DC Universe Heroine Perspective Review: Brave and the Bold
By Kat Miller (Sareini), OnRPG Journalist
Criminals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, said a man who dresses as a giant bat and prowls the rooftops of his city looking for thugs to beat up once discovered, and I’m now trying to follow in his footsteps. True, I don’t have a Bat-gadget for every occasion and I’m hoping I don’t end up as a memorial in a glass case in the Batcave, but someone has to be there to fight the minions of Braniac, Scarecrow and Gorilla Grodd, to name a few. Welcome to the world of DC Universe Online.
DC Universe Online (DCUO) is the latest MMO from Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and Warner Brothers, taking a combination of the DC comics and animated universes and combining them into one big online world. With such big names behind it, you won’t be surprised to hear that a lot of work and money has been poured into this game, from the graphics to the voice acting for several of the big-name NPCs, including Adam Baldwin (of Firefly fame, not the acting family) and Wil Wheaton, as well as long-time fan favourites Kevin Conway and Mark Hamill.
The Brave and the Bold
When the game starts after character creation (more on that below), you find yourself a neophyte hero trapped on one of Braniac’s harvesting ships (the explanation for what is going on is given at the start of the game in a wonderfully rendered movie but, in brief, it involves time travel and nanobots) and, with the help of Oracle, you have to stop Braniac’s troops and escape. By the end of this tutorial you will have learned most of the important basics of the game: how to use your powers, the game’s controls and how to interact with people and objects to start with. When you fight alongside Superman himself at the end of the tutorial, you end up feeling quite heroic indeed, and even the admittedly-confusing control system (obviously adapted to be used by both PC gamers and PS3 gamers, as the MMO is released on both) might be becoming a little easier to use. After that, it’s off to your mentor’s home city, where you start to take missions and continue your heroic career in earnest.
DCUO has an incredible level of detail in both its graphics and its gameplay. For the former, this is a good thing – characters, NPCs and areas are carefully drawn and rendered, with just the right amount of cel shading without it becoming annoying and distracting to the game itself. In places there seems to be a little too much detail, however – costume parts are just a little too shiny when you might not want them to be, or there’s so many energy effects on your screen at once that you don’t know where to turn. With regard to gameplay, however, things are rather too complicated – the control system, for example, is a mixture of using movement keys, mouse look, the right and left mouse buttons in both clicking and holding, and using several other keys on the keyboard, sometimes in quick succession, which can at best be confusing and at worst, downright frustrating and a game-breaker for some players. This, of course, is the end result of having a game meant to be played on PC and on console when they don’t really seem to have taken the time to properly work on the PC controls.
DCUO’s character creator is certainly one of the more interesting creators I’ve encountered in MMOs. One of the first things you choose in the creator is your mentor – for playing a Hero, that’s a choice between Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman – and this choice determines your starting city and, more importantly, some of the armour and items you can use in the game. After that, you can create your character’s look, either starting completely from scratch or choosing to start with an “inspired by” look from a selection of templates based on some of the DC universe’s iconic members (for example, Superman, Batman, Deathstroke, etc). The power choices might seem initially limited; however, you can also choose how you express or use your powers, so if you want to shoot mental blasts with a bow or cast mystical spells with a staff, you can do so. There are also a lot of costume options to choose from – maybe not as many as some people would like, and some options cannot be used with others (such as the trench coat, which cannot be used with any of the chest pieces other than the shirt it has attached to it). Helmets and masks are also very limited as nothing can be added to the basic designs but it is pretty easy to make your own unique character with it.
The problem with the character creator is that it is actually rather counter-intuitive. For example, when you select a costume part, you cannot choose its colours unless you go back to the main creation menu and then select the colour sub-menu. Furthermore, your costume is seemingly limited to only three colours – you can swap them around and change their hue if you want, but in the end if you were wanting to create, say, the Rainbow Warrior of justice, you’re not going to be able to express that with his costume. Furthermore, almost as a final insult, once you’ve spent the time creating your character’s look and entered the game, armour pieces you pick up and wear change the look of your costume, sometimes radically, and taking them off takes your costume off altogether. It’s a glaring flaw in a game that is going to attract a lot of players who will want to spend a long time working on their look and will not be happy that the first chest piece they equip changes all of that.
Crisis on Infinite Earths
The game is still very new, and so the usual bugs and some teething problems are to be expected, but there are still some glaring problems that need to be addressed at some point in the near future. One such issue is the extremely limited chat interface, which only has a small window in the corner of the GUI which can be difficult to read, there are no chat channels and it is difficult to communicate with other players if they are not in your immediate vicinity. Again, this seems to be down to the fact that it is also meant to be played on the PS3, and the expectation seems to be that people will use the built-in voice chat to communicate with one another – a nice enough touch certainly but not everyone wants to talk like that to strangers in an MMO. The extremely sensitive chat filter is also causing a lot of unintentional hilarity (as well as annoyance) with some of the words and phrases it edits out (and of course, with voice chat all the filtering would be rendered moot anyway, so you wonder why they bothered…).
Another problem is that age-old problem of so many MMOs – it feels like a solo game that you happen to play online. Certainly, there are missions where you can team up to fight some of the iconic supervillains of the DC universe such as Bane, but for the most part if you want to just wander through the game by yourself as a lone wanderer, you can easily do so. There just doesn’t seem to be very much incentive or even a need to team very much. There is the option to create ‘Leagues’ – the game’s version of supergroups or guilds (and a nod to DC’s long-running Justice League) – but so far the benefits to these seem to be entirely social in nature.
In the end, DCUO is still a (very) new game, and in the genre of superhero MMOs, it doesn’t have too many competitors. It has great potential, certainly, and it is fun to play, at least in short bursts, but in the long run things like the over-complicated control system for the PC and the lack of any real incentives to play with other people are going to be sticking points for SOE unless they address them early on. It feels like a pretty but awkward console port at the moment – one with a great deal of promise, but with several aggravating factors that can make it more of an annoyance to play than an enjoyment.
– beautifully-built world with just the right amount of cel shading
– easy to jump into to play for a couple of hours without committing yourself
– a great deal of potential
– awkward control system for PC users who aren’t using a gamepad
– character creator is counter-intuitive in places and rendered moot in others
– currently very limited social interaction available in-game