Experienced Points

Experienced Points
DC Universe Online

Shamus Young | 14 Jan 2011 21:00
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DC Universe Online has been out for just a few days, which means this is a really unpopular time to say negative things about it. Players are still in the giddy honeymoon stage of playing the game. Everyone has just spent their money, and they're riding high on a euphoric dose of post-purchase rationalization. Any concerns can be dismissed with a wave of "Bah, the game isn't even a month old, give it time." But set aside your pitchforks for a minute and hear me out. I'm still enjoying the game, but I see some really serious problems that I think are worth talking about, problems that will hurt the longevity of the game if ignored.

First off, I'm not going to be hammering the game for bugs and balance issues. Yes, there are bugs and balance issues, but I'm fairly confident they'll be taken care of. This game doesn't feel like it was carelessly rushed out the door. It just has some standard post-launch annoyances. No, the problems I see with the game are worse than bugs, they're deeper flaws that will hurt the replay value of the game.

In no particular order:

1. Combat is not rewarded

Champions Online made this same mistake (which I discussed near the bottom of the page here) and I maintain that this is a grievous and foolhardy decision. Basically, fighting mooks is worthless for XP. In the parts of the game where quests are worth thousands of XP, Individual foes are worth two or three XP. (And often zero.) You can pummel guys for twenty minutes and make no visible progress towards the next level. This is terrible, because the action-oriented combat is the best part of this game. You might decide to sweep the streets just for fun, even if you don't have a quest telling you to do so. But the game doesn't really reward you for doing this, so if you're fighting for fun then you're no longer moving forward. Like Champions Online, this encourages players to ignore mooks whenever possible rather than fight them, because they're just a time-sink. Worse, all of this makes the game dangerously one-dimensional and dull.

One of the beautiful things about an online game is how the leveling mechanics can accommodate diverse types of players. On one end you have the highly skilled hardcore people who want lots of challenge. At the other extreme are people who have little skill and a low frustration threshold, but mountains of patience. The hardcore can seek out quests above their level and fight more difficult mobs. They'll plow through the game faster. The casual might wander around inefficiently, fighting extra mooks and gradually over-leveling their quests so that they're often facing foes beneath their level. The play experiences of these two players vary widely, and match their approach to the game: Fast & dangerous vs. slow & steady.

But in a game where mooks are worthless, this curve vanishes. The casual can't level up fighting dudes. And in the case of DC Universe, the hardcore can't take on higher level quests. Everyone follows the same leveling progression and levels up at precisely the same spot in the chain of quests. Everyone faces the same level of challenge, all the time. Every trip through the game will feel the same.

2. Lack of Costume Pieces

Online games are typified by players creating a character and leveling it through the content, but superhero games are an odd exception. Remember that the game begins with designing your own superhero, from conception to costume. This is a very creative process and players spend a great deal of time on it. They'll often spend over an hour on a hero, even if they will only play the character for a few days. For these players, the character creation is the heart of the game.

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