Consoles and the MMORPG genre have never exactly been the best of chums. Sure, “MMO” is now a next-gen buzzword but, three or four years ago, the concept of bringing a game such as World of Warcraft to PlayStation and Xbox seemed over-ambitious, if not impossible.
You see MMOs are not just technically demanding, they also require regular – and sometimes weekly- updates: an issue, considering how limited/closed the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are.
This didn’t stop developers from trying, however. Sony Online Entertainment was quick to the mount the charge with a trio of MMOs including Free Realms, The Agency, and DC Universe Online, which is easily the most successful of the three.
Featuring a roster of timeless comic book heroes and villains, DCUO made its first appearance at E3 2009, presenting players with a modern, action-based MMO. It launched in January 2011 and, despite mixed reviews, managed to garner a strong fanbase.
This following started to die out however, or at least wasn’t bringing in the bucks for SOE. Therefore, before celebrating its first anniversary, DC Universe Online went free-to-play and things have only continued to improve.
Over the last two and a half years we’ve seen dozens of content drops and major content update, the latest one – Game Update 31 – prepping DCUO for its anticipated next-gen release.
Crafting an MMO for both the PlayStation 3 and PC must not have been an easy task for Sony Online Entertainment. Where the former audience hinges on accessibility and playability, the latter (who arguable made the MMO genre what it is today) expect depth, variety, and re-playability.
DC Universe Online more or less achieved both and in a way that felt refreshing and unique. Combat, for instance, was all real-time and combo-based, allowing players to mix an amalgam of weapon-based attacks with an arsenal of inspired super powers. It definitely felt different and made for an interesting break from the genre’s hotkey-bashing roots.
So, instead of falling in line with leaders such as World of Wacraft, Guild Wars, or Lord of the Rings Online, DCUO had found its own niche. That’s not to say the game didn’t conform to other genre trends. Essentials such as a vibrant, living open world were of course present along with well-known features such as dungeons, raids, auction houses, and dailies.
Though a sticking point for some, others also found the game reduced level cap as another plus. Personally, I’ve been an MMO player for years now, starting way back in 2007 when I took my first steps in Azeroth. However, despite my zealous efforts, I had never reached an MMO’s “endgame” before playing DCUO.
For the uninitiated, an endgame is where experience points are chucked out of the window, leaving you to tackle a series of high-level quests and instances in order to unlock elite raiding gear. As someone who lives for the XP grind, I found it jarring at first but soon started to see the appeal.
For others, however, hitting level 30 after a fortnight or so of play proved problematic. Traditionally, MMOs have built themselves on weeks of playable content, your average endgame dweller having played for months on end to earn their spot in the pantheon.
This wasn’t their main complaint though. No, what really let DCUO down was the lack of incentive for players to create a new avatar and start over from scratch. Whether playing as hero or villain, you’re still forced to wade through the same intro mission and after that you are prodded down a prescribed route, peppered with a limited variety of quests.
It may not come as a shock to some, but for those who have experienced WoW or, more recently, Guild Wars 2, but the phrase “content is king” hits home. Both MMOs lay on entire areas and quest paths dedicated to each race, so to find that DCUO only has two paths – heroes and villains – can be quite perturbing.
Considering it’s free-to-play, DC Universe Online is still a game I’d recommend. A few years on, it may not feel as ground-breaking as it did at the time, yet it stands as symbol of SOE’s dedication, not to mention the PS3’s capabilities.
If you are thinking of donning your own cape and cowl, I would recommend either downloading it for PC or wait until you net a PlayStation 4. One of my biggest gripes with the original console version was how unfriendly the in-game menus could be, not to mention the occasional muddy visuals and technical issues. With GU31 Sony Online Entertainment is promising its biggest overhaul to date. Sadly this is something PS3 players won’t be able to fully capitalise on.