If you've never played a massively multiplayer online game before, DC Universe Online is a good place to start. This isn't just because of the DC Comics license, though that might be what first draws you to this light and breezy take on the genre. After all, this is your chance to take to the skies above Metropolis like Superman or skulk in Gotham City's shadows like Batman himself. But it's the way DCUO mixes action-game sensibilities with traditional role-playing progression that makes it immediately enjoyable. If you're a seasoned role-player you'll find it refreshing as well--but only to a point. The speedy level progression and focus on all combat, all the time might prove tedious if you're someone who enjoys exploring new worlds for the thrill of mystery and discovery. The largely instanced, repeatable endgame content is fun, but it's not inviting enough to make it worth paying a monthly fee for it. But even if it doesn't provide enough new content to sustain you beyond a couple of weeks, DC Universe Online is generally entertaining, and comic book fans will be happy that the license was handled with care.
It's hard not to compare DC Universe Online to the comic-inspired games that came before it: City of Heroes, City of Villains, and Champions Online. If you've played one of them, you might be disappointed that at least initially, DC Universe Online doesn't offer the cosmetic flexibility for which those other superhero-themed games are so well known. That isn't to say that the character creation isn't robust, though you might have your imagination somewhat stifled. Of course, DC Universe Online instantly stands out by having heroes and villains alike share the same world. Once you tailor your creation to your liking, you select a weapon (if you want to play with other weapons, don't despair; your options expand later); choose a basic power set (gadgets, ice, fire, and so on); and choose one of three available mentors, such as Lex Luthor if you're a villain, or Wonder Woman, if you're a hero.
Fortunately, if you are disappointed by the initial creation options, you aren't stuck with this vision of your hero or villain forever. You earn and buy new gear as you play, but equipping a new cape doesn't mean you have to change your physical appearance. You can equip that cape for its improved stats without removing your demonic wings if they're more consistent with your overall look. In your main headquarters (the Hall of Doom for villains; the Justice League of America Watchtower for heroes), you can purchase additional cosmetic items, and when you hit on a look you really like, you can lock the entire costume--or just individual aspects of it.
After character creation, you are treated to DC Universe Online's fine tutorial, which does a great job of explaining why the world is burgeoning with superpowered individuals and demonstrating just how different the game's combat is from other online role-playing games. This is an action game in online role-playing form. When you press a button on your controller or mouse, you swing your blade, shoot your bow, or fire your rifle. There is the slightest amount of latency between your actions and the ones onscreen, but it's not enough to diminish the immediacy of battle. In most MMOGs, your key press doesn't necessarily translate to immediate contact between your weapon and your foe. DCUO's directness makes it fun for almost anyone from the get-go and a refreshing change of pace from typical entries in the genre. Superpowers are limited by your power bar (RPG vets might think of this as their mana pool.) Weapon skills, on the other hand, can be strung together with abandon, whether that means whipping your staff around like an overly enthusiastic drum major or leaping backward while you fire your dual pistols as if you're auditioning for a John Woo film.
Fluid combat animations, sparkling visual effects, and the combat's general responsiveness keep DCUO fun for quite a while, though it loses some of its luster over time. As you level up, you spend points on new combos, which not only make you more effective in combat, but also make battles more visually appealing. Nevertheless, the button presses/mouse clicks required to pull off grandiose moves aren't complex, and some attacks are effective enough to repeat over and over without throwing in too many variants--particularly when those reliable combos result in stuns or other such effects. A main drawback to the combat is the targeting. You can't choose your target--only hit the auto-target button and hope for the best. In the early going, this isn't such a big deal. In endgame raid dungeons filled with foes, on the other hand, it's too easy to select the wrong target and pull a group of enemies you'd rather have left alone--especially when the action gets really hectic and your view is obscured by bright flames and jolts of lightning.
DC Universe Online may not always escape the tedium that comes with its button-mashing combat, but it does a good job of masking monotony in a number of different ways. One such way is the tactical use of the powers you earn. These powers come from a few different trees, including one that focuses on so-called "iconic powers," inspired by the famous abilities of various heroes and villains, such as Batman's batarangs. You can only equip up to six of these powers at a time, though you can set up a couple of different loadouts and switch between them. For example, if you look to Circe for magical guidance, you might be able to switch between damage and healing roles, and have a separate set of powers for each loadout that complements those roles. This setup recalls similar limitations in Guild Wars, where individuals and groups could exploit their tactical potential with interesting, varied skill sets. And in the same way, playing with your loadouts in DCUO might reveal effective combinations that make you a more helpful teammate. It's too bad that the result summaries that appear at the end of certain player-versus-player matches and group dungeons don't recognize the hard work of those playing a controller role or supporting their team in other ways. (Only healing and damage stats are revealed.)
A big difference between DC Universe Online and Guild Wars, however, is that Guild Wars showers you with new spells and skills even after you reach the level cap, whereas DC Universe Online focuses almost exclusively on gear once you reach the endgame. You can spend some in-game cash and "respec" your character--that is, reset your powers and skills and allocate your points elsewhere. But you stop earning experience (and thus, fancy new abilities) once you reach level 30, and unfortunately, you encounter that ceiling very quickly. You could conceivably reach that point after only a few days of play, and even playing casually it might only take a week. The downsides to reaching the level cap so quickly are perhaps obvious to longtime MMOG veterans: a diminished sense of progression and the tedium that arises when exploring familiar dungeons and PVP arenas many times over. And, you can't ease any tedium by exploring the various diversions you might expect to find in an online RPG, such as crafting or a player auction house.
Note: This game has become free to play.Advantages:
Action-packed combat is fun from the start
Both Metropolis and Gotham City look great
Beautiful comic-book cutscenes punctuate story missions
Changing gear doesn't mean you have to change your looks. Disadvantages:
You reach the level cap and stop earning new powers incredibly quickly
A variety of interface and voice chat issues
Combat and missions get predictable Download Link
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