DC Universe Online's PvP gets a well-executed overhaul in the latest DLC pack

Josh Augustine

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I've always enjoyed DCUO's PvP. The complex combo, blocking, and interrupt systems for all weapon attacks make player skill paramount, and the Legends system that lets you play as pre-made iconic DC characters provides a gear-agnostic zone to duke it out on a theoretically level playing field.

But while PVEers have gotten three huge updates since the game's transition to free-to-play late last year, PvPers have been chugging on mostly the same content. Yesterday's DLC release, The Last Laugh, makes up for lost time with huge additions that dramatically improve the PvP experience and reward cycle.

PvP changes that are free for everyone

Before we get into the Last Laugh DLC content itself (which subscribers get free, but F2P players need to pay $10 to unlock ), let's take a look at the free PvP changes that came to everyone in the last two patches. Game Update 13 upped the skill ceiling by adding a Counter-Attack Immunity buff that grants complete immunity for a very short period after a successful Block Break, Interrupt, or Block Counter.

For those of you unfamiliar with those fighting-game terms, players in DCUO can block at any moment by holding the Shift key. While blocking, the player takes significantly reduced damage and counters any heavy attacks made against them. So if you see someone executing a big attack, a quick tap of the Block key at the right time will not only reduce the enemy blow, but knock them on their butt too. As the attacker, you have to be aware of when your target is blocking and use a specific attack combo or power that has the ability to break through blocks. On top of that, some powers or combos channel over a period of time, and defenders can interrupt those channeled attacks or heals with the right moves. In this environment, the Counter-Attack Immunity buff rewards players who fight smart, watch what their opponents are doing, and actively work to counter them.

And because no amount of content can make unbalanced PvP fun, Game Update 14 brought a huge balance sweep of all the iconic Legends right before this DLC pack launched. I still find myself getting beat down by a few Legends in particular, like Bane, but I suspect that my ignorance of Bane's moves is as much to blame as any balance issues. The same update also added cross-faction PvP queueing to speed up queue times, with an option for roleplayers to opt out if they simply refuse to play on the other side's team.

Me? I'll punch whoever they want for PvP tokens.

Gear + progression changes

Without this DLC pack, PvP is a fun diversion in DCUO, but the progression path and the breadth of activities simply aren't wide enough for it to be a "lifestyle" within the game. You could technically PvP all you wanted, but you really had to do other activities if you wanted to stay sane while playing the game regularly. The Last Laugh pack tacks on a lot of extra goodies to the PvP lifestyle: new quests, gear, and—of course—maps.

The quests are my favorite addition to the PvP package, giving you mini-objectives within PvP matches to keep each session feeling different. I've gotten straightforward quests to KO 30 villains in PvP, but also quests to take out specific iconic characters like Harley Quinn in Legends matches. Quests come from the other big addition to your daily PvP activities: reward boxes. Completing the daily PvP Arena or Legend will give you two reward boxes.

Boxes are great, but winning a 10-hour staring contest is its own reward.

One box will contain a piece of low-tier PvP gear and the other a consumable item. The gear will be useless for anyone already decked out in fancy PvP duds, but it's a great way for noobs to get competitive quickly. The consumables, on the other hand, will be incredibly welcome for everyone. They're the perfect mix of useful and fun to keep me using them constantly. Just some of the consumables I received are a healing barrel summon, explosive oil barrel summon, buff cola, healing cola, seeds that cause AoE freeze, an explosion with AoE knockdown, and good ol' Mark bundles to help you purchase gear more quickly.

The new tier of PvP gear (tier 4) included in this pack that you'll be working towards is modeled after the Checkmate security firm in the O.M.A.C. comic books. It looks great, but it's still as out-of-reach as ever, priced way too incredibly high, it seems, to simply to keep you playing the game. The stat difference between Tier 2 and Tier 3 PvP sets is less than seven percent, but the cost is more than doubled, with each piece of the Tier 3 set costing at least a week's worth of effort in PvP tokens. Each piece of the Tier 4 set costs a month's worth of effort.

A full set (minus weapons and trinkets) of Tier 4 gear costs 270 Marks of Strategy, and in the past week I've earned four. It feels completely out of reach as it stands. At the very least, the lower Tier items should be given at a faster rate to help motivate us PvP noobs to press onwards.

When the gear grind gets me down, I hop into Legends mode, where gear doesn't matter.

A new challenger approaches!

Robin, Harley Quinn, Joker, Two-Face, Batman, Cat Woman, Huntress, Nightwing—have you noticed the trend yet? Every playable iconic in the Legends PvP mode before this pack is a part of the Batman family. The Last Laugh DLC almost doubles the roster size by adding seven new iconics, all from the Superman and Green Lantern families. Kilowog, Power Girl, Arkillo, Jon Stewart, Bizarro, Ursa and Amon Sur all join the fight, and you get one for free with the DLC pack (via the opening quest). Unlocking the rest doesn't take too long as their Marks of Legends costs are quite reasonable.

Being a Batman fan myself, I wasn't too excited about these characters before they came out, but I've really grown to appreciate them this past week. Even if you don't like playing as the new Legends, it's refreshing to have a whole new set of enemies to face off against. Ursa has become my new nemesis, constantly flying around and punching me in the face.

Power Girl doing what Batman's wanted to do for years. (Please ignore my failure on the right side of the screen.)

Don't tell Two-Face, but Bizarro has actually become my new favorite Legend. A flyer with knockbacks and AoEs is a great change of pace. There's a sense of incredible force behind his punches that gives a similar satisfaction of the Barbarian's corpse-punting in Diablo 3. I burst into laughter the first time I KOed Robin in the Batcave with Bizarro's charge ability and his tiny, helpless body went flailing off the edge of the platform into the stalagmites below. Take that, Boy Blunder!

The voicework is as amusing as ever, with Bizarro throwing out quips like, "Bizarro kill you with kindness!" as he sends his foes packing. I was impressed by how many interactions the iconics have between each other that at least seemed to be custom-tailored to who they were fighting.

On the next page, we look at the new arena PvP maps, the Shield weapon type, and the new Duo.

New places to fight

The best new content isn't for Legends, though--it's for Arena PvP, where everyone plays as their own character. Seven new maps focus on including NPC iconics like Superman, Deadshot, and Mr. Freeze as powerful variables or direct objectives. Both sides' headquarters, the Watchtower and the Hall of Doom, are turned into multi-stage 8v8 arenas stuffed with tons of NPC heroes and villains helping you take it over. Your objectives in these maps and their related scoring system aren't explained well (I'm still not entirely sure if success on the first stage actually does anything), but having the iconics fighting alongside you adds a lot to the combat and strategy. Your attention is constantly split, almost like a MOBA, between guarding your NPCs, attacking the other teams' NPCs, and dealing with enemy players.

That doesn't mean you should attempt to jungle in an unpopulated corner of the map.

The City Safehouse maps are equally terrific, and bring an element of randomness that boosts repeatability. All four maps (two set in police stations and two in nightclubs that players frequent) are lumped into one queue and each map can have one of two different modes. In one mode, you're stealing gravity emitters that spawn all around the room. Iconics and squishy mobsters/policeman join the fray and create plenty of mayhem as a backdrop for the players' fight over the gravity emitters.

When my team got close to winning, Harley Quinn jumped on the loudspeaker and started making gravity puns. A crowd in the background groaned after every one, but she kept going. After about six attempts all met with disapproval, she finally gives up and throws away the mic. This is the sort of thing that might get old over time if it's played too often and with too little variation, but for now it adds another layer of fun to the experience.

The second mode in the safehouses has no iconics roaming free at the start. Instead, teams battle over a single force field disruptor item, which they must carry/throw to the NPCs trapped around the building. Get it to an NPC of your faction and you free them and earn a ton of points for your team. NPCs close to the disruptors spawn location are simple civilians that'll run away, but if you can manage to escort your team's disruptor-carrier to the far away NPCs, you'll free powerful iconics like Huntress or Parasite to help you fight.

Ah, pickup-group PvP: every fights while the objective sits untouched in the middle.

In both of these modes, player kills are worth almost no points, encouraging teams to play strategically and focus on objectives, rather than mindless killing in the middle.

The final arena added is The Pit: that central area in the Hall of Doom that villain players will be familiar with. The terrain is different, but the objective is straightforward. There are enemy players, and you must kill them. The first team to 20 kills wins, so it's at least over quickly if the teams aren't balanced.

Legends also got a token new map, although it's basically an identical copy of the Fortress of Solitude arena map that's been around for a while.

Hey look, I'm Captain America—I mean... The Shield?

The Shield

Let's not be coy: DCUO added shields so we could pretend to be Marvel's Captain America . And being Captain America is awesome. The weapon has some pretty fun combos that are easy to memorize. Basically, you click the left mouse button like crazy and hold the left mouse button at any time to perform a combo based on how many clicks came before it. It's definitely one of the more simple weapons to play as, but the terrific animations make it fun to watch. All of the melee hits are single-target, with lots of CC and knock-ups.

The ranged attacks are the real reason why I'm keeping my shield equipped for the long haul, though. Once again, the combo is incredibly simple: do hold-clicks on the right mouse button repeatedly. You will cycle through a series of three attacks that send your shield whirling like a boomerang in front of you, dealing AoE damage and stunning everyone caught in front of you. Best of all, each of the three attacks in the combo are block breakers. The animations are once again magnificient, letting you picture the shield bouncing off the enemies' heads before returning to you. Most importantly, it gives my healer a great way to contribute to the fight from a safe distance. I can AoE stun the enemies and break through all of their blocks from afar, allowing my up-close DPS buddies focus on unleashing maximum pain.

I haven't seen all of the appearances yet, but there seems to be a pretty healthy variety. I've been bashed in PvP by spikes, gears, lion crests, and—my personal favorite—a trash can lid.

And here's a ridiculous animation for Catwoman I found in my screenshots folder.

The other stuff

There's not a lot in this pack for PVEers, but there is one nice nugget on top of the Shield weapon type (if you're into that sort of thing): the new Duo. Shady Nightclub is the first Tier 3 Duo in the game, meaning that it gives Marks of Krypton, which are used to buy gear from the Fortress of Solitude raids. Unfortunately, that also means it comes with the same obnoxiously high Combat Rating requirement (a system that locks you out of endgame content based on the quality of your gear). You need a whopping 53 Combat rating to enter the new Duo, which means I wasn't able to test it out.

The few reports I've heard from players that have gotten to try it out so far have been fairly positive, for whatever random chat channel hearsay is worth to you.

Bottom Line

The Last Laughter DLC is a must-buy for anyone that PvPs for a significant amount of time in DCUO—its new maps are the best in the game and the Legends characters and rewards structure jump on to easily make this pack worth more than the $10 price tag. However, if you don't like PvP, you can easily skip this pack—there's not much here for you outside the new Shield weapon type.

I remind any PvP fence-sitters forget that a huge chunk of PvP is completely free to play. Download the client and give the free PvP content a shot--if you enjoy the combat system and the rulesets, you can get a ton of enjoyment out of DCUO by only picking up this DLC and ignoring the rest of the packs until you crave endgame PVE content.

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