Originally Published: February 27, 2011, on my StrongProtector account on GiantBomb.com

Growing up, I always dreamed of being a superhero. I wore a blue blanket around my neck as a cape and ran around the house vanquishing invisible enemies with what I perceived as martial arts, but that my parents probably thought might be closer to some kind of interpretive dance (I’ve always been a very uncoordinated individual). So, it makes some sense that the only MMORPGs I ever had any real interest in were the ones that let me make my own superhero.

Great MMORPGs are supposed to be able to suck you in and make you want to keep playing and building up your character and keep influencing the universe you find yourself in (and keep paying the monthly subscription fee), but I got bored with City of Heroes after a while and the same happened with Champions Online.

DC Universe Online was supposed to be different though. Over the four-plus years of development and delays we had to endure, we kept being told how it was going to change the world of MMORPGs, how it was going to be different, and how it was going to appeal more to people like me who weren’t into collecting rat pelts and beating up on smaller foes constantly in order to just level up once in the hopes of advancing past the next mission.

Well, after weeks of near non-stop research, where I sacrificed contact with the outside world, and also with my razor (see picture), I have come to this conclusion: DCU Online is easily the most fun, engrossing, and enjoyable superhero MMORPG I’ve ever played. But after playing it non-stop for a month, I don’t see any reason to extend my subscription beyond the free 30 days the game comes with.

The game opens with Brainiac putting into motion his master plan, his end game that will finally eradicate the heroes and villains who have always stood in his way and that will give him absolute control of the Earth. And he will succeed. Furious over missing the threat right under his nose and letting his obsession with Superman get the best of him, Lex Luthor from the future builds a time machine that allows him to temporarily travel back to the Justice League Watchtower before Brainiac launches his attack. Future Luthor has brought back with him Exobytes, little nanobots that Brainiac used to download the DNA and powers of Earth’s heroes and upload into his robot army for the final push of his conquest. Luthor releases these Exobytes into the atmosphere, thus creating millions of new heroes in the hopes it can change his present and our future as he is ripped back to his own time.

It is here that you can then create your own hero or villain. First, you have to choose a server offered and I normally wouldn’t even mention this, but as a comic book fan, I took a little extra joy in seeing each one named after a classic DC storyline, whether “The Killing Joke”, “Final Crisis”, “Justice” or the many others. Now, if you want to jump right into the action after this, you can choose from one of 15 hero/villain presets, but if you’re like me and want a more personal touch, then you can choose from hundreds of various combinations, with more that you can earn over the course of your playing time.

Either way, you can choose from one of six “mentor” types who will influence your safe house and mission layout. If you choose to be a hero that follows Batman, for example, you’ll face more of his villains like Scarecrow and Bane. On the other side of the coin, if you choose to be a villain that follows the Joker, you’ll face off mostly against the Bat Family.

I created one hero and one villain to start. The hero I made is a tech-ninja who sports a sweet black mage hat named Strong Protector and who is a dedicated brawler. The villain I created is a dual-pistol wielding army reject named Ray Rage. Someone is now going to use this information to probably lay out a psych profile for me. Anyway, I stuck with the more realistic hero powers, but ice, nature, fire, psychic, and dark magic abilities are all at your disposal as well when creating your own personal characters.

The instant appeal of DCU Online doesn’t lie in the fact that you can create your own hero or villain though because it’s been done before. The appeal lies in the fact that you are playing in an established universe with over 70 years of history to it. You’re jumping right into Gotham’s East End to cause havoc with the Joker for the GCPD and stop Huntress from putting pressure on your mob allies or maybe you’d rather jump into Metropolis’ Chinatown with Superman and need to stop the Hive from stealing mystical artifacts.

The concept clearly is enough to get my blood pumping, but how does the game actually stand up once you get into Metropolis, the Watchtower, or various other areas in the DC Universe? The best way to describe it would probably be a mixed bag.

The scope of the world you find yourself fighting in is absolutely massive and obviously being able to support thousands upon thousands of people online at once takes its toll on the aesthetics of the game, but that’s really no excuse for the amount of visual glitches you’ll find in DCUO. Much of the world is very slow loading and there are holes everywhere. Thank goodness there is a warp option in the menu otherwise I’d still be falling through an invisible hole that was in the middle of the Metropolis boardwalk. The graphics do look great though during the story cut scenes or the small comic style vignettes you earn after defeating every hero or villain you face.

The audio is spear-headed by tremendous voice acting from former DC Universe animation veterans like Adam Baldwin and James Marstens (Superman and Lex Luthor from Superman: Doomsday) and of course Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (Batman and the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series and countless other DC animation projects), but I was surprised at how generic the music was. It kept sounding like you’d hear the beginnings of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme in Gotham or John Williams’s Superman theme in Metropolis, and then it would just taper off. Would it have been too much to ask to bash heads to the music that many comic book fans have come to associate with their favorite heroes?

Where DC Universe Online really shines is in the simple controls and mechanics. Unlike most other MMORPGs, the action is completely responsive to your button commands like a traditional action-game instead of the random or turn-based styling that is more accustomed to this kind of game. This allows for players to have a much stronger say in what happens in a fight instead of relying on making the right choices when leveling up and hoping for the right digital role of the dice behind the scenes.

The leveling up has also been streamlined compared to most MMORPGs as you only decide on what new powers you can learn or new fighting styles to acquire. Your health, defense, attack power, speed, and other more traditional attributes increase at a fixed pace, which can be augmented via finding various types of gear from fallen foes, with the best goodies obviously being dropped by the super villains you take out.

Also, instead of having to go back and knock out a plethora of weaker enemies as you progress in order to level up, DC Universe Online successfully has eliminated the rat pelt collecting and has you level up at a much more consistent pace no matter what level you may be. You deserve a reward for bringing Doctor Psycho, Giganta, Harley Quinn, or any of the other countless villains in the DCU to justice no matter what your level is so whether you’re Level 5 or Level 25, you’re going up a level if you beat a villain.

The big problem right now with DC Universe Online is that you can actually get through most of everything you can do in the game in the free month that you get with it. Sure, you could stick around to test your mettle against other created characters in the small or large scale PvP Raid and Arena instances or join up in Legends mode and play as your favorite hero and villains in some classic goal oriented multiplayer, but there isn’t enough for you to buy a monthly subscription until the level cap is increased and some new villains and missions are added. Of course, you could just try out other mentors and powers for the main game as well and create a small army of characters if you really fall head over heels for this game.

When all is said and done, DC Universe Online is a solid, but not spectacular MMORPG unless you really love the DC Universe and their characters, like myself. If so, then this game is definitely worth a purchase, just make sure not to start your free 30 days until you know you can get some solid gaming time in, because even the most diehard of DC fans will probably be ready to hang up their cape after a month.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 7.0: In it’s defense, you’re going to have a lot of visual glitches in a world the size of what DC Universe is set in. A big knock against it though is this game has been in development for nearly five years when it was finally released so I was pretty ticked when I fell through the middle of Metropolis’ boardwalk for what seemed like forever and I have to SOE out on it.

Audio: 7.0: I loved the voice actors featured in the game and the SFX are something you would expect in any comic book game, but you couldn’t get the rights from Warner Bros. for some licensed music? I want the Danny Elfman theme for a Batman protégé character damnit!

Plot/Plot Development: 10.0: Great original comic book plot that fits perfectly into the DC Universe and just like many of the comics the game is based off of, if done properly, it will never truly end, but continue to evolve along with the game’s community.

Gameplay: 8.0: A bevy of super powers available to you early on and an easy leveling up system that didn’t have you running around collecting rat pelts was a nice change to your standard MMORPG. Despite this, much like the graphics, there were a lot of glitches and slow response times to your command inputs due to lag and it became irritating at times.

Replay Value: 7.0: An engaging and original comic book plot that will always change and evolve is a tremendous concept, but I will never understand the willingness to pay a $15 monthly charge for any video game that costs $60 to begin with. Unless this all you plan on playing for a good long while, you can probably get your entire superhero fix in the free month that comes with the game.

Overall (not an average): 7.5: As much good as there is in this game, there are still a lot of problems that I’m sure will be fixed over time, but as it is now keeps it from being elite and definitely not worth a monthly subscription fee. Find a spot on the calendar when there won’t be a lot of good games coming out, buy this with the free month, and then be done with it until it gets some sweet expansion pack.

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