DCUO: It Coulda Been a Contender

So, I’ve got some time in DC Universe Online now. You know, that game I bought last week with such high hopes.


First off, if you are thinking of playing it, do yourself a favor and try it with a controller. They make some very good USB controllers for the PC, assuming you’re not going to play it on a PS3, where I hear it’s very smooth.

Here’s my deal with the game.

The super powers are a deal breaker for me.

There are lots of little things, but in the end, the choices of super powers, compared to other super hero games I’ve tried like Champions or City of Heroes, simply blows.

I mentioned in a previous post how much I liked the concept of the power system, and that remains true.

In fact, let that be the driving theme of my feelings for the game; I love the concept of nearly everything they’ve done.

It’s the choices they made in execution of those concepts that have made it a game I simply can’t stomach. I’d rather sit and stare at the wall than play DCUO. Or, do what I’ve done the last few days, and enjoy reading some nice books, try and watch a movie or two, that sort of thing. I even logged into WoW for a little bit, and after the misery that is DCUO, wasn’t THAT a shock to the system!

I’m not going to talk about the things I liked, because I’ve done some of that before. Well, maybe I will a little, for some perspective. This is a “why I am not going to play out my free time on a game I spent $40 on” post. Or $50, I can’t remember. A whole lot of money when the only other non-WoW game I bought in the last year was Starcraft 2. (Portal doesn’t count, I got that for free on Steam).

First off, again, the power choices.

Yes, the concept is great. Instead of choosing a couple of power sets, and having all of your in-game abilities be tied up into them, DCUO breaks it down into three areas; combat skills, movement skills, and power sets.

So you get to choose your main combat style  and movement skills independantly of the power set you choose. This could potentially give far more combinations, right? Well, it does.

Even better, you can learn more than one combat style. You can start with Brawling, be a strong two fisted puncher of doom, and when you hit level ten place points into a whole new second style, like Martial Arts or Bows or Dual Pistols.

And investing points in your abilities, why, that feels very smart too. Each point invested in a combat skill unlocks new fighting combos. On the Mouse control, this can be left click/left click, or left click+right click, or left click/left hold, or left-click X5/left hold. That kind of thing.

Spending points on the powers in your trees also gives you more abilities, but those aren’t activated by combos. Those are on your number bar, and you can have up to 6 active to use at any one time. Plus, of course, a soda pop.

And let’s not forget the extra shared “Iconic” power tree, where all the awesome super powers of the DC Heroes can be chosen by you, once you’re high enough level. Like Heat Vision, or Super Strength, or Wonder Woman’s Lasso 9for a ranged pull to get airborne targets down to you) and many others.

So many options!

But then again… not.

See, again, that thing about six slots for active super powers? Yep, that’s it. No matter how many points you put into new powers, you can only have six of those abilities on your bar to use.

Sure, some of the powers, and all of the Iconic powers chooseable after level 22, are Passive. You don’t need them on your bar to get benefits. And that’s good, since there are so many powers in your own darn trees you’d like to have available, but… you can only have six. So choose wisely.

But even that’s not a deal breaker. It’s annoying, sure. You’ve unlocked all these super powers, you’ve grown more powerful, you’ve gained levels… but you can’t use most of them, because you can only have six on your bar at a time.  

You know, if I’ve been using an exploding wall of fire to push enemies back for 15 levels, I don’t really see where, by getting more powerful, I suddenly can’t use it anymore because there are other things more useful to my role in raids, and I can only bring six powers to the party. What, I’m a first edition Mage now, and I can only memorize six spell slots a day? Really?

But not a deal breaker. No.

No, the deal breaker on powers for me is the six categories you get.

I’m playing DC Universe Online. The tacit implication in their tagline, the next hero is me, is that I get to be a hero in the DC Universe, similar in theme to the heroes I’ve grown familiar with from the comics.

Not exact, but similar.

Some categories seem like no brainers. The Green Lantern Corps. The Sinestro Corps. Any of the new colors of power rings, in fact. There is a built-in possibility of new characters being entrusted with a power ring.

Is that realized? Nope. The players in chat in the game all ask if you can be a Green Lantern, and the answer is generally, “I’ve heard that may be coming in a future content patch.”

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

‘Hang in there baby, the next content patch is coming. It’ll all be roses and lavender on that hallowed day.’

For anyone familiar with the heroes and mythos of DC comics over the years, I’d like you to really think about the six super power themes you get to choose from.

Fire (tanking). Ice (tanking). Mental (Mob Control with illusions). Gadgets (explosives and cloaks). Nature (attacking with plants and shapeshifting into Wolves or Pteradactyls). Sorcery.

Those are your six available power sets. .

Think about those six… and tell me how prevalent those themes really are in the DC Universe. Aside from Beast Boy, are there really that many flying Pterodactyls running around? Err, flying around?

What it ends up feeling like, is that they looked at existing super hero games, and said to themselves, “We can’t use any of that; come up with something different. Something we own, or something the others haven’t grabbed yet.”

Sure, you can think of individual heroes and villains that have one of those power sets. But the way the combinations are set up actually makes it very, very hard to have a hero that feels… cohesive.


Simple. Combat and movement powers use SKILL points, and super powers and Iconic powers use POWER points.

Power points come from leveling. Period. SKILL points, used to improve your combat styles and buy more powers from your movement tree, come from both leveling AND you get new skill points by completing achievements.

Oh yeah, that’s a fact. If you like to pursue Achievements, you’ll gain skill points to buy extra combat and movement powers early. There are many, many achievements, including exploration of the zones.

But what does this mean? It means that super powers and iconic powers are either passive or have to share those six power slots on your number bar… but your combat styles AND movement abilities ALL use combos.

Yes, you can buy more combat styles… but this just adds lots and lots of combos that you have to memorize to do things.

Still only six active powers to use in combat, though.

What you end up with is a hero, patterned after the Flash, that theoretically has super speed running, lots of speed related combat attacks like tornadoes and running around enemies, brawling to beat ’em up fast, and so forth. But in reality, as you level, you MUST use your super powers as well if you hope to survive the brutal grind of combat.

And the more combat abiltiies you learn, the more combos you must master, some of which are silly long chains, but still… only six powers on your number bar.

So, your dream of playing as the Flash? Yeah, unless your vision of the Flash uses gadgets, flame blasts, ice lances, turns into a nightmare monster that looks exactly like EVERY other nightmare monster hero, or blasts with sorcery, you’re not going to last long enough to get those movement skill attack combos to memorize… which don’t unlock until level 9.

Speaking of the combat…

You remember those jokes about “kill 10 rats” from Everquest?

Umm, yeah.

The quests feel as thought they tried to be fun and imaginative… but the streets are so choked with bad guys that respawn instantly that you literally could not walk a block in the game without fighting something… something exactly the same as the other 20 somethings you already fought.

If you really, really, really want to revisit the days of endless exhausting grinding on mobs to get 10 kills, 10 drops, 10 pieces of info, 10 interrupted power converter machine activations, 10 samples of drug, 10 victims rescued, 10 structures smashed, 10 gadgets deactivated…

…well, this is the game for you.

I have found that this game, for me, is at it’s best when I simply go out for a run, or to fly. Or to use acrobatics to hop. The movement is a lot of fun. As long as I don’t involve myself in more mindless combat, it’s cool.

I understand that if you really love PvP on PvP servers, this game rocks, big time. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re not looking for any kind of DC Universe themed character, if you just want to get some visceral action in with a fighting style game on a PvP server, seriously, this thing is supposed to be the shit, and I can certainly see that.

I don’t PvP, so I think I might be the wrong dude for this game. 🙂

So, I addressed the deal breaking crappy core power sets, the monotonous combat against PvE…

Ah! The costumes!

It’s another great concept.

You are a new hero or villain. There is no Billy Bobs’ Tri-County Costume Shop operating in the Gotham City limits. You put together something silly or kinda limited when you just start out, right?

Well, that’s the way it works in game, too. Your starting costume choices are horribly limited. It seems very strange.

But then, as soon as you start playing in your first starter mission, you learn why.

There are loot drops of equippable costume pieces in the game.

Let me repeat that, because I think it bears repeating.

Enemies you vanquish have costume pieces you can loot.

There are many, many costume ‘sets’ you can collect, one random piece at a time.

Guess where the cool looking costume pieces come from?

I know I talked about this before, but in reality it’s amazing. I mean, sure, you can sort of rationalize killing a demon prince and getting a honking big flaming sword, right? And World of Warcraft has done a nice job of having weapons and armor that bosses in raids carry as being available as loot… the appearance of the item anyway.

But how do you rationalize an enemy Brainiac robot having a really sweet looking pair of running boots with the Flash wing symbol? A pair of boots that, when equipped, activates a ‘Flash style’ movement speed glow on your character?

I’ve mentioned before that one of the truly great new ideas that DCUO implements is being able to activate the appearance of any item you have picked up, independantly of what the stats of an actual equipped item may be.

That is very, very awesome. It is truly the single biggest success in the game. If you are lucky enough to get the costume pieces you truly love, that makes the perfect “you”, you can go through your entire game life looking like that, no matter what loot you ever get dropped. Not only that… but when you set your character’s color palette, the new loot costume pieces you pick up, when equipped, are set to match your chosen palette! Everything you ever equip will match in color… but be different styles. And yes… you can change your color palette at almost any time you’d like if you’re not quite happy with it. And you can change an individual item to have a custom color profile. It’s a quite powerful tool, and a friendly design to have your hero look just the way you’d like.

So long as you were lucky on costume drops, that is.

But… you’re still a DC comics super hero chasing loot drops from enemies like trinkets, rings, weapons, cloaks and stuff. No, I swear to you, I am not making this up.

It just all keeps mounting up.

I am intentionally NOT talking about the constant errors, disconnects and bugs. Or the almost completely unusable chat system. The reason being, they will fix them in patches. They MUST fix them in patches soon. The chat system in particular is horrendous. Just, wow… talk about testing a vocabulary. Abominable? Atrocious? Unconscionable? Malicious?

I keep coming back, like a tongue on a loose tooth, to that costume loot thing. Even now, as I openly deride it’s cynical draw on the collector in us, I still feel it’s allure.

I made a Speedster/Fire/Brawler I was having lots of fun with. Liked my costume, modeled it after the character my son made and enjoyed. My regret was that bits of the costume, like the cowl and boots and gloves, didn’t have little Flash style wing thingies.

I actually got a Purple epic drop, out of nowhere, those aforementioned Flash style winged-boots. I was able to get a little closer to the perfect costume I originally envisioned.

I felt the pull then. Chasing the loot drops. Hoping for that next one that’ll be even cooler.

Oh yes, I can certainly feel the pull of a game that encourages you to complete collections… and gives you character improving skill points when you complete exploration or collection achievements.

In my more cynical moments, I wonder if someone took a cold, hard look at how to attract and retain those addicted to collecting stuff.

I tried so hard to like it. I kept sticking my head in the sand, saying, “Well, maybe this next hero. Well, no, try this one. Okay, this one. YES! This is the one!”

But the further I get, the more I just feel like a big old sucker for spending the money.

It finally came to a head when I logged into WoW for a moment just to remind myself what the heck I’d been doing there, anyway…

And the WoW game colors and style and beauty, after staring at the drabness of the DCUO world for a week, almost mugged my eyes with their awesomeness. It was like, “Oh wow, so THAT’S what vivid colors and beautiful art design looks like. I’d forgotten. Thank you for reminding me, Samwise.”

It’s true. I feel like a sucker for having bought DCUO.

Not because it’s not a good game, because I’m sure that, after a while and some content patches, it WILL be an awesome game. Plus, it seems like it’s really built for kickass high speed low drag PvP, and it does have some great concepts that just need to be tweaked up some more.

Some folks in the general chat clearly were in cloud nine playing it… mostly on their controllers, I’ll admit. 🙂 Lots of folks deliriously happy with it, and more power to them.

No, I feel like a sucker because the only reason I bought it was to try and find something new and different for a little while… and I just walked away from it feeling tired and irritated by the overall experience.

Say hello to Nightbear!

I know, I know, it’s cheesy, but I had a much easier time of coming up with a villain name than a hero.

I really wanted a Batman styled character for the hero side, and thus Nightbear was born. Take a look!

I love the fact that he’s got the Bear claws for his martial arts weapon right now.

The way it looks, there is a panel called ‘style’. And in this panel, every time you pick up loot, or buy a new weapon upgrade like I did, it adds that to the style list for each slot… and no matter what you have physically equipped, or even whether or not it’s in your inventory, you can choose whether or not to display that item.

So if you really, really loved those bear claws from level 3, but you got an upgrade with better stats… equip the upgrade, and set your style to still show the claws.


Oh…. and my evil character’s name?

Why, he’s simply Unbearable.

I promise, last post about this tonight, double promise, pinky swear!

DC Universe Online – early surprises

No spoilers here on story, but I wanted to share a few things during character creation and the intro scenario that surprised me.

I’ve played other superhero MMOs before, so there are some expectations I had going in… and some hope in my heart that there’d be differences from what i saw before.

First, the classes.

There ain’t classes like you or I might expect classes.

People talk about Fire, or Ice, or Mental, and yes, those could be called classes. But really, when you think about your character, it breaks down more like this;

You pick a combat style, then you pick a basic power type, and then you add your movement style on top.

Your basic combat style is seperate from the additional things you will be able to do with powers. And both are different from the things you’ll be able to do with movement.

In combat styles, you can pick from a lot of choices. There is no special weighting given to any of them, so it might seem strange to see so many weapon variations in a superhero game. The truth is, Brawling is the most typical superhero fighting style in comics, and it’s a choice. But in comics, more rarely seen but still present are the sword swingers like Deathstroke, the staff users like Nightwing, the bow users like Green Arrow, the two gun fighters, etc etc. These styles are all present, and many, many more… but you shouldn’t feel that you must choose one over the others. each one is pretty cool, has it’s own leveling tree that branches with abilities you can pick and choose from, with BOTH melee and ranged options. So, if you are looking for a more typical fighting superhero, by all means take Brawling and enjoy. The style and graphics effects of Brawling are a lot of fun. All the options have been realized well.

In powers, you will probably feel dissapointed. There are only a handful; Fire, Ice, Mental, Sorcery, Nature, Gadgets. There might be one or two more, it’s not important. What is important, is you’re looking at that list and saying, “Wait a minute… where is Invulnerability? Sonic Scream? Wall of Stone?”

The answer is that each power type has two trees inside it… and the abilities within each tree are mixed up pretty good. You can pick and choose things from them, and while each one has a purpose in groups, like tanking or healing or crowd control, they add to your existing combat options, they aren’t the SOLE basis for them. Consider them powerful flavoring.

Then there is Movement, consisting of three choices; Flying, Acrobatic and Super-Speed. You start with whatever one you pick, and each one is pretty powerfu right out of the gate. They are throttled based on starting time… as you try to fly you take off, get going and then really get cooking along. Super-Speed really is zooming along, too. Acrobatics is some very cool bouncing/leaping/gliding/soaring just like the Bat-dude.

But each of them has a tree too, a large tree, incorporating attacks using that style of movement as well as increased speed or whatever.

You end up with, not one power set, but four, all with customizable trees, and everybody gets to have some powerful attack style. Nobody has to be the gimp just because they happen to like healing.

Now, when you do choose these abilities, and your costumes, you might be taken aback by what seems like very limited choices, and few options for customization.

One thing that is a little advanced is choosing a color pallette.

When it comes time to getting your gear customized, you have to set up a three color ‘palette’ using sliders and intensity gauges. It’s not bad, but when you want to have three colors work well together in nice harmony, with main colors and accents, it can be tricky.

Fortunately, one thing that is available are default templates.

When you make a character, you can choose ‘Custom’, or ‘Inpired by’.

There are lots of heros and villains that you can scroll through as inspirations, and for each one, there is a costume, color palette, combat style, power set and movement type already pre-chosen for you to get you started.

Now, me, I didn’t want to pick any of them. I really liked the starting palettes of some, or maybe the basic choices of inspired costume (like Catwoman’s for a bad guy), but I didn’t like all the power choices picked for me.

Fortunately, you can choose an ‘Inspired by’ template, and then hit ‘Back’ to return to the “Custom/Inspired by” choice, and when you select Custom, all the costime and color choices are kept… you just get to pick powers and attitude and all that, and then have a pre-selected costume to modify, instead of a blank canvas to start from scratch.

It helps get started, while still feel like you’re using your own creativity and making your own choices.

Now, about those choices… as I said, you might be surprised at how few your choices seem to be. Whether costume pieces or weapons, it seems slim. Two hander style? You get a big old hammer and like it!

But there is a reason for that… you pick up gear along the way!

That’s right, there are loot drops. Costume pieces that you pick up, and when you equip them, they have stats (like extra armor), and automatically adapt to your chosen palette.

That would be another tip from me to you, my friend. If your chosen costume only utilizes two of the three palette colors, as som do, make darn sure you like that third palette choice as well, because some of the loot drops you get might use it. Purple with ice blue and yellow might just clash a bit.

Another tip along the same lines; don’t spend 5 years trying to get the absolute perfect costume design out of the choices available, because you’ll find yourself changing pieces up as you go. Be more careful concerning your color choices, they’ll do more to set your theme.

Finally… once you actually get it started, I really like how you feel powerful, right at the beginning. Your moves are limited, but you can fight effectively, your movement is mighty darn fast when you’d like it to be, and they give you a few levels worth of experience so you can get points in powers as you go.

It’s darn strange, and I still haven’t quite landed on a character that has totally won me over, but I’m liking what I’m seeing.

With WoW, there are at times that sense that, if you can just make it to level 20, THEN you’ll get ability x that’ll make you feel badass. Or if you get to 40. Or 60. Or whatever. Just a little more playing and you’ll feel that you’re kicking tail and chewing bubblegum.

I think it says a lot that you can leap into DC Universe and, at level 1, feel like you’re a life taker (or saver) and heart breaker.

Into the Wilderness!

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft almost exclusively for a very long time now.

I know the game, in many ways I love the game, and the familiarity breeds a feeling of comfort. I know it’s ways so intimately that there is very little mystery left in the game for me.

It’s a great game, but when the mystery is gone… well, you might find yourself looking wistfully at other games, wondering what they might have new to offer.

Maybe that’s why my relationship with Cassie is still so strong… I never know what she’s gonna hit me with next. Her mystery (and awesomeness) have endless depths. Plus, she has great graphics. 🙂

The Cataclysm expansion has been out for about a month now, and I find myself… well, kinda bored.

Even with pacing myself, and switching things up, and going back on alts in different zones and doing professions and all the various things the game has to offer… well, levels 80 to 85 are short. I’m sorry, there it is.

Level 1 to 60 is unparalled excitement and awesomesauce, but once you hit 60, it’s even worse than hitting a wall with your muzzle. I’ve done the exact same zones in Burning Crusade and Wrath far, far too many times over the years to feel any excitement there whatsoever.

So, I’ve hit a plateau where the game is still fun, and I’m really loving all the improvements and fun things to do… but the mystery is mostly gone, and I’ve been receptive to bringing a little suspense back into my nightlife.

In a moment of weakness, my wandering eye alighted on a sexy game in hot pants scrolling by, I saw one gameplay video too many, and I gave in to temptation.

I bought a new MMO game. I paid money for it, which implies a certain level of “now I have to play it to make sure I get some value”.

I’ll admit it, I was weak.

I’ve flirted with other MMOs before, but only on a trial basis. I’d purchased City of Heroes and played it, but I gave that up when WoW came along. I’ve gone out on a few dates with other games, but nothing ever really clicked before.

I even tried Champions as a trial, the newer offering of the superhero themed game.

It didn’t grab me.

But then she came along… DC Universe.

It was just so shiny!

It was superheroes, which I just can’t seem to resist as a concept, but also a tantalyzing promise of storylines and quests interacting with the major heroes and villains of the DC world.

Part of what drew me in, I’ll admit, is how I think of DC these days.

When I think of DC, I think specifically of the writing of Grant Morrison on Justice League of America, Flash and most recently Batman. I think of Geoff Johns and his runs on the Flash and Green Lantern, and the older Teen Titans work.

The trailer for the game that sets the theme of the MMO storyline felt right in line with that epic scope. I wanted to take part in it.

So, last night I basically impulse bought DC Universe.

Don’t get me wrong, I did read everything I could about it first. I’ve been following the articles written about it on Massively, I’ve watched some of the developer videos, I read some first hand impressions. I looked at gameplay videos.

It all looked pretty good. I’ll grant you, the thematic armors towards end game seemed kinda goofy, but I can roll with it for a brand new story.

When I purchased DC Universe, I decided to do so through Steam, for no other reason than to support direct digital downloads of games. I could have driven out to Best Buy, but hey… Steam rocks.

The downside of buying a huge game through digital download, of course, is that you might as well pack a lunch and bring a book, you’re going to be chilling out for a while. 

Four hours after purchasing the game, the download was complete, the SOE account was made, all the final ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s were crossed. I was ready to begin.

Cassie has been dubious about this entire enterprise, and with very good reason.

Quests, setting, all of that aside, it’s not a WoW clone. It’s what is getting called a ‘button masher’, an MMO in fighting game format. It’s designed to be friendly with a Playstation 3 controller, and so it’s less about careful positioning and range, lots of abilities and macros, and far more about pressing button sequences to build up complex combos. You can lock onto your target so when you’re furiously pressing buttons, you don’t have to worry about positioning. That kind of thing.

It’s more of a twitch gaming and combo sequence game at heart.

That may scare some people, but I for one have no problem learning combos. I’m sure if you sat me in front of Mortal Kombat, Skorpion would be tossing a harpoon and yelling ‘Get over here!’ in no time.

I did create a few characters last night, very briefly. I did play a little bit, enough to get one character through the first intro sequence to escape from Brainiac.

I’ll probably delete that character, but I got a better idea for what I did and didn’t like for classes and stuff. I’m sure it’ll help in creating a new one that’ll last.

Since I’ve been following along with the Massively articles, I am making my characters on the Zero Hour PvE server, and if I can get a character I like going, I’m sure I’ll ask them if they have a spot for another novice hero wannabe.

So far, all I’ve got is a character name I like, and nothing else. But there is that excitement about investigating a brand new game. 

My one regret is that you just can’t try this one before you decide if you’d like to buy it. It’s new enough that they really do want those initial sales, and I suppose they feel the franchise is strong enough to entice people in on the name alone.

I guess they’ve got a point, since I bought it, right? 

Time will tell how it turns out, but for now, I’ll be having a little fun getting the beat down done!

It sure is a strange feeling,wandering off the known paths and well traveled roads of a game I know by heart, and into the wilderness of completely new experiences and shadowy, hidden adventures. I literally have no idea what the future holds in store… I don’t even know what classes can do what!

A brave new adventure indeed. And not a little scary!