I'm Batman, and you are too.
Quick Pros and Cons:+ Fun, action oriented combat with a good combo system and nice role/power interactions. Different power trees play differently enough to roles to make them worthwhile.
+ Varied missions, interesting story arcs, and well designed dungeons/instances/encounters. A nice queue/matchmaking system for getting Alerts together.
+ Huge, impressive cities that have a lot of cool and unique areas to them, while still looking like actual cities. Lots of exploration and investigation points to seek out.
+ Engaging, fairly balanced PvP. Nice ideas with Legends PvP, and fun gametypes in Arena PvP. Level balancing is done well, level 30s don't feel like unbeatable gods to a small group of lower levels.
+ Adding MMO style gear to the superhero MMO formula and making it feel right, not undoing your initial creation, but improving it. If you don't like the look of the gear, you can also keep your default style, while retaining the gear's itemization.
+ Feats making badge/achievement systems worthwhile by giving you actual skill points to use on your character after completing certain amounts.
- The UI is awful and unresponsive at times. Completed quests can get buried under new ones for different areas or PvP/Alert/Bounty missions. The chat system needs a complete overhaul.
- Character creation and initial customization could use more. More parts, more pieces, more powers, more weapons. Lacking teleportation as a movement mode is nice for PvP balance, but frustrating for some character concepts.
- Slow to start up, poor tutorial area fits with story, but not with the feel of the rest of the game. Lots of things left unexplained in general, lots of experimentation needed.
Character CreationCharacter Creation is the second most disappointing part of the game, and it's the first thing you see. It sounds like a weird complaint for an MMO, but for a superhero MMO, there is much better out there. Even the horribly god-awful Champions Online blew you away with it's deep customization right out of the gate, and City of Heroes has been solid and building on that base for years. Limiting you to a 3 color palette, and just having a tiny pool of cool and different pieces, means you're going to look like a mess, or a generic Hero person. There ARE a lot of cool skin options, but I'm not into furry shit and I don't want to be some kind of robot or demon or plant lady, so my options are limited.
As far as weapon sets go, there is a good amount to choose from. With Archery, Brawling, Dual Pistols, Dual Wield, Hand Blasting, Martial Arts, One Handed, Rifle, Staff, and Two Handed styles available, you are likely to find something you want to use. The only omissions I can think of off the top of my head are Whips and Shields. Powers on the other hand, offer a nice enough variety with Ice, Fire, Gadgets, Mental, Nature, and Sorcery, but there simply aren't that many to choose from, and they might not fit with everyone's concept. More powers down the line, like Electricity, would be nice, but it would also be acceptable to add more role trees to existing power sets. Movement modes are also pretty minimal at creation, with only Super Speed, Acrobatics, and Flight. Though they open up later on to be a more unique part of your character, it would be nice to see some more options like Teleportation and Leaping.
If you're not as picky as me, or haven't played these other superhero MMOs, you will probably appreciate the "Inspired By" options, where the game will happily shit you out your own little Batman, with almost no work required to get into the game and be that Batman. This will get you a look, powers, weapon set, and mentor all pre-set to look like whatever DC Universe Hero or Villain you choose. You can still modify them to your liking before you set out into the tutorial, if you want some control without having to make something brand new from scratch, or want a different weapon set or something.
TutorialThe tutorial for the game is long and unskippable, and poorly represents what the game is once you get outside. The weird techy alien vibe sets a weird tone, and while the tutorial explains the basics of movement, combat, leveling, and gear, it leaves out a lot about styles, roles, grouping, quests, and a lot more that you just have to experiment and find out on your own, or ask the questionably friendly and helpful other players in /shout about once you get out of the tutorial.
Combat SystemProbably the main attraction in DCUO is the combat. It's fast paced and action oriented, which is rarely done and done well in MMOs, because they still try to be MMOs about it at their core. DCUO plays more like a superhero themed Dynasty Warriors game than World of Warcraft, but it still manages to have a depth and fun to it lacking in those games, while still fitting the feel of the world. This is mostly due to on top of that layer of the combat, you also have a bar full of Powers to use, and there is a great targeting system in place for both.
Not to get too in depth comparative, but one of the main problems I have with Dynasty Warriors type action games is they throw a billion guys at you, and then you just kind of wildly flail at them with combos until they are dead, with very little control over who you hit, and not much ability to hit more than a few at a time. By giving you a cursor to highlight specific enemies or lock onto them if you want, this greatly helps the feel of the combo based fighting, since your attacks feel more directed.
Also the combos exist for reasons beyond getting you to right click instead of left click sometimes, with lunge attacks, stuns, knockdowns, lifts, and area attacks added onto them, as well as giving them interrupt or block breaker attributes and bonus damage. See an enemy charging up for a big attack? Hit them with an interrupt combo. Want to pacify a bigger target while taking down fodder? Use a stun combo on them.
Powers are a whole different bag of tricks. Mapped to your 1-6 keys, these are activated abilities with power (mana/energy) costs and cooldowns associated with them, that you might be familiar with from other MMOs. Depending on your power set, you will play a different role on a team, and depending on what role you use, your powers will behave differently. There are two trees to pick from in each power set, such as Illusions and Telekinesis in the Mental power set. Illusions are more focused on enemy debuffs, while Telekinesis is more focused on direct damage, and both do decent amounts of crowd control. No matter what tree you pick from though, you have two roles, Damage, the basic role everyone starts in, and a specialized role that unlocks at level 10.
On top of role specific attributes like Defense role gaining Defense and Toughness from using powers, and Control role getting increased Dominance and Vitalization, each individual power has modifiers for each role. So in Damage role it might buff your damage for 10 seconds after you use it, but in Control role it will lower the enemy's Defense.
Movement modes may be limited to 3 base options, but sort of expand once you level up. They use the same skill points that Weapon sets do, and can purchase abilities to improve their movement, like grapple lines and rocket assisted glides as Acrobatics, or speed force (think turbo boost) and a double jump while moving forward in super speed. Movement sets also have their own special attacks and abilities, both active and passive, that make the movement mode seem like more a part of your character than just a means of conveyance. Your acrobatic Villain doesn't just use a grapple line to scale buildings or grapple to walls quickly, he can also use it to pull enemies towards him, while a super speedster Hero might want to be able to trap enemies in a speed vortex.
Environments and QuestingThe city environments in DCUO of Metropolis and Gotham are both huge, and impressive. They pack a lot of personality and variety while also feeling like a real city would feel. There aren't just blocks of identical buildings with some landmarks, but each area has it's own distinct look and feel, and you never quite feel lost. Everything is well waypointed on your map, showing you where enemies and objectives are, highlighting them in an orange area and showing their hight by using arrows. A smart move was to make Heroes and Villains share the same cities, something missing from City of Heroes forever, and with Champions Online not even having a Villain option, world PvP was impossible.
Heroes and Villains don't only share the world, they also share missions and quest locations, but have different objectives, as if to encourage them to fight over them as "real" Heroes and Villains actually would. If you're a Villain setting demons free and terrorizing civilians, you can bet player Heroes are being tasked with defeating those demons and protecting those civilians. Even instanced PvE only missions, usually found at the end of a quest line, are mirrored for each side. Where Heroes might be saving Raven from Trigon with the help of the Teen Titans, Villains will be defeating them and helping Trigon take control of her.
This design is one of the coolest parts of DCUO to me, as it makes the world feel alive, and the rivalry between the two factions real and believable, where other games have felt stilted and sterile. Past the interactions of the opposite factions, variety in tasks is also a huge point in DCUO's favor. Sure, it's still an MMO, but where some games feel like a series of kill and collect tasks, DCUO mixes things up by adding protection, escorts, and other objectives out in the world, while making the previous kill and collect portions as painless as possible. If I am grouped with a friend, and we both need 10 super-rat tails, each super-rat we kill drops at least one, and we share the counter, so you're usually done collecting before killing the minimum number, and not the other way around which is so often the case in these games.
User InterfaceTo not seem like I am heaping on praise while glossing over the games flaws, the user interface is atrocious. That's not to say it looks particularly bad, I actually enjoy the look of the menus and things, but the usability is very low. To start, the chat window is tiny, and constantly being spammed by text from mission voice-overs, with no way to filter it out, since those channels are forced onto new tabs you create, and there is no way to resize the chat window aside from pressing O to bring up the social menu.
On top of that, it's forgetful, resetting to the default /say channel every time you use a menu, or talk to an NPC, or change zones. And it's also unresponsive, requiring a full 5 seconds or so after exiting a menu before you can even chat, making checking and coordinating quests with a group a chore. On the subject of quests, the Journal can only display about 7 or 8 of them at a time, with no way to scroll down, it can sometimes be impossible to actually turn in quests you just completed and claim your reward, because you can't get down to them past your current quests for cities you aren't in, Bounties, Alert (instanced dungeon) quests, and "try our PvP arena" style queue quests.
The way you choose where to spend your power and skill points is also bad, requiring you to go at least 3 menus deep to make each choice, and then another 2 to set it up on your hotbar for powers. Say I level up and get a new power and skill point. I have to press K, choose Powers, pick one of my two trees or iconic powers, pick a power to spend my point on, back out with escape 3 times, then pick skills, choose weapon or movement, and then pick what weapon set to put my point in, and finally place my point and back out 3 or 4 more times with escape. If I picked a new power, I can then pick loadouts, pick a loadout, and then place my power on the hotbar for that role, before backing all the way back out to the game.
Being able to change your style on the go is nice, as it functions almost like a mobile character creator, with you able to re-pick your 3 palette colors, and adjust the colors of your current pieces, or change to any new style pieces you may have picked up from gear or purchased from a vendor. And the Map also works well, with teammates, quest objectives and areas, and other points of interest highlighted and able to be selected to add a waypoint for.
The Feats menu takes a while to load, and it can be hard to find some feats, feeling like you're missing some you should be seeing in a category, and it can be confusing as to what feats you have or haven't completed yet in a category until you complete a bunch and the difference becomes clear. Feats themselves are tracked reasonably well, but some areas could be better with progress bars and things. Collections and investigations are also slow, and could use some better organization, or at least be better presented to the player.
Where I'm Coming From and the Wrap UpThere are some points I didn't touch on in detail, but I feel I said enough about them in the quick pros and cons up at the top. As someone who doesn't read and has very little interest in comic books, I didn't have that love of these established characters to get me interested in the game like other people might. Yeah someone might think it's cool as shit that you Fight Zatanna alongside Eclipso, and she summons Etrigan to help her out against you, but aside from being a really cool encounter, it doesn't do much for me, because I don't know who those people are without the game telling me, or reading up on it on Comic Vine.
Despite my lack of interest in comics, I'm a six year plus player of City of Heroes/Villains/Going Rogue, and someone who was extremely disappointed by Champions Online once you got beyond character creation and into the actual game, so with my previous preferences and having been burned before on new MMOs like Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, I was skeptical that DC Universe Online would be worthwhile at all.
But now that I've had a chance to play it, DC Universe Online is probably the best merging of the superhero setting and MMO genre to date. It gets everything right in terms of gameplay and feel, while having the content at launch to not have any huge dead spots or waiting on future patches to feel like your investment was worth it. At level 22 right now, it feels like half of the game's content opens up at it's cap of level 30, like Duos and Raids, which is saying a lot considering I've mainly stuck to Gotham quests, and still have a ton of old ones in Metropolis to do, as well as Alerts, Arenas, and Legend PvP, and world PvP at the cap, there is just a whole lot to the game for a brand new MMO.