Saturday, 17 September 2016

Muddling Through : DCUO

Somewhat to my own surprise I've played DCUO most days this week. The Hero I created largely at random just to get started has turned out to be very enjoyable to play, even though she's a complete mess from just about every perspective.

There's those yellow lips for a start. I still don't know how that happened but it does mean I can't bear to look at her in close-up. It's as though she's foaming at the mouth with custard and that's never a good look.

I'm just hoping somewhere in the sunbright skyscraper canyons of Metropolis, City of the Future, some enterprising Lex Luthor wannabe has set up a coin-operated "Change Your Face" concession. And that it doesn't have a hidden mind-control function, obviously.

Here's one hero I won't be asking for make-up tips. Or any fashion advice come to think of it...
Then there's my choice of Mentor. I thought I was making a Tech hero, all gadgets and drones and turrets and guns, yet somehow I opted for Wonder Woman. As someone, I think it might have been a guy from STAR Labs, observed last night "Wonder Woman? She's magic, right?".

Yes. She is. So my Free Introductory Tour of The JLA Watchtower took me all around the Magic Wing instead of the Tech area. I think that's the third, maybe fourth time I've taken that tour and I always get hopelessly lost. The Watchtower is huge and labyrinthine and as with most multileveled game spaces the "This way, you idiot" arrows don't really help much.

In the end I had to open two separate out-of-game resources to find some of the more recalcitrant locations and fill out the check-list. One way you can tell that DCUO is a really successful MMO is the wealth of online resources it's generated over the five years or so since it began. The wiki is really excellent and any Google search brings up a plethora of responses.

Posture, darling. Posture!

Some of those pages have been around for a long time but the current robust health of the game is plain from the crowds of players that cluster in the streets outside every police precinct or nightclub, the "Safe Houses" (aka Mission Hubs) for Heroes and Villains respectively. And inside, too, where the pastime of preference seems to be dueling. You can barely check your mail sometimes for the clutch of brawling heroes playfighting across the mailroom.

For some reason that totally escapes me I chose "stick" as my starter weapon. Okay, technically it's a Staff but a staff is just a stick with attitude. Nothing says hi-tech like a tree branch with the leaves stripped. Fortunately, a couple of upgrades later, I've ended up with something vaguely metallic with some diodes down the side so I can fake techno when I go upside the bad guys' heads.

Gear in DCUO is uber-important, which is beyond weird for a superhero MMO but then that's been a major problem for the genre forever. Granted there's a whole sub-genre of superheroes who self-define by their constant changes of uniform and grab-bag of gadgetry - Iron Man and Batman can cheerlead that crew - but the overriding tropes of the genre require an iconic look and innate abilities that rarely alter.

That never fitted well with the vertical progression of MMOs and DCUO is a very traditional MMO indeed as far as vertical progression goes. The ladder to end-game is very, very long indeed but the lower rungs, the basic level-to-thirty before you even get started part, is deliciously smooth. Upgrades come often, new skills filter in fast, there's a ton of choice and the whole thing feels fun.

What do you think? Do these wings go with my hair? With anything?

DCUO has a very simple and straightforward appearance system that means you can keep your character's look consistent through upgrade after upgrade if you want. Or you can just wear everything as it comes and look like you went to a masquerade ball dressed as a Foldee.  I had some great leathery bat-wings for a while but in the end I reverted to a classic cape.

Looks are so important to the up-and-coming Superhero as she tries to build her rep but in the end it's all about who hits the hardest. Despite not being great with the screen-centered, mouse-to-fight, no cursor allowed combat I've rolled through everything with comfort so far. My hero dinged 18 last night after defeating a solo instance boss so fast I didn't realize I'd won.

There's some variation on the leveling path that must come from your choice of mentor (and of course whether you go Hero or Villain) but this is the fourth or fifth character I've leveled into the high teens and most of the set pieces were familiar. Either the game has gotten easier at these levels (very likely - MMOs tend to get easier over time) or I've gotten better at playing (yeah, right...). Either way, the battles with Dr. Psycho and Giganta, both of which I recall being a royal pain in the backside on previous run-throughs, passed in pleasant and entertaining fashion.

As a lifelong DC fan one of the major attractions of the game is the heavy recognition factor that kicks in at every turn. That said, I'm light on my Wonder Woman backstory, which mutes some of the "oh it's that guy" moments. I had to look Doctor Psycho up and I only have a dim memory of Giganta from some Teen Titans connection. Whoever did the writing on the initial mission tranche at launch certainly didn't stint on the trivia. Come to think of it, they had Marv Wolfman on board so that would explain it.

All set for Poker Night.

Somewhere along the way I acquired my own Art Deco base. It's great! I checked bases out when they added them as DCUO's housing option back in 2013 but I never kept up with my housekeeping. Maybe this time I'll get some rugs down. I did get a really nice drop from an instance - a table and chair set that looks like it crossed the streams from Dr. Strange's town house.

A little like EQ2, where you can pretty much have a house for every day of the year, you can have more than one base in DCUO. Given the size of the basic model I think I'd struggle to make a home in even one but then a Base is not a Home. Nothing says "Lair" like a cavernous echo.

At 18 the options to group for instances have been popping for a while. DCUO is fundamentally a group game and I'm not sure there's much mileage long term in staying solo. On previous runs I've done a fair amount of hot-join group instances and enjoyed them but there's no chance I'll pursue that route beyond the casual drop-in here and there. Far too intense.

Someone's working late at the office.

This time round, though, it has occurred to me that there's plenty I haven't seen and done at the ultra-low (sub-30) end of the game. The range of powers and roles alone would reward some serious exploring. I edged into Controller mode this time and the gameplay is very different from the straight up DPS I've done previously. Then there are all the different Mentors and their flavors plus I haven't really given Villain a run...

Having messed this character up so badly and still having had so much fun I do feel highly motivated to start rolling alts. DCUO is never going to be a focus game for me but it's one I find I can come back to again and again with fresh interest. Can't say that about every MMO.

What's more, with the recent revelations about the continuing success of Neverwinter Online and the quiet satisfaction of Bethesda over the ongoing growth of TESO, I'm beginning to wonder if the real future of this genre might not lie in its growing appeal to the vast, mainstream console gaming crowd rather than the grognards still playing on PCs. May as well get some practice in now.

4 comments:

  1. Check in the Styles tab, you can freely change colours for both gear and physical features. No need to purchase dyes or makeover kits ☺️

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    Replies
    1. Hmm - I did look at that but I couldn't find a "face" option - just gear (like hats). I'll have a closer look next time I log in. Thanks!

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    2. No problem, it's been a while since I had DCUO installed, so I couldn't remember the exact location yesterday.

      More specifically, look in the Skin section of the Styles tab:
      http://dcuniverseonline.wikia.com/wiki/Style_Window
      http://dcuniverseonline.wikia.com/wiki/Skin

      :)

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    3. Thanks again! That did it. I had to read the wiki link before I could see what I was doing wrong. It turns out to be the "Make Up" setting which is under "Colors" under "Skin". It's a very flexible and creative system - if you can find your way around it.

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