I don’t play MMOs. Like most gamers, I’ve dipped a toe into the inviting waters of World Of Warcraft, but I could never quite give myself over to its intimidating demands. Sampling the full spread of available game experiences takes a lot of time, and Blizzard simply asks too much. I’m by no means alone, and we’re the people Sony Online Entertainment had in mind when it created DC Universe Online – the first major MMO on a console, and an antidote to the numbing point-and-click gameplay that has come to dominate the genre.
At this point, it’s worth noting just how good a first impression DC Universe Online makes. With the help of revered comic book artist Jim Lee, Sony Online Entertainment has created the most attractive MMO on the market. Granted, it’s still a long stride behind the sort of visual fidelity found on PlayStation 3 and PC, but the combination of Lee’s art-style and the resonance of DC’s characters and locations give the game an instant appeal that can’t expressed in pixels.
The game world spans Metropolis, Gotham City and beyond, and Superman, Batman, The Joker and a host of other famous characters ensure you’re never far away from a welcome nostalgia kick. Most of the shorter missions are taken directly from old DC storylines, while the over-arching plot is a new and utterly convincing addition to the canon. I’m sure most of the references sailed several feet above my head, but I noticed enough to be convinced that only the most ardent fan-boy will find any way to complain.
The MMO market has moved on from the days when every studio was trying (in vain) to topple World Of Warcraft, and Sony Online Entertainment doesn’t seem too bothered about attracting those already playing an MMO. The evidence that DC Universe Online was developed with the PlayStation 3 in mind is everywhere, from the UI to the fast, fluid combat system. Indeed, the combat is arguably the game’s best feature, and I suggest that anyone playing it on a PC try it with an Xbox 360 pad before settling on a mouse and keyboard.
The majority of MMOs are based on combat of some kind, but usually it amounts to little more than clicking on cards. DC Universe Online employs a system that has more in common with a straight-up brawler, built around pressing and holding buttons in combination with the thumb-sticks. There are special skills, of course, but the sort of attacks normally used to just wait out cool-down periods are now engaging in their own right, and much more effective as a result. Make no mistake, in terms of combat DC Universe Online outstrips virtually everything else out there.
The character creation has been criticised for lack of variety and cumbersome controls, and while I have no argument with the latter, the former seems to spring from Sony’s desire to go against the grain. At the start of the game you choose your character’s class by selecting his mentor, and define other aspects like their powers, combat style and preferred method of travelling – whether super-speed, flying or acrobatics, navigating DC Universe Online is both tactical and thoroughly enjoyable – but Sony spreads an impressive amount of costumes and accessories across the entire game as rewards. My character’s appearance was in a state of constant flux until I was bearing down on the level-cap.
There are a handful of problems, but DC Universe Online is in far better condition than I would have guessed for a game that is, in many respects, the first of its kind. Certain social aspects like voice-chat have been problematic since its launch, while a lack of explanatory material outside of the story missions might leave new MMO players out in the cold. However, these problems only seem severe in the context of the liberal amount of polish applied to other areas of the game, and for the most part DC Universe Online is commendably stable.
The main question, then, is are you willing to pay for DC Universe Online’s considerable riches? At £39.99 for the game and a further £9.99 a month for a subscription it’s a tall order, especially when high-profile competitors like The Lord Of The Rings Online and The Age Of Conan seem committed to a free-to-play future, but that’s a personal choice I won’t even attempt to influence. Reviews should be about quality, and DC Universe Online has that in spades.
Next page: Our expert verdict