DC Universe Online

By Shamus
on Jan 14, 2011
Filed under:
Column

splash_dcuo.jpg

My reaction to the combat in this game: This feels so right. Why hasn’t anyone else done this before? This is the way it always should have been. Sadly, the problems with the game are evident after just a few hours, and I’m all but certain they aren’t going to be fixed.

The designers at Sony Online Entertainment have an almost tyrannical approach to level progression and player creativity. Some of the changes I suggest in the article are (relatively) easy, but would require changing fundamental assumptions about how these sorts of games should work. If the designers were capable of that sort of maneuverability, they wouldn’t have made these mistakes in the first place. So while bugs may be fixed and rough spots may be smoothed out, I do not expect the sorts of changes needed to give this game the depth it needs. If players get bored and leave, as I predict, the designers will blame it on Champions Online going free-to-play, or the bad economy, or any number of other obvious scapegoats. But I stand by my thesis: This game is in a straitjacket, and people will get tired of it quickly.

As I discovered this morning, you don’t even have freedom in where you quest. If you roll a Superman-based character but decide you don’t care for Gorilla Grod as an adversary, you can’t just do the Batman quests in Gotham instead. The quest givers won’t speak to you. This means if you hit a tough spot you can’t go elsewhere to level. And it means you can’t just really run around the world and sample the content buffet-style. In World of Warcraft, I can roll a Gnome and then do quests in the Night Elf area if I want to. Why? Because there’s no reason to deny the player that choice.

(EDIT: Looks like this was a bug. You’re SUPPOSED to be able to do other quests. But they pop into your quest log automatically. Odd way to do it, but you can change quest hubs.)

In DCUO, everyone is locked into a fixed chain. Same progression. Same powers. Mostly the same costume pieces.

The production values here are enormous. The visuals are wonderful. This game could have bitten deep into the player bases of Champions Online and City of Heroes. But the depth isn’t there, and an MMO can’t survive on graphics and spectacle the way single-player games can. I predict that a year from now, DCUO will be in third place among these big three.

And since I’m in a predicting mood, I’ll predict that the reaction to my Escapist article will be met with some hostility, just like my critique of Champions Online. Fans may even accuse me of being a hater. But the fans who rage against me today will be the same ones who will look at the DCUO icon a month from now and try to think of a reason to log in. This won’t be true for everyone, of course, but the narrow design will naturally lead to narrow appeal.

I’m having fun now. I’ll be very surprised if I’m still having fun in February.

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From the Archives:

  1. Someone says:

    Being unaffected by the widespread superhero craze, I’m holding out for Planetside NEXT.

  2. Sagretti says:

    I was highly amused by the DC Online Review in Progress on IGN. The PC reviewer sounds like he’s having about the same experience you’ve had so far, finding great things about the game immediately undercut by bad fundamental design, like horrid controls. On the flip side, the person doing the console review is gushing over the amazing controls and the fact that the missions are awesome because Batman gives them to you! Sounds like another game designed for consoles with little thought made to the PC translation. You’d think they would learn after Final Fantasy XIV.

  3. Daimbert says:

    Ah, finally something other than Spoiler Warning! I was disappointed when I refreshed this morning and didn’t find anything about DCUO.

    I’m still planning on buying it and trying it, but I’ll have to see what the leveling curve is like. But it sounds like just an extension of the same sort of complaint I had when I discovered that your origin chooses your mentor, and so you can’t make a magical origin villain who’s working with Lex Luthor; such a small thing makes your ability to actually build a CHARACTER so much less.

    Not being able to choose quests or areas is even more so, and makes me glad that I decided to toss origin and massage it to fit the mentor I wanted for my starting characters.

    • Dovius says:

      Wouldn’t Luthor ridicule you for choosing magic over technology?

      • Traska says:

        He would also insult you for being something other than normal baseline human… and he’s in charge of the metas.

      • Daimbert says:

        Well, I’m not a huge DC fan … but based on what I remember I think the reply would be “Why wouldn’t I choose the thing that Superman is weakest to?” (I recall that Superman at least used to be vulnerable to magic, although that might have changed). The reason for joining Luthor for that character would be, basically, to kill Superman for about the same reasons and Luthor espouses.

  4. Jeff says:

    Hey Shamus, I think I pointed this out the first time you mentioned DCUO, but your criticisms have actually already been made on their boards during play testing. The boards were basically full of hostile fanboys who have “cred” by being longterm fanatics and completely unwilling to accept or even discuss any sort of critique or suggestions, so your predictions about how they’d respond are fairly spot on as well.

  5. acronix says:

    I´m glad it isn´t available on my region, because I was about to try it.

  6. Sander says:

    You have constantly been complaining about silly stories in MMORPGs don’t you think this is the only way to present a consistent and entertaining story without a gazillion plotholes.

    • Shamus says:

      Certainly not. Sure, if I skip quests or do them out of order then the story is disjointed, but failings of logic are the fault of the writers. For example: Keeping “data” in metal storage containers in a parking lot:

      http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/stolen-pixels/6656-Stolen-Pixels-134-The-Devil-in-the-Details

      The problems with this quest have nothing to do with your freedom.

      • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

        Yes it does. If all of you “free thinkers” would just give up and get the necessary lobotomies you wouldn’t notice them.

      • Deadpool says:

        And the game STILL ends up with disconjointed storylines anyways.

        See, you CAN do quests outside of your “hub”. I have a Wonder Woman character that’s been doing Batman and Superman quests. Not sure HOW they get unlocked, but they don’t get unlocked in order! Huntress congratulated me for surviving Bane and Scarecrow and I never MET Scarecrow…

        Wish I knew how they get unlocked, might just be certain levels…

        • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

          Sounds like levels. Have you got anything that was in the wrong order? Like congratulations for dealing with someone and after that getting your first mission with him and the dialogue also implies it’s the first time?

    • Veloxyll says:

      I’d say it’s not the only way. I’ve had times in STO and WoW where I’ve been presented with entertaining stories. The trick is, rather than putting every single quest in one giant novel, you have things as arcs. In said arcs, you make each quest chain a short story of its own, related to a certain point in the overall story for the zone.

      The alternative means you get a linear story where everyone’s experiences are identical. I get that in Metal Gear Solid, I don’t want it from WoW – MMOs are social experiences, which is less fun when everyone’s played exactly the same story. Plus, of course, if I hate the story in the zone I’m in, or just want a change of scenery, I can go to another zone in the WoW model; if the quests are well written, I can get an idea of what’s happening and what I need to do. While it might not provide as cohesive a story as railroading me, it also gives me choices as to what I’m doing, which is a heck of a lot more fun

    • Zukhramm says:

      By offering no choice in what you want to do and less custimization in how you look? How does that further storytelling?

      • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

        I guess it’s the same way a linear game with a non-interactive story is a perfect example of storytelling in video games. Or how a game that contains no more role-playing than Halo is a good example of a role-playing game.

        (Note: I’ve long since given up using ‘rpg’ to mean “role-playing game” and only use it for “games that have stat increasing, XP or something”, but still consider that a role-playing game should be something with some kind of role-playing.)

    • HeroOfHyla says:

      It’s very possible to have freedom-of-questing without locking people in: just have multiple quest lines available at a time, without having them interact.

      I like how FFXI did it. You had a main story quest for each starting country, and you unlocked another quest in that line every few levels. You also got other side missions from various NPCs around the world. Though because there were no quest markers over the heads of NPCs who needed stuff done, people wound up missing a lot of them. It’s one of the only MMOs where I could actually bring myself to read all the flavor text for the quest, probably because they presented it nicely, a few lines at a time (like every other Final Fantasy game) rather than a big window full of text that you could easily just click away.

      However, from my limited experience with WoW (a few 10-day trials), I can say I really liked how WoW did it’s quest lines. You do an objective for someone, come back, and he’ll have another objective for you based on the old one. Like, I remember one where I had to kill some goblins, then kill some tougher goblins, then go into the mines and clear out the rest of the goblins.

      I really wish Final Fantasy XIV would implement something like WoW’s quest lines, because right now there’s a serious lack of content: There’s the main story quest, guildleves, and behests.

      The main story missions are initiated by talking to the particular person in your adventurer’s guild, and seeing if any new topics of discussion have opened up (“small talk” and “getting started” will be the only options if there’s no new main story quest available for you). A new one generally is unlocked every 5 levels.

      Guildleves are basically quests available through the adventurer’s guild. Every 48 hours, the adventurer’s guild restocks with new ones, and you can accept whatever ones you want (they’re divided into categories based on the recommended class rank). There’s a limit of 8 local (aka “crafting”) guildleves you can accept every 48 hours, but I’m not sure if there’s a limit on regional (combat and gathering) guildleves, other than just running out of ones to do. You often wind up doing the same guildleve multiple times, because the adventurer’s guild doesn’t have many to choose from.

      Behests are the most entertaining part of the game right now. Every hour, on the hour, a Battlewarden shows up at each camp, and starts recruiting adventurers. After 5 minutes, he’ll assign the adventurers he’s recruited (up to 15), to kill certain monsters. The number and types of monsters designated for slaughter is based on the number of party members you have.

      Went off on a tangent there, whoops. Well anyway, Shamus you might want to try out FFXIV, despite the lack of content. The game is around $30 right now I think, but there’s no subscription fee at the moment, because they want to improve it a ton before starting to charge monthly.

      Also, Lalafell are adorable: http://i53.tinypic.com/2zqea1u.png

  7. Mari says:

    First off, YAY for finally being able to hit your site again. I’ve missed you. Secondly YAY for new non-Spoiler Warning content.

    And now, on topic – thank you (and your benefactor) because I was seriously debating breaking my long-standing personal rule against paying for a game subscription. I’m a big DC fan so DCUO appealed right from the start and hearing about the combat intrigued me even more. Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like the game is right for me. I’m one of the slow-but-steady players you mentioned with a lot of patience but a very low threshold for frustration. I’ll put a game down if it locks me into a path and then gives me an obstacle I can’t figure out how to hurdle. And frankly I’d much rather kill mooks until I’m leveled enough for the quests to be easy. So thanks for the heads up and saving me some dosh.

    • Klay F. says:

      Here’s the part where I was going to go, “Oh, oh, oh! World of Warcraft has that!” But I’m sure you already know that. I once leveled an alt from level 20 to 60 in WoW, doing nothing but dungeons with PUGs. Twas quite fun and didn’t take nearly as long as you’d think.

  8. krellen says:

    “It’s-complicated-but-way-more-than-twelve” is now going to be my go-to phrase for describing City of Heroes.

    • Shamus says:

      Six years old. Dated graphics. Dated combat mechanics. And it’s still the gold standard in Superhero games. Champs is going free to play, and CoX is still rolling with subscriptions and churning out new content.

      Choice is everything.

      • krellen says:

        I still waste hours in the creator, just because of how many choices I have with costumes and powers. Nothing compares, anywhere, to the choice inherent in City of Heroes’ character creator.

        • I have *so* many characters under level 10. That first 2 hours of making the character, choosing the powerset, getting out there, and gaining the first 4-5 abilities is such a friggin’ good time to me. I’ve run the sewers so many times I can get there without looking at the screen.

          And still, I make new characters. Because they did it *right*.

          Sounds like DCUO is (to provoke even more folks) the NGE to CoH. Okay, that was stretched. But it’s very much of the new SOE design, rather than the old. Which is a shame, cause the action sequences + old SOE freedom would possibly unseat TOR and TSW as my mmolusts.

          • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

            I’m not sure if they did it right, if it’s taken you *so* many tries and you still haven’t got it right.

            I am, of course, being facetious.

        • Jarenth says:

          The character creator really just is the game in City of Heroes. The rest is just an overly complicated timesink.

      • Traska says:

        CoX has recently rolled out a graphics update. It’s not the latest-greatest with Bling Mapping 4X, but for what they did with it, it’s really cool. Water looks amazing, and the “metallic” costume sets are SO. SHINY.

        • Shamus says:

          DO NOT TELL ME THESE THINGS.

          • krellen says:

            Would it help if we arranged to add a few more hours to your day when we do?

          • Traska says:

            Have you checked out Issue 19 and Going Rogue, also? Um, Praetoria is… uh, it’s very pretty. Not Metropolis pretty (I think I had to mop a little drool off my keyboard when I first saw Gotham, also), but you can also recolor your powers and even change up some combat animations.

            CoX may be old, but it’s got some very nice tricks left in ‘er.

            • krellen says:

              I keep hinting that Shamus owes CoX another look, but I think he’s booked until 2014.

            • Daimbert says:

              Praetoria is really nice. It’s too bad that the actual story content in Going Rogue is nowhere near as well-done.

              • Justin says:

                I’d say the story in Praetoria is actually rather good. It’s just that the difficulty balance is kinda bad, especially if you are playing as a squishy such as a Controller or Defender or Corruptor.

                • Sornas says:

                  I’d say the story is really good, up until the incredibly anticlimactic end point, where they just dump you in paragon city with no sense of closure.

                • Daimbert says:

                  I found how they handled the whole Loyalist/Resistance thing to be poorly done, at least if you just follow the quests and don’t hunt around for anything new. I had separate Loyalist and Resistance characters and got both over level 10, and right from the beginning you aren’t given enough — or any, really — reasons to choose one side or another, even in the moral arcs. Heck, in one of them I would have had to choose to side with the Resistance by siding with someone who has given me no reason to think the Resistance good in any way. And it would have been so easy to fix.

                • Amarsir says:

                  @Daimbert But isn’t that the point – that one isn’t simply good and the other simply evil? I think the overall story of “resistance against the benevolent dictator” sets up a delineation and then they go about challenging your assumptions. Yes it would be nice to have some proxy for a lifetime of knowledge gained living there, but I think the grey area between the sides is the point.

                  (I say this having not run the full arcs because I’ve been too busy on 50s.)

                • Daimbert says:

                  @Amarsir,

                  Actually, my point is that that is precisely what the story DOESN’T do. In the very first mission where you choose your side, you don’t know enough about the world to have any real idea what each stand for, even to a gray area. It felt like a coin flip. In my case, I had built characters for each side, and so had a place to start, but I would have had no context to choose if I hadn’t. And they could have made that better by having you go through the first set of missions you get outside of the tutorial before making you choose a side.

                  Then, in the choice situations, there’s little in them to make you doubt the side you’re on. Now, I ended up playing the good side on both the Loyalist and Resistance sides because the bad side on the Resistance was just, well, WAY too bad. But that leads to my point: when I was faced with choosing to support the Loyalist or the Loyalist who was secretly a member of the Resistance, the Resistance person made absolutely no argument for why I was on the wrong side, instead trying to convince me that that person had helped me out. Again, no real choice because in that context there was little to make me feel that the Resistance was a good option.

                  That’s why I found it disappointing. There was so much more they could have done with that “moral gray area” thing that they didn’t do.

          • Sekundaari says:

            So, have you tried Dwarf Fortress yet? ;)

          • Aulayan says:

            Do not tell you those things Shamus?

            So we shouldn’t tell you that in Going Rogue, you can play in Praetoria for the first 20 levels as either a Loyalist or Resistance member. Resistance member storylines can either be noble freedom fighter or anarchist. Loyalist member storylines can either be power and fame hoarding celebhound or Responsible cop trying to help the people.

            Oh..and Resistance members can do Loyalist mission arcs, and sabotage them at the end. And Loyalists can do the same to Resistance arcs.

            And you get multiple opportunities to change your side if your character finds a reason to change its mind. And some missions…the outcome stays visible on your experience for ever. (Not major outcomes mind you, but sometimes Contacts…no longer will be in their location because of you, and only on your screen of course).

            Oh sorry. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.

  9. Zeta Kai says:

    I just read the part of Shamus Plays where he discusses what is wrong with the combat of Champions Online (Part 10, linked in his latest Experienced Points). Does anyone have a link to where he talks about what he liked about CO’s combat? I wanted to re-read that part, but I don’t want to sift through everything that he wrote about that game, as there is an awful lot that was said, spread across many separate articles. Thank you.

  10. Traska says:

    I have to disagree with one thing: I don’t think SOE is behind these particular choices. I think it’s Warner/DC. SOE has Everquest 2 in its stable, and EQ2 allows both “sweeping” (the monsters actually give XP that’s somewhat worth it), and if you’re a high elf, you can do barbarian quests with no problem.

    I think that the Powers That Be at DC said “Wait, why would someone like Robin be doing missions for Superman? That makes no sense.” And then conveniently ignored Batman when deciding that real superheroes don’t street sweep.

    I’ll never get why MMOs want to limit what their players can do. It seems like the newer the game, the sturdier the rails. In Everquest2 or CoX, you can get EXP by discovering new places. You can beat up A_Random_MOB_01 and get EXP. You can do missions. There’s no one way to do things. Why do the newer games spot-weld you onto the rails these days?

    Oh yes, one more thing. My SO and I played the beta for a while. Then found ourselves after about a month looking at the icon wondering why we should log in…

    • Veloxyll says:

      Obviously the people at DC completely forgot about their multitude of crossover stories.

      Not giving XP for mooks is just wierd though.

    • Zukhramm says:

      I’d say that in an MMO especially, where you will go through the levelling process slowly, more than once if you want more characters there’s even more need, rather than less, for a good amount of options for how to progress in the game.

  11. Supah_Ewok says:

    I haven’t played any of the Superhero MMO’s, but it strikes me that the rigid level design and few choices in powers you’re talking about may stem from the fact that this is a game about the DC Universe. People got mad in music games where you could take a real-life person and have him/her perform songs that they “would never do.” The guys at Sony may be afraid of something similar if Superman’s buddy went off to fight crime in Gotham with Batman. Same goes for powers. Since there’s only a possibility of 3 mentors for Heroes/Villains, you simply can’t get the diversity of CO and CoH.

    One thing I want to know about DC Online is this: how is PvP handled?

    • Daimbert says:

      I didn’t think that your powers were determined by your mentor or origin, just the armour and weapons you end up getting. From what I’ve read while waiting to get it, you can choose any powers for any mentors. You just can’t choose separate origins from your mentors.

      And CoX only had something like five different origins. The powersets, though, were diverse in diverse classes and were mix and match inside of that.

  12. Silfir says:

    Holy crap, is that Star on Chest?!

  13. Vipermagi says:

    Monsters giving low exp doesn’t nigh instantly kill diversity in leveling et al, nor has to equate to ‘ignoring mooks’. This is mostly done by having a plethora of sidequests whose exp total goes notably over what you need to reach an appropriate level, and making random mobs at least somewhat dangerous. Guild Wars does this pretty well.
    What might help GW’s case, is that level doesn’t matter that much. Your skills aren’t tied to your character level (effectiveness is, but is also freely redistributable in towns), but on story progression and to some extent money. In Prophecies, there were plenty of quests with a skill reward over items (“map travel twice and I’ll teach you Shadow Strike”[1]). Factions and Nightfall hand out money for a lot of quests. You can buy a large amount of skills from skill trainers in larger towns (and some minor outposts as well), and skill trainers in later towns have more skills available. The cost starts off really low, gradually increases, and doesn’t exceed 1k which is fairly easy to obtain.
    Also, skills you unlocked (on a different character) are available at any skill trainer.

    Re-railing: Usually, you’ll be in a full party and get fairly crappy experience for kills. The quests get you your exp for the most part, and there’s plenty of quests to overlevel any area (except the level 20 areas of course). Ignoring the monsters doesn’t really work most of the time, since they’ll just chase and possibly snare you. Going solo (or in a much smaller party) makes the game notably harder, but if you can pull it off, the exp is actually worth it. You can skip even more sidequests, and still keep up.

    • Zukhramm says:

      How does monster giving low XP not kill diverity in levelling? No matter how I love the game, Guild Wars is a good example of that, you quest and do missions, and that’s it. Killing things is pointless unless you have some quest for it or want a specific drop.

      • Samkathran says:

        I only played a little bit of the original Guild Wars, but I think the idea here is that there can be (at least) two ways to diversify the leveling experience.

        The first is to have both quests and enemies grant enough experience so that a “standard” progression through the zone will bring you up to the appropriate level for the next area/dungeon/den of stinking evil. If you find that the next zone is too difficult, then you can stay in the current zone and kill more enemies until you level up. This is basically the standard MMORPG model for leveling, with varying degrees of quest-to-murder ratios in each game.

        The second option is to create more than enough quests so that if you completed them all, then you’d be over the recommended starting level for the next zone. Most players would probably be comfortable proceeding before they 100% the zone however. This sounds like how Vipermagi described Guild Wars, with a plethora of side quests to choose from.

        Ideally, in both cases, the elite players can proceed to the next zone as soon as possible and benefit from the greater rewards sooner, while inexperienced players can stay behind and level up a few more times, albeit at a slower pace due to smaller rewards. Everybody gets to play in their own way, and the leveling experience is different for each person and playthrough.

        I have not played or even looked into DCUO, so I could easily be wrong, but Shamus makes it sounds like you are given exactly enough quests to reach the necessary level for the next zone and nothing else. Presumably, you cannot complete more quests to gain extra levels, and obviously the enemies do not grant enough experience to feasibly level up solely through killing them. In this case, every playthrough would be the same because you’d be completing the same quests in the same order. There would be very little replay value, and that’s not a good sign for a new MMO.

        • Zukhramm says:

          But in both cases you describe, if you want to level beyond what the normal quests there’s only one thing to do. In case one killing mobs, in case two doing side quests, no diversity, I think a game should offer both.

          • Samkathran says:

            I agree, I think offering both options gives players the best of both worlds. I haven’t bought Cataclysm, but I know that Wrath of the Lich King provided plenty of quests and enemies to level up with in every zone. The only flaw with this design might be that you can easily reach the max level well before entering any max level zones, but that can also be a good thing for the inexperienced players.

      • Vipermagi says:

        As I mentioned, going in a small party/solo means kills grant plenty experience (a same-level enemy grants 100xp when solo, 12xp when in a group of 8 (max size)). Killing enemies of a higher level also grants more exp.

        Although, Factions did absolutely murder leveling diversity, since quests grant way too much experience, and you’re max level when you leave the newb island.
        Nightfall at least made the starter island interesting and notably longer. You still hit the cap fairly early on, though.

        Samkathran also gave a good summary.

    • Klay F. says:

      Here’s what I want to know though, why did they take so much time and effort to make the combat mechanics feel really fun, and then give you no reward for doing the most fun part of the game?

      • Vipermagi says:

        If you ask me, the combat becomes so much better after you complete the game and have gathered a large pile of skills. I’ve spent countless days making new builds and pummeling stuff with it for the heck of it (or for specific drops). Basically, I daren’t say since to me it’s fun after exp is important.

  14. Neil Polenske says:

    “And since I’m in a predicting mood, I’ll predict that the reaction to my Escapist article will be met with some hostility, just like my critique of Champions Online.”

    Comparing apples to oranges a bit Shamus? There’s a solid difference between criticizing writing in an MMO vs. criticizing basic gameplay mechanics.

    • acronix says:

      I really don´t see any difference in the sense that both criticisms will awaken the same sort of hostile answer in defense of the game, no matter if it´s a basic flaw or a writing one.

    • Shamus says:

      I don’t see it as apples to oranges. I pointed out what was wrong with the game. People protested, as people do. But the trajectory of the game (shrinking player base, Xbox version canceled, gone free-to-play) supports my appraisal.

      I think the DCUO problems are more understandable, but still serious.

      • Steve C says:

        Shamus said:

        but they cut corners in the wrong part of the game.

        That instantly raises the question: What corners should developers cut in a game? Feel free to use DCUO or another game as an example. But if designing a MMO where would you cut corners? (Let’s assume the designer didn’t go crazy with Bling mapping.)

        • krellen says:

          They should always cut corners with graphics first, and find other corners to cut later.

          • Irridium says:

            Less epic graphics = (slightly)smaller budget, allows more people to run the game on PC’s, which would lead to more people buying it, which would lead to more money.

            So they’d be spending less money, and making more money.

            Why has no company thought of this?

            • Traska says:

              Because they’d have a Metascore of 23, because video game reviewers are who review video games, not gamers, and most reviewers have computers that make me salivate.

          • Steve C says:

            Let’s assume for a sec that the game doesn’t go crazy with graphics. Let’s assume that the graphics are stylized to appear good without needing a lot in terms of programming overhead (aka money). IE art vs horsepower. No bling mapping.

            Where do you cut the corners after that in an MMO?

            • Atarlost says:

              More graphics. Go flat out retro. Every time you cut graphics you’re also cutting level design costs unless your whole world is procedural. And if it is procedural you’re probably still simplifying the procedures.

            • Shamus says:

              It depends on the genre and what you’re going for.

              * You could cut quests, stories, and cutscenes, making the game more grind-y.
              * You could cut the end-game “raiding” content, leaving the players with nothing to do once they hit the level cap.
              * Cut the scenery, making the world more crowded and less interesting. (Less places to see.)
              * You can cut organized PvP events, so that the PvP in your game is nothing beyond open world ganking.
              * You can cut the character builder, making characters less interesting and diverse.
              * Cut tutorials, starter zones, hand-holding, and all the teaching that goes into the first few hours of the game. This will make the game less welcoming and harder to get into.

              Of course, you don’t WANT to cut any of these. You want to have all of this, and as much as you can. Content is life. But if I were making a superhero MMO I would make cuts to everything else before I touched the character builder. I’d start with cutting / postponing raiding and PvP. Those are important, but you don’t need them on day one. That character builder is going to make or break the game for the core audience. No sense giving them end-game content if they’re going to quit before they get there. Then you can make promises that “raiding is in development” while the player base eats through your leveling content.

      • Neil Polenske says:

        “I don’t see it as apples to oranges. I pointed out what was wrong with the game. People protested, as people do.”

        Which is the nature of the internet. That amounts to saying “I predict the sun will rise tomorrow.”

        The NATURE of the debate is what makes it apples/oranges, not the debate itself, and the two elements you reference have vastly different values of importance. You’re really going to pretend that’s not the case?

        • Shamus says:

          I still don’t see what you’re on about. First off, I don’t know which one you consider more crucial. Second, other people might weigh them differently. Third, even if everyone agrees that one of them is of greater importance, is it somehow not useful to talk about the lesser ones?

          A fan can get angry at me either way:

          “You are criticizing a key feature which I think is great, so I am angry at you!”

          “You are criticizing a non-issue which I think is irrelevant, so I am angry at you!”

          • Neil Polenske says:

            I’ll try to clarify:

            “And since I’m in a predicting mood, I’ll predict that the reaction to my Escapist article will be met with some hostility, JUST LIKE my critique of Champions Online.”*

            *CAPS by me for emphasis

            I feel it’s disingenuous to portray both issues as equal based solely on the fact that both opinions will be contended and not acknowledge that the topics are vastly different.

            • Shamus says:

              Fine.

              “And since I’m in a predicting mood, I’ll predict that the reaction to my Escapist article will be met with some hostility, in a similar manner and using much of the same rhetoric and desire to silence debate thought personal attacks, but not completely like my critique of Champions Online because I’m talking about a different part of the game which may, according to personal tastes, be valued differently by different groups of players but are both flawed in my view. Void where prohibited. Some restrictions may apply.”

  15. Kavonde says:

    I just grabbed the game off Steam today, and after about six hours with it, I’m totally in agreement with your complaints. I wish I’d thought to check this blog again after watchin’ Spoiler Warning this morning, ’cause I’d rather have saved the $50 and restarted Champions Online in a couple weeks.

    I have one additional complaint to add to yours, however, after leveling a Wonder Woman trainee named Granola Girl (Brave New World server, if anyone cares). I teamed up with Zatanna to fight Felix Faust…and she didn’t cast her spells backwards! I kept double-checking every time she’d say something, and I was right; she was saying “Heal Ally!” and “Drain Faust!” instead of “Laeh Ylla!” and “Niard Tsuaf!” Now, I admit, those lines might be kinda difficult to pronounce, but you know what? If your Zatanna voice actress can’t say her spells backwards, find another Zatanna.

    And if you think I’m annoyed, imagine how Paul Dini must feel. He married her.

    • Daimbert says:

      Actually, I’d say that this is a problem with voice acting in general (that stuff is kinda hard to pull off) … but, then again, if I recall correctly the actress pulled it off in Smallville, and she had to do more things than just talk in that one.

      • Kavonde says:

        Jennifer Hale didn’t have a problem with it in Justice League Unlimited, either.

        I mean, granted, it’s Jennifer Hale, but the point is that it can be done.

        EDIT: Wait a sec. According to IMDB, she’s the voice of Zatanna in this game, too. What the hell happened?

        • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

          Same thing that happens in a lot of games. Lazy voice directing. Other one is that they decided to go “safe” and make it as it is, so it “won’t confuse the newcomers”.

          (Quotation marks not meant as sarcastic or ironic quotes. They’re there to imply I’m only guessing what they’re thinking, not agreeing with it.)

          • Don Alsafi says:

            That’s the thing though. It’s not live acting, it’s voiceover acting. Which means the actress doesn’t have to try to pronounce her spells backwards. You just record her as regular then reverse the sound file.

            Seriously: How did this escape them?

            • X2-Eliah says:

              Err, no. Reversing a normal soundfile sounds nothing like speaking from a backwards text; that would be the cheap way out, but it would also sound really bad.

              • Shamus says:

                Remember that this game is aimed at the PS3 – I’m sure the prevalence of voices is to cut down on the reading you’ll have to do. A lot of the NPC messages don’t even fit in the chat window because the font is so huge. (And can’t be changed.) For their purposes, the voice work is there to explain things to you, so making it incomprehensible would be a waste in their view.

                Of course, this only brings up the question of why they decided to feature a backwards-speaking character as a quest-giver. (Facepalm.) Nightwing is in the game, but you only ever see him in battle. She would have been fine in a similar role. Combat taunts are equally valuable when spoken backwards. They could have given her quest-dispensing job to someone else. It’s not like the DC Universe is short on costumed idiots that love exposition.

                • Deadpool says:

                  Remember, Zatanna only speaks backwards to CAST SPELLS. She could stay a quest giver just fine, it’s the battle taunts that were screwed up…

                • X2-Eliah says:

                  Of course, I was just saying that a person saying ‘efiL niarD’ (for example) will sound completely different from recording ‘Drain Life’ and playing it backwards, from a technical viewpoint.

                  I wasn’t debating the developers’ intentions and whatever else, just pointing out that reversing a soundfile would not produce as good a result (anyone who’s even dabbled with a DAW or even a soundstream editor will confirm that).

            • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

              Voice can be recorded in little snippets, if they’re small enough the actor might not realize what exactly he is saying. In this case they could’ve asked her to record individual words so they could construct new spells using the files later, and not mention that they’re going for spells. Doubtful, though.

              I’m going with “they were afraid it would confuse players”, since that just sounds like something that could be caused by many different sources (the developers themselves, marketing or management).

              Although a new idea occured to me. Maybe they thought the whole “reverse speach” is kinda tacky or campy and decided against it.

              • Traska says:

                The problem with that theory is, that’s her whole character. It would be like saying “You know, the whole rhyming thing is silly. Just have Etrigan speak normally.”

                Without the rhyming, she’s just some leggy dame in nylons.

                • Traska says:

                  Sigh.

                  Without the rhyming talking backwards, she’s just some leggy dame in nylons.

                • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

                  Leggy dame in nylons* who can cast spells. For some that would be enough. Especially if her name alone differentiates her from others for that person.

                  For some people fictional characters are interesting or important because they’re that fictional character, even if it just carries the same name and possibly a similiar look.

                  Compare with the third X-men movie. Some complained about Juggernaut being a mutant, and some complained that the former were stuck-up fanboys. Nevermind that the complaint is not without merit, even if one doesn’t agree that it’s a vital part of the character.

                  * and, I suppose, drag since a top hat (and in some incarnations the jacket and shirt are) is technically a gentleman’s clothing.

                • Traska says:

                  Well, the “leggy dame in nylons” comment was a reference to her sole appearance in Batman the Animated Series.

                  God, I’m a geek.

                  Anyway, it’s not really the same character if an essential “hook” isn’t there. If Daredevil still has radar senses but can see, it’s not really Daredevil. If Batman’s parents are alive, it’s not really Batman. If Doctor Doom isn’t Latverian and is instead, say, an amazingly American businessman who just has nebulous ties to Latveria that are only mentioned in one scene then it’s not really Doctor Doom.

                • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

                  I’m not arguing that it’s an irrelevant part of the character, just what I think the developers/marketing people/management thought. And offering potential perspectives of those people. I don’t really have a personal opinion on the importance of reverse speech for Zatanna.

                  Also, was that a stab at the Fantastic Four movies? If it was, I want to state that I fully support your stabbing related to it.

              • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

                And again with the “speach”! What the hell? Well, I blame creatures beyond time and space.

    • NeilD says:

      I don’t know if they changed something in a patch, but it sure sounded like she was speaking backwards when she brought down a magical barrier in the Brother Blood (I think) quest.

  16. TheZoobler says:

    It also seems like DC is just a PC port of a PS3 game. The camera seems very clunky and odd to me; I never mouselook, and I would love to have the option to disable mouselook, but there is none. And using chat feels awkward and laggy.

    Adding powers to your actionbar is clunky, unexplained, and hard to find. “Edit Loadout”…? Lame.

    Meanwhile on the “is this innovative?” front, all the devs can talk about is their future plans for “raids” and “Endgame content” and newer and better gear. It sounds like they really don’t want to break any molds whatsoever except for their combat…

    And all the reviewers can say is “O M G You talk to SUPERMAN!”

    Disappointing title :( with great combat.

    I hope at least the combat makes other developers stand up and listen.

    I hope GW2 or Tera have great combat like this.

    • Joshua says:

      “And all the reviewers can say is “O M G You talk to SUPERMAN!”

      Yeah, I totally don’t get this. Why is it so interesting that you can talk to famous NPCs when you’re playing a game BASED AROUND THEM? As a LOTRO player, I’m least interested in the quests dealing directly with the Fellowship(at one point, you’re going behind them and cleaning up their garbage), and more interested in the quests that start completely new arcs and ideas.

      I don’t want to talk to or work for famous heroes, I’d rather be one. :)

      • TheZoobler says:

        Exactly. It denies the player a lot of enjoyment when you barely feel as if you’re even the main character in the game that you purchased. Maybe it says something about me or gamers and a need for inflated self-importance, but it just seems to bankrupt the experience when you’re just pushed to the side. “Oh, new superhero. Well, Scarecrow just broke out of jail. Go kill some mooks. Maybe Wonder Woman will show up dramatically and save your stand-in wannabe superho ass. Just get out of my face.”

        Note too that if you are not familiar with the villains or heroes present in the game, you aren’t invited to the DC Universe party because there is little to no story or introduction to anyone. You kinda see Braniac kill everyone, but other than that, if you’re a DC-comics noob just jumping into the game, the writers spend no time telling you who anyone is or why you should care. Just go grind some boring old quests. And seriously? First quest in the game after the very interesting tutorial, is just “There was a jailbreak, go clean it up”? Really? Clicheeee. Dull. No intro to the characters involved. I quit for a few days just after realizing that was what awaited me after the tutorial.

        This game is just such a disappointment. I keep waiting for something better than CoX or at least good enough to force it to develop better content(I feel their updates have lacked for years, Going Rogue included), I love the superhero MMO,and man. The interface issues mentioned by Shamus alone just completely shatter it, to me.

        • krellen says:

          I don’t think the need to be the hero is really something bad. The vast majority of people in the world work thankless (yet often vital) jobs, getting little or no recognition (especially outside their “team”, whatever their immediate group of peers at work might be) for all the work they do. So it is to be expected that they would turn to such desires in their recreation.

          And superheroes moreso than other things; superheroes are the modern myth, the way we tell the same sorts of stories the ancient Greeks used to tell. I like to think that young Greek children used to play Hercules the way we now play Superman.

  17. DougO says:

    Agreed on Zatanna FAIL by speaking normally. Tsk.

    Shamus, in the beta, once you’d cleared the first arc of missions for “your” area, you were free (and, in fact, told to) go to the other areas as well. Is this no longer the case?

  18. Jokerman89 says:

    The return of star on chest!

    I think i will skip this for now, i was waiting on the response before i bought it.

  19. Balesirion says:

    I’d just like to point out that Grodd is actually spelled with two d’s. A pity the game wasn’t better.

  20. X2-Eliah says:

    How long until we can expect a Shamus Play’s on this?

  21. kingcom says:

    The really big problem with this game is that for an MMO its horrendously short. Im by no means the kind of player who speed levels but I’ve hit level cap already. I loved the stories and quests (the one where you need to delay supergirl by putting innocents in harms way was absolutely awesome) but level 30 being the stopping point is just weak. So what do I do now? Grind honour points WoW style (I dont even want to think about how raiding would work in this game after seeing how instances are handled).

  22. MaxDZ8 says:

    That’s pretty bad news, a friend of mine was waiting for this game. It’s pretty incredible it went so bad… or maybe it’s a side effect of thinking it more like a JRPG? No excuses anyway.

  23. Bubble181 says:

    I think the “hardly any XP from mooks” may be a bit of an overreaction to the Korean-style MMOs. I’ve played 2Moons for a bit, and read plenty about others like it… There’s basically no story (other than generic “the world is being trampled by monsters. Kill them”), and all quests are of the kill-X-of-Y type. The whole game is one endless grind, and the ONLY way to level is through grinding mobs, more mobs, and, for a change, some mobs.
    “Western” MMOs try to set themselves apart from this – and try to stop people rushing and grinding – by quests, story, and so on. To this end, some railroading is the easiest way. It’s much harder to make people follow a story and do quests, if it’s easier/faster to go level by killing regular mobs. They don’t want you to ignore their hard work on quests (ahem), so they force you to follow them.
    This logic is obviously flawed, but it seems to be their way of thinking.

    • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

      I think it’s more (but not solely) about controlling the leveling curve. The same effects can be seen in auto-leveled enemies in non-MOGs. They want to control the game’s difficulty, but don’t realize that people want different levels of challenge from their games.

      Of course, above there’s a mention that the game does free up after some initial playing, so it might just be an effort to control the tutorial/newbie-parts.

      • Traska says:

        Again, CoX is my go-to for controlling your own difficulty. You can choose to fight things at your level, one level lower, or up to three levels higher. You can choose to fight things as if you are actually up to eight people even if solo. There are three tiers of MOBs that players will typically fight, and you can even choose to not fight the highest of those three when soloing.

        I know I’ve been yapping a lot about CoX, but it really is the best superhero game out there (and it’s in the upper echelons of games *period*, for my money.)

        • krellen says:

          Four levels higher, actually.

        • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

          How about fighting things two levels lower or five levels higher? Not exactly serious here, but I think it’s a point worth making.

          I have been meaning to give CoX a chance.

          • Traska says:

            Well, if the enemy’s level is too low, you get no EXP for fighting them, and then you may as well be playing DCUO. If the enemy’s level is too high, your chance to hit goes into the sewer, and then you’re just some shmoe getting his cape handed to him.

            • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

              But there’s no need for XP amounts to drop, if the XP requirements go up with levels, and you could implement a minimum chance to hit. After that it’s the player’s own foolishness. Actually, the freedom to choose how foolish you want to be should always be in a game. Just warn the player appropriately (and make sure you don’t warn for nothing, otherwise they’ll learn to ignore the warnings) and let them go get humiliated.

              Just as long it isn’t as stupid as in Borderlands. Lowered damage for higher level enemies? Fine. Damage lowered to about 10% for a difference of a couple of levels? Not good.

          • Jarenth says:

            You should give City of Heroes a chance. It’s cool.

            Man, all this talk about it is giving me the shakes as well.

            • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

              I thought “CoX” was shorthand for “City of Heroes/Villains”? Anyway, I meant both of those. If it’s another game entirely, then I don’t know what it is.

              Unless I misunderstood, and you were merely encouraging me to go with my plan.

  24. albval says:

    Yay, finally was able to access your site, after days of trying! Only two hours ago I still had to resort in doing some work, since the site just didn’t open. Should I now quickly open all this week’s posts in new tabs or have the DNS problems finally been solved?

    • X2-Eliah says:

      DNS problems are not something up to Shamus or his providers to solve, in this case. The problem is, the default/standard DNS services are just excruciatingly slow to update their addressing tables in the event of a server change, which I gather this site has done.

      There are other DNS services, like OpenDNS, which are much quicker on the uptake, but there is the hassle of setting them up in the first place.

  25. Traska says:

    Oh, and a question for anyone actually playing:

    When I was in beta, the voices were not fully implemented. In particular, Booster Gold was partially a dev voice, Circe was partially a dev voice, and Batgirl was totally a dev voice. All three were the *same voice*. Has this been fixed, or are the voices still incomplete?

    I ask because voice seems to be one of their main selling points, and I’d hate to think that they went live with that.

    • Shamus says:

      I think the core characters are all voiced by proper performers now. But a lot of the generic NPC’s are awful. In particular, a few of the police you speak to in Gotham emote like Commander Shepard on Nyquil.

      • Traska says:

        This is my problem with doing a game based around voice acting… you’ve got to get the voice acting right, or it starts to feel flat.

        Imagine a superhero game where all the superpowers have wonderful animations and graphics… except for fire, where the flames are two-frame animations of generic looking fire, and the sound effects are voiced instead of foleyed (you blow something up, and some guy calmly says “boom”.)

  26. Haviland says:

    I quite like it, bar the flaws :-)

    On the plus side –

    Graphics are awesome and, at last, different from the Cryptic style seen in CoX, Champions / Trek Online.

    You get to talk to Lex Luthor!

    On the minus side –

    What Shamus said. It’s amazing that the character designer is so limited in this day and age. A lot of people spend hours in that aiming to get it just right – the limitations in DCUO make it look like it came out 10 years ago.

    UI. Oh dear me. Sometimes you can use your mouse, sometimes not. Trying to add a friend is impossible until you do it via /friend at which point, the Add Friend option turns up on the social menu.

    You can’t resize or move any UI options. The text is so large, I don’t need to squint to see it. Trust me, that’s large.

    Grouping apparently doesn’t get you XP unless you’re the same level, unlike the mentoring / sidekick in other games of the type. What were they thinking? DC *invented* the sidekick. OK, probably not, but still..

    Play on a PvP server and you’ll get ganked at times by a group of players 10 levels above you. Hey ho.

    I don’t know whether it’s done on the PS3 and ported to the PC, or it’s two separate codes, but the console is the lowest common denominator in all that it is. Can’t use a 360 controller unless you remove all other control devices, like a G13.

    At the moment, it’s a single player game with lots of random NPC’s attacking you or helping you (who just happen to be PC’s in the real world.)

  27. Rick Tacular says:

    I agree with your critiques, but (being a drooling rabid inflexible fan-boy)I am going to stick with the game because it just came out and I’m expecting updates and fixes and changes. They did promise updates and content once a month (I’ll believe that when I see it, but all the same). I hear that “future expectation” is no reason to stick with a game, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because, according to those who were there, City of Heroes had less than DCUO, and now look at it.

    Also, I got involved with CoH after it had been in existence for three years. I’m excited and hopeful about being on the ground-floor this time. Our League is over 130 members and still growing.

    Finally, yes, I am a “fan-boy”, so I do forgive the game much. When I get bored (and we all do), I will make more of an effort to team up with people and be sociable. Also, I like re-running old missions, and pwning them at level 30. >=D

    • Shamus says:

      You don’t strike me as a fan-boy at all. You love the game and have fun with it, despite the flaws, if you see them as flaws at all. You didn’t even insult me. :)

      You’re just a fan. We need more fans.

  28. Jarenth says:

    Damnit. Like others here I was in the ‘This looks interesting, might check it out at some point’ camp, but your story and some of the comments paint the picture of a game that’s fun to play through once.

    Ah well. I can wait for this game to drop in price or become free to play, and if I get the superhero jibes there’s always City of Heroes. I hear Going Rogue is nice.

    • Traska says:

      Going Rogue is a mixed bag. On the one hand it’s OMG-It’s-Pretty nice, and the fact that you can start the game with a Mastermind grouped with a Blaster is pretty cool. On the other hand, the new starting area (Praetoria) is as empty as a “We Like Power Girl For Her Mind” chatroom.

      • Von Krieger says:

        There aren’t 100 people hanging out under the Atlas statue or hopping around between Black Market and University, but in my experience Praetoria is by no means empty.

        Considering I play during the overnight hours most of the time, there is always somebody in the main square on Nova Praetoria and Imperial City’s section by the train, trailor, and auction house when I pass through.

        Neutropolis doesn’t have many people in it. But then again neither do many of the city sections without an auction house in the Rogue Isles and Paragon City.

        So your mileage may vary on the emptiness, I suppose.

      • krellen says:

        I saw as many people in Praetoria as anywhere else last time I was there, a few weeks ago. And right after launch, it was packed.

  29. Dovius says:

    I understand the flaws, but I’m gonna get the game anyway, since some flaws DO make sense:
    Limited costume choices: You’re a newly empowered super-human, I kinda expected them to have limited-ish choices, seeing as they’re probably stuff thrown together by yourself using your limited means to the fullest.
    Killing mooks gives next to no benefit: You’re a super-human, smashing Larry the cable Guy through a wall isn’t that big an effort :D

    Also what kinda of character did you play, Shamus? in terms of powers/mentor/attack type

    • Traska says:

      Spider-Man’s costume is essentially the exact same costume he threw together as a teenager to wrestle in. Superman’s isn’t significantly different than the suit that Ma Kent made for him. A new Green Lantern can have any suit he can think of. I would assume that a sorcerous character would be able to whip up something fairly cool.

      And as for getting nothing for beating up normal joes… how about Amazons? Robots? Members of Hive? Because you fight these and get nothing for them as well.

      • Dovius says:

        Never said my explanations completely covered it.
        and I’d like to note that Spiderman’s was a lot less sophisticated, Superman’s wasn’t made by himself, and a costume provided by a power ring that can transmute elements and create constructs of energy isn’t a big feat
        And alright, some of the parts about no xp from goons is nonsensical, but I can still overlook it.
        And, ya know, didn’t know about the Amazons, woops xD

    • Shamus says:

      I’ve played all the power types to level 5 or 6. I’ve taken a dual pistol / Gadget character to 10, and a brawling / ice character to 11.

      • Dovius says:

        any favorites?

        • Shamus says:

          I’m not crazy about any of the major powers: Ice, Fire, Gadgets, Sorcery, Nature. (Actually, I just realized I haven’t tried Nature.) They mostly lack visceral “punch”. You know, they bring guys down, but it’s not as satisfying as you’d expect.

          The weapon powers are great. Brawling and Martial arts really do it for me. Dual Pistols were fun, but felt extremely weak, and I only ever used a couple of moves because they were the most effective. Which made them repetitive.

          When I dropped my dual pistols and started a brawler character, it felt like easy mode by comparison.

          • Jarenth says:

            The fact that I initially couldn’t tell from your post alone whether you were talking about DCU or Champions Online is indicative of sómething, I’m sure.

            • Sumanai - a grouchy ball of cynical pessimism says:

              That you have no taste in games and that I should forever ignore your dumb suggestions?*

              The trick is in the details: in Champions it’s Gadgeteering, there’s no Nature, it’s Might instead of Brawling and no Dual Pistols, because it’s a generic firearm user.

              But otherwise, yeah. Good observation. Those glowing eyes are surprisingly sharp.

              • Jarenth says:

                If you haven’t been ignoring my dumb suggestions* already, I can only imagine what kind of hell the last six months of your life must have been.

                *Disclaimer: Jarenth Ltd takes no responsibility for any damages that may occur due to the following or ignoring of any suggestions in the ownership of Jarenth Ltd. Restrictions apply, results may vary. And by restrictions I mean roflcopter.

          • Traska says:

            Dual Pistols weak? Maybe… until you hit level 9? 10? And can take Full Auto. Or, as I call it “Spam the area with bullets and then pull out a sponge”. It’s the only attacks you’ll ever use, but it’s astoundingly effective.

            Unless they nerfed it. Which they may have.

  30. DC Hero says:

    DC Universe is a big title for an MMO and Sony Online Entertainment is really cashing in on it but I don’t think I’ll be getting this game because I already have COH/COV and Champions. These two are already a sandbox in terms of hero creation. As much as I want to become a sidekick to Superman and Batman like everyone else but getting another superhero MMO is not practical. Anyway, have fun everyone!

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