It's never good when things come out of Tartarus. For those of you that slept through Greek mythology (that's a class, right?), Tartarus is a horrible, horrible place in the darkest corner of the Underworld where only the most foul and dangerous of monsters/Titans/gods/people are imprisoned and punished for eternity. If something comes out of there you can know it's going to be two things: incredibly powerful and terribly pissed off.
And that's right where DC Universe Online's latest DLC pack, The Battle For Earth, starts: über-villain Braniac waltzing out of the gates of Tartarus with a new arsenal of powers to obliterate mankind with.
Earth, Wind, Wat--no, cut the rest
Thankfully, the heroes and villains of the world have some new powers in their pack too, courtesy of the new playable Earth power set in the DLC. There's two things that had me really excited about this new powerset before launch. First, I was excited to try out Aftershock, the new mechanic the powerset's Seismic tree introduces that lets you cast a spell multiple times in a row before the cooldown goes into effect. The extra ability casts are usually increasingly more powerful versions of the original ability, but there are some unique effects as well.
I got my first ability with Aftershock yesterday: Upheavel, which launches a small tornado of dust that whips ahead, damaging and knocking down whoever it hits. Casting it once is pretty useless--the damage is underwhelming and the power cost is high. But with Aftershock, I can toss out four increasingly large and dangerous tornadoes that absolutely tear it up. One ability with all the Aftershocks was enough to clear most non-elite groups I faced. It's glorious and I love that it feels more involved than simply hitting the ability and moving on. Not to mention the tornadoes pick up, throw, and destroy other objects it runs into, which makes for a nice physics show.
Second, I loved the concept of a pet tank class. Earth powers let you build mini-me statues and divert damage headed towards you or your groupmates towards the little rock-people instead. It sounds like a fun mini-game to tank with, and a little more interesting than the other two tank power sets in the game, which never grabbed my interest. My new Earth powers character isn't quite high enough level to really use the tanking system yet (you can unlock your first damage-diversion ability at level 12), so I can't report on how that feels yet. I'll be leveling up my little earth stomper as quickly as I can, though, and will report back once I get in my first few alerts as a real tank.
The top-end stuff
The new power set is only one tiny part of the update. The majority of the new content is up at level 30, so I hopped over to my max-level Sorcery healer and headed out to South Gotham. It took me awhile to find Braniacs new minions roaming South Gotham (hint: they're mostly on the Eastern edge of the Old Gotham section of the city), but man are there a lot of them! I haphazardly stumbled right into a nest of tiny leaping brain bugs and within 10 seconds, I was getting gangbanged by 20+ servants of Braniac. It was insane.
I never found the new daily quests that are supposedly out there somewhere, but I did manage to join up with a roaming group of heroes battling the robots down there. There wasn't anything mind-blowing in this open world portion, but the robots are varied and have some interesting attacks. It's a fun new section of the city for new level 30s to explore and get beaten to death repeatedly, and a good challenge for geared players looking to push their skills in a 1-on-200 gauntlet.
Once I tired of being a solo badass (and the long death runs that accompanied that), I decided to queue up for the new Duos--the only max-level content in the new DLC I'm geared enough to quality for. The new Alert, South Gotham Courthouse, requires Combat Rating 53 and the two new Raids, The Gates of Tartarus and The Prime Battleground, require Combat Rating 70. So I took my embarrassing Combat Rating of 43 and queued for all three of the new Duos (whose entrances are located around that new open-world area along the coast of southeast Gotham.
I got called into Riverside Hotel, which is trapped inside one of Braniacs' giant bottles. My partner and I were tossed into the bottle and given a simple instruction: destroy 16 of Braniacs machinery inside. These objectives are semi-random, rotating between one of three possible objectives each time (the second time I ran the Duo, I had to blow up cables attached to the buildings and there were a lot of conspicuous pods with humans trapped inside them that I suspect is the third optional objective).
Once you're dumped inside the bottle containing your building of choice, you can move around the area however you like. It's not a large area, but being able to move about the whole place freely and approach enemies however you wanted to was a great change from some of the other Duos that funnel you straight down hallways. The enemies were pretty straightforward, replicas of the enemies found out in the open world invasion area. Tiny brain droids that leapt through the air to ambush me from scaffolding above the alleyways were my personal favorite, and always caught me off-guard.
Unlike earlier duos, this one doesn't drag its feet--after you complete that one objective, its straight to final boss time. Both times, I fought against a massive robot that could pull and throw me around the entire bottle, summon waves of minions, detonate itself like a bomb, and heal itself. With a lesser-geared partner, it's a very tough fight that'll require you to stay on top of interrupting the boss' self heal. On my second run, I was paired up with a DPS god, who (after wiping twice) was able to burn through the bosses health with very little problem--jumping out of DPS range only to avoid the boss' bomb attack a couple times.
It's a solid, fun piece of content, even if it doesn't revolutionize Duos. And I like the design--reminiscent of WoW's Scarlet Crusade dungeons--that breaks up what would've been one long Duo into three separate bite-sized chunks. My first run through the Riverside Hotel took 20 minutes, and the second run took 8. That's a tiny time investment for 4+ chances at a gear upgrade and a daily bonus. In under half an hour, my character got 3 pretty decent gear upgrades, and put me a few Combat Rating points closer to tackling the big chunks in this new content.
Should you buy it?
Without having played the high-end raids, I can't give an unequivocal endorsement for purchasing this content pack for $10 , but from what I've seen, I think this will definitely be worth top-end players' time. As a new player (you can download and play the game for free right now), I'd recommend holding off on picking up this pack unless you have an intense, insatiable desire for Earth-themed powers. Play around with all the free power sets and see what role you like to fulfill in Alerts and Raids. Once you've figured that out, it'll be easy to pick between the 3 DLC packs when you're ready to throw down some cash. Hopefully by that point, you'll have a higher level character with decent enough gear to let you take advantage of the top-end content that comes with this pack too.
If you decide to jump into DCUO as a hero, this map 'll help you navigate the Watchtower and find what you need.