DC Universe Online Beta Impressions

I have to say I’ve never been that big of a DC Comics fan. Growing up, I certainly loved Superman and Batman, but I never really paid much attention to the bigger picture of the DC Universe. As I got older, I gravitated more towards the Marvel Universe and it’s seemingly more grounded world.

Even so, I have, at the least, had an interest in some of the individual characters in the DCU, if not the whole shebang. Green Lantern, The Flash, Zatana, the Bat family, Wonder Woman, were some of my favorites. With that said, I admit to being more than just a little intrigued when SOE revealed that they were working on an MMO that takes place in the DC Universe. Having played City of Heroes for years, and ultimately coming away wanting more from my super hero experience, I was interested in seeing how SOE tackled the genre in the MMO space.

Lucky for me, I was able to snag a beta invite (interestingly enough, not through PS+) for the PS3 version of the game. After the incredibly long download (there were three downloads: 2 updates, and 1 massive 15 gig download that took my poor internet connection 9 hours to complete), I was treated with that really kickass CG introduction in which our beleaguered DC heroes square off against a cadre of villains, in which Lex Luthor finally bests the Man of Steel, only to have that pesky computer Braniac launch a full scale attack on Earth. A desperate Lex then travels back in time with stolen Brainiac tech called “Exobytes,” that he uses to not only get the aid of his sworn enemies (the JLA), but to infuse as many people as possible, hero and villain alike, with the powers needed to stop Brainiac. That is where My character comes in. The screenshot feature wasn’t implemented in the PS3 version, so I apologize for not being able to show off my hero.

I created a Hero female, named, rather generically, Night Queen. I chose Batman as her mentor, which determines your starting area, and who you’ll receive a bunch of missions from. After selecting a mentor, I was able to choose a personality type, ranging from Powerful, Flirty, Humorous, Primal, etc. These don’t add anything to your skills, but simply adds character to your idle and movement animations. I chose the Serious personality type. I was then able to select my powers. There are Ice, Fire, Mental, Sorcery, Nature, and Gadgets. I chose Ice powers. You can then select what type of weapon you want to take into the world. There are pistols, rifles, swords, axes, and hammers, to name a few. I chose hand blasters, meaning my ice powers will manifest from my fists like energy beams. If I had chosen a weapon like a giant warhammer, the ice would fly from the tip of my hammer. Finally, you select a movement type between Flight, Acrobatics, and Super Speed. I chose Acrobatics.

After choosing the color palette for my new superheroine, I was loaded into the interior of one of Brainiac’s invading ships. This area serves as a brief tutorial, which familiarizes you with the basic game play mechanics such as movement, attacks, and interacting with objects and characters. After defeating many of Braniac’s minions, I escape the ship with the help of Superman and arrive at the Gotham City Police Department (Depending on your mentor, you will be loaded into either Gotham or Metropolis; the only to areas available for the beta).

From here, I am introduced to more DC heroes like Oracle, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, and of course, my mentor, Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy, of Batman: The Animated Series fame). As you progress through the game, you will be given various missions by these characters. Outside of missions, I was free to roam Gotham City, taking out minions, and completing many subquests.

With my Acrobatics ability, Night Queen could scale buildings, sprint at high speed, and eventually glide through the air, and use a grappling hook to scale buildings vertically, and shoot a horizontal zip-line to nearby walls. Controls were smooth and responsive, and the control scheme for accessing my numerous abilities felt good.

Combat is, naturally, a vital part to the superhero lifestyle, and it was one of my biggest areas of concern with DCUO, especially after having played many MMOs like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and City of Heroes. Fortunately, the developers as SOE have done a fantastic job of crafting a battle system that is fast paced, and fun. Instead of the standard click mouse button, execute attack, wait for cool down, repeat formula of other MMO’s, DCUO adopts a more real time approach. By pressing the Square or Triangle button, players alternate between a melee attack (Square), and a ranged attack (Triangle). These abilities never have a cool down, and can be performed as often and quickly as you like.

There is also a nice physics system up, which allows players to pick up world objects and hurl them at enemies. With certain abilities, players can even encase other player characters and enemies, and use them as bludgeoning or tossing objects.

As players level up, they can unlock combos (God of War style), that will open up combat to newer and more impressive attacks. Beyond this, your skill set (for me, Ice) will also be upgraded, and you will be given access to a lot of additional powers, conveniently mapped to the face buttons when the L2 or R2 buttons are pressed. You can swap between a “Defensive” combat type, and a “Damage” combat type, meaning that, at the press of a button, you can have access to 12 abilities (6 mapped abilities per combat type). In addition to your core weapon, at level 10, you are able to select a second weapon (I stuck with my hand blasters, but will eventually take up the Staff as my secondary weapon), and upgrade it’s full skill tree as well.

The PlayStation 3 version of the beta was capped at Level 20, and as of this writing, I am only level 14, but I can say that I walked away incredibly impressed with what SOE has accomplished with the title so far. The graphics are crisp and clean, with a decidedly comic book like air (which suits the subject material perfectly), and mission structure was fun and varied. Whether foiling Bane’s minions from spreading the deadly drug Venom around Gotham, to rescuing Raven from the clutches of her demonic father Trigon, the game never really felt like a grind, even when you were, honestly, grinding some enemies during the “Defeat X Minions” tasks you are given. I attribute this to the genuinely fun combat, which had me looking forward to the next opportunity to unleash my powers on my foes.

I didn’t play in the PVP servers, but with the press of Up on the digital pad, you can turn off PVE, and engage in combat with other players who have their PVE flag off as well. The game is a mere 3 weeks from release, but it has converted me from cautiously optimistic, to reasonably optimistic that they have a quality title on their hands. Fans of DC Comics will no doubt delight in the rather faithful, and vibrant recreation of the DC world SOE has crafted, and even fans of other MMO’s may find the brisk combat, enjoyable missions, and easy accessibility enticing.

This is definitely a title for fans to look out for come January, 2011.

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