s community.
DC Universe Online was a fantastic experience in the beta, but if it is going to be worth the $15 a month subscription fee (daylight robbery aside,) it’s going to need to pack in the glitches and pull the proverbial socks up. Can it do this in the short space of time before the game comes out on January 11th (or 14th for us unlucky European gamers?) Only time will tell, so stay tuned to gamingbolt.com for our review of the full game coming soon.