DC Universe Online (PS3)

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During a recent visit to Sony Online Entertainment’s Austin Studio in Texas, El33tonline got to spend some quality hands-on time with DC Universe Online. Here’s our thoughts on how the game is shaping up.

When you think of an MMO the chances are that the name World of Warcraft pops into your head. That’s because WoW, as it has become affectionately known over the years, has become synonymous with the MMO genre, dominating it and making other MMO would-be developers quake in their boots. And so it was both brave and ambitious for Sony Online Entertainment to even consider this project, because venturing into a territory already dominated by another game must be a daunting task. Creating a game based on a popular comic book franchise is an even greater challenge, daunting in its own way because of the DC Universe comic book fans that would start an uprising if the smallest detail were found to be incorrect in this 75 year old universe.

DC Universe Online Hands-on Screenshot 1

Let’s start at the beginning by taking a closer look at what an MMO is. It stands for massively multiplayer online game, so by its very definition it’s a game that you play online against other players. I will be the first to admit that I have never been a big fan of MMO’s, but DC Universe Online is not an ordinary MMO, something which you’ll notice right from the start, and after spending a good amount of quality time with the game I can honestly say that I can’t wait to get my hands on it again. When the hands-on time was up I was disappointed that I couldn’t finish my current quests and that I had to leave the character that I had so lovingly created behind. Luckily for me the PS3 beta is just around the corner and with any luck I’ll be able to get involved and jump right back into the action.

DC Universe Online is being called many things, some call it an action-MMO, others a MMO-RPG and once you’ve played the game you’ll be able to make up your own mind about what description best fits it. For me personally it’s kind of a mix between all three, it has elements of an MMO, an RPG and an action game all rolled up into one package, the best of all three worlds in one game. For this reason I believe Sony Online Entertainment is forging new ground, not only with being the first MMO to arrive on the PS3, but also with creating a well-balanced mix between a couple of genres that works effectively and draws a player in as soon as you step into DC Universe Online.

You start by creating your character and, depending on how particular you are, you can spend a couple of minutes or a couple of hours in this department. The first decision to be made is whether you’d like to play as a female or male, hero or villain and then to select a build. Of course you can make your character look like a superhero or a supervillain, or like they’d need a slot on comedy central. You can also choose to create a character inspired by a hero or villain in the DC Universe, and then jump straight into the game, or start from scratch with custom and begin the great character creation process.

DC Universe Online Hands-on Screenshot 2

You’ll be able to select a personality, whether that be comical, flirty or powerful, and, perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to select who your mentor will be. If you’re playing as a hero you can choose Batman, Wonder Woman or Superman whereas if you’re playing as a villain you can choose The Joker, Circe or Lex Luthor. This is an important choice to be made because your mentor determines your origin (meta, tech or magic), how the story evolves and the iconic suits.

You’ll need to select one of the six different power types in the game (gadgets and mental, sorcery and nature or fire and ice), each of which are divided into two different themes. Next up is a choice between the different kinds of movement, whether that be flight, acrobatics or super speed. This is an important choice too because it determines not only how you move within the game but how you fight. Once you have selected these you can begin to customize your character, and the sky is the limit here. You’ll be able to choose your weapons which will in turn determine your attack styles, whether that be a bow or staff, dual pistols or more. Obviously you’ll need to learn the combos to get the most out of the game, but you’ll have both melee and range attacks to master to keep things interesting.

You’ll then move on to kitting your character’s costume out, which includes their gear, emblem, skin, hair, as well as everything and anything you can think of. Your character will be updated as you progress so you’ll be able to see if you like the new additions or change them if you feel they simply don’t fit in. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to give your hero or villain a name before jumping into the game.

DC Universe Online Hands-on Screenshot 3

I played the role of a hero so I’ll be discussing this from that perspective. Once you’ve completed the game you can play from the other perspective and experience a totally different story. Without wanting to give too much of the story away, it’s important to know a little to get to grips with the game. Basically the future sees Lex Luthor teaming up with the villains against the heroes, but they are so consumed with their hate for one another that neither faction has noticed that Brainiac has become stronger and takes over the planet. Luthor manages to escape and journeys back in time to Earth to warn Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman of the impending doom. With their permission he releases Brainiac’s stolen Exo-Bytes into the Earth’s atmosphere, effectively making anyone a superhero, trying to increase Earth’s chances of winning the war that is brewing against Brainiac.

At first you’ll be given simple tasks, like locating a specific officer, to help you to get to know the lay of the land. You’ll be able to teleport to any one of the five areas through the Watchtower which is the heroes’ hideout, while the police stations within each area are smaller mini-hubs. But pretty soon you’ll get right into the thick of things, helping the police to deal with Brainiac’s thugs that are running amok. You’ll encounter a nice variety of enemies, some more difficult than others. I went head to head with pond scum like Screamers while Poisoners were a bit more of a challenge. The fighting will also show how you can customize your characters, I had chosen the staff which was great for melee combat but I upgraded it with immolation which meant I could also stand on the edge of a fight and deal damage to an enemy by blasting fireballs at them, taking myself out of harms way a little. It’s great to be able to employ both fighting mechanics and it certainly helps to keep things fresh.

The thugs are pumping nerve gas into the city, causing the citizens to suffer from hallucinations. One of the missions sees you fighting off the goons, taking out the nerve gas fans and helping Hazmat personnel to assist the plagued citizens. The only problem is that your hero will also be plagued by these hallucinations, so you may find yourself attacking a citizen that appeared to be a monster to you. Fight off the hallucinations of the citizen before Hazmat arrives to help, overcome your own hallucinations, protect Hazmat officials, carry the fear gas into a safe area – all in a days’ work for this hero.

DC Universe Online Screenshot 1

As you progress in the game you’ll pick up more and more quests. You’ll be able to keep track of them in your journal, which once updated will also guide you to your next location by means of a mini-map on the top right hand side of your screen. The directional arrow will help guide you to your next quest while enemies will be identified with a red dot. You can also access a more detailed map within your journal at any time. As anyone who has ever played a large open world game will tell you, a successful map system is vital to being able to successfully navigate your way around the world. This holds true for DC Universe Online as well because the world is truly massive.

Once you’ve completed a quest you can return to your journal to collect your hard earned cash, no need to return to whoever assigned it to you. This was smart thinking because given the size of this world you could have been spending a vast majority of your time back tracking to hand in quests. As mentioned above, you will be pointed to your current quest by following the indicator on your mini-map. There will also be text on the screen showing which quests you are currently doing and indicating progress, for example, 4/5 Screamers defeated. Once you’ve completed the quest it will disappear and you can then collect the reward through your journal.

As you defeat enemies you’ll earn skill and power points which you can use to upgrade your different skills and powers in the skills tree (weapons and movement) and powers tree (iconic powers based on your superhero). Even if you’re not from an MMO/RPG background it’s very simple to understand and before long you’ll be choosing which skills of your character you’d like to upgrade. What this means is that you shape what kind of hero or villain you have, choosing to focus on whatever skills you would like to see him or her master and making them particular to your specific fighting style. Of course you’ll also level up as you progress through the game, becoming a stronger hero or villain able to take on stronger enemies and achieve more difficult quests and boss battles.

DC Universe Online Screenshot 2

As you defeat enemies you’ll also earn cash, collecting the cash from fallen foes is pretty simple, just tap the right and left trigger buttons and it will automatically collect all the cash in the area. No need to run around collecting it which is really useful because with the number of enemies you’re going to run into, you’re going to generate a lot of cash. You’ll be able to use this cash to buy items, repair equipment and sell things you may have collected along the way at vendors in the stations.

Even though I didn’t come from an MMO background, I found the control system to be intuitive and easy to pick up and play. Whether you’re blocking, dodging, attacking or breaking out when an enemy stuns you, it works effectively and there are no criticisms from this gamer. Of course because the game is physics based you’ll also be able to interact with objects in the environment, picking up barrels or cars to throw at your enemies, which is highly entertaining.

Even though this is an MMO, you can choose to play it like a single player game, just online. You can embark upon quests by yourself and progress in the game in the normal way, however, because it is an MMO don’t be surprised to see other heroes or villains running around the stages too. In fact sometimes they may even join your brawl to help out which can make things a little easier. Of course you can also team up to overcome the quests together which will be a lot quicker and more fun if you like playing in a team. If you should happen to die you can choose to flee in which case you’ll respawn at the nearest police station or you can wait for help from fellow players.

DC Universe Online Screenshot 3

What also differentiates this game from the others out there is that it’s much more of an action brawler than a shooter. If you enjoy action games you’ll enjoy the up close and personal fighting, whereas if you’re more into RPGs then you’ll enjoy the upgrading skill tree area while those MMO fans will thrive on the online play. Many games out there have enjoyed success within their own genre (for example, Uncharted in the action genre, Borderlands within the RPG genre and of course WOW within the MMO genre), but lately it seems that players are enjoying the mix of genres offered by many popular titles. In fact I would go so far as to say that players are requiring more these days and, because of the high standard of games that we have been lucky enough to enjoy over the past months, have come to expect it. So it’s a bonus to have the best of three genres rolled into one. It means that DC Universe Online will appeal to more people and more people will be able to enjoy the lovingly crafted universe and storylines that the game has to offer.

Overall DC Universe Online is shaping up nicely, there are a few bugs that still need to be ironed out in the game but the PS3 beta is sure to sort these out. It’s definitely a title to keep an eye on, especially given that the development team plans to release new locations, characters and quests each month so you can look forward to a lot of extra content arriving on a regular basis for the game’s monthly subscription fee of $14.95.