After three weeks of fighting crime, I decided to fight for crime in D.C. Universe Online, starting anew as a villain under the tutelage of one Lex Luthor.
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.
The journey so far has been entirely through the persona of a hero character. This past week I elected to start a new villain character on a PvP server to see what that would entail, realizing it would mean likely mean getting my ass kicked.
For my villain, I started by trying to create a nemesis for my hero, Ballisto, the speeding archer. A ballista's a siege weapon, so I went with its metaphorical opposite, in this case a large fortress wall. Thus, I got Lithus. I didn't want to fool with fancy-schmancy costume choices, so the guy looks more or less like gray Hulk meets the Thing, with glowing yellow eyes. For his powers I took the obvious contrast to his physicality and chose the mental set, specifically telekinesis.
My objective was to take Lithus through the first couple missions and see how the game indulged your villainous urges. I'm on The Killing Joke server, which is PvP, so along the way I decided to pick a few fights and see what kind of trouble I could start.
Straight away I understood that the red diamonds on your mini-map - which are user-controlled adversaries - are to be given a very wide berth when you are low-level. You can sometimes spot a few wiseguys hanging around the scenes of some of the introductory battles, such as at Metropolis University.
When I beat a mission I typically scale to the top of a large building to count XP, equip loot, and laugh maniacally. I didn't get the level or license plate of the truck that ran over me atop Metropolis University's belltower. It happened so fast I couldn't even vidcap it. I'm used to seeing people practice their newfound combos and powers on PvE servers and so I fired off a few of my own, forgetting that might be an invitation enough to do battle. His first hit knocked 313 health from me. My first strike took away about 12 of his. I chickened out and jumped clear, about 20 stories down.
Those who've seen my earlier videos know I have a tendency to wade into a fight without much regard for blocking and defense. The button-mashing nature of this action RPG indulges this, I think. Lithus is big and mean-looking and made of rocks but in the end, he's just a telekinetic with brawling attacks.
So while it looked awesome raising people into the air and seeing them get cleaned out by a flying car or barrel, going toe-to-toe even with the Science Police's handguns proved unwise. I was knocked out in every stage of my missions, partly because I was playing them in a rush. But for those who haven't yet played as a telekinetic, give the mental powers a try. I found myself lapsing into the muscle memory of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, partly out of wishful thinking.
As a villain, you play through a different mission storyline - answering to Lex Luthor in Metropolis; the Joker in Gotham, and Circe for the mystical continuity (It's Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as a hero). But the experience is roughly analagous to the heroes'. Your base of operations is a nightclub hideout, not a police station; the super-base is the Hall of Doom on the sea floor, not the Watchtower orbiting Earth. In the PvP arenas, you take the opposing villain, in this case I got clobbered as Harley Quinn whereas I had gotten clobbered as Robin earlier.
There are some commonalities however; you oppose Queen Bee early in your villain's story, the same as a heroic storyline. Brainiac, being the common enemy established in the game's overall narrative, also must be stopped.
In all, it's mostly a swap of moralities, mentors, and voice guides (Calculator is snarking in your ear, instead of Oracle's earnest advice.) The NPC voice acting, excepting the major characters, remains pretty bad, so there's no real investment in doing evil as opposed to good. Fleeing civilians are un-punchable. You can't just roam the streets tearing things up unless it's another player you randomly encounter.
At least the game puts you up against Power Girl - and boy who wouldn't want to be, amirite - in your first set of errands for Luthor. He wants you to get a sample of her DNA; given her, ahem, charms, and the campus setting, this sounded a little like a super-powered panty raid. The Science Police Sigmas whacked me pretty good in the run-up to the showdown with Power Girl, but she was unable to finish the job. Here's a look at how the final fight went down.
This isn't just the first four weeks I've spent with this MMO; it's the first four weeks I've spent with any MMO, getting a strong feel for the fundamentals of successful play in the genre. It took me a lot of trial-and-error though. Restarting as a villain, I was more aware of the cues and protocol and breezed through my early progression in a more orderly and linear manner. So I suppose that I'm learning something.
Next week I'll deliver the full review based on my experiences in D.C. Universe Online. I'll confess to feeling like there is a very large plateau within this game on the way to the all-important level 30, when raids, duo team-ups and multiplayer alerts unlock on the hard setting. There's just a ton of repetition that works against your momentum and the inevitable re-spec that takes your super character away from your original concept of him or her.
The game still has its moments, and still at bottom feeds the addictive urge to push out one more mission and hit the next level before the clock strikes 2 a.m. For those whose gaming experience, like mine, is almost entirely through a console, D.C. Universe Online speaks well of the genre and leaves me with a feeling I've been missing out on something until this came along.