DC Universe Online Beta Mini-Review

A couple weeks ago I got a PlayStation Plus membership, and one of the benefits of the membership was access to the "DC Universe Online" PS3 Beta (the other way to get access is to pre-order the game and sign up for a beta key at the DCUO website). I was happy to try out the game in beta form, because I've never been much of an MMO player and I wasn't sure I wanted to make the $60 commitment to buy the game if I wasn't going to stick with it.

After playing for a couple weeks, I'm still on the fence about buying the final product, but I'm leaning much more toward picking it up than I was before.

First things first: when you download the beta from PSN, it's something like a 100 MB download. But then the first time you load the game, it has to download about 14 GB in assets, meaning you need to have that much space free on your hard drive, and you have to wait a LONG time before playing for the first time (my initial install time was just over four hours).

Once I got to the actual gameplay, I found that in my limited experience playing the game, the core gameplay is, well, fun. There's a nice balance between the main story mode and the missions doled out to you by your selected mentor (and I'll get to that) and the other missions you can pick up from various people around your headquarters and the cities of DCU. Teaming your created character with the established characters of the DC Universe for "boss battles" is a nice touch and adds a layer of familiarity to bring in people like me that might not otherwise be interested in playing an MMO.

Graphically the game is strong but not spectacular, which is to be expected from a game that has so many changing live elements on the screen at once. The first time I flew around Metropolis, I was a little disappointed with the depth of field, but subsequent flyovers -- both in Metropolis and Gotham -- proved to be much more satisfying.

I haven't played around too much with the multiplayer aspects of the game, but honestly that's one of the things that's appealed to me. At least early in the gameplay, the game doesn't force you into PvP or multiplayer raid scenarios, letting you build up your character and get familiar with all the varied elements of the gameplay first.

I found the upgrading system for powers to be entirely satisfactory, and combat styles were balanced enough within each of my characters (I created 3, one on each beta server) that I wasn't just repeatedly using one attack style over and over again. The enemies seemed to have the right balance compared to my character too, with general lackeys easy to defeat, larger baddies a little harder and true superheroes/villains requiring assistance from a second character.

Now, with that said, the missions do tend to get repetitive, in kind of an Assassin's Creed style: they're technically different, but only on the surface. Beat up a bunch of this type of enemy, collect this many of the thing they drop, save/curse this many citizens. The skins are different, and the enemies vary enough that you have to mix up your attacks, but it can get a little tedious, at least in the early leveling-up stages.

Still, that's far from the biggest problem in the game. No, that comes right at the beginning in character creation. Normally this is my favorite part of any RPG, and it should be even more ramped up in a superhero game, but DCU's character creation falls short of expectations. You can choose from either gender, then once you do you have 3 body types to choose from, only they aren't really different body "types" so much as they are "short, average and tall". If you choose a male character, no matter what height you choose, he'll be ridiculously chiseled, and if you choose a female character she's guaranteed to have large breasts. Yes, some of this is because it's a comic book universe, but when the storyline is that these are normal people who got powers from Brainiac's nano-bots, they should at least give you the option to make them look like normal people. While most of the complaints have centered around the breast size for female characters -- and rightfully so, given that when you create a short female, she ends up looking like an overly sexualized pre-teen -- I found the male characters even more limiting. The tallest body type also locks you into a body that looks like the Hulk, so there's no way to create a tall, lean-muscled hero. In my case, I wanted to create a superhero version of LeBron James (yes, I'm a huge dork on multiple levels), but he came out looking more like Marvel's version of Carlos Boozer.

(As an aside, when that character did his first superhero team-up, it was with Flash... so it was King James and Flash working side-by-side, which might have made the game worth purchasing for me right then and there).

Beyond that, the character creation options definitely seem vast at first, but it's mostly in the gear options, which will become meaningless once you start picking up and equipping gear that will boost your stats. There's no detailed face editor to speak of, and no way to tweak specific areas of the body. A large part of this is because for most of the time you're in the game, you're seeing your character from a distance anyway, but I get the sense that many MMO players see their characters as an extension of themselves, and would like more control over how that character appears on screen.

In addition to the character creation, I had frequent problems with the game freezing up completely, but I'm letting that slide because it's a beta and also because I never lost any progress because of the freezes -- I did however lose time as I waited for my PS3 to restart, then had to get back into the login queue, which can be pretty long at high-demand times of the day.

Overall, I'd rate my experience with the DCU Online Beta a positive one, and I'm leaning towards buying the game when it comes out. I don't think the limited character creation options are a fatal flaw, and since the game does come with a free 30-day subscription, that gives me a month to decide if I want to keep paying $15/month to play or trade it in.