Why I Play: DC Universe Online

Why I Play DC Universe Online


He's why I initially played DC Universe Online. He's why I bought the collector's edition pre-launch, and he's generally why I got worked up into a sweaty lather of fanboy expectation that couldn't possibly be met by an MMO with a finite budget.

A couple of years on, I've rediscovered DCUO, and now the reason I play it (a lot) boils down to three letters: SOE.

Why I Play DC Universe Online

Let me explain.

Leaving aside the fact that I've had a perfectly unhealthy obsession with the Dark Knight since I was a wee lad swooping around the house in blue/gray bat-winged Underoos, I've come to appreciate DCUO for being a solid game regardless of (or perhaps in spite of) its megalithic IP.

In typical SOE fashion, the title's feature sets and functionality have grown from somewhat pedestrian beginnings, and more bells and whistles (like housing and housing-related PvP, yes, really) are on the way. At its core, though, DCUO has two primary strengths, those being its combat system and its wealth of content.

Why I Play DC Universe Online

Action combat

When the title launched in early 2011, action MMOs were still something of a novelty. Some of us were anxiously awaiting something beyond the spamming of 1, 2, and 3 on our hotbars, while others decried notions of anything even vaguely twitch-related making its way into our MMORPGs.

Fortunately DCUO features the best of both worlds, as it does make use of traditional hotbar special abilities, but it couples them with a nifty mouse- (or controller-) actuated combo system that is capable of chaining together some truly spectacular moves. When you combine these possibilities with positional tactics, a laundry list of weapon types (staffs, swords, guns, hand blasts, martial arts, etc.), and SOE's gorgeous animations, you've got the most viscerally involving superhero MMO to date.

The combat manages to be a nice change of pace without deviating completely from the traditional MMO formula. You've still got tanks, healers, and (crowd-)controllers, but all three archetypes are capable of doing significant DPS, and you can switch between that and your primary role with a key press provided you're at least level 10 and out of combat.

There's plenty of room for theorycrafting and experimentation, too, as you can mix 10 weapon types with the game's various power sets and further specialize in terms of skill and ability points inside each power and weapon tree. While it may sound confusing at first, it's pretty nifty once you get a handle on how it works. The main thing to keep in mind as you're creating a character is that your power set determines your role (fire, ice, and earth users are tanks; gadgets, mental, and light users are controllers, and nature, sorcery, and electricity characters fill the healer role). As I mentioned, though, anyone can spec DPS at any time.

Why I Play DC Universe Online

About that character creator

DCUO's character creator is a strange, unwieldy beast. At first blush, it seems inferior to its City of Heroes and Champions Online counterparts, and in terms of the number of costume pieces immediately available, it is. It fills out as you actually play the game, though, and there is a seemingly endless number of styles to collect on your journey toward level 30. All of them can be recolored on the fly and mixed and matched to make utterly unique outfits, too, so don't let the game's initial creation screens fool you.

Once you've decided on your role, your starter costume, and your hero or villain mentor (a choice that determines your starting location as well as your story cutscenes, the latter of which are lavishly illustrated, comic book-style), you'll be thrust into a brief tutorial stage aboard a Brainiac harvester ship. After that, it's on to either Gotham City or Metropolis, both of which are huge playfields with plenty of missions and collections that will keep you busy for quite a while.

Why I Play DC Universe Online


The level grind is pretty light by most MMO standards, though, and it's quite possible to hit the cap in a couple weeks of very casual questing. The one-to-30 game is basically an extended tutorial for endgame, and you'd be wise to master your various abilities and combos in preparation for the much more difficult PvE challenges in store at the cap.

Content gaps are few and far between, and in addition to the numerous solo and small-group quest lines in the game's two main cities, you can also engage open-world bosses, run instanced group dungeons called alerts, and take part in both arena and Legends PvP (the latter of which is a fun diversion that gives you control of iconic DC characters like Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Superman, and more).

Why I Play DC Universe Online

The blemishes

All of this is not to say that DCUO is devoid of problems. The PC version suffers a few interface-related handicaps by virtue of being closely related to its PlayStation 3 counterpart (really, SOE? Opening my various menu panels renders me unable to use, or even view, my chat box?). Dragging or resizing UI elements is also inexplicably out of the question.

Curiously, some of the more useful socialization commands are relegated to your F-keys, including the ability to form groups, emote, and view a list of your combos. And while the chat system has improved from its early 2011 state, it still leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to that of most other MMOs.

Other problems more typical of the genre are also present and accounted for, particularly the gear grind, which hits you like a ton of bricks upon reaching level 30. While the pre-endgame progression is great fun and super quick, I've since settled into a somewhat depressing routine of running instanced daily dungeons to acquire T1 PvE gear. See, I've got to boost my combat rating to be granted entrance to most of the level-capped group activities, and while they all sound quite enjoyable, jumping through the hoops to get to them is repetitive since I'm running (and re-running) the same story dungeon instances I did earlier in the game for weeks at a time.

The objective here is to collect Marks of Triumph tokens, which are then traded for armor. I average about three marks per dungeon run (assuming my weekly bonus is up), and I need 400 marks for the T1 suit, so you can either do the math or just trust me when I say it's taking a long time.

Why I Play DC Universe Online

Final thoughts

One thing I haven't touched on is DCUO's free-to-play model. This is because I'm already paying for SOE's Station Pass, so I've got Legendary membership status by default. Yeah, there are some additional PvP skins and fluff clothing items in the Station Cash store, but that's about it.

If you're curious about DCUO, you can get in the door and try out a good bit of the pre-30 solo content for free, but the game's DLC packs (including some of the newer power sets and the Central City neighborhood) are behind the paywall.

With the demise of City of Heroes, superhero MMO options took a substantial hit this year. And since Marvel's upcoming entry is more Diablo clone than MMORPG, the future of the genre looks considerably dimmer than it used to. That said, DCUO is a top-notch game that does an admirable job of paying homage to its source material and delivering a unique MMO experience.

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.