DC Universe Online Review: Better Than It Should Be

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Free-to-play games get a bad rap, but this game deserves more love – especially from superhero fans.

All pictures in this article come from DC Universe Online

I want to start this article off by saying that I have a long history of hating on this game. I love the core design behind it but so much of the game turned me away.

Having recently returned to the game, I found that they’ve since changed almost everything I hated about it. So I thought to myself ‘Self, why not write an article about the gaming industry actually getting something right? Why not frame it like a review? In fact, why not just – hear me out, me – write a positive review?’

Ladies and gentleman and/or others, I give you: My glowing recommendation to play DC Universe Online, peppered throughout with the many things I love about it, and also salted throughout with a few things I don’t love about it, just for balance, and hopefully somewhere along the way I can have an origin story where I learn not to rely on run-on sentences so much.

TO ME, MY READERS! wait thats the wrong universe entirely dammit

Uh – TITANS GO!

Making DC Universe Online Characters Is Great Fun – Part 1

This is the first thing you do in the game, so it’s the first thing I’m going to discuss.

Except that it’s not, because I’m going to discuss the membership plan instead because that can affect your character creation. (Liam, you’re fired – The Editor)

There are 4 tiers of Membership: All Access, Legendary, Premium and Free. Free isn’t technically a membership option but just work with me here.

Daybreak is the name of the company which currently runs DC Universe Online. I mention this because the monthly All Access membership gives you access to all the Daybreak games, because sometimes things are named appropriately.

Legendary Access is your typical monthly subscription. Just like the All Access membership, it gives you access to all of the many different skills and powers in DC Universe Online. It’s basically the All Access membership, but just for DC Universe Online.

Premium Access is kind of a weird beast, especially if you’re not familiar with 2010-era MMOs. Basically, it’s a Free account but with fewer restrictions. Unlike the first two options above, it’s not a monthly payment: It’s a Free account that has had over $5 USD spent on it. Once you qualify for Premium, it’s yours for life.

Free Access is ideal for people who just want to try the game out. It reminds me of Star Trek Online, because while your Free account is heavily restricted, you still have more than enough options to make many different types of characters. For instance, you can use a Gadget powerset with a Free account, but not the Atomic powerset. That’s fine because the Gadget powerset is awesome and just as useful.

Okay, you got all that? Cool, let’s try this again.

Making DC Universe Online Characters Is Great Fun – Part 2

The very first thing you do is pick a gender, Male or Female. I know some people won’t dig on that, but the game was released in 2011 so I’m going to give it a free pass for that.

The player then picks various options from a scrolling list:

  • Body type (Large, Athletic, Spry, etc)
  • Appearance (Skin type, Costume, and a HEAP of other options)
  • Alignment (Hero or Villain)
  • Personality (your idle pose, Comical, Brutal, Serious, etc)
  • Origin (Magic, Meta, or Tech)
  • Powers (Ice, Fire, Gadgets, Sorcery, Atomic, etc)
  • Movement (Flight, Acrobatics, Super-speed, etc)
  • Weapons (Staff, Bow, Martial Arts, Guns, etc)

After you’ve started, you can change some of those things for free (such as weapons and appearance). Other things will cost you real-world money to change (such as your powerset).

Then you pick a name, and you’re away!

Except that you’re not, because you’ve actually been fiddling with your appearance for nearly an hour now. Don’t worry, most new players do that – go off, my friend!

DC Universe Online Is A Better Role-Playing Game Than The Witcher 3

Can you play a gun-toting science-themed villain in The Witcher 3? No, you cannot, because you can only play one class in that game, so you can’t really choose your role, so it’s not a role-playing game as much as it’s a Witcher simulation experience. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine game and all that but if The Witcher 3 is a role-playing game then I’m a cybernetic unicorn made out of custard and wood.

Ahem.

You start the game in the tutorial area (unexpected, I know) and before too long you’re in the actual game world.

One of the great things about DC Universe Online is that your Origin choice affects your Mentor. So, for instance, if you picked Hero and Magic during your character creation, then you’ll get a lot of your (fully-voiced) mission briefings from Wonder Woman. If you picked Villain and Tech, then you’ll be mentored by Joker.

This can affect your play experience beyond aesthetics – it will also determine which missions you’re eligible for – until you hit the endgame at least.

Further, when you hit level 10, you can also choose different combat roles. For example, if you picked the Gadgets power then you’ll unlock the Controller role, which means you’ll do less damage but your control skills (such as skills that push enemies away from you) will become more powerful.

2 different characters with the exact same set-up can play wildly differently, which is awesome.

DC Universe Online Has Weird Systems

I wanted to address this here so that the final section can be positive.

The systems in this game are WHACK AF and not always in the good way. For instance, your ability to access the endgame is dependent on your ‘combat rating’, which is basically just the average level of your gear.

Sounds fine, right? Sure, but in practice it’s annoying af. Let’s say you’ve got a cool character who you’ve gotten to level 30 (the level cap). You can’t do the endgame stuff unless you do the grind for some new gear to increase your combat rating.

Still sounds fine, right? Just do some of the top level endgame with a buddy and you’ll be fine? Nope. You can’t even join a map unless your combat rating is high enough, and the grind to get into the second tier is unbearable.

In fact, the endgame is basically just grind – but once you’re above a certain combat rating level then the resources that you’re grinding won’t drop in the lower ones. This means that you’re constantly underpowered for months.

Or maybe it just means I don’t understand how the game works properly.

And I don’t think that either of those things are a good look for the game.

You can’t just buy your gear, because you need to earn time-gated resources (called ‘marks’) in order to do it. Sure, you can just buy another bunch of resources which you can use to unlock the time-gated resources so you can grind it even harder, but also NO THANK YOU.

This game has more grind than a whetstone made of 2010-era music videos. Oh, and you have to pay for most of the endgame content. In one way, that’s fair enough but in another way it’s suspiciously close to how drug pushers work. Probably. From what I’ve heard. Allegedly.

Let’s change the topic and talk about why you should play DC Universe Online anyway.

DC Universe Online Is a LOT of Fun

For all I said about the game up there (and the game does have a few more minor design issues), the amount of time I’ve spent on this game recently is, frankly, embarrassing.

And the issue of ‘mark-grinding’ is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the game throws marks at you during the main campaign now. It didn’t do that before.

In fact a lot of issues I had with the game aren’t even there anymore.

Unskippable cutscenes? GONE! (mostly)

The crappy time-wasting upgrade system? GONE!

Stupid base-building limits? GONE!

The fact that I didn’t think to mention that your character gets a hidden lair or base until just now? Not their fault, that one’s on me.

And just to top it all off: DC Universe Online has cross-play – if you play on PS4 then you can team-up with your buddies on Steam!

If you’re even remotely into superheroes, then you could do a lot worse than to play DC Universe Online. A free game has no right to be this good!

The game can be found for free here on Steam, but do you know what else is free? Commenting below!*

*Cost of internet and device not included

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