Players will initially get the Area 51 PvE Alert notice at level 9, although the mission text itself suggests running it at level 10. While you can
run the instance at level 9, I'd suggest holding off as well. Why? Level 10 is when you have the ability to toggle into your particular role (tank, control, heal -- hitting T on the keyboard or the up-arrow on controller) and really get a chance to stretch your legs in a group setting. Knowing what your powers do -- and when to toggle back and forth between them -- can save you a great deal of trouble down the road. I can't recommend that enough since understanding how the extension of your powers in other roles can really change the gameplay for you. Besides, when you get to the endgame raids, people will be looking for those who understand their powers and roles. Now is the time to get the hang of it!
To get to Area 51, you'll hit Y to bring up the menu; go to Alerts, select Area 51, and then pick then next available. This particular Alert is set for a 4-man group, and the Alert is a PvE instanced area. If you're able to assemble a group outside of the Alert system, it can save you some time. Also, while you can go off and do other things while waiting for Area 51 to pop, I'd actually recommend leaving the Alert selected as your current mission. Entering the Alert instance with something else selected caused me to not get the first objectives/mission overview upon zoning as recently as a few nights ago. If you haven't been there before, it can create a lot of confusion as you watch everyone else zip around and complete objectives -- while nothing comes up on your screen!
As for the storyline, Brainiac knows that Area 51 is the location of all manner of wicked alien goodies (surprise) that help mankind resist his invasion; it's also the world's primary storehouse of green kryptonite. He's out to destroy the tech and make off with the kryptonite so he can use it against Superman and the other Kryptonians. Since you (and all other exobyte-created heroes and villains) seem to be immune to the effects of green kryptonite, it's up to you to help CADMUS (read: the super-secret military) protect Area 51 from Brainiac's invading forces.
Area 51 has four specific groups of objectives ranging from the obvious "beating the snot out of invading forces" to "turning on base defenses to help your side." Heck, you'll wind up hacking Brainiac's minions to fight for you as well, so it's definitely a question of who controls resources! Ultimately, Area 51 is important not just from the standpoint of furthering story and landing some nice (if somewhat rapidly out-leveled) gear but also because it helps people to use their specific roles in a group setting. Frankly, this is really the main point of this instance -- getting your feet wet in switching roles for group play.
Now, because I promised a little something more for those who have likely run the instance but may not have found all the collection items to unlock the goodies only available in Area 51, I offer a quick and dirty listing of extras. This includes all the Investigations (green icons), Player Briefs (blue icons), and Collections (Yellow icons) you'll want to look out for in the zone. In the spirit of making it at least somewhat fun, I didn't give you a point-by-point map, although the descriptions should give you enough of an idea. Also -- remember you don't have to rush out of the zone when you finish the final boss mob. There's a teleporter in the ship to put you back on the ground, so don't upset your group to hunt these during the fighting! Be careful not to use the "teleport to last location" option, which takes you out of the instance altogether.
Investigation: Cadmus Research Findings (Green)
-- This investigation will net you a pair of Grooved Synthweave Boots (L10) and unlocks the Paramilitary style for shoes.
Player Briefs: (Blue)
- Area 51 fuel depot: You'll find this near a fence, inside the fence/wall line of the depot.
- Area 51 ammo dump: Look near a ramp next to to one of the large tanks in the corners. It is inside the fence.
- Area 51 command and control center: There are two hanging out in different corners, as well as one near a non-opening door and a large ramp. Note that two seem to be tied since picking up one will turn the other one white, despite your not going near it.
- Brainiac invasion site: Near the medium-sized tower by the kryptonite teleport pads
-- This one will net you the coveted Cowboy Hat helm style for your character. Yeehaw!
Collection (Yellow): Welcome to Groom Lake
- Lois Lane: By the side of the road near the fuel depot. Very easy to spot.
- Amanda Waller (1): This is in a hole in the ground near a broken part of the road next to the ammo dump. Also very easy to spot.
- Amanda Waller (2): Near another broken patch of road, only this one is on the edge of the crater in the center of the map. There is some burning wreckage nearby. Easy to spot
- Jack Ryder: Just outside of command and control near some crates. Easiest way to find this is to jump atop all the crates and look down, since it can be obscured from certain angles.
- Lex Luthor: This one is hiding in a broken satellite dish near Brainiac's invasion ship and requires you to be above/on top of the dish to see it.
- Superman: This one is similarly on a messed-up patch of road by the invasion site. Tricky, but not difficult.
-- This nets you the CADMUS t-shirt for your character to wear; the shirt is black with a logo on it. I'd note this is also the most difficult of the three, considering how well the yellowish/white icons blend in with fire, ambient light, and sandy desert landscapes. I've picked several pieces in question up in different places, so I'm simply listing the locations I've seen the collection markers spawn as well as parts you'll need to complete the collection.
- Collection items: Weather Balloon Casing, Majestic 12 Brainwashing Schema, Aurora-58 Warp Drive Capacitor, Unpowered NID Blaster Pistol, and SDI-Style Thermoptics.
- Many of these are located in front of the doors of the smallest buildings atop the white section of the "pad" texture (since they essentially disappear from view unless you're on top of them there).
- One is in front of a small building next to the end of a road, near the Brainiac Invasion ship.
- On a pad in front of the small building next to the communication/door tower by Brainiac's invasion ship. This small building has a Brainiac-type pod atop it and a pathing mob nearby.
- There is another on top of the communications/entry door tower near Brainiac invasion ship. Tricky, but relatively easy to spot compared to the ones in front of the small buildings.
- One is located on the road heading upwards from the ammo dump. This one is relatively out in the open.
- Finally, another is located in a small crevasse just out front of the fuel depot, facing the ammo dump. There is some burning wreckage nearby.
I'd also add that players looking closely can net a crate of goodies and save a citizen from jumping off a high spot in the Tarmac area. Also, players who may not have repaired their gear before heading in or who find themselves using too many Soder Colas can pick up supplies, repair, or sell stuff from their bags by talking to the supply agent atop a central building in the fuel depot.
In short, Alerts are a great way to get used to using your character's alternate abilities in a group setting where they're truly going to shine. Also, for those of you who are costume nuts like I am, that cowboy has is pretty sweet and well worth ducking into Area 51 to get. Why not jump in as early as you can and enjoy some fun PvE group content!
Every week on Saturday, strip off the mask of your Alter-Ego and soar through the world of DC Universe Online with Krystalle, then catch up with Larry on Wednesdays as he showcases the superhero game on the Alter-Ego livestream. Send up a bat-signal to ping Krystalle or Larry with your burning questions. (Packages wrapped in green with a purple bow will be returned unopened.)