Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Our DC Universe Online Review

By Jeff Francis
DC Universe Online review

Where superheroes once conquered nefarious villains, they have now conquered popular culture. It used to be that comic book superheroes were derided as childish, and most movie and TV adaptations had that wink at the camera that just said, "Isn't this silly?" Well, that isn't the case any more. Superheroes are ruling the roost at the movies and on TV. The DC heroes have been killing it on TV with five shows currently airing, and fans are eagerly awaiting Batman vs Superman that will bring the Justice League to the big screen. There are also hit DC video games, but our focus is on the DC Universe Online mmorpg. With so much DC-themed action going on, we thought it was time to squeeze into some spandex and leap into the game's virtual world to fight some bad guys. Let's fire up the Bat-Signal as we offer up our DC Universe Online review.

DC Universe Online Watchtower

Let me begin our DCUO review by pointing out that I'm a huge comic book fan. I've been reading comics for almost forty years. I once owned a comic book and game shop for a decade, and I used to have a very massive collection of comics. I really began collecting in earnest back in the 1980s, and my company of choice was DC Comics. While I enjoyed Marvel, DC had the big guns of Batman and Superman (even though my favorite hero was actually the Question). I got pulled in during their original Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, and I was hooked. Plus, I always felt that the vast majority of DC characters chose to be superheroes because it was the right thing to do and not out of some misplaced guilt or angst. Another note concerning this DC Universe Online review is that I am not reviewing the entire game as that was beyond the scope of my playing time. This is my impression of the game at lower levels and of the core features that I paid particular attention to.

I began my quest for justice in DCUO with creating my character. The process for doing so in the free mmo is pretty streamlined as it seems that the game wants to get you into the action quickly. Players choose a basic visual appearance (with a number of customization options), a powerset, a movement power, a weapon style, morality, personality, and mentor. While the initial costume options are not as robust as some other games, there are still plenty of different variations for players to choose from. However, it doesn't really matter too much as players can pick up a ton of different costume pieces while adventuring in the game (more on that later). There are some powers that can be picked by free players, but a larger number are for subscribers or have to be purchased. Personally, I have no issue with this at all. As I've once owned my own business, I understand the powerful need to eat and pay the bills, and the same holds true for game developers. As for mentors and morality, I love that players can choose to either go the heroic route or the villainous one. A useful option for players who want a character similar to one of the big names (Superman, Green Lantern, etc.) can choose the "Inspired By" option that has the game automatically make all the character creation decisions for you based upon the hero that's inspiring you. It's also a great design decision to give players a travel power right away, in my opinion. I made a hero that uses twin pistols, has the fire powerset, and is dressed in formal clothes with a trench coat. It only took me three tries to find a superhero name that wasn't already taken!

After character creation, the game ran me through the introductory scenario where my character escaped from Brainiac's ship. Then it was off to Metropolis, home to Superman and a host of bad guys tearing up the place, like the HIVE and Gorilla Grodd. Quests follow the standard mmo routine, but the flavor of them stays extremely true to the feel of the comic book universe. One thing I really enjoyed about my quests was that I regularly got to interact with the major personalities of the DC universe. It's one thing to adventure in a world that has Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and Green Arrow, but it's something else entirely when you get to interact with them. Plus, I admit geeking out by seeing locales that I know from reading the DC comic books for so long. What comic book fan doesn't want to venture into the Watchtower or stand next to the Bat-Signal?

The meat of the game is the combat, which uses the powers and skills of the player's character. As the player levels up, they get to spend points to unlock new powers and skills. Weapon attacks are mouse-based, and the player will pick up some interesting combos as they level. Powers get slotted to the hotbar. The action in DC Universe Online (which you can play for free here) is action-based, quick, and quite fun. I did have some trouble with a few combos with my twin pistols, but that's due more to my sloth-like reflexes than the game itself. I did feel pretty badass as my guy was slinging lead, dropping bad guys by the score. Later on, the player can emphasize a specific role for his superhero (DPS, tank, etc.), but I chose to remain fully committed to DPS.

I would be remiss in this DC Universe Online review if I did not talk more about costumes. The costume is the very identity of the hero or villain. The character creation process offers up a good number of choices, but there a great deal more out in the game that are picked up as loot, quest rewards, or bought from vendors. The style system for the game is extremely well done. I wasn't happy that my guy started sporting spiked armor after picking up some nice gear, so I went into the style system to modify his appearance. Once a player picks up and equips an item, its appearance becomes part of the character's collection. A player can always change the visual look of a costume area, no matter what piece of gear they actually have equipped, by just selecting which option they wish from their collection list. This is an extremely versatile and elegant system for allowing players to create (and keep!) their own unique look.

DC Universe Online costume system

The final part of our DCUO review is the audio and visual aspect of the online rpg. The visuals of the game are simply gorgeous. The colors are extremely rich and vibrant, and the individual characters are highly detailed. The characters look heroic with bulging biceps that any bodybuilder would be envious of. As for the audio, that specific facet of the game is extremely strong. The music is suitably heroic and grand, but the best part is the voice acting. There's a ton of voice acting in the game, from Oracle walking you through your missions to your mentor offering up advice. There are quite a few famous names lending their talents to the game, and the overall level of the voice acting is superb. We have Kevin Conroy (who has voiced Batman forever!), Adam Baldwin (Superman), James Marsters (Lex Luthor), Gina Torres (Wonder Woman), and Mark Hamill (the Joker). I ran the Vault scenario just to hear Mark Hamill going to crazy town as the Joker. Overall, the strong visuals and impressive voice acting really help to immerse the player into the game.

So, what's our final verdict for our DC Universe Online review? I have to say that I really enjoyed my time in the game immensely, so I give the game a thumbs-up. The mmo does capture the feel of the DC comics, and the core features of the game are pretty strong. The combat is quick and fun, and the leveling system is easily followed. I love the costume system where you can just click to feature a specific look from the character's overall collection. To me, the thing that really got me was how true the game stayed to the lore and feel of the comics. Flying around, beating up bad guys, and getting to talk to the likes of Superman brings out the teenage comic book geek in me, and that's a good thing.


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