Staff Writer Patrick Do talks about SOE, DCUO and other things... Mostly other things.
They say the best things in life are free and, on that note, SOE’s flagship DC Universe Online went free to play last month. In doing so, Sony has taken a game that was initially met with passionate indifference, and turned it into an unmitigated success. The million dollar question, however, still remains: “should I play DCUO?” The answer is an unqualified yes—it’s a triple-A title, it has that great DC flavor and it’s free to play. If any of these talking points even come close to tickling your fancy, you owe it to yourself (and your fancy) to give DC Universe Online a try. Now that we’ve gotten the housekeeping done, let’s talk about the “hows” and “whys” of it all.
There’s a lot to like about this game. Attacks are doled out by a series of mouse clicks and keystrokes, combos are fast and furious, and gameplay is rewarding. The main story is engrossing and replete with rock solid voice acting. As a refreshing change of pace, the game is intentionally designed to deter players from grinding, as the mainstay of your experience will come from questing. I was able to reach the max level (which in DCUO is level thirty) in five days with minimal effort. This is where the game really starts to get interesting: after hitting thirty, you will start gaining access to end game raids and loot that will determine the stats of your character.
While I have no complaints about the gameplay, the steps leading up to it leave something to be desired. The first time you boot up the game you are met with a plethora of character customization options. Knowing what type of character you want to build before entering the selection screen is key, as you are given only a brief description of what each class does before being asked to select one. Certain combinations of fighting, movement and ability types will be contradictory and counter-intuitive, and will make you feel like you’re shooting nerf darts at enemies. I had to restart my character on a couple of occasions when I reached a certain level and realized I had committed an egregious error in the character creation phase.
The game was designed from the ground up on the PlayStation 3. As such, you are limited to using only six abilities, one item and one trinket, as there are only eight available face buttons on the PS3 controller. These interface issues are a part of the game, but they become less pronounced as you grow accustomed to playing; it is easy to overlook these issues when everything else about the game is so refined. DCUO still remains one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had this year, and it was all offered at the same cost as unsolicited advice, travel brochures and peppermints with the words “thank you” printed on the wrapper.
DCUO offers players three tiers of payment options: the Free to Play option gives you access to two Character slots, 28 Inventory slots and the ability to carry a maximum of $1500 in-game currency. Players who spend five dollars or more on in-game items or content packs are given expanded access as well as increased character and inventory slots, and the ability to trade items. The Legendary option costs $14.99 a month and affords users full access to DCUO in all its glory. Turbine employs something of a similar revenue model, but DCUO gives up a lot more of its content without asking for a dime.
This new business model also marks a subtle shift in SOE’s approach to MMORPG development. When DCUO didn’t do as well as they had hoped, they could have slowed the pace, to reassess the situation. Instead, however, SOE decided to take a calculated risk, and they’re really trying to listen to the community as they do it.