Comics In Gaming: DC Universe Online
Feb 22, 2012 by     Comments Off    Posted In: Articles, Columns, Reviews

Background information: I’m a gamer, and I have been for as long as I can remember. Even before I had any idea what a Spider-Man was, I was saving the Mushroom Kingdom. I spent years as something of a freelance game journalist, working for a couple of small organizations. In more recent times, my efforts have been more concentrated on comics and all things related to them. Somehow, it wasn’t until last week that I realized that I could write about comics and games at the same time! So, after talking with a couple of guys here at StashMyComics, this new column, Comics In Gaming, was born.

In this regularly appearing column, I’ll be talking about games based on a variety of comic properties. There are a bunch of them out there, and I’ll be digging through time to bring you the gems and the stinkers alike. These won’t be your mainstream game reviews, though; my chief interest here will be in the way games utilize their licensing (but those more traditional review issues pertaining to gameplay and audio/visual presentation still factor into that interest).

So, without further delay, I’m kicking off this column with my present gaming addiction: DC Universe Online.

DC Universe Online was released by Sony Online Entertainment in 2011. On the surface, DCUO seems like just another MMORPG with a colorful, comic book skin. Other games have done this before, but DCUO is set apart from them by more than just its licensing; its combat system feels like a very customizable and deep action game, a much appreciated breath of fresh air in an often mouse click-happy genre.

But let’s cut to the chase here, shall we? What does DCUO do right, especially for us comic fans? Well, first of all, it manages to create a world that brings a great deal of the DCU into the picture. No, not everyone gets equal screen time, but that’s okay by me. Better yet, DCUO has a compelling premise to fuel the overarching story and gameplay.

See, in DCUO, Brainiac shows up at a point in Earth’s future to claim new turf, coincidentally right as Lex Luthor is about to kill Superman after a huge battle between DC’s heroes and villains. Upon realizing that Earth wouldn’t stand a chance against Brainiac’s invasion, Luthor returns to our time to warn the Justice League and ready Earth for the impending threat, but not before stealing some Brainiac tech.

The exobyte technology stolen from Brainiac contains the ability to transform average humans into supernaturally powered people. In one maneuver, Luthor created an entire army of new superpowered heroes and villains, among which players are found.
I personally find it a cool setup for explaining why a plethora of superhumans suddenly appear on the scene. Better yet, it sets up a global threat situatiton for the game to play out. And, in true DC fashion, nothing remains static; Luthor’s little ploy throws off the timeline, and the world is suddenly in a new state of crisis.

To top off the strengths of the game as a DC product, it’s neat that the game features a variety of quest chains, each feeling like a comic book story arc, broken up into a handful of quests. It’s neat, and it feels very true to the nature of DC’s comics.

Unfortunately, the game isn’t all sunshine for us comic book fans (or even gamers in general). First of all, when creating your new character, you have to choose a mentor who guides you through the early game and offers exclusive quests. Not only is the lack of variety for mentors underwhelming, but the reality of the matter is that most of the quests play out the same. Find this item, kill this many bad guys, protect this computer, kill this many more bad guys. Working through Batman missions plays the same as working through Lex Luthor missions, and that seems a little disappointing to me.

Then again, that’s honestly the biggest complaint I have, at least so far as building a game around DC properties is concerned. Perhaps if I knew every bit of information about the cast, I’d have things to nitpick about, but I feel like most of the characters respect their comic forms; there’s just always that desire to see more of a favorite character.

Fortunately, the game’s use of downloadable content actually benefits the game by further evolving the world and its heroes/villains. Moreover, there’s always the chance that a favored character will play a bigger role when new DLC comes out. Such was the case when Atrocitus showed up in the game’s first DLC offering, Fight for the Light.

Bottom line, I consider DC Universe Online to be an outstanding use of comic licenses in video games. It feels like the comics it is based on while still being a fairly deep and very fun socially-favorable game. The fact that it’s recently moved to a free-to-play model, and hands down the most playable free-to-play MMO I’ve ever given a shot, only makes it that much appealing.

Until next time, players,
-Kenny

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