You would be doing yourself a huge disservice to quickly write off DC Universe Online (DCUO) as another spandex superhero game. Sure, it is that at the basis, but there are some key distinctions that set DCUO apart, making it the next evolution (or mutation) in superhero online games.

One can’t even begin to review DCUO without immediately comparing it to the other two superhero MMO games: City of Heroes and Champions Online, so let’s take a quick look at some history.

The Time Line

City of Heroes (CoH) is largely considered a successful game known for the vast number of options and character customizations available. Back when it was first released in 2004, there were numerous fundamental game components lacking and players complained about highly repetitive gameplay, but CoH has made a name for itself as the first successful superhero MMOG despite dwindling numbers.

The backstory behind Champions Online (CO) is a somewhat convoluted web that involves some of the same minds behind CoH. The result was Champions Online, a game that continues to offer vast character choice options, but is highly lacking in the content department. When reviewed back in beta by yours truly, the game played much like a console game, and will soon go free-to-play to combat the lack of subscribers and draw in previous players to showcase recent content additions.

This brings us to Sony’s DC Universe Online. In CoH and CO, you were the hero or the villain, a central part of the plot. Both games stayed away from actual comic book characters, most likely due to licensing restrictions, and tried to build their own comic book heroes and villains. DC Universe Online, as can be deduced by the name alone, took a different route. This time around, we are creating a new superhero or villain in the world that Bats and Sups built. Even your mother knows who these two heroes are with a broad appeal that cannot be denied. Welcome back to Metropolis and Gotham City.


Our story starts with a pretty amazing cut scene that includes all of your favorite heroes and villains from the DC Universe. In this time line, Lex Luthor has finally defeated Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. As his plan unfolds and he finally brings Superman to his knees, Brainiac launches a full out space assault on the Earth. With all of the world’s greatest heroes gone, Lex and the remaining villains were helpless to stop him. Repentant of his grievous error, a mildly-reformed Lex devises a plan to steal Brainiac’s nanobytes and travel back in time to create superheroes and villains out of ordinary people. It is now up to the DC heroes and villains of our time to train these new superheroes to one day defend Earth from Brainiac’s impending invasion.

The entire story is a time paradox, but sets the stage and gives us a reason for so many heroes and villains running around. In DCUO, you are not Batman any more than you were in CoH or Champions Online, but he can be your mentor, which means you will complete quests and learn moves from the cape crusader himself. Likewise, other mentors exist for both heroes and villains such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Circe, and Lex Luthor, depending of course on your alignment. These iconic characters will guide you throughout the DC Universe, and reward you with cool prizes and achievements that will eventually lead to an epic suit unique to that mentor. This basically allows you to play next to your favorite characters, but not have 50 Wonder Women running around in a single online world.

The PvE gameplay in DCUO is nothing new. You receive the usual “go here”, “kill X” (sorry, “knock-out X” – you don’t kill in the DC Universe!) and “collect Y” quests, but something about being sent on these quests by Batman or the Joker (or whatever mentor you select) makes it seem a little more worthwhile. Each of our six mentors has a major storyline that peaks at around level 20. At first, this may seem to give players a ton of options for leveling new characters, but my single character pretty much needed to complete them all to have enough content to level up to the current cap of 30. Each quest line comes complete with full voice acting, cut scene art from Jim Lee, and generally involves another iconic character from the DC Universe, like Nightwing or the Green Lantern. There are night clubs around the city that serve as bases of operation for our quest givers, as well as provide sanctuary from the opposing faction.

My favorite quests were the ones from Booster Gold that sends you around Metropolis and Gotham to see all the sites. Being able to visit Wayne Manor and Lex Corp, as well as other familiar landmarks, makes the game immersive and fun. I easily spent an hour flying around town, looking at the buildings and wondering what was just over the skyline.

One of the more frustrating things about DCUO are the controls. The game was pretty much created with the PS3 controller in mind, and keyboard/mouse players are stuck navigating a User Interface (UI) created for a limited number of buttons. Recent patches on the live server since release have addressed some of the general sluggishness that exists within the UI, but the generally hard to navigate menu system is still in place. For this reason, I recommend DCUO is played with a controller. Unfortunately this means many silent encounters with other players, and a less immersive game world as a result. Likewise, simple things like interacting with an object on the ground can really be frustrating because the controls make it hard for your character to face the proper way. If you can get used to timing your button presses as your character takes three steps past the object you were trying to aim for, this problem pretty much disappears, but really, it shouldn’t be required, and for some people, they never seem to get used to it. Another popular complaint is the built-in quest tracker. You can only have one active quest at a given time, which makes it really hard to complete quests in a non-linear fashion.


The graphics in DCUO running at 1920×1200 at the full “Ultra” settings run pretty well, and the city scape looks amazing. In Metropolis, I was seeing a solid 30-35 frame-per-second, while in Gotham, my frame rates dropped a little due to heavy fog effects. I was able to compensate by turning down shadow effects while travelling around town. Players start off by selecting a travel power: Flying, Acrobatics, and Super Speed. I naturally selected Flying as I tend to get frustrated acrobatic characters that are hard to control. There is nothing really special about flying that sets it apart from our other superhero MMOGs, but it is a cool way to travel nonetheless. You get speed flying once you hit level 10, which really makes zooming around town a blast. The draw distance and lighting effects are done pretty well, while still maintaining the comic look and feel.


If you were itching to play as your favorite superhero or villain though, don’t worry, that is where PvP comes in. In DCUO, you unlock one of eight characters through completing quests and achievements, which then allows you to compete in a small face-off against other players. For heroes, the first iconic character available is Robin. Over on the villain side, it is Harley Quinn. Early PvP matches involve a couple of Robins fighting a couple of Harleys, complete with the usual super moves and grab bag of tricks. As players progress through the matches, additional fighters unlock, allowing for a more diverse battlefield.

So to keep PvP somewhat balanced in DCUO, Sony shifts you away from playing your actual character. This allows the developers to be less concerned with PvP balance while creating PvE content, where every fireball and every bullet doesn’t have to be perfectly tuned. It is definitely a different approach to tackle an issue that Champions Online never could quite address. The more customization you allow in your game, the harder it is to make sure everything is useful and unique, but not overpowering. Outdoor PvP in DCUO is your typical heroes verses villains, and is pretty unbalanced. Battles are generally over in a matter of seconds and PvP seems more an after-thought. Players also have the option of playing “battleground” style PvP games like capture-the-flag with their heroes, but many balancing issues exist and fights are typically over before they begin. Still, it can still be fun to see what your hero can do!


If PvP isn’t your thing, DCUO has all the usual “endgame” content that you would expect. They have raids in the form of alerts, as well as duos, which let you fight side-by-side through dungeon content with a friend. The lower level alerts are really nothing more than instanced public quests, where everyone just kinda flies around and kills things by themselves until 50 mutants are defeated or 25 mutagens are collected. Higher level content requires the players to actually play the roles of tank/dps/healer in order to succeed. This was highly frustrating in the beta test due to players not even knowing that they must change roles (think stances) to get the proper bonuses. Due to the solo friendliness of the game, they don’t need to know about this either until level 30. There is also an outdoor PvP area that has heroes and villians racing each other to collect nanobytes around the streets. Lastly, there are epic world bosses roaming around the city that need defeating. Pretty much your typically MMO endgame fare.

Differentiating Factors

But what sets DCUO apart from the other two superhero games? Well, for one it is the most kinetic of pretty much any MMOG on the market. When you are beating the crap out of the bad guy, you can almost see the WHAM and POW bubbles from the old batman tv show. Besides that, the game is just plain fun. While you are more or less on rails while completing quests, much like many of the modern day MMOGs, the plot unfolds like a comic book and is very entertaining for fans the first time through. A majority of the storyline takes place in the city, although a few of the quests do take you on missions inside instances. These are nothing like the randomly generated missions from CoH. These are static dungeons with multi-phase objectives that can be completed by a solo player. For those of you that like solo dungeons and content that still means something, these are for you! Not to mention you are rewarded with cut-scenes done by Jim Lee. Anyone who follows comics should know that household name!

DCUO is severely limited compared to its predecessors when it comes to player customization both in looks and abilities. Where in CoH and CO, you could basically create the perfect representation of your spandex self, in DCUO, you are limited by how you can start, and instead are forced to collect costume pieces while leveling up. If you are the type of person that must complete every achievement and collect every collectable in a game, then this may appeal to you, for everyone else, we are just tired that there are so many Spawn lookalikes running around in the starter areas. Likewise, Sony has placed mini-quests and challenges throughout the map, included mini-bosses for groups of players to collect bounties on. So if you are looking for something to do, it is there, but one can only have so much fun trying to fly through a bunch of rings to beat a clock. It is the replayability that is going to be a problem for most people here.

Should you try it?

So if you are looking for a new superhero game that can fill in the gaps that CoH and CO left in your heart, then DCUO is the next evolution of the sub-genre and the best of the three, in my opinion. It is mostly complete and gives you all the usual MMO fare from auction houses to collectables, from PvP arenas to PvE raids. Your biggest problem is that a dedicated player can easily hit the level cap of 30 in about a week, and complete a fair share of the game in less than a month. This doesn’t speak well for a monthly subscription game that measures success in the form of monthly reoccurring revenue. On the other hand, paying $50 for a month’s worth of fun entertainment is not really expensive at all considering what else that $50 could be spent on. If you are still on the fence though, or otherwise immersed in another game at this time, I would recommend waiting until DCUO is on sale, perhaps on Steam, and the picking it up to try out. You will know within that first month whether you wish to renew, and I promise you the first play through is more entertaining than leveling another Death Knight. Besides, who doesn’t like Batman and Superman, and Mark Hamill’s voice over rendition of the Joker is spot on!