They said it couldn’t be done. An MMORPG on consoles? Preposterous! Nevertheless, DC Universe Online, a fantastic tribute and embodiment of one of the big two comic book publishers, is a solid game in its own right. And it’s played with a controller.
Now, that being said, DC Universe Online is also available on PC; but developer Sony Online Entertainment and publisher Sony Computer Entertainment wisely brought the game onto the PS3. Most importantly, it works. DCUO (as it’s commonly abbreviated) has many features associated with the vast and sometimes bland MMORPG genre, but its more action-based gameplay and unique premise, from which much inspiration can be drawn, set it apart from its competitors.
But how to explain the sudden appearance of so many new metahumans, whether heroes or villains? There are multiple people playing this thing, after all. Well, a future form of Lex Luthor travels back in time from a Brainiac-ravaged world with the conqueror’s data in the form of “exobytes,” items that, when bonded to a host, give the fortunate/unfortunate being superpowers, with the ultimate goal of stopping Brainiac. Now a bunch of unknown superheroes can run around without further explanation!
The rest of the presentation is pretty solid, with some unintentional exceptions. Both Gotham City and Metropolis (the two explorable cities with the exception of DLC-enabled Central City) look fantastic, and contain beloved and familiar areas from the comics, shows, and movies. Music isn’t terribly special and fits the game’s vibe, but the Metropolis theme is especially epic. And this is all well and good, but…there are some performance issues.
Areas of the game load fairly slowly, but not without letting your character continue to run through them, and it’s very plausible that your character will move through the map before it has fully rendered. This problem once resulted in my character getting stuck in a bush. Luckily, a quick warp to headquarters solved the problem, but it’s annoying nevertheless. Sound effects and music experience some issues as well, with both gradually cutting out as certain play sessions went on. Furthermore, the game was rendered basically unplayable for a time because my weapon was unable to be equipped. Despite these potentially frustrating problems, however, their appearance disrupts the vast minority of play and they don’t ruin the game substantially.
And speaking of the game: let’s actually talk about gameplay. After creating a character of varying moral alignment, power and weapon type (heroes aren’t supposed to use guns!), mentor, and appearance, you are unleashed into the vast, crime-ridden world of…a tutorial. Thankfully, it’s pretty short and teaches the basics as expected; combinations of basic, ranged, and special attacks make up the combat, a (kind of thankfully) real-time rather than auto-attack affair. After learning what you need to know in order to beat up the bad guys, you are then unleashed into the city of your mentor, of which there are three of each side. Quests, instances, PvP modes, collectibles, a crafting system, skill point and special ability allotment, and other familiar MMO diversions are then available to the player. The level thirty level cap can be achieved fairly quickly, a fault in many a veteran MMO player’s eyes, but the wealth of endgame content combats the perceived fault quite well. Oh, but did I mention that this takes place in the DC Universe?
A large portion of DCUO’s appeal is, of course, the setting. The numerous references and direct interactions with characters from the storied comic book publisher certainly gave this player’s primary motivation to play. There are characters certainly unknown to the casual observer, but their inclusion can delight the invested and impress the newcomer. As an “intermediate” comic reader, the appearance of certain characters even bewildered me. But one of DCUO’s great side effects is a desire to learn more. Playing this game led a friend of mine with no prior experience to the world of DC, outside of movies and TV shows, to be imbued with a desire to read the comics. And he had fun with it.
It’s that experience that my friend had, as well as my own, that proves DC Universe Online as a capable, interesting, and fun MMORPG for those on both sides of the spectrum. Comic readers and gamers, groups with generally large crossover, can nevertheless enjoy this comprehensive embodiment of the best comic book publisher’s incredible universe. Yeah, I said it.