That Pri*ck, the Greek Geek!
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Revisting "DC Universe Online"
Two years ago, when I was still feeding some unhealthy delusions about a prosperous future, I decided to ignore the voice inside my head that told me all MMOs are crap on launch and just bought "DC Universe Online" on the day of release.
I played non-stop for four days and then wrote an overlong review. No, you will not read it, because I have made a pact with Satan that my old blog shall never be seen by anyone or anything ever again. My overall opinion, though, was that the game was "fuckin' awesome".
This is not the opinion shared by most gamers and the press. From my point of view, they "just didn't get it". I know that's a shitty defense and an unfair assertion, but I'm sticking to it, because nobody is to blame but the game itself. DCUO's gameplay and focus were *barely* advertised and even the game itself doesn't do a good job showing its intentions.
As the name suggests, "DC Universe Online" is a super-hero MMORPG taking place in the universe of DC Comics. The focus of the title is the so-called "endgame"; the portion where your level-capped character does raids and missions for better gear/equipment. The level-cap is at a mere level 30 and the game is mostly solo by that point. It treats your character as a non-entity and serves as an extended prologue, where you only get to choose your character's powers and skills and get familiar with the universe of DC Comics, where the game takes place in.
I gave up on the game after leveling two characters because endgame isn't my cup of tea either. More than that, the game stupidly launched on the traditional subscription model and with no solo-content early on and lack of updates and expansions, it quickly lost a huge chunk of its player-base.
Endgame can be a full-time hobby for those with a hard-on for it, but for those with a life to consider, paying 15 bucks a month to hunt for better gear with nothing new to see or experience just isn't worth it.
The type of endgame gear DCUO focuses on isn't so much based on numbers, but mainly the aesthetics. During character creation, options are plenty for any standard MMO, but limited compared to its direct competition "Champions Online" and the now expired "City of Heroes".
In DCUO, equipping a piece of armor unlocks a style you can then use, regardless of the actual gear you have on at that moment. During leveling you collect standard styles included in the character creation screen, but once you hit endgame you use unconventional currency (different types of "Marks" instead of in-game dollars) to unlock special armors designed after the established DC super-heroes.
It's trivial, but so is renting a garage just to store your MISB Transformers figures. It's a collector's video game and it's why forcing a subscription on people too busy to collect was a stupid idea. It's a value-for-money thing.
Ask for help against Doomsday, get the C-List Leaguers.
The plan to focus on style-related endgame was kind of ingenious, really. A few days ago, I decided I wanted to change my mobile phone. I hate touch-screens generally because I find them unresponsive much of the time and I especially hate them on phones, because they're contributing to a needless complexity for simple actions that not too long ago could be performed with the push of a button.
So, while I was looking through the catalog for a phone that wouldn't pocket-dial the fucking police and then force the cops listen to the sound of my butt-cheeks rubbing against each other while walking for five goddamn minutes (yes, this actually happened), I realized that I didn't want to get a new phone.
It's not because I suddenly changed my mind on the subject of unintuitive menus, it's because on this phone, my ringtone's the Doctor Who theme, text messages sound like the TARDIS' engine and the wallpaper is a picture of my girlfriend.
This theme can be easily seen in MMOs as well. Western MMOs tend to just outright lock features, quest rewards and areas, but the Korean-made games, like most Perfect World games, or Lineage II and AION usually offer the whole game for free. The whole game. They still make money through micro-transactions, but with the game readily available in practically its entirety, what's there left to pay for?
Extra weapons and XP boost packs, clothing, crafting materials for character customization, pets/companions and more.
Ah, MY city. Well, kind of.
None of those are necessary to the game to any extend. None of it are a prerequisite for combat, exploration or content. Some of those games are the oldest f2p MMOs and still make money. Lineage II has been extremely successful since its launch and in its free-to-play form it's still the most successful NCSoft game thanks to trivial micro-transactions such as the above.
DCUO focuses on just that; personalization of your character. Ironically, you could argue you're more likely to see homogeneity in appearance once you unlock these armors; my character's wearing a Superman sweater (bought from the store) and standard pants and boots and I still haven't found anyone with a similar style in-game. Not so much with the standard "legendary" gear, but regardless, it seems to work for people.
The game became free-to-play around the time it turned a year old, after losing a shitload of subscribers soon after the 30-day-free trial ended and not only did it save its life, it brought it to its intended form. In that time, the developers also stepped up their game and started releasing expansions (free for subscribers, available for purchase for free players) that add a fair amount of content, mostly endgame-oriented, to the game.
The many endgame dungeons and raids offer Marks whenever you do them randomly, but the big pick-ups come from the daily and weekly bonuses. As the name suggests, these can be earned only once a day/week (usually from the boss characters) and while the missions are always available, the player becomes loot locked.
I... uh... Can I help you guys?
This can change by using the Replay Badges, which are acquired through the store. Subscribed players get about 150 of those bad boys with each renewal, which allows them to gain more Marks more frequently than unsubscribed players and thus balance cost-to-value. In addition, being part of a League (owning a League/Guild is a privilege of subscribed users, though everyone can join one) puts one ahead in the queues for the raids and the dungeons, which can be extremely helpful.
The game is still not perfect by any means. It launched in the midst of a lot of technical issues and while a lot of them have been resolved, there are still a few popping up here and there. Also, in the interest of "valid" challenge, the developers have the knack to lock players that resurrect during final boss battles out of the encounters. That means that if you die, you can't rejoin and either your team gets the job done, or you need to retry the whole thing.
I get the reasoning, but for the harder dungeons, chances are you need all your players. Once you lose one of them, it becomes very possible you'll lose the encounter altogether. It's common to get stuck on final bosses for thirty or sixty minutes, with constant retries and players dropping in and out, in an effort to find the winning team for that one encounter. It causes a flow-breaking prolonged downtime that's irritating and impractical if you actually have things to do in real life.
Stuck outside the battle for... far... too... long.
Also, I haven't bought any of the DLCs yet, but the latest DLC "Home Turf" is already causing balancing issues. This expansion adds sidekicks and "back up", which is effectively a group of five NPCs that can be called up at any given time for support, which is great for dungeons, but no so much for PvP, for obvious reasons. I realize you get what you pay for, but this is a balancing issue, especially since during PvP raids, it can throw off the entire team based on how many members have actually bought the DLC.
I'm also not certain about the Replay Badges. I'm completely on-board with free players being loot-locked, but I'm not so sure subscribed players should be. Admittedly, I may be wrong on that, partly because I've heard League play would be badly affected (I don't know how, I haven't played on Leagues) and partly because I realize the developers would have to double the amount of new content they put out. After all, there is only so many toons/avatars you can make and outfit with the best gear before you just move on to a different game.
Indulging fantasies about avenging Superman.
Lastly, there is always the big question that comes bundled with practically every MMO: would you be willing to trade your soul for the chance to look fabulous in your new armor modeled after a crazy clown that wants to spread chaos? As different as the game feels in comparison to a lot of MMOs out there, in the end of the day the basic core design and philosophy remain. As much as you may like this game, would you be willing to waste hundreds of hours on hunting gear that's ultimately useless and an experience that offers little outside a decent time-waster?
Be that as it may, two years since launch DCUO is one of the most impressive examples of a game the care for which, by its developer and publishers, transformed it from a mitigated disaster to a fresh little jewel in the sea of MMOs out there. Considering that this is a Sony Entertainment game, the same Sony that assassinated "The Matrix Online" a few years back thanks to a number of legendarily stupid decisions, the care and support they've shown to DCUO and the gamble they took when they started implementing the changes is phenomenal.
"DC Universe Online" is the perfect free-to-play MMORPG. Practically never running out of content for free players with needless locks, it offers everyone a chance to play for as long as they want with whatever they want and choose for themselves whether or not they'd like to pay for more without losing much either way. I suggest you take advantage of that and jump on it immediately, then decide for yourselves.
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