Preview: DC Universe Online

Greg Tito | 16 Dec 2010 13:00
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Exploring is made easy by the final choice that you make during character creation: your method of movement. Flight allows you to whisk around with your cape fluttering behind you, but with Acrobatics, you can pull off the ever important double jump, climb over any obstruction or glide to your destination. Super-Speed is just like it sounds, but dashing up buildings a la The Flash never gets old. The first time I entered Gotham City, I spent a good chunk of time just flying around and was happy to discover the Bat Signal shining in the clouds.

All of these trappings are useless without combat that feels right. Based on my early experiences, the action of DCUO is a lot of fun. You can lock onto targets, but there is not auto attack button. To take down enemies, you must click a button to punch or fire a ranged attack. The brawler-style action feels like a wham-bang comic book. Scenery is not just difficult terrain; picking up barrels and tossing them at your foes is sometimes necessary for tough encounters. Leveling up your skills unlocks combos, with varying effects that can interrupt enemies from pulling off that devastating fire breath or stunning punch. And if you do get stunned, you better break out of it before you get pummeled.

The only downside with such frenetic combat is that the keyboard and mouse interface isn't really conducive to all this action. It's hard to follow up nine short left clicks with a long right button click. While I was visiting SOE's offices, I was able to play with a PS3 controller, and this control scheme was preferable. There's something about holding a controller to mash buttons in this kind of combat that makes much more sense. The perfect situation for playing on your PC would be to use the keyboard when you are in town or navigating menus and switch to the controller when you're fighting, but despite several attempts, I couldn't get my PS3 controller to work with Windows. Hopefully, Sony will release official drivers for the Sixaxis controller when DCUO launches so that this won't be a problem.

All of the MMO hallmarks are present in DCUO. SOE wanted to preserve the loot chase, as the designers believed that was core to what MMOs are, and you earn quest rewards and find random loot which will increase your stats when you equip them. These items will conform to the color palette of your character, but you can also choose to preserve the look of your character as you originally designed it without sacrificing the mechanical benefit of better equipment.

World PvP between heroes and villains is common, at least on the PvP server I played on, but you can also enter arenas after you reach 5th level. You assume an iconic role during these instanced battlegrounds, with the first available being Robin and Harley Quin. I'm not that good at PvP to start with but I hope that SOE improves the matchmaking for the arenas because it's never fun for a newbie to be pounded on by an iconic Bane that's 10+ levels higher than you.

I didn't spend enough time with one character to level him up to a point where I could get into the nuances of group combat, but I'm interested to see how this kind of combat lives up to SOE's promise that fighting as a team will be just as action-based. It will be cool to see how the storylines unfold as well; I really enjoyed the long quest arcs that allowed me to assist Brother Blood in destroying Dr. Fate or helping The Flash defeat Gorilla Grodd.

From what I have played in the beta test, I can say that SOE has made a game that presses all of the right buttons. DCUO is an MMO that allows you to create vibrant and iconic superheroes and villains to explore the expansive worlds of Metropolis and Gotham, but it's also an action-brawler with combat that makes it actually fun to "grind" tons of bad guys. SOE nailed the experience of the first ten levels; let's hope that the rest of the game lives up to it.

DCUO was good enough to pull Greg Tito away from leveling his worgen druid with (almost) no regrets.

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