DC Universe Online saps almost all meaning and glamour from the words “superhero” or “supervillain,” which not even the most tedious tights-wearing Hollywood sequel has managed to do. The action-MMO set in a painstakingly recreated DC Comics world requires superhuman patience to even install, with assets verification, patch downloads, and the like taking a full day, depending on your Internet connection. The wait would be worthwhile if DCUO had visual polish and quest depth to warrant the amount of time players will spend becoming reacquainted with its loading screens.
It’s understandable that some spark is missing—it’s tough to feel unique or special when the streets are packed with other powers-wielding crusaders for their opposing causes. Heck, Infamous did a far better job of making you feel like a menace or a champion, in large part due to how innocent bystanders reacted to you. As big as DCUO’s world is, most of it is abandoned. You’ll see the same six or so cars in the streets, but no innocents or pedestrians. How can you feel heroic when there’s nobody to protect, or evil when there’s nobody to wreak havoc on? This would be less noticeable if DCUO’s missions went deeper than being laundry-list fetch-quests: “Go here and kill 20 of these,” “Protect 10 of those,” “Bring back five of this.” That said, it’s somewhat amusing to see what your heroics are worth: Gotham Hazmat, for example, will only pay you $7 to help protect citizens from the Scarecrow’s fear gas.
But it’s still early in DCUO’s life cycle. Just as your character must progress by performing mighty feats for chump change, Sony needs to tap into the true potential that’s evident here. Communicating with other players and forging camaraderie is still a clunky afterthought in the game, combat is mushy, and rubbing elbows with luminaries like Commissioner Gordon lacks the proper gravitas when all they can do is spout the same line like pull-cord talking dolls. (“Not every cop in Gotham is crooked. Some of us still protect and serve.”) For all its strikes, some threads show promise. Designed with more casual players in mind, the game does away with microtransactions, and the level-30 cap assures that players will create and develop multiple characters. But given that the game doesn’t offer much reward for those who experience everything, those are hardly legs to stand on. What DCUO needs to understand, ultimately, is that with great power comes great responsibility. Especially when it’s automatically billing your credit card monthly.