From buggy to badass in two months.
We first took a look at DCUO back at the SOE Fan Faire event. Peter Nelson of our sister site WarCry went down to SOE to check out a newer, more polished build of that demo. How does it hold up with a few more months of work under its belt?
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a DC Universe Online Press and Viewing event hosted by Sony Online Entertainment at its Austin, TX studio. While there, I toured the studio, met the development team behind the upcoming MMORPG, and got a chance to sit down and make myself acquainted with the current beta incarnation of the game. Sit back, relax, and let me tell you what I think.
This was not my first experience with DCUO – I did get a chance to play a bit at a hands on demo earlier this year at the SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas. In that experience, I ran a premade Batman-esque character through a single instanced zone on a mission to rescue Robin from the evil clutches of Harley Quinn (check out John Funk’s review of that demo at our sister site, The Escapist if you’d like).
While I enjoyed the demo for what it was, and it gave me enough to keep my eyes on the game in the future, it did have some glaring flaws that made me flinch a bit. The movement (especially jumping) felt far too floaty, the combat was fast but inaccurate, and the world itself had a lot of graphical camera glitches throughout.
Again, it was a short playable demo, and the good in it was enough to pique my interest, but it had a ways to go, especially if it wanted to meet its then-stated November 2010 release date without catastrophe. In fact, based on that experience, when the release date was extended until 2011, I heaved a long sigh of relief.
Given that, I was doubly excited at a chance to see how the game has come along in the past few months, especially in a firm several-hour-long session of little to no interruption. I was additionally pleased to find that rather than playing a demo-locked premade character, I would be starting up my own new hero (or in my case, villain).
The character creation screen held options for the bold or timid. If you’d prefer your new superhero to be similar to an iconic DC character, you can choose the “inspired by” option and get straight into playing that much faster. I’m a tinkerer, myself, so I went with the full character customization options.
First you decide to be a hero or a villain, then you select your mentor – this is your big name DC Superhero/Villain that acts as your origin story and directs your initial missions. You’ll also choose what kind of powers your character will have, with an array of fire, ice, gadgets, mental, nature, and sorcery to choose from. Movement is also key, and will determine to a large degree how you fight in the world. Can your character fly? What about scale buildings with otherworldly acrobatic skill? Do they have superhuman speed? Lastly, you’ll choose your weapon type, ranging anywhere from bows to dual pistols to your bare hands.
After that, the cosmetic settings are available. While not as robust as some character editors out there (CoH or the upcoming EVE Online: Incarna expansion, for example), there is quite a bit of customization available, especially in terms of outfits, tattoos, and accessories. Of note is the fact that you have the option of displaying any piece of gear that you equip as any other piece of gear that you’ve already acquired. Gone are the days when you spend an hour getting your character to look “just so”, only to have it completely change the moment you put on a piece of new gear. SOE really wants your character to look the way you want.[page]
I eventually settled on a Lex Luthor origin for a psionic power-wielding acrobatic martial artist villain with a love of blues and greens and a chip on her shoulder. Her name is Barbara Bush (Mrs. Buttersworth was unavailable). Say hi to her!
Newly named (with a name that I’m sure will soon be added to the naming filter), I set out to wreak havoc on the unwitting citizens of Metropolis. Very quickly I found that most of my initial complaints from the demo had been addressed. The movement is now fluid, the animations are smooth, and the camera angles are much more under user control. The combat system is an interesting one for an MMO – while you have the standard hotkey bar at the bottom for your special abilities, a large portion of your attacks end up being a series of left and right clicks and holds. Combos are a very large part of combat, as are stuns, active blocking/dodging, and breakaways. It took a bit to get used to, but it’s an interesting take on the old “MMOs are boring to play/take no skill” argument.
There are no auto-attacks in DCUO. Every action your character takes is via direct input, either from a hotkey or from a button press on your mouse or PS3 controller. I was settled in on a PC setup, so there wasn’t much of a learning curve on that angle, though it took a little while to learn how to string together basic attacks with specials in an effective manner. Some abilities synergize with others, allowing interesting uses and increased damage depending on how you work them. I found myself particularly fond of using telekinesis to lift my enemies into the air before igniting them on fire with my mind.
The mission system is fairly similar to what you’d expect from an MMO: talk to this guy over here, get a quest, complete the quest, turn it in. One welcomed variation, however, is that often you can complete a quest directly from your quest log – no more running back to the questgiver just to get your reward before heading back out into the fray.
I found dying to be an almost inevitability, though I admit it took me a while to get used to the dodging and blocking that is vital to character survival. DCUO may look like and, in essence, be an MMO, but it plays like a fast-paced action game. There is constant action all around you – stand still too long checking your mission log, and you might get a bus thrown at your head (really).
All told, DC Universe Online definitely needed the launch delay, but I can see what they’re doing with it. All of my previous grievances with the demo were cleared up and then some in the beta build I played, and the game looks really polished. It may have some more edges to smooth out before launch, but given what I saw last week, it’s well on its way. Consider my interest renewed.