DC Universe Online review
Setting the land-speed record for going from a subscription to a free-to-play MMO isn’t something to hold against DC Universe Online. It’s a good game, if not a great one. It’s got some of the best MMO combat around, well-designed missions, and what seems at first glance like a ton of content that makes great use of its comic-book universe. However much you enjoy City of Heroes, or even Champions Online (hey, it’s possible), it’s only here that you get to officially tag along with Batman or beat up cops with Harley Quinn until she likes you enough to let you wear her hat. And who could say no to that?
While DCUO’s style certainly didn’t appeal to everyone, its big problem on release was that the month provided in the box turned out to be more than enough time to hit max level and see everything you wanted to. After that, why keep paying a subscription for more? It’s no wonder that Gotham and Metropolis became ghost towns, especially with the lack of major updates since release.
As a free game though, DCUO more than deserves a second chance. For starters, when Sony say ‘free’, they mean it. In a store that stocks such things as a bouncy ball with Batman’s logo on it (for growly trips to the beach) and a Superman hoodie, the only real content pack worth considering is a $10 pack of Green Lantern/Sinestro Corps-themed Light powers. Without paying, you will face a number of free-player restrictions, including limited in-game cash and a lack of inventory space, plus the increasingly standard ‘only monthly subscribers can create guilds’, but none of these will stop you creating your choice of hero or villain and blazing through the scripted content like the vision of awesomeness you are.
However you play, you’ll never mistake DC Universe Online for an all-out action game, but it does get closer to that goal than any other MMO to date. Brawls are fast, furious, and above all, kinetic, with enemies going flying, heavy objects joining them in the air, and a massive range of attacks that mix up weapons, powers and fancy gadgets as grappling hooks based on your choice of skills and mentor. Acrobatics is particularly good fun, letting you fly around the city, grapple up buildings and mock the poor non-acrobatic suckers who thought Flight or Super Speed sounded more entertaining.
All this good stuff does unfortunately remain wrapped up in clumsy controls designed primarily for the PlayStation 3, along with the worst chat interface ever inflicted on the genre, but still manages to be satisfying – especially against iconic characters. They’re all Saturday morning cartoon versions of themselves rather than anything gritty or grounded like in Arkham City, but make up for that with plenty of gimmicks, like having you face all the Teen Titans at once, or defeating two generations of The Flash with careful use of a magic devolution ray. As bland as most of the street-sweeping quests are, DC Universe Online more than makes up for them when you head into a cool instanced dungeon.
The big problem, however, is exactly the same as it was at launch. MMO fans love to claim that the endgame is the ‘real’ game – but here, almost all of the best moments are to be found on the way up. At Level 30, a swathe of stuff does open up, but it's mostly uninteresting repeated raids, daily quests and other disposable content, and the carrot of earning new armour suits doesn't work here as well as in other MMOs. Yes, you can absorb their powers without taking their visual look, but either way you're sacrificing part of what should make hitting the endgame content satisfying - your individuality, or knowing everyone else can see the physical proof of how hard you rock.
As for the rest of the world, there's no real good vs evil struggle, no exciting world events worth sinking your teeth into... nothing likely to hold your attention when the appeal of the world and characters fades away. The closest it gets are a couple of regular open-world games like Ring War, which isn't close to fun enough to keep you coming back when you've run out of new stuff to smash through.
For the original game, that was a killer. For free, it’s more of a low-level thug. DC Universe Online’s simplicity, focus on action, and new F2P approach all makes it perfect for casual play and dipping in as and when new content is released. It’s far from the best MMO around, but you won’t find many with more personality, or better solo-friendly content if you'd rather not team up and play nice.
A flawed but likeable MMO you can get away with playing without paying, or risking an addiction.