“Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us. And on my soul, I swear… until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice becomes the reality we all share… I’ll never stop fighting.”
-Superman, Action Comics Vol 1 #775
DC Universe Online (DCUO) is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online action-RPG released on PC, PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. I played it on PS3 and so that will be the angle of my review. DCUO was developed by Daybreak Game Company. The game is so named because it is based upon the popular fiction multiverse and characters created and published by DC comics. Many of these characters are synonymous with comic books and are some of the most iconic figures in American pop culture: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, The Joker, Lex Luthor… Ambush Bug?
This gives DCUO a level of depth and richness of narrative that other MMO’s require tons of dialogue or months of story-based DLC releases to match, since DCUO can draw from any number of storylines told under the banner of DC comics for the past three quarters of a century. This is an MMO that is overflowing with a wealth of lore. In fact, some of DC’s top talent worked on elements of the game: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, for example.
The premise begins with the opening cinematic which will by far showcase the best graphics in the game. The heroes of Earth are locked in a death battle with their greatest supervillains in what appears to be a bleak post-apocalyptic future. Lives are lost one by one in the ensuing warfare. Finally, Lex Luthor, encased in his giant armored defense systems encounters Wonder Woman and forces her to call out to Superman, who has been recharging around the orbit of the Sun after being weakened by constant battle. When the Man of Steel returns to Earth, he finds that Wonder Woman has been killed by Luthor, her mouth stuffed with Kryptonite. Luthor appears and violently impales Superman. The Man of Tomorrow’s final words are “You’ve lost everything!”
Luthor’s victory is indeed short-lived. Alien ships darken the skies. Brainiac, an AI obsessed with consuming all knowledge and all life, has returned from deep space just in time to pick up the pieces of the shattered Earth and conquer the last survivors of the war between the heroes and the villains. We next discover that Lex Luthor has been narrating his dystopian tale to the present day trinity: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman aboard their HQ, the Watchtower. The three champions are understandably suspicious of Luthor but he demonstrates his good-will by releasing the Exobytes. These are modified alien nanomachines lifted from Brainiac’s future technology which carry the metahuman data of every superhero and supervillain. In short, the nanomachines can give anyone superpowers and Luthor releases them on Earth in order to give its citizens a “fighting chance” against the all-consuming intellect of Brainiac.
And so it begins…
DCUO starts by prompting the player to create their own character. The customization is above average, especially compared to other contemporary games. It’s easy to spend an hour or more in the character creation process. Players can select from a set of superpowers (fire, ice, electricity, earth, quantum, munitions, atomic, celestial, nature, mental, gadgets, sorcery, rage, or light) as well as movement type (flying, acrobat, super-speed or skimming). From there, you must choose a faction for your new toon: hero or villain, and then select from one of three mentors for either faction. The good mentors are Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. The mentors for the side of evil are the Joker, Lex Luthor and Circe. Choosing “inspired by” will automatically pick a mentor and a look for your character to match. Also, deciding on a mentor will alter the assortment of missions players will complete on their way to the game’s level cap: lvl.30. Players need to then select from an array of weapon styles that will form their character’s mode of attack. Beyond that, any number of small, cosmetic alterations can be made: the gender, the size and build of the character, the color of their costumes and the embellishments of their costumes. I had the most fun trying to emulate characters from other games or movies or animations (my Spike Spiegel didn’t go over so well though I once had a pretty sick Mega Man!). I even played around with making “iconic” DC characters, and my main for a long while was Gentleman Ghost. Again, the inclusion of DC lore made the experience more enjoyable and shaded the whole MMO experience.
As I was saying, players march their characters through their story-missions and bring them up to level 30, a task which can be tedious with some missions being little more than grinding enemies or fetch-quests. That’s compounded if you’re like me and chew through characters quickly by getting bored with them and deciding to start new ones from scratch. I must have played through even the least popular mentor’s storyline dozens of times.
Post-level 30 is when the real game begins. At that point, your character will be welcomed into the Justice League if they belong to the good faction, or the Society if they are evil. Characters are switched from a primarily linear game to a very open-ended one where joining parties for raids, duos and 4-player alerts are the new norm. This can be a fun way to make friends and finding a league in the game can yield much assistance and camaraderie. The goal now is no longer to gain experience but to get new and better equipment from mission drops and vendors. A lot of this boils down to typical MMORPG grinding since early post-30 gear drops are not always for gear usable by your character’s power-class. Speaking of which, the superpower you choose at the start of the game determines your class: tank, healer, controller or damage. Tanks are meant to absorb damage and take the heat off of their allies. Healers of course focus on healing and buffing. Controllers are there to direct enemies and restore “power”, the game’s version of MP. Damage characters are simply there to do as much damage as possible.
Post-level 30 DCUO can be unnerving to new players who are unfamiliar wth the game’s mechanics shift and they can be confused at what to do next when suddenly confronted with so many possible routes and so much gear to grab. I blame this on the game itself. I never felt like it did a very good job of transitioning new players into the new flow of things after level 30. Even then, most of the alerts and raids and such after 30 can only be accessed by purchasing membership or individual DLC.
The size of the game’s environments can be daunting as well. All of Gotham City is rendered and you can speed-run, acrobat or fly around all of Metropolis, seeing iconic sites, visiting famous landmarks, spotting DC heroes and villains, and just generally getting lost. Especially in the Watchtower, the hub and HQ for heroic characters. I don’t know who designed it. Maybe it was Satan. The place seems like its made to make you get lost. The villains’ alternative, the Hall of Doom, is hardly as bad. Now this may not be a bad thing. I loved the gigantic environments. But when I played through DCUO, I had a lot of time to kill. Getting lost might be more frustrating, however, for less casual players who are on a time limit for their gaming, or players who are trying to work together to complete missions.
By far the biggest thrills in the game were seeing some obscure DC properties come to life and also working with the few good leagues I got to be a part of. Leagues are the guilds of DCUO. You don’t have to join a league to enjoy the game, but I highly recommend it. Sure, avoid the snooty, elitist leagues that are more concerned about digital gear than about building relationships (of course, unless you’re snooty and elitist). Try to find a league that fits your play style, like one that likes to chat or one that prefers to just raid like it’s going outta style. Joining a league can net you minor boosts to your stats and access to the league hall, if that particular league has earned one. League halls are little private playgrounds for league members which can be decorated with furniture and used to store items in a shared bank. Helpful!
After I felt I had learned enough about the game to be decent, I started my own villains’ league (the Rogues Gallery). Many leagues have entrance standards that must be met in order to join their ranks and my league required that a character be modeled after an “iconic” DC villain, an evil character from DC comics. It was a league only for legends, heh. But, heck, we actually still got the Facebook page for it! I made the league August 2015 and it grew quickly in a short time. I knew for a month or so that we were the biggest and most active iconic league there was on the server, with over one-hundred members, many of them daily logins.
That was until I burned myself out and took a much needed vacation from DCUO-ing. MMO’s can be incredibly fun. They can also be insanely addictive and absorbing. I think I spent too much time in DCUO in such a short period that eventually I had had too much and needed something quieter. That, coupled with the fact that I couldn’t conscience paying for the monthly fee much longer after dropping payment after payment into this bottomless pit. My biggest complaint with MMO’s: frequent updates and new content is wonderful, but there’s some guilt that nagged at me for paying for a game with a price tag marked by the infinity symbol.
I’ll end on a high note. There are some really fun missions in DCUO, especially if you can latch onto a small group of close and dedicated friends to ride along with. Teamwork felt great and I even bought a USB keyboard to heighten the experience and allow me to communicate more efficiently. Friends eventually move on as real life pressures press in: new job, moving, school year, bf or gf, etc. But if you’re friendly, you can make new friends and still always remember your old ones. There are many folks I miss from my DCUO days (and many others who I hope I never see the likes of again).
There are also some great animated cinematics in DCUO. Taking part in the War of Light, allying with the Justice League or turning against them, breaking into the Fortress of Solitude or the Batcave, and battling through the multiverse and its splintered realities are accentuated by animations based on the incredible work of Jim Lee. His definitive art style has been the flagship visual of comic books and you’ll find it laced throughout DCUO between your missions and instances. This served to remind me that I wasn’t just playing an MMORPG with a generic backstory, or one with broken mechanics, glitchy graphics or oft-times unfriendly members. I was playing DC Universe Online and I could high five Superman.
The 8-Bit Review
The game got a facelift with the PS4 version, but on the PS3 there are many, many moments that feel like the game was almost PS2 quality. Almost. What puts it slightly above average are a few things: its gigantic environments, its animated “hand-drawn” cutscenes, and the cinematics like the intro movie and later additions. The character customization also allows for some really cool visuals and there’s some endgame gear with brilliant design. Character models can look a little stiff at times but there’s enough variations at least that a group of players don’t all look the same. That cannot be said of all MMO’s but DCUO’s definitely not the best looking MMO on the PS3.
Voice acting is a plus. Well, not all of it. There is a ton of awful voice acting in DCUO, mainly from the citizens running about the cities. Other examples? Swamp Thing sounds like an idiot. On the other hand, there are several main characters who do a pretty good job. Their Wonder Woman isn’t so great but Circe and Lex sound wonderful with a lot of personality and intonation read into their lines. Superman isn’t half bad, either. Of course, Batman and the Joker take the cake since they were voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill from the acclaimed Batman animated series from the 90’s. For many fans, those two are the voices of Bats and the Joker. Their inclusion in the game makes it count.
The soundtrack on the other hand… when it isn’t skipping, it’s mainly just stupid metallic noise and guitar riffs. Pretty generic. I turned it off and tried to enjoy the best of the game’s voice acting. I mean, just listen to Mark go!
The influence of classic DC stories lend weight to the game. Further, the little story arcs based on DC characters and facing off against bosses like Bane, Zod, Ares, Brainiac and Harley Quinn, or conversely, Martian Manhunter, the Flash or Green Arrow (just to name a few) are a delight. The DLC releases are all story based as well so there’s extra layers of narrative there beyond the premise of Exobytes set free on Earth by a future Lex Luthor. The dialogue isn’t the best there ever was but there is at least a lot of story going on.
Wow, this game is glitchy, again at least on the PS3. I got disconnected, frozen, glitched, stalled at loading screens and dropped through the floor of the city on a regular basis. Almost daily. My toon would often times go transparent, my AOE’s would just plain miss for no good reason, or I couldn’t exit a glitched out menu screen without having to perform a hard reset. My device? No. A lot of fellow PS3ers complained about getting kicked in the nuts by DCUO’s weak and tenuous gameplay.
Beyond that, the fighting gets boring rather quickly and could use an update to match contemporary action-RPG speed and fluidity. Different superpowers don’t mean too much when most of the power sets follow the same pattern of types of abilities on their skill trees. Further, if you read the sidebar chat at all, you will incessantly hear the veterans’ favorite past time: complaining about broken superpower and pvp mechanics.
Online Play: 6/10
DCUO has an active membership community. By far the most fun can be had out of DCUO by questing with a good friend. I had an Agent Scully and a friend of mine (Black Humor Mage!) had an Agent Mulder. That’s classy. Communicating with your friends gets easier with the use of a keyboard or mic, or Skype. Leagues are a great step in this direction, too. Legends PVP and Arena PVP can be exceptionally fun and exhilarating if you’re evenly matched with your opponent, but there are many players out there to abuse the mechanics for a win, ruining the experience. You’ll find your typical prepubescent trolls using language that would make a sailor blush, whiners without a shred of good sportsmanship or what that even means, idiots asking for your phone number if you’re using a female character so they can “get wit you”, and of course, everyone’s favorite killjoys, the ubiquitous know-it-alls ready to label everyone else as a “noob”. There are some real sphincters on DCUO (ahem, “Return J0k3r”) that I’d like to get in a fist fight with, but then again, there are some genuinely helpful and really friendly people. It’s the same with every online community, be friendly and make friends, only here you’ve got some broken mechanics to maneuver around or DC paraphernalia to fanboy (or fangirl) over.
Frequent tutorials at the start of the game and decent explanatory readouts for superpowers and their functions means it’s fairly easy to get into a character in DCUO. You can do just fine with a basic working knowledge from these early missions. However, endgame instances will require a better understanding of DCUO’s stats and mechanics, clipping powers into each other, and knowing your way around the environments and amenities to reach your full potential.
DC comics hasn’t really had the best games but this is a decent MMO based on frickin’ DC universe, the longest-running and most enduring comic book world in history. And it’s still being written. This and its tremendous focus on customization puts DCUO at the forefront of comic book themed MMO’s. But hey, this is DC we’re talking about, the granddaddy that little baby Marvel stole all their ideas from.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
It may not be the best MMORPG you’ll ever play but it was good enough to hold my attention for over a year’s time. It may not have the best graphics but it has some gorgeous animations. It may not have the best soundtrack but it has a few awesome voice actors. It’s probably the best game to take in as much of the DC comics universe as possible in one place, and whether you got your lead in to that fictional world through Reeve’s Superman or Batman: the Animated Series or the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon or the comic books themselves, pop culture odds are that you’ve got some connection to the DC universe and you can probably find your favorite character skulking about in the shadows somewhere or flying high above the skylines. If not, you can just make your favorite DC character for yourself.
I kept coming back to DCUO because of the lively community, the iconic characters, the huge environments, the challenging and exciting instances, and the good friends. The downsides were glitchy gameplay, too many microtransactions and DLCs to purchase, and I dislike MMO monthly fees.
At least it kicks super the crap out of Marvel’s shameless rip-off: Marvel Heroes. Only Marvel would make a character like Deadpool popular then call him a “parody” rather than “plagiarism”. Breaking the fourth wall isn’t exactly breaking new ground, either.
Aggregated Score: 6.0