Set in the DC Comics Universe, DC Universe Online (DCUO), Lex Luthor travels back in time to warn of an incoming alien invasion. He uses stolen alien technology to bestow heroic powers onto random citizens of earth, creating a new legion of heroes and villains to fight the arriving alien forces. DCUO places you in the shoes of one such new hero or villain, following in the footsteps of the famous DC characters we know, and some... not so known.
The Character Creator allows for a range of the usual customisations; however, veterans of previous superhero MMOs may find the creator limited in comparison. One nice touch is the ability to model your character after a famous DC character. The system will automatically choose the most relevant mentor, powers and costume based on your choice. Want to be Batman's protégé? No problem!
One unique aspect of DCUO is that you will acquire gear throughout your missions that will further customise your appearance. The fantastic feature implemented here is that you have the option to use the visual look of any gear that you have previously acquired. So you like the stats of that new hat but think it’s a fashion crime? No worries; just set it to show your old one.
You can choose your character’s main fighting and weapon styles and power type, which DC hero or villain will be your mentor (affects starting location and quests) and what special travel power you would like to have. After a basic tutorial you end up in either Metropolis or Gotham, ready to start your adventures.
The environments in DCUO are large and immersive, with Gotham City and Metropolis created in expansive detail. Your chosen movement power is essential in getting from place to place, and you will see other players flying, running at super speed, or leaping up buildings like acrobatic squirrels all over the city.
Heroes and villains use police stations or nightclubs scattered around the cities as home bases, to turn in quests, repair gear and check mail. Most quests are issued via in-game communication from your chosen mentor. However, each area usually has bonus NPCs nearby with related quests you can complete with a little extra effort.
If you are playing on a PvP server, you will find regularly that quest areas will lead you to conflict with your opposing counterparts on a regular basis. Villains might be tasked with taking down police officers harassing local mobsters, while Heroes have to help the cops take out the thugs. This adds a nice layer of conflict and gameplay, but it can be frustrating if higher-level enemy characters camp at a particular area, preventing you from completing your objectives.
Fortunately, the game doesn't feature a death penalty and often has more than enough quests available for you to go and complete missions in another area. You can always come back later when you have gained a few levels.
DCUO is is quite different from most MMOs on the market in that it blends more of an action style gameplay with traditional MMO cool-down abilities. Characters fight using primary melee and ranged attacks using the left and right mouse buttons. Advanced moves can be unlocked at higher levels that use combinations of taps and holds of these buttons. In addition, Characters also have access to powers from their chosen specialty (for example, fire) or at higher levels, iconic powers from other well-known DC Heroes and villains (Superman’s heat vision, for example). Powers work on cool-downs like most MMO abilities, so combat becomes a mix of beating down melee and ranged attacks with the mouse, then triggering the more devastating powers at the most opportune moment for maximum effect. The player’s choice of movement ability also unlocks advanced combat techniques related to their choice. For example, players who fly can unlock the ability to dive-bomb opponents. Characters can only equip six powers in total at any one time, so careful consideration needs to be given to which powers you want to allocate depending on your situation.
On all server types, players can queue for instanced PvP and group special missions, ranging from playing as famous DC heroes against iconic DC Villains to taking part in large special-mission levels with high-grade loot rewards. Exclusive end-game content unlocks at level 30, and players can work towards acquiring elite PvP equipment and rewards.
To be blunt, the User Interface (UI) in DCUO for PC is horrible. The game was designed for the PlayStation 3, and it shows. The chat windows in PC are barely functional and missing many of the common functions that MMO players have come to expect. I quickly tired of having to constantly type /group or /league before every sentence in order to talk to teammates. Many windows, like the map or inventory, take up the entire screen and cannot be resized.
League functionality is also similarly basic, with the online/offline player lists broken and no way of seeing what level fellow league members are at, or their current location.
The league chat channel in launch week has been down almost every second day, and while DCUO features built-in voice chat, its low quality means most leagues have taken up using TeamSpeak or Ventrilo servers instead of the in-game chat systems.
Fans of crafting and other non-combat gameplay won’t find anything here for them, although a trading system has just gone live to sell and swap items.
DC Universe Online is a fun and immersive game held back by a substandard user interface ported from the console version. If Sony puts resources into creating a PC-friendly UI, I wouldn’t hesitate to add another point and a half to the score. If not, then PC gamers might look elsewhere in the long run. Most MMOs are constantly in development, with new content added frequently, so the score is based on the current state of the game.
Note: DC Universe Online is available for both PlayStation 3 and PC, (on separate servers), and most PC players from "down under” have chosen the PvP server "Death and Glory” as the "unofficial" Australasian server.