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DC Universe Online: Final Crisis

At approximately 8:00 pm Central time last Wednesday, a call went out to all heroes in Gotham. A future version of the Joker, Batman's arch-nemesis, was on the loose with Batman in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, similar reports began to spring from Metropolis stating Lex Luthor had attacked Superman in Centennial Park.

In what could only have been a planned attack by both villains to separate the DC Universe's greatest heroes, the call asked heroes in both cities to come to the aide of the heroes and help turn the tide. The call also reached the city's villain population, who also showed up to pick off the distracted heroes.

Then it happened.

As the groups waged super-powered war in both cities, the extraterrestrial machine known as Brainiac descended on both cities. The previous struggle left both weak against Brainiac's forces, easily allowing Brainiac to defeat the combined might of both heroes and villains and destroy the world.

Or, rather, reformat it.

After an adventure-filled beta period, the DC Universe is back in action with the release of DC Universe Online. The beta ended last week with the Battle of Legends Event, allowing all beta testers a chance to go toe-to-toe with the DC Universe's greatest heroes and villains before the servers were shut off and readied for it's 1-11-11 launch.

For players who've had their pre-order locked in since last year, be sure to check out "Identity Crisis", our look at DC Universe Online's character creation process. For those still on the fence about what to expect from the game, read on.

Compared to other MMOs on the market, DC Universe Online has a decidedly action-game feel. At times, gameplay resembled something like Crackdown rather than World of Warcraft. At times, I hit (Start), completely expecting the world to pause around me. This, of course, didn't happen and usually led to my hero turning into a piņata for Gotham's best and brightest thugs.

After creating a character, DC Universe Online drops you into a short tutorial level where you're guided through the various mechanics by Oracle. After teaming with Superman to take down one of Brainiac's warships, you're transported to a police station in either Metropolis or Gotham (depending on your mentor) and quickly introduced to the mission structure.

Although DC Universe Online plays more like an action game, the underlying mechanics are still very much rooted in an MMO. While in your respective police station, you can purchase or sell new gear. Gear is a big part of the game, and is handled in a rather unique way. Every piece of gear you earn changes your hero's appearance. However, if you've spent time crafting just the right look, you may not want to add spiked shoulder pads or knee-high boots. At the same time, you don't want to lose the much-needed bonuses that come with equipping these items. To counter-balance these two needs, DC Universe Online allows you to equip items, then set your character's look in a separate menu. In other words, you can equip the spiked shoulder pads, but turn the visual "off" while receiving the bonuses.

As you complete missions, you'll eventually earn renown in the superhero community, earning access to special sets of armor crafted after the DC Universe's greatest heroes and villains. As mentioned back in our E3 2009 coverage, you'll earn special armor, such as the Armor of El or a set of high-tech Batman armor that looks a bit like the Batman Beyond costume (only bigger). There are numerous sets of armor to find and earn.

In addition to earning DC character-inspired armor, you eventually gain access to their iconic powers. By reaching a certain level, you can unlock Exobytes (the nano-bots giving you the powers in the first place) equipped with Superman's heat vision or Wonder Woman's Lasso.

Missions are handed out by various NPCs throughout the city. Most begin in the police stations, with an NPC offering a job handed to them by a hero. That mission usually leads to series of missions related to the plot. The first set of Batman missions involved Scarecrow releasing his fear toxin in the city. Missions began with having to stop thugs and destroy the machines spreading the gas, though I eventually had to fight off the toxin's effect on my character and help get the antidote to infected citizens.

In true MMO form, most missions are of the "Get X of This" or "Beat X of That" type of mission. The focus is on grinding through enemies for experience, but there's a push to mask the actual grind. It might dissuade players who are weary of the mechanic, though the focus on action injects a little something extra into the grind. You're still killing endless mobs of enemies, but instead of hitting one button and watching the fight (while occasionally activating an ability), there's a bit more strategy involved.

Combat is based around simple combos, which are directly related to the combat style selected during character creation. You begin with a simple set of combos, but as you level, you'll earn access to new moves and abilities. Powers are also a big part of combat. The control set up is incredibly easy to use. Similar to WoW, all abilities are mounted on a command bar. Each side of the bar is tied to the (R2) and (L2) buttons. Tapping each highlights that side of the bar and allows you to use a mapped ability by pressing the corresponding face button. Again, you begin with a simple set of commands but by the time you hit higher levels, you'll have to make some tough choices about what sort of character you want to be. This ties in beautifully with the sort of "class-less" creation system DC Universe Online uses.

Each series of missions ends with a giant showdown with the main villain where you fight alongside a specific character. In the Scarecrow mission chain, I eventually teamed up with Batgirl to take on Scarecrow. Boss fights are neat, because you're actually helping the hero in combat rather than acting as a sidekick. The experience varies based on who you're helping, but always feels important. It's also a cool way for players to connect with the DC Universe's many characters.

Adding to the console feel, you'll also find various challenges spread across each city. Immediately after exiting the police station, I noticed a checkpoint race that put my character's movement skills to the test. The race began at street level, but soon enough I was scaling buildings and executing trick precision dives. Each is timed and if you can manage to hit a specific goal time, you'll earn special gear from certain heroes.

Based on the beta, DC Universe Online looks like a great MMO for the PS3. It manages to stick to MMO roots while also tossing in console-specific gameplay. It will be interesting to see how, beginning with today's launch, the game and community will react and grow.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker
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