Attempting to create a successful action MMO is tricky due to the specific hindrances of massive online gaming that can present themselves such as lag or players exploiting the game. Failed games like APB showed gamers and developers what did and didn't work when creating a fast paced, action oriented world largely populated by players. DC Universe Online has brought a very strong set of gameplay mechanics to the table that can hopefully survive through the inevitable issues that occur when a game of this nature launches.
Since DCUO is such a large game, covering every aspect of this MMO after only playing for such a short period of time would be nearly impossible. After bringing three characters to slightly over level 10 though, I can assure you that the impression I received from my experience was deep and rewarding.
When players first start DCUO they are greeted with an amazing open cinematic featuring favorite heroes and villains slugging it out in a wasteland of a city. At the very end, right after Lex Luthor kills Superman (yes stabs him through the back), alien ships come into view. A flashback occurs and shows Luthor talking to the heroes before the invasion of Braniac's fleet. Basically Luthor stole some crazy bugs that turn normal citizens into superheroes, traveled back in time, and released them on the planet in hopes of changing the future. The premise is very open-ended and leaves the possibility for pretty much anything to occur. This is also a great example of a story pitting two teams against each other, heroes vs. villains, while having both of them fighting against a bigger evil. The premise also leads to some interesting quests, but we'll get to that later on.
One major topic that is constantly brought up regarding MMOs is the character customization option. After the opening cinematic ends and players choose the server they want to play on, creation of the character occurs. The basic features of the character such as the size are limited, but DCUO also has some unique inclusions such as being able to change the overall theme of your character. For example, you can have a character completely made of chrome or a fox character boasting a tail and pointy ears. You can then choose from an array of different accessories and clothing options to make your superhero completely yours. There is also an option to create a character based on a famous superhero such as Superman. In-game players will receive new gear that they can choose to have visible, or they can lock their characters appearance to stay the same throughout their online experience.
After creating a character, players enter into a tutorial mission followed by being transported to either Metropolis or Gotham City. Both of these cities are connected and huge. A reference would be each city scaling the size of Vice City from the respective game of the Grand Theft Auto series. The level design is fantastic as players can run, or fly, up every building and through every street. Sony did a great job of making sure that players would get the opportunity to experience the entirety of the city by including quests that take place on top and inside of buildings. The detail of the world, the character models, and the powers they possess are crisp and colorful. Never will you look at DCUO and feel bored by the visuals.
The most important part of any action MMO is of course the gameplay. Each character can possess a weapon type and a power (players can allocate points to change their weapons later on). Players can also choose from 3 different movement types (acrobat, speed, and flight). The movement type, power, and weapon type can all be improved by spending either skill or power points to upgrade them. On the PC, both left and right mouse buttons are designated to different attacks while each number on the keyboard represents a different power. Players can of course customize the controls to their liking. What makes DCUO distinct is a smooth combo system that uses a mixture of movement (WASD) and mouse button combinations to pull off awesome moves. A double click on the right mouse button followed by holding it, if upgraded to the proper level of hand blast, shoots a laser-like stream out of your hands. The possibilities for how your character can be controlled create completely different gameplay experiences. After creating a nature-based archer, I found myself staying at a distance to pick enemies off from afar. My telekinetic/hand blast character was more powerful but unable to heal himself like my nature character was capable of.
Earlier quests were somewhat simplistic with your character having to kill a certain number of enemies or destroy a set amount of objects. Even in those quests, fans of DC and the universe created by them will recognize all of the characters surrounding the story. The fun really begins when a specific quest brings you into a building, almost like a mini-instance. These levels, while linear, include some great plot elements and an eventual boss battle. In one particular quest I found myself battling the older versions of the "Teen Titans." Raven was being possessed by her father, Trigon, who in turn was taking control of the other members of the crime fighting team. After you fight your way through the building and beat the boss, you are awarded with a very well done cut scene giving a brief description of the villain or hero.
While DCUO does boast a significant amount of content and great gameplay, it isn't without its faults. First, and maybe most important, is the clunky and confusing user interface. Being that DCUO was also released on the PS3, the user interface was crafted to be used with a controller as well. The chat system, accessing menus, and group interactions all take a hit from this. Simple issues become tedious such as having to open your journal to finish a quest rather then it just ending. Working within a group is also rough because in order to interact with group members one has to manually target them.
Another big issue that arises in action MMOs is when lag spikes, caused by overpopulated servers or latency issues in general, cause the fast paced gameplay to come to a halt and can sometimes result your character's demise. There were a few times where I was forced to disconnect because the lag made the game unplayable. I tip my hat to Sony for the fact that they realized this and upped the capacity of their servers. They continue to release patches and clearly care about their player base.
Without a doubt, DC Universe Online is one of the most structured and impressive action MMOs. The already deep and lively cast of the DC Universe makes it almost impossible to have a dull moment. Bugs and glitches do exist but Sony is taking the steps necessary to fix the little hitches and keep the game running smoothly. Rather than having to sit and watch your character fight, the player has full control of the powers and attacks of their characters. The fast pace gameplay that this enables is not only exciting but also incredibly rewarding. DCUO is available now for PC and the PS3 with monthly fees starting at $14.99.
[DC Universe Online]-$47.40 (PC)
[DC Universe Online]-$59.99 (PS3)