Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DC Universe Online Preview

GamePro editor AJ Glasser chronicles her first few hours in the DC Universe Online Beta on PS3, crafting a sultry heroine and smashing thugs along the way.

Entry 1 - Install
The DC Universe Online beta requires a heavy-duty 15 GB download to PlayStation 3s, which took my internet connection three days to manage. I suspect this has something to do with my Bit Torrent-happy roommates provoking Comcast into snipping our internet. The download froze twice before I got fed up and used a second beta key on a friend's PS3 - his system snagged the beta in only three hours. Eventually, I got the beta up and running smoothly on both systems - but I was a little terrified for my home PS3 when the developer announced a patch. It wasn't so bad a download, though, which really brought it home for me that the retail version of DCUO on PS3 is supposed to come on a Blu-ray disc.

Entry 2 - Setting the Scene
The opening cinematic was more DC fan-service than I've seen in my life with a much, much darker edge than I expected. Lex Luthor throws down with the Justice League in a ruined Metropolis in a frantic fight scene that moves so fast, I actually couldn't identify all of the DC characters on screen. Mark Hamill's Joker made a very prominent appearance for pretty much the only laugh in the whole game (thus far), while the rest of the voice performances scored a "decent" or above from the peanut gallery (friend and roommates).

About the time that Superman faints, having discovered kryptonite chunks crammed in Wonder Woman's mouth, my hardcore DC fangirl roommate remarked, "Damn. Shit just got real." She groaned when the scene cut to "present day" with Luthor explaining to Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman that that's his past but their future. So, it turns out that the Lex Luthor (who kicked so much ass in the cut scene) went back in time to warn the present-day Justice League that he shouldn't have pwned them because Brainiac took over while they were distracted. We're not huge fans of history jumps in DC because it usually results in a lot of new characters we don't like. I guess this time we can deal with it because the players are supposed to be the new characters.

Entry 3 - Character Creation: Artemissy
After a quick explanation from future-Luthor about humans becoming super heroes and villains to fight Brainiac, a screen prompt guides users through character creation. The game wisely walks you through basic choices like male/female and good/evil before asking you to pick a mentor figure - it turned out to be a heady nerd experience for me to pick a hero to follow. Also, the costume customization options are wide enough to be overwhelming even without all of the features live yet.

I created a small-statured magic-using archer named Artemissy. I had some drama around picking a Movement Mode type. Acrobatics, Flight, or Super-Speed all essentially do the same thing - help players get to new places on the map more quickly - but the animation styles are so different, it has a real impact on how you see your character. Acrobatics, as it turns out, are more primal and animal-like; flight is more graceful, but cumbersome (especially if you're trying to keep the camera clear of wings you may or may not have); Super-Speed makes you look like a normal human, only sped up three times over. I went with Acrobatics for Artemissy, but I kind of which I'd chosen Flight to back up the character I envisioned her to be.

Entry 4 - Magic User Tutorial Mission
I chose Wonder Woman as my mentor figure (choosing magic over strength or gadgetry), so that I'd have a chance to encounter Zatanna on missions. The first magic-user-specific tutorial involves you rescuing Zatanna from some minor villain bent on brainwashing people with dark energy totems. The yellow arrow icons on the mini-map helped me cruise through Metropolis toward Chinatown to complete the missions, but I kept getting distracted by "Thug" non-playable characters that I could sometimes beat up and other times not for reasons I don't understand.

My primary mission was almost all beating down brainwashed thugs. A small quest component also had me destroying 20 totems, which took longer than it should've because I had to wait for totems I'd just destroyed to respawn in order to get up to a count of 20. As I understand it, this part of the quest was pretty typical early-level grinding work - but I really didn't mind so much because the PS3 controls reduce grinding to very simple button mashes and the animations were pretty.

About mid-way through the Zatanna tutorial mission, I got in over my head with some low-level bad guys and wound up "Knocked Out." When that happens, pressing Triangle makes your character "Flee" to a checkpoint that appears to be chosen by how close it is to where you were - which is nice. But this particular checkpoint put a PvP zone between me and Chinatown, which was bad. At only level 5, the level 8 players went through me pretty quickly, which I suppose is a reasonable balancing of levels.

Finishing the Zatanna mission was the real payoff for playing DCUO as opposed to some other MMO. After entering a Chinese theater, I actually got to rescue and fight alongside Zatanna against a group of baddies. I was a little sad to find that when she cast magic spells, she didn't seem to be talking backwards (which is how her character casts magic in the comics), but it could just be a beta bug...

AJ Glasser doesn't normally care for MMOs, but she wanted to give DCUO a shot because she loves DC and because the game runs on PS3.

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