Metropolis Now – Final Crisis: The Future of DC Universe Online



Metropolis Now - Final Crisis: The Future of DC Universe Online

By Stephen Boyd, OnRPG Journalist

30 days on from the launch of DC Universe Online and things are looking good. Sony Online Entertainment has its fastest selling game of all time and the populations on both PC and PlayStation3 are booming.

DCUO-Review-Group

What has prompted this success and what do SOE need to do to hold on to their playerbase?

The success is down to them having delivered a solid, easy to grasp and entertaining product.

Is it perfect? By no means, the game has its flaws and I will get into those later on.

Does the DC license carry the weight they hoped it would in this game? Yes. DCs rich history is in every nook and cranny of the DCUO game world. From iconographic landmarks like Crime Alley in Gotham and the Daily Planet building in Metropolis, to subtle nods that thrill the comic geek in me like Infantino Drive and Shuster Way (both named after legendary figures in comic history) are everywhere and really serve to enhance the experience of roaming these cities.

DCUO Review Batman

A lot has been made on the Forums of not getting to play as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. To me, the thrill of creating a character and rescuing Raven with Nightwing and the Titans, or battling Braniac's forces alongside Hawkman and Hawkgirl for outweigh any disappointment I feel about not controlling the Big Three. If I want to play as Batman, I'll wait for Arkham City. If I want to play as Superman or Wonder Woman.....I guess I'll just wait.

Four Colour Heroes?

Creating a character though, is not all it could be. After the vast diversity of creation options in both Champions Online and City of Heroes/Villains, the character creation options in DCUO feel a little bit stingy.

Having only six powers to choose from leads to a lot of lookalike conventions when you are in a group. Having the roles available tied to these powersets is another drawback. If your powers are Fire or Ice, you are a tank. Simple as that. And I think that this has caused a problem for the players new to MMOs that Sony have targeted with this game.

I see a lot of chat ingame from people lamenting that they will have to roll another character as they didn't realise that their powers were locked in to the character. You can respec your abilities, but your powerset and thus role are unchangeable. Coming from games with dozens of classes to a game with essentially six may also have an adverse effect on the ‘Pro' MMOers out there.

The harsher among you out there probably read that last line and Lolled at the Noob, but for a company that is hoping to keep their players online after the free 30 days expire, this may cause problems.

The cosmetic side of things could also have been handled better. Once you have chosen the clothing options on your character, you are restricted to a three colour palette that is applied to your gear. While I quite like the classic look this gives the avatars in game, it is quite limiting. While Batman, Superman and the big guns of the DC Universe tend to have limited numbers of colours on their uniforms if I want a black belt on my red, white and blue costume, I can't have it.

DCUO Review Green

DCUO Review Red

Power effects are also sadly restricted to a default colour. Green flames? No. Black Ice? Fraid not. All sorcery is red and all mental constructs are purple. Giving us an option for our powers effects to change colour would have added a nice touch of individuality to the identikit power users in game.

Many may say that the colours are restricted to avoid slowdown. But if games running on ten year old engines can handle it, you know who you are! Then surely this brand new release can handle a little extra colour?

You Will Believe A Man Can Fly

Also locked in to your character from creation is your movement style. Having created multiple characters over the course of the last month I have tried all three options. Acrobatics, Super Speed and Flight are the options available and all had their issues at launch.

Super speedsters would find themselves running out of existence as the game could not load the environment fast enough.

Acrobats would suddenly realise that their characters were not scaling walls like cat-burglars, or another companies famous Wall Crawler, but were instead skating along the surface of buildings as if they were on a streak of cartoon grease.

Multiple patches later and all the movement styles now seem to be working as intended.

DCUO Raiding

My personal favourite is flight. A tap of the F key sets you in flight and swooping above Arkham Asylum or rocketing to the top of the LexCorp tower in Metropolis never ceases to entertain me. The flight mechanics are one of the best I have seen in any type of game over the years and are literally a joy to use.

Other controls however are not so much fun.

War of the Controllers

The control system in DC Universe Online takes a little getting used to. As a PC gamer, it is clear that the interface has been designed with one eye always on the DualAxis controller. Switching between roles takes but a tap of the T key, but each of these action bars contains only six abilities, one health potion and a trinket. A total of eight seems surely mapped to the face buttons and a shoulder press and for players used to having ten or twenty abilities available for combat, it seems a little restrictive. All of your abilities use up a finite Power pool and the game does not have a ‘Mana' Potion. This is sometimes a problem when you are surrounded by Mobs or enemy players.

The combat however is surprisingly effective. You have a wide range of weapons to choose from and your Melee and Ranged attacks are mapped to the Left and Right Mouse buttons. The combat feels solid and each blow lands with a satisfying weight on your opponent. Other online games I have played have felt a little ‘floaty' and blows don't carry the impact of those dealt in this game.

City of Villains v City of Heroes

One of the things I spoke about in an earlier feature was the PvP element of the game. Players have the choice of always watching their backs on the PvP servers or choosing their moments for player versus player action on the PvE servers.

And it is on the PvE servers where you sometimes feel a little lost and alone. DC Universe does not have PvP areas as such.

And it is on the PvE servers where you sometimes feel a little lost and alone. DC Universe does not have PvP areas as such.

Yes, you have Alerts and Legends PvP that you can queue for. When you queues are working that is. Raids are available also, but the gear requirements are high and unless you are organised, arranging groups for Raids is tricky.

DCUO Moon

The open chat will gather a rag tag group together fairly quickly, but is organisation that is the drawback here again.

The social features are overly complexly put together and this makes grouping difficult at times.

The League system is another feature that needs looking at. Leagues are DCUO guilds and the League setup offers none of the benefits of Guild systems in other established franchises. You do not even have a communal bank for your League ingame. As more and more players hit the Level cap with their characters, grouping becomes more important to achieve the rewards available at end game. Sony need to do everything they can to make the League system an important part of this MMO experience to keep these players subscribing.

Also, there is no sense of Realm versus realm in this game. Without a way to track the campaign and compete with your enemies, the ‘bragging rights' of being hero or villain do not exist. Realistically, it is this element of MMOs that keep players playing. Without it, the long term future of this game may be in jeopardy.

Facing the Future

So what does Sony have to do to keep this ball rolling? Several things jump immediately to mind. Firstly, fix the flaws and bugs in the game. There are surprisingly few major issues that trouble DCUO. The queues for instances and other group missions are a big problem. Far too often I have been thrown into a half completed and abandoned instance. This means I end up in there alone, with no option but to quit, which then bans me for a certain period of time from queuing again.

The chat interface could be tidied up and the issues with grouping I discussed earlier are both major issues. Although Sony have marketed this as an MMO for those that don't play MMOs, it is the established MMO players that will be the bread and butter of this game and their wants and expectations must be met, especially with such huge competition sharpening their lightsabers and waiting just down the road a way.

What this game does well, it does very well. The solo missions develop a variety as you move through the game and these can be done as groups. You all need to have the quest for objectives to be available and you cannot share quests with groupmates. Again, this seems to be an indicator of the ‘Single Player MMO' syndrome that affects most of the game.

With the announcement last week of the new content update for February, at least some of the issues I have discussed above will be rectified. A Valentine's Day themed content pack will see a 100 player instance opened up to players. Catwoman will feature in a new mission and will also be made available to play in Legends PvP. Also recently announced is a new mission related to the Braniac invasion storyline that drives the game. This is a welcome addition as the driving force of the game that is Braniac's attempt to take over the earth is kind of left hanging in the game. Any steps toward a resolution of that one will be welcome additions.

Game Director Chris Cao has talked from the launch about huge monthly updates for the game along with special ‘Events' that have not been discussed in detail, but the Internet is abuzz about a Green Lantern Corps themed event this summer.

All this new content will help assuage the worries of players that Level 30 is the end of the game. My advice? Roll an alt with a different mentor. Each of the Big Three is available as a mentor and each carries his or her own quest line. As there is less to do outside of PvP and grouping for Level 30 characters, run your alerts and missions, gather your tokens for your Tier 1 armour, then log in with your little guy and experience the game from a whole different angle.

DCUO Review Justice League

A Big Squirt from the Joker's Flower goes to;

- Chat system- Needs work to make grouping easier and Leagues worthwhile
- Character Creation- More Powersets and a wider colour palette please.
- RvR System-Without it, an MMO lacks focus.

A Big Hug from Power Girl goes to:

- The Community-I have had nothing but good experiences with the online community. It is nice to play with people that seem to want to play rather than spend their time complaining about the state of the game. Overall attitude of players toward the game is positive.

- Combat-It does take a while to get used to, but once you do it is solid and satisfying.

- Regular Content Updates- Monthly additional missions, items and characters? Yes please!

- Flying - Because it's great!

Conclusion

All in all, DC Universe Online is a game with great potential. Sony are aware of the issues in the game and have been rolling out the fixes from Day One, they need to resolve the outstanding issues in the game and not get distracted by producing too much new content. That said, the monthly ‘Issues' of missions and gear may just be enough to keep the naysayers quiet and subscribing. Regular content updates should keep players in the game and I really think that the sun could be shining over the glimmering spires of Metropolis for many years to come.

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