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DC Universe Online
Score: 78%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: Massively Multiplayer
Genre: MMORPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
Ideally, this review would come out six months from now. Unlike other games, community and content are paramount to an MMO's success - two things that take time to develop. Just look at the number of MMOs that have come out, shined for a month, and then collapsed. It's far too early to know exactly what the future holds for DC Universe Online, but so far things look good. I'm normally not a fan of MMOs, but took the leap and purchased time beyond the trial 30 days, a unusual step for me since I normally don't play MMOs. At the very least, it's a good indicator of things to come.

It's hard to not see Jim Lee's fingerprints all over DC Universe Online, at least stylistically. The actual art style follows the same look of Jim Lee's work, but trends more towards DC's animated offerings. The look is more cartoon than anything else, which works for a game based around comic books. Both hub worlds (Gotham and Metropolis) have their own drastically different appearance. Gotham is a dark, gothic city while Metropolis is a sun-soaked city of tomorrow. Each is dotted with familiar locations, including well-known hotspots like the Daily Planet or out-of-the-way locales such as Dr. Thompkin's Crime Alley Free Clinc.

Character customization is deceptively limiting. At first, the number of costume items seems limiting, but as you complete missions, you'll uncover new styles to add to your always-evolving look. If you uncover something that doesn't mesh with your look, all is not lost. You can equip an item for the stat boost, the change its appearance to something more inline with your look. It's a cool option that, as far as I can tell, is unique to DCUO.

Audio is hit-and-miss. There isn't much in the way of music, though the few times you hear something, it always meshes with the situation. Gotham's themes are dark and full of low horns, while Metropolis is full of brighter fanfares. DCUO stumbles with voices. Dialogue is stilted, though some big names are included, such as Mark Hamill (Joker), Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Adam Baldwin (Superman). The problem is the number of awkwardly silly "battle lines" spouted throughout battle.

DC Universe Online is a better MMORPG for newcomers with limited play time than the hardcore, "all-nighter" players. If there's any one major fault facing DC Universe Online, it's length. The level cap is set at 30, which considering how fast you'll blast through levels, doesn't take much time at all. Once you hit the cap, there are a number of fun Raids and activities to adventure into, though the fun doesn't last forever.

For the hardcore player, your choices are to either keep working your way up and collect the sweet iconic armor sets, or start a new character and chase Trophies. Since you're not leveling, you can't improve your powers or really build your character up beyond getting the aforementioned armor. DCUO doesn't offer then same sort of side businesses (crafting, for instance) found in other MMOs. The only diversion is finding hidden items/ landmarks or completing checkpoint races. Still, the rewards for completing each aren't enough of a carrot to keep capped players motivated.

Conversely, DCUO is very friendly for players who, like me, don't have the time to log into a game for more than a hour or two every other night. Progression is story-based. You'll start with missions assigned out by your Mentor (for more on character creation/ mentors, see here), which take you through mini-stories involving familiar DC characters. You fight some, ally with others - it's great for comic fans. Mission sequences usually last anywhere from half an hour to an hour and leave you with a nice piece of equipment or level.

Missions are fun, but not incredibly varied. Most are around to mask experience grinds, so most involve killing "X" number of enemies or collecting objects. DCUO is, however, an action-oriented MMO, so beating up waves of enemies isn't as tedious as "click the mouse button and forget it" games.

Outside story-driven missions, players can group together and tackle "Alerts," short story-based instances where you'll need to topple certain big-named enemies. Alerts bring you a little closer to the DC mythos and even include areas like Arkham Asylum. They're a big deal and, with the right group, a lot of fun. Alternately, they're a pain with a random group. One downside to groups is communication. The chat box is always available, but a pain unless you have a QWERTY keyboard attachment for your controller. Voice chat is supported, but has been spotty since launch.

Players can also compete in PvP matches, including Capture-the-Flag and Hold-and-Capture missions. Legends PvP, where you play as iconic DC heroes, is available as well. Unfortunately, the frequency of either events popping up is directly related to the number of heroes and villains on your server. Currently, most servers are hero-heavy, and matches just don't pop up as often.

As is the case with most MMORPGs, ease of play is directly tied to how well you understand the underlying mechanics. While gameplay is straightforward, there's more to the game than learning a few combos and randomly choosing powers because they sound cool.

Unfortunately, the list of powers/ abilities is a bit of a stumbling block. The descriptions are easy to follow, but until you really understand the underlying math behind stats, you might end up picking some really useless powers. Some powers look amazing based on description ("Word of Power" for instance), but don't work as advertised. The system seems more complicated than it needs to be. Stat-junkies will love it, but for casual fans, it can be a little much to wrap your head around at first.

Thankfully, stat resets are available at the Watchtower/ Hall of Doom, but they aren't free. On the bright side, by the time you understand what you're doing, money won't be much of an issue (by then, you'll be going to Legend Marks), so the steep price won't seem as bad. You're only able to reassign skill points, but it's a great way to experiment with moves and weed out the useless ones.

Even with a good character build, DC Universe Online's difficultly jumps around. Earlier instances, like Harley Quinn, are incredibly tough, yet later ones, like Lex Luthor, are incredibly easy. The same goes for most missions - though difficultly here depends on how many people are in the same areas. More people means an easier time in combat, but a harder time meeting goals. Conversely, you'll have an easier time meeting goals with less people, but are more likely to be overwhelmed by enemies. Either way, it's hard to know what you're getting from any one fight.

Death penalties aren't a big deal; your equipment deteriorates and you're returned to the nearest spawn spot. All equipment can be repaired, but for a price, which is a bigger deal early, but not much of one late in the game. Characters heal over time, so you can sometimes pull back (flyers have a big advantage here) and heal, though enemies will heal as well.

Game Mechanics:
Don't be surprised if you have the sudden urge to pause during combat. The action-oriented combat system gives DC Universe Online welcome, console-friendly play style. Combat involves basic combos, similar to most brawlers. You being with a few simple combos built around your two base attacks-- ranged and melee - and earn new combos based on how you choose allocate skill points.

Your initial fighting style plays a role in what moves you can learn, as does your selected movement style, leading to a system that is considerably more open than other MMOs I've played. The concept plays into DC Universe Online's over-arching "classless" system. There are numerous combat/ movement/ power combinations, so you're never really pigeonholed into one combat role from the start. Instead, you can create your own class and determine your own combat role.

The system isn't without its pitfalls. By the time you hit level 10, the game will assign a role (Tank, Healer, Controller...) based around how you've assigned points up until that point. While an interesting concept, the progression speed between level 1 - 10 is fast, so you it isn't likely you'll fully understand how powers/ combat abilities work by the time a role is assigned.

You're given eight power slots (though two are reserved for healing and artifacts), which are accessed by the two shoulder triggers. Four to the left, four to the right with the face buttons used to activate powers. For a full rundown, you can check our combat-focused beta preview here. The system works great, though I was disappointed there's (obvious) way to access powers not on the bar. Some abilities, like Hibernation, are only useful in certain situations and otherwise soak up a spot you could otherwise use for a combat ability.

Shortly after launch, a picture began circulating around the Internet of a pillow from Game Director Chris Cao's office that reads, "It's not perfect, but... DC Universe Online We've got it!!!" This is likely the best summary of the game available. The game has issues, but like any good MMO, there's always time to tweak and change issues. The DC Universe Online out today will, if history rings true, not be the same DC Universe Online six months from now.

DCOU isn't a WoW-killer, and I don't think anyone expects that. If you do, this isn't the game you're looking for. If, however, you're a comic geek (and not a militant Marvel fan), the simply joy of playing in the DC Universe was enough to mask some of the game's issues - at least in the short term. We'll just have to see how things look six months from now.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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