DC Universe Online Review: The Silver Age in 2014

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I have been playing online multiplayer games since the MUDs and MUCKs of the 90s, and as such, I have experienced a great deal of variety in my online experience.  When I got into the beta of DC Universe Online, I was very excited. Though as a lad I was more of a Marvel Universe fan, the fact that there was going to be a comic book MMO that actually got off the ground (no disrespect to the “City of” franchise, it was fun while it lasted) was good enough for me.  DC Universe Online was unique, even among the action MMORPGs in that it was based on an active IP in the DC Comics.  The art and stories are written by DC’s own talented staff, and the sounds and sensations could make you feel that you would be immersed into a unique world, where as a hero or villain you can make a bold impact on some of the biggest cities of the DC Universe (Metropolis, Gotham City and plenty of other landmarks to be sure).  Still no game is without its drawbacks, and DC Universe Online is no exception.


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Here Comes the New World, Same as the Old World

DCUO takes place in the world made famous by the DC Comics company, but does not take place during the main storyline.  Instead, it is a new story, written by their fantastic staff in-house, with new character artwork included.  Before you make your character, and pick a server, you get treated to the opening cinematic that explains the crux of the story.  A pitched battle between good and evil, as one would expect, where the titans of the DC Universe do battle over a ruined Metropolis.  However, Lex Luthor, who made a bargain with the extra-terrestrial entity Brainiac, would be betrayed as the heroes were finally put down.  In his desperation, Lex would find a way back in time to warn the heroes of today of tomorrow’s impending disaster.  Not out of a desperate need for redemption, but instead, a very realistic approach to his character: Lex still wants to control the world.  This is just one more step.

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You can play as either a villain or hero, and pick a variety of customization options that define what your character is.  You do not pick roles such as “Tank, Healer, DPS”, as in traditional MMOs, but most styles of gameplay are better at some things than others.  A good example of this would be some of the mystical powers are much better at healing than say a brawler style hero who just uses super-speed and fisticuffs.  You also pick a mentor, determining the narrative of your storyline as they guide you through missions pertaining to their interests and goals. Above is a villain I created, using a power from one of the DLC (which I will cover later).  I am fortunate to have a close friend who plays, who contributed several screenshots to this article.  Many thanks to “Kamen Rider Mach”, which is one of his main characters.


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Paying the Piper

DC Universe Online began with a subscription fee, as most MMOs tend to do. Like most of the competition (such as Star Wars: The Old Republic), it went to a free-to-play model, with perks for paying a monthly subscription fee.  This to me is both positive and negative.  Frankly, it is kind of nice to not have to pay to play an online game, as back in my youth, one did not pay to play a MUD, but perhaps occasionally donate something to server costs if the admin needed it.  There are a variety of payment methods (monthly fees ranging from one month to a year), and there are of course, benefits for doing so.  It is not necessary to pay, though the game waters down slightly if you opt to simply play for free.  Most of the people I have come across choose to play for free, or purchase the DLC, to get the extra content that they want.

Personally, I do not mind paying to play a game that I enjoy, but finances are not always a thing I have control over!  I was curious about one dread I have, say, paying a subscription fee, and then cancelling.  Would I lose the cool Yellow Lantern ring I dole out the harshness with? Would I be forced back into a cubicle of mediocrity?  Luckily, the internet provided me with the answers.  While yes, I no longer would have my extra bag slots, the stuff that would be in those places would be sent to a type of overflow, that I could get it back from.  Character slots that are over the limit would be locked, so that you could not make more, obviously. Characters with DLC powers are still available to be used, but you cannot respec (change your abilities) or make new characters with said powers.  So I could not make a light-construct user if I stopped my subscription, until I put it back into place.  Ultimately this is not a drawback, and the game is still completely playable without buying a thing. You simply lose out on a few powers and missions.  The game in and of itself is still quite enjoyable for a F2P model, much better than some of its peers.


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Action, Adventure, Spandex

There are two ways to play DC Universe Online: You can either use a keyboard and mouse, which is perfectly fine for those who play a lot of action games on the PC (Assassin’s Creed and its ilk), or you can plug a USB controller into your computer (such as the Rock Candy PS3 controller, or the Xbox 360 wired controller).  I should take the time to point out that a 360 controller that has a plug-and-play charge cord will not work, unless your PC has Bluetooth.  PS3 users can still plug a keyboard into their PS3 console to communicate with their fellow players.  I tried using both keyboard/mouse, as well as controller/keyboard combo, and I prefer the controller and keyboard.   The movement and attacks were very fluid on the controller, and I felt as though I were playing a traditional sandbox action RPG.  Some of the other actions simply felt better on the controller, such as opening the map or my journal to see what to do/where to go next. The keyboard was clunky in comparison.

The action in DCUO is fairly fast-paced, where you fly, jump, or run across large cities causing mayhem or saving the day as only a superhero can.  There are lots of options for missions you can tackle, though, as in any MMO, they can become tedious with lengthy time invested.  The PVE Mission types are as follows:

Mentor-Based Missions: Heroes and Villains both have a trio of main characters that represent power styles:  Metahumans (Superman and Lex Luthor), Magic-based characters (Wonder Woman and Circe), and Tech-based characters (Batman and The Joker).  These characters determine your main storyline progression throughout the game. At 1, 15, and 30, you are given special missions by your mentor.  You can have others join these with you, and you yourself can join others, provided someone in the party has access.

Alerts: Alerts are instance-style missions where a group of four heroes or villains work together to accomplish a series of quests/goals within the instance.  The first one you gain access to as a player is solo-only, but all others are group-oriented.  These alerts take the players to a variety of areas, such as Bludhaven, the H.I.V.E. Moon Base, and plenty of others.  At level 30, there are tiers of difficulty in these missions, which have requirements of increasing combat strength (similar to World of Warcraft’s item-level requirements).

Bounties:  Bounties are encounters in the safe houses or in the Central City, which are harder than normal grunts or villains.  They are expected to be group encounters, and after an initial completion, they become a daily quest that you can complete for small rewards and faction reputation.  The bounties are a host of major players from the DC Universe, ranging from Power Girl, Solomon Grundy, to low-level characters like The Top, or obscure characters such as Doctor Fate. The cast is quite varied, and offer a fun, interesting challenge.

Freelance:  Freelance missions are not assigned by important characters, but by typically men and women made up for the sake of the game. These are standard MMO quests that the characters can choose to take or not to take, and do not necessarily impact the game one way or another.

Exploration:  Exploration missions were probably my favorite, but not for the reason that one might think. Scattered throughout areas are kiosks with video cameras attached to them.  These are coupled by a narration by Booster Gold, my favorite character in the DC Universe, good or evil.  These missions are essentially tours of Gotham City and Metropolis, and were an entertaining way to learn more about the world, and get a good idea of where things are in the cities in general.


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Mass Murder isn’t so bad:

There are two servers for DCUO:  PVP, and PVE.  In Player versus Player (PVP), the game feels more like a comic book, with heroes and villains able to duke it out in the streets, attacking each other at a whim.  While this can be incredibly challenging if one is not skilled at action RPGs, and the griefing and spam-killing can certainly be an issue, it is a more authentic experience of being a hero or a villain.  Characters in comics that have died (with the exception of perhaps Uncle Ben, and the Human Torch? Did he stay dead?) have come back, and so do you!  I would recommend at least giving the PVP servers a try, to see if it fits your gameplay style.

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Player versus Environment (PVE) and Player versus Player servers are the same in all aspects, except for open-world PVP, which is described above.  However, the PVE server has an option, just as the PVP server does, for those who wish to whet their combative, competitive whistle. There are PVP Arenas scattered throughout the world that have a variety of settings, from 2v2 to 8v8, and a few modes to choose from, each arena having its own.  Safehouses and Headquarters have random rules, while the others have familiar faces such as “Team Deathmatch”, “King of the Hill”, and “Capture the Flag”.  However, Safehouse/Headquarters PVP requires DLC (The Last Laugh).

And of course, there are Raids. Much like any MMO, there are End-Game raids where a group of players (in this case 8) get together to team up and fight a variety of challenges presented to them by the game.  Raids are only accessible by setting yourself as On-Duty, and being level 30.   Additional requirements are Combat Rating, and DLC.  Having a subscription nullifies the DLC requirement, but the Combat Rating does not change.  There are tiers of raids as well, progressively raising the bar on requirements as you progress.


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Final Judgment:  Great

Taken for what it is, a F2P MMO based in the fictional world of the DC Universe’s Earth, DCUO is a fantastic title.  It does not penalize you too harshly for not choosing to pay, and there are rewards for choosing to do so. You can also simply purchase the DLC, for a flat one-time price, and resume your gameplay.  While it is certainly no “WoW-killer”, it is this writer’s opinion that no MMO is truly “better” than the other.  Each has its own merits and flaws. There is a lot to be said about flying around, and it feels fantastic punishing villains and heroes.  It is sort of like relieving the youthful excitement of comic books.


Graphics: 3/5

The graphics are certainly no Skyrim, but it is no Runescape either.  The graphics are decent, and certainly have a comic-book appeal, and this is nothing to be scoffed at.  The game has a certain look and feel that truly encapsulates what it needs to, but they could certainly be sharper.


Controls: 4/5

Being able to use a controller for this game was the best thing about the controls.  While the menus are a little wonky with just a controller, coupling it with a keyboard maximizes efficiency.  If you as a player are skilled at using both at the same time, or switching between the two, you will not have any problems.  But still, they are a little clunky from time to time.


Features/Gameplay: 3/5

While the customization is not as strong as I would like, there is quite possibly always something to do in your play of DCUO.  Some of it might get a little tedious or repetitive, but such is the nature of MMOs at large. Gameplay is fun and interesting, and you can make quite diverse characters with the two free slots allowed in the base game.


Music/Sound: 5/5

The music is suitably heroic and solid, but that is not where I got the score from. The sounds are what really sold this category for me.  The sound effects feel like a super hero cartoon should, or what you might see in bubbles in a comic book.  The voices are a collection of some of the greatest voices in Hollywood.  Mark Hamil (Joker), Adam Baldwin (Superman), and Wil Wheaton (Robin), just to name a few.  All in all, the sounds really sound authentic.

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  • Colton Leighton

    Interesting review. Certainly got me interested in giving the game a try.

  • thetruthderp

    I have played coming from MUD games, Pong, Arcades, consol, and every mmorpg on the market…and This review is probably the opposite of what I would say:
    1) the graphics here are notes as “could be sharper”. I disagree, they are too sharp. I would add a little more darker and detailed. The bright and blur imagery trys to get a comic gloss feel, but it ends up just bright and caroony. A more dark sinister feel is most welcome. with less plastic body parts and more detailed items. A good example is being a bad guy…the music is always jazz and bright colors..

    2) Controls are 2/5. Suck. It is like they got stuck between designing a game for a controller and a keyboard. Did not like the natural rythm and lay out of everything. Not allot of games hurt my hands. Just DCU and Secret World gave me arthritis.

    3) Features and gameplay I agree on this rating. I would probably lower it a little more as they NICKLE AND DIME you for everything. You will have to pay to open up the world and your cash cap. THey remind you every log in that they have your cash held hostage and to unlock it you need to pay. Allot of other features are locked behind your wallet. SEO is a total “play the demo” sort of F2P. But I agree, once paid at least 1 time, you get the full unlocks. Better than having to pay constantly.

    4) Music and sound is repetitive. I give it a 3/5. It is based on what feels like 5 second loops in each place. I just turn it off and play my real music. The cutscenes are a little wonky as well. The only decent voice acting is Joker popping in ever so often.

    Sadly, you do not even list Gameplay as a rating here… It is 2/5 – Just bad. VERY VERY clunky mechanics. I think they had creative ideas between builds, running, vs flying, etc…but the over all experience is OP Ganks if you did not build right. Rinse and repeat quest hubs that lack any interesting story. Some decent story scenarios, but very dry and instanced. And the worst, is the anti social behavior. Combat is repetitive and the amount of button mashing to execute attacks is not worth the attack value. I enjoyed some of the PvP experiences, but it all boils down to numbers camped and OP builds and not skill. Sadly. I give the over all game a 2/5.
    I had a capped F2P character and have no desire to return to the game…even they paid me too. Just not enough. Want deeper better fleshed out comic DC experience. And SOE has not updated content in a loonggggg time.

    • dirtyzerg

      You clearly have no idea how to play the game. You said you “capped out a F2P”..yet you fail to realize that leveling 1-30 is the tutorial zone..and the actual game doesn’t start til you hit level 30.

      After you hit 30 the game turns into a closely related cousin of WoW..

      There are Tiers you go through..Tier 1 – Tier 4 as 100% f2p..with Tier 5 an option for Premium/Subscribers, there is also 4 tiers of PvP gear as well.

      You complained about OP builds when the fact is more then likely you didn’t even read what your powers do and two you probably were wearing PvE gear vs someone wearing PvP gear..resulting in “op gank”

      As far as the game itself..the control scheme is fine..this game has based itself to be an “Action” MMORPG..meaning that powers and weapon combos can clip into each other..resulting in fast paced combat.

      The model? The model is horrible.

      This game was meant for consoles. As a result its F2P model is atrocious. “Premium”..which is the level for any normal person..spending 5$ atleast..is not even a viable option anymore..you buy 100$ in DLCs and are still limited to nonsense cash caps and small bank/inventory..

      If I am gonna spend 100$ on a game..i’ll go buy some limited edition of a triple A title..not a game where im still treated as “F2P TRASH” after 100$+..

      The PC version of this game is pretty much dieing..too many F2P games on PC that don’t treat people like second class citizens..its a shame too because the game isn’t that bad.

      Jens and the rest of the developers/SoE big wigs are hell bent on keeping this games dieing subscription model, forsaking the PC version completely as the population is abysmal at best.

  • Ragachak

    And that is the joy of the internet. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I’m of the opinion they chose a more cartoony feel to appeal to a wider audience. Not everyone prefers The Dark Knight, and the Sandman. Sometimes, the Brave and the Bold is the way to go.

    • Arthur Sataine

      Champions Online looked cartoony. One could even say City of Heroes/Villains did as well. But DCUO is NOT cartoony. If anything it is an accurate 3D realization of the very near life like depictions of heroes and villains in comics. Superhero comics are drawn, yes, but they don’t make me think “goofy cartoon.”

  • Arthur Sataine

    Just curious, is every mmo publication out there copy & pasting the exact same review? I’ve seen this, word for word, on quite a few other sites.

  • Ragachak

    Not to my knowledge. It could be that people agree. I however have not read any other reviews. These opinions are entirely my own thoughts.