I’m no stranger to traditional role-playing games, from the pen-and-paper variety to the great epics of Bioware and Bethesda, but I haven’t had the greatest experience with MMOs. In fact I’ve only played two for any length of time. My first experience was with Star Wars: Galaxies when it came out, which I bought only because most of the folks at my local comic shop were doing it. I lived in a backwards rural area at the time, and the quality of my dial-up connection kept me out of most of the bandwidth-intensive battles. I never really had much fun sitting around a base all day weaving space-baskets or whatever. My second attempt came many years later with the most popular of online addictions, World of Warcraft. Again, I only got into it because everybody else in the SEGA QA department I worked in was playing it. I couldn’t understand the appeal, I felt like I was waiting to click the same button every few seconds. I didn’t last two months, and never got above the mid-20s level.
But DC Universe Online came along and promised to change all that with action-orientated gameplay set in a world I already visit every Wednesday. So when my beta key finally arrived, I set about downloading and installing this epic adventure eager to see if Batman and Lex Luthor could deliver for me what Boba Fett and Orcs could not. So join me, gentle reader, for the next few weeks as we take a walk together through DC Universe Online.
DCUO doesn’t waste any time trying to wow you. The first thing you see when you start up the game is that amazing pre-rendered trailer showing the DC villains destroying our beloved heroes, only to realize the folly of their ways when Brainiac shows up to take over and put everything in CCG slabs. Luthor travels to the past with billions of creepy little nanomachines and a plan to stop Braniac: start making more superpowered heroes.
From here you’re launched immediately into the character creation system. You can choose to make a brand new character from scratch, or if you’re feeling lazy you can select from a list of DC heroes and villains to serve as your “inspiration”. Going down this second route creates a sort of pre-baked character molded in that hero or villain's image. Screw that, half the fun of any role playing adventure is seeing what kind of wild creation you can come up with. You can pretty much make anything from knife-wielding magic users, to martial art expert speedsters, but ultimately I just wanted to zoom around and shoot things. My first hero is a skull-faced, flying, gun-wielding, technology expert named Rodger Dodger. I loves him.
During this process you also pick which of the DC Trinity you wish to be aligned with. This choice determines which city you’ll start in and what villains you’ll face early on. I side with Batman, since he’s the coolest and mister goody-goody superman would probably frown on my gun crazed skull guy. Plus I can’t wait to cruse around Gotham.
But Gotham must wait. Once you’re done making your hero you awaken inside a Brainiac ship in orbit above the city. This area serves as a tutorial for the game, explaining all the basics of movement and combat. I’ll spare you the details of the tutorial, but I will say DCUO is very easy to pick up and play. The game started to gel with me almost immediately, as it's like a bizarrely magical cross between Streets of Rage and Diablo. The combat is all played out in real time, with the player linking light and strong attack buttons to form combos. New combos can be purchased by spending skill points as you gain levels, along with new special powers that are activated with the numerical keys. Flight, super-speed, or acrobatic feats of daring (depending on your movement type) is just a button press away as well, and there isn't a penalty if you wish to fight from the skies. If the keyboard and mouse aren’t your thing, don’t fret, as DCU was truly developed with console players in mind and actually begs to be played with a PS3 controller.
I completed the tutorial in no time, gained my first few levels, and teleported down to a Gotham City PD station to begin my quest against mad villainy. Within the first few hours of gameplay I had taken down the Scarecrow with Batwoman (Kathy Kane, in case you were wondering) and teamed up with Nightwing to topple Bane. Quests are really simple to access through the in-game menu, and are structured in a way that's easy to follow. You'll start by taking out henchmen and stopping various plots to destroy the city, eventually using you investigation skills (with a little help from Oracle and the Batman himself) to track down the main bad guys. Manage to take down one of the big boys, and you'll even get your name in the paper, along with some major loot to equip to your character.
Items like capes and boots can be equipped to you character at any time, as long as you meet the required level to use them. You can also elect for the items you equip to show up on your character, evolving you look over time. I started out with a skull face and a red tank-top, but eventually I ended up with a sweet luchador mask and some more stylish clothes. I really like that your character can evolve not only in strength, but in fashion sense as well. Every hero needs a revamp every now and again, right?
DC Universe has really impressed me so far. The controls are fun and intuitive to a controller jockey such as myself, and level progression appears to move along at a steady pace. In the nine levels of experience I've earned so far, I never once felt like I was stuck in a grind and always had some sort of new power to try or shiny piece of armor to try on. Time will tell if the game will be worth a monthly fee, however, but we'll explore more of what the game has to offer in future articles.
Tune in next week for a look at how you can play as iconic DC characters, team up with other players to defend Area 51, and an expose on how the villains live it up in DCU Online.