As a boy my paper route money went to comic books, stories of people coming to terms with their strange powers and their place in the world. With D.C. Universe Online, I now take that journey for myself.
Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.
I am a complete novice at massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Fahey is normally our man on the subject. But as D.C. Universe Online is a rarity - the console-based MMO - many will experience the genre for the first time with it on the PlayStation 3. I will be one of them, and that journey will be a part of Kotaku's review of the game.
Having never done an MMO log before, I'm going to begin with a summary of my first experiences in D.C. Universe Online, figuring that a lot of what I consider profound early on might be made moot by later experience. In subsequent weeks I'll go through my experiences in a more journaled format.
What I Played
D.C. Universe Online may intrigue some because of how, as a complex MMO, it will be handled using the tools of a traditional console. For me, anything is going to be new, but everything here was undertaken with a standard PS3 DualShock controller - no USB keyboard or other peripherals.
Powers and talents are therefore mapped to the face and R1/L1 buttons with the L2/R2 buttons as modifiers. L2 activates one of four powers out of the left side of your "tray" in the heads up display; R2 equips items such as health out of the right four slots of the tray. The D-pad is used for chat, gestures and canned interaction (lacking a chatpad this week, I kept quiet, or bowed and waved to folks).
I focused my first two days of gameplay (Monday and Tuesday) on indvidual experiences, developing additional powers and understanding what I could do, what I couldn't do, and what was inadvisible in this world. More complex, cooperative engagements such as group raids would come later, I decided, after I'd built a methodology for the combat system and a set of attributes and powers supporting it.
As of the time of writing, I've finished more than 30 missions, solo completing two quests (if the tutorial counts, three) plus several side missions that were built to introduce players to Metropolis. I'm a level 10 metahuman, with a smirk and a compound bow. I run like lightning and burn like fire. Name's Ballisto.
How It Went
My original name was Lawn Dart. About six levels in, I learned one of the hard truths about MMO character creation - pick a name you can live with. I slapped "Lawn Dart" on my Flash/Green Arrow hybrid ("not Lawn Dart Lad?" asked McWhertor) expecting to take an ironic tour of duty for truth, justice, and cookouts. Instead I took a real pride in what my hero was doing, and elected to just start all over, redoing the first quest in the process. You can't rename a character, but there seemed to be no restriction on creating more than one.
The quick rundown: as Ballisto, I'm a hero (players may choose to be villains). My means of travel is lightning speed (flight and acrobatics are the others.) Fire is my power type (the others are ice, gadgets, mental, sorcery and nature) and I'm a metahuman, which means someone whose power comes from a mutation or alteration. Other types are tech (getting their powers from gadgets) or magic (mystical beings).
The tutorial stage, which many of you have played thanks to the game's pre-release beta, introduces you to the combat system of an action MMO. I don't think it can be failed, but I didn't try to, either. Superman and I cleaned out a space station crawling with Brainiac's mechanized trashcans, and then it was on to Earth.
It wasn't apparent to me in what order I should be doing things, so I just jumped right into action after being introduced to the police station, a base of operations where everyone trades in loot, picks up missions and shows off for the other players. For herose, the first quest - Gorilla Grodd's assault on the Metropolis boardwalk and downtown financial sector - comprises a meaty 10-plus missions, taking me to level 6 by its conclusion.
D.C. Universe Online points out that its progression is built on the completion of missions, not leveling, meant to reduce grind. I still found that the missions in the Grodd quest and the Queen Bee quest following it had their own types of grind - go here, kill this many bad guys, smash this many assets.
At peak hours in the early missions, you would be competing with many other players trying to bag the same 10 Gorilla Lieutenants or Royal Bees or whatever. There's usually a race to the unique character type you need to kill and then a fury of button-mashing, hoping to bring him down. I wasn't sure how someone got credit for a kill, whether it was landing the last punch or what.Monday evening I hit some pretty nasty lag and decided to come back later. Tuesday at the same time the issues were gone.
At the end of the Grodd quest I met the Flash, a treasured boyhood hero. All of the D.C. Universe characters I've encountered are well voiced, but Flash especially so. I left that mission looking forward to more. In the Queen Bee quest's final interior stage I learned that I could tackle the objectives with a measure of stealth (or speed) rather than overcoming every guard and then activating the objective behind him.
Not so for the Queen herself, who was unusually tough on me, but I was fighting at least one level underweight. So there were a lot of "knock outs" (as opposed to deaths) which, in a boss's case, starts the battle over rather than saving your progress on your enemies as in other missions.
By the end of the second quest I hadn't pursued the easy sightseeing quests offered in the police station, which give load you up with XP toward one or two skill and power points, plus gear. I mopped those missions after beating Zazzala. It could be my lack of exposure to the genre but I didn't feel a strong sense of "You should do this now," in the game. Experienced players probably pick up the cues more, so the hands-off approach is likely a virtue.
One thing I didn't appreciate is the game's radar, which would occasionally fail to materialize waypoints in the explorations. This led to some pretty frustrating wanderings around the Watchtower, especially. The Grodd campaign likewise didn't do a good job of pointing me over to the pier, which is where I was supposed to smash some gorilla teleporters. I took care of that long after I finished the overal quest, just for laughs.
Other pastimes included two speedster races outside the police station (I assume flight/acrobatic races are available for those types), a trip to the Vault (sort of booby-prize warehouse you can visit once a day for free random gear) and a visit to the PvP Legends arena to fight as Robin against Harley Quinn. I got my ass kicked badly there.
Ballisto/Owen Meets She-Ra, Gives Her (Him?) The Creeps
The Story So Far
I'm very happy with my character, as the fast restart to give him a name he deserves should indicate. (Ballisto is identical to Lawn Dart in power makeup). The idea of creating a superhero whose powers would manifest themselves later was a little anxious for someone who spent a lot of his youth inventing super characters on rainy days.
I think in fantasy MMOs people understand the concept of acquiring power and talent, starting with very little. Superhero tales involve a character fully formed from the origin issue, with a set of integrated powers and abilities that largely fit a theme. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about starting with very little and then picking from powers that, while advantageous in the game, maybe didn't fit whatever narrative I'd crafted for myself.
Not so with Ballisto. Though I regret not being able to float around Metropolis - it really looks awesome seeing a caped being soar silently overhead - super-speed suits me more. The fire powers I've taken support my longbow attack. They're becoming second nature to me: usually fireball, followed by immolation to give a hotfoot to anyone kicking my ass. I have a health drain attack and a trick shot that calls down a volley of arrows, among other surprises. Probably the one skill I use least is block or evade. There's a lot of button pressing in action MMOs, but that's one I forget to spam or even use purposefully.
I'm very much looking forward to going back into Metropolis once I finish work tonight, and staying up late with this game. In the next week I'll seek out cooperative engagements and more PvP action, in addition to continuing the quests laid out in this expansive game. For now, I think D.C. Universe Online has satisfied something that many comic books failed to do in my youth: You have to create characters with more than cool names or powers. They must be likeable. And I like my guy a lot.