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I am a comic book nerd at heart. I have a fascination with super heroes and graphic novels that dates back to my godfather giving me a copy of Batman, and falling in love with every page of the inked story. I see most of the films based on comics in theaters and bitch about how horrible they are on the way home. Now, comics are being turned into games left and right. With DC Universe Online, I really felt for the first time that a comic book franchise had an opportunity to really dive in and explore a massive universe in depth. I am sad to report that I was very, very disappointed in how shallow the finished product actually was.
The game functions in earnest as a diet MMO. It has all the traditional elements of other entries into the Massively Multiplayer Online game style, but “Nerfs” or softens all of them so that the game doesn’t present any real difficulty or challenge. Things that should feel like really epic battles, like helping Nightwing in a fight with Bane inside of a collapsing light house, come off as very repetitive encounters and leave you feeling as though you’ve been robbed of any real impact. To explain, it’s important to know that in buying this game over any other entry in the MMO style of games, what you’re essentially buying is names. Names such as Batman and Lex Luthor separate it from being any other super hero MMO. The great disservice to those illustrious names is done in the lack of homage paid to the rich stories that DC has to offer.
If you know your history, Batman has some amazing stories in the DC world. One of them details an encounter between Bane and the Bat, in which Bane breaks Batman’s back. It is a defining moment in Batman’s life, and it permanently changes who he is under the cowl. In the game, even though you’re supposedly being mentored by Batman, that whole massive story is boiled down to one taunt. Bane says “ I broke the Bat, now I break you!!!” Other epic stories are just as similarly broken down into quips and quotes that aren’t ever really explained. Both decade-long readers of the source comics and brand new inductees into the lore will feel underwhelmed by how little story is actually given to you.
As far as the game is concerned, there is very little originality here. Power and power sets all break down into very familiar categories. The quests are all pretty repetitive clicky hunts, and the endgame content is boiled down to grinding instance after instance for epic gear- most of which is pretty useless if you aren’t into PVP. Graphics wise, the game is very pretty, but in turn, you only have Metropolis and Gotham to explore. Each game zone is large enough to support your quest play for a while, but people like me who know in their minds what they should look like will be really disappointed. In Gotham, I can’t go to Wayne Manor. I can’t go to the Opera House, or Acme Toy Factory. In Metropolis, I can’t actually stand on the Daily Planet, as its covered by one of Brainiac’s domes. Those issues alone are huge detractors for me, as a fan.
Where this game finds its strong suit is in hand-to-hand combat. It introduces an interesting combo system that makes the idea of going toe-to-toe with minions feel less like an issue of your stamina vs their level. You actually have a fair amount of control over how much damage you legitimately deal, and it makes the combat bearable, but not remarkable. I expected more from DC, honestly. With a Universe that has you going mano-a-mano with the likes of The Man of Steel, there are times where you feel like a tiny whelp even at level 30. If I’m going to fight Superman and a single robotic minion of a second string villain can own me, I have some serious weight lifting to do. Running into epic heroes and villains does add some novelty to the game, but the awesome factor wears off quickly.
It’s worth mentioning that the armor and costumes you acquire in-game do actually change the look of your character, but in my opinion, they were all pretty lame, and not really in keeping with the ascetic of the rest of the world. You can create the hero you picture in your mind’s eye, but things like color choice and body customization are limited. I’ve always been of the opinion that an abundance of choice in character editing is a must for MMO’s; otherwise you end up with a gaggle of cookie cutter toons all running around looking like clones of one another. I just didn’t find the depth and options I was looking for here.
Where I was truly disappointed in the game was how many second and third string characters the game throws at you: Brother Eye, Etrigan, and others. With as many choice characters as DC has to work with, to throw so many ‘meh’ characters at you is just pathetic. When I hear the name DC Universe, I think of the great towers of the Green Lantern home world of Oa. I think of the extravagant gardens of Wayne Manor, and the Greek marble arches of Femiscura. None of those locations are even playable. Two cities and a myriad of small play zones does not a universe create. The lack of content in the game is astounding and really just put me off. Also, the main story in the game deals with Braniac and his invasion of Earth. However, with his huge ships hanging ominously in the skylines of both cities doing absolutely nothing, the impact fizzled fast. His invasion is supposed to be the driving factor concerning all of these heroes and villains, and for the most part, you really just end up doing their chores.
Like most MMO’ launches, the game was plagued with bugs and server downtime. Most of those issues at the time of this writing have been fixed or patched. However, the lack of in-depth content remains. I was also very disappointed in how few powers are available to you at the start of the game. Six power sets and a handful of weapons classes. Some of the power sets are SERIOUSLY imbalanced too. If you’re a fire thrower and you go up against someone using the Plant power set, they are going to die very quickly. They better have a very strong weapons class or they’re toast. I also consider it very misleading that the Green Lantern is featured in most of the trailer videos, and the power ring set isn’t available yet.
Other persistent problems are things like massive wait times queuing up for raids and other high-leveled quests, and a serious problem with chat trolls. In a month of play, I saw a single server’s chat dominated by one particularly obsessive troll. Normally I wouldn’t mention that in a review, save for several people, including myself complained about it and nothing was done. I also noticed, having functioned on SOE’s forums, not much was communicated to warn people of server shut downs, and other inconveniences. Most other MMO’s have figured out that a quick word on the launcher is all it takes to warn people of such things. I expect that, in time, demand for more communication will be heard.
To be fair to the game’s designers, it’s not terrible. Most people who I played with enjoyed much of what they had offered to them. I just have major issues with it, being a hardcore fan. I’d have similar issues with a Marvel MMO if it tried to do the same thing. Realistically, I realize that they have done quite a lot with the time and resources they had and have a solid first entry. However, I expect more from DC. I expect amazing quality and well-written stories with intricate characters and deep personal connections. I did not get that at all. I got content that was simplified to be approachable to people who aren’t hardcore readers, and while I understand the necessity of doing that, it also does alienate me being one of those people.
If you’re a hardcore fan, you’re going to be quite disappointed with this as a game. Where you will look for in-jokes and references, you just won’t find them. If you’re a casual reader of comics and like the MMO format, then give this a try. My experience with the game is still very mixed, and I don’t know quite how I feel about the whole thing. I feel like where a game like Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum did so much for both the casual player and life time fan, this falls short of really reaching either on a relatable level. I may come back to this game a year from now, to see if it has matured with time, but as of now, I see no real differences in this that make it anything other than just another MMO in an overcrowded marketplace.
DC Universe Online is available now for PC and PS3
It was developed by Sony Online Entertainment, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
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