Monday, 24 January 2011

DCUO – A Brief Distraction

Post soundtrack: “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five For Fighting

It’s deja vu all over again. After about 48 hours play over about two weeks (according to the Steam client, including time spent dabbling with other characters), I’ve hit the level cap with my superhero in DC Universe Online. I’m reminded in many ways of Star Trek Online, to be honest, and I can see a similar future ahead for DCUO.

Superheroine Disposable, at level one.

Quick micro-review time:

The two games have some interesting things in common. The two games launched with very solid game engines, stable servers, and very low level caps that didn’t take long to reach. DCUO has a little more endgame content at launch (2, 4 and 8 player instances, and hard versions of single-player instances), but the UI is pretty unimpressive (especially the chat system).

The character customisation system is kind of nifty, but the UI around it is pretty minimal (like much of the UI, to be honest – it does just enough to get the job done, but don’t expect much usability). You can change the look of each gear slot (without changing the actual item equipped in the slot, which is a very nice touch) and alter the displayed colours on each piece, but are limited to the three-colour palette that you’ve set for your costume (although you can change these colours for your entire costume at any time). Unfortunately there’s no way of saving costumes, so if you have more than one that you wish to change between, it’s a matter of manually changing each piece in your inventory whenever you want to switch. If you have multiple gear sets for your character’s roles, you’ll have to switch out items individually as well.

Grouping is also fairly hit-and-miss, if you don’t have friends to play with or a league – the game’s guild-equivalent. You can get into alerts – the 4-player instances – with a LFD-styled queue, but for the harder ones you’ll want players for each of the four roles (tank, healer, controller, dps).  Unfortunately while the game has you select your role when you queue up, it fails to explain what the roles are to players and doesn’t force players to take non-dps roles, so alerts with 4 dps players aren’t uncommon (and they usually aren’t all that successful).

Disposable, level 30.

I soloed most of my way to 30 (with a handful of alerts, where my ice tank hero attempted, sometimes successfully, to tank) and my 30 ding was something of a relief – my first thought was “Well, now I can cancel my subscription”. It’s not that the game is bad – indeed, the combat system is actually quite fun, and is a lot more visceral than games I usually play – it’s just that there isn’t much to the game besides the combat. Actually, the only other activity is collecting items and briefs. Oh, there’s the costume customisation aspect as well (supported by collecting new costume parts from combat and collecting), but without something like the WoW Armory or the Sporepedia where you can show off your creations outside the game, it’s of very limited interest to me.

Unfortunately a combat-based game with an item-collection sideline just isn’t enough to hold my attention – and definitely not enough to justify a subscription, no matter how nice the combat system might be. (Maybe I’d be more inclined if I was a DC fan, but I’ve been more partial to Marvel’s stories and characters, so I don’t even have the franchise to hold my attention)

Still, in the same way that STO has managed to overcome its disappointing launch and prosper as a niche MMO, I can see DCUO still being around in a year with an enthusiastic (albeit smaller) player-base, with active development continuing to add new content (and improving the lacklustre UI). I won’t be playing it, though.

Currently on my radar are Rift and Dungeons, both of which I’m sure are rife with opportunities to disappoint (and the next wave of the Rift beta starts in a couple of days). For now, though, Protector: The Planes awaits my attention.