It’s been at least two years since I last walked the streets of Paragon City and rode the planes of Azeroth, and ever since leaving both virtual realms there has been an MMO-shaped hole in my gaming routine. Sure, there have been games which offer elements akin to MMOs, such as Call of Duty’s dynamic progression system, and Resistance 2’s instance-like co-operative missions, but there has yet to be a successful full-on MMO for home consoles.
DC Universe Online was announced during Sony’s press conference at E3 2008, promising players an action-heavy MMORPG accessible to both the hardcore DC page-flipping fanboy as well as your average gamer. The end product is near enough spot-on and is unlike anything you have ever experienced on the PlayStation 3, though a smattering of minor issues hold it back from absolute perfection.
First, the basics: DC Universe Online is an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and like most, it comes with a subscription fee. Every retail copy includes 30 days of free play, but thereafter a monthly rate of £9.99 applies unless you purchase a 3 or 6 month bundle. DCUO subscription cards aren’t available at retailers, mainly due to the fact that you can buy game time directly via the PlayStation Store, though a PSN store card offers the same function. Before you can even step foot in Gotham or Metropolis, there is a lengthy update which needs to be carried out, weighing in at around 15GB. Sure, it’s huge but that’s just another convention of MMOs as the space is needed to ensure the game runs smoothly.
No doubt there was a challenge for the development team when trying to conjure up a plot which would coincide with the premise of the game; after all, there has to be a valid reason why so many new heroes and villains are entering the DC Universe. It can be tricky to get your head around at first, but here is a simplified version of events:
The game begins with a devastating final war between good and evil in the heart of Metropolis. The bodies of heroes and villains are strewn across the battlefield, with the last pocket of survivors struggling in the final stage of their campaign. The fight finally comes to an end with the death of Superman, at the hands of Lex Luthor, though his victory is short lived. From out of nowhere comes Brainiac’s fleet of warships which had been waiting for this very moment. With no-one left to stand against the tyrant, his conquest is swift and soon the Earth is under his command. Forced into hiding, Lex Luthor discovers the Exobytes, Brainiac’s vessels containing all of the powers acquired from the fallen heroes and villains. He steals them, returning back in time to confront the Justice League, warning them of the consequences which lay ahead. To prevent the future from becoming a reality Lex unleashes the Exobytes, who then scour the planet, manifesting bystanders with superhuman powers. This is where you step into the equation.
In DC Universe Online you get to create your own unique hero or villain and then interact with others in a rich detailed world, taking on quests as well as raiding and engaging in PvP battles. Character creation is incredibly simple and fun. First off you will be required to select a gender and body-type as well as moral alignment (either hero or villain.) Once this is done, you will have to select one of three mentors; this will determine your starting location as well as some of the quest chains which are available to you. For the heroes there is Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman with Lex Luthor, Circe and The Joker representing the bad guys.
When it comes to choosing a superpower it may look as though there isn’t a lot on offer with only six different variations, though each of these branch off into larger webs, allowing the player to tailor their hero or villain as they see fit. For instance, if you choose Sorcery as your power, you can learn hexes, healing abilities and summoning spells, and can easily mix and match to get the variation which suits your needs. Combat style will be based on the weapon you choose during character creation; with ten to choose from there is plenty of variety, and like superpowers, they can be developed over time.The last game-defining choice made is your movement ability; players will either be able to fly, leap or dash through the streets of Gotham and Metropolis. The power of flight may seem like a no-brainer, but each movement type has their own pros and cons.
With your character ready the first mission you’re set to escape from Brainiac’s ship and rally with either Superman or Lex Luthor. Whilst it feels like a canned sequence it does a good job of going through basics including combat, navigation and upgrading your abilities. Unfortunately for players who love to create legions of alt characters, the tutorial cannot be skipped (yet.) Once you’ve met your mentor the game begins to open up, allowing you to trek around the city and complete missions while steadily levelling up. MMOs are notorious for their meticulous mission structure, and though it’s mostly the same in DCUO, there are a few added mechanics to keep things interested. Instead of just having to kill X amount of enemies, quests will sometimes require you to perform other in-game actions such as capturing an object and then returning it to a checkpoint, or incapacitating enemies once they have been defeated.