Sunday, August 2, 2020

Into Her Wonderworld: DCUO

Assuming we make that far, January 2021 will mark the tenth anniversary of Detective Comics Unlimited Online as literally no-one in the entire world has ever called it. Almost every MMORPG goes by an abbreviated version of its Sunday-go-to-meeting name but only DCUO has no other identity to fall back on beyond a set of initials.

And don't say "What about EVE?" I checked. The full name of the game we refer to as "EVE" is "EVE Online" and the correct, abbreviated version, which no-one really uses, is EO. Supposedly "EVE" is the name of the now-destroyed wormhole gate that linked New Eden with the Sol system, although why it was capitalized and whether or not it was an acronym, and if so what for, seems to be lost in the mists of space and time.

Hmm. I'd never noticed all that Christian religious symbolism in EVE before. There're the Sisters of EVE, too, an NPC faction that believes "the EVE gate is a gateway to heaven" That's a bit weird.

Umm... how did I get here? I was talking about something else, wasn't I? Oh, yes! DCUO.

It seems like a lot longer than a decade since I first stepped onto the streets of Metropolis. I was pretty excited for the game, being a lifelong DC comics fan.

I put in for the beta and got in, enjoyed it well enough to buy the game at launch, both for myself and Mrs. Bhagpuss. It was a subscription title then but it came under SOE's All Access umbrella, so that didn't factor.

Mrs. Bhagpuss completed the tutorial and, as far as I know, never logged in again. I spent several weeks levelling my first character to the cap, which was set at a low bar of thirty. It's still the cap today. The game uses a completely different system called "Combat Rating". I think it's based on some kind of gear score. Probably.

DCUO's progression mechanics have always been somewhat opaque to me. It's a pity. I really liked the leveling part of the game, the way it started out. If SOE had carried on developing and expanding DCUO along the same lines as all their other games I'd have carried on playing regularly, I imagine.

It only strikes me as I write this just how much of an outlier in the All Access portfolio DCUO always was. The launch roughly co-incided with the beginning of SOE's shift to a free-to-play model, but going F2P never stopped EverQuest and EQII from pumping out an expansion a year or more. DCUO has never released an expansion, not one.

Maybe that's down to its secret identity as a once-rare example of a successful console MMORPG. I have a suspicion Planetside and Planetside 2 operate in something like the same fashion. I've never paid enough attention to any of them to be sure.

Whatever the reason, with the leveling game over and the future marked for instanced group play, I bowed out. But I never gave up on DCUO. I keep popping back in every few months for another look. I've made several characters on a couple of accounts and played them up through those original levels. It's still as much fun, doing that, as it ever was.

About the current game, though, I know very little. It's been a very long time since I followed the storyline (I'm guessing there is one) or understood the structure (I know it's episodic but that's about it).

Occasionally Daybreak do something with the game that catches my interest. I got myself a Lair when they added housing and I always make sure to grab any free housing items that come with the periodic release of a fresh episode. I was pretty stoked when Krypto appeared. I even joined a League, once.

While I'm there, I generally have a bit of a run through the uplevelled "Event" version of whatever the new content happens to be. They all follow the same format. It's nothing if not predictable but as far as I can judge from reading the forums, regular players seem to like it that way.

When Dimensional Ink (Still can't take that name seriously) started bigging up the latest release, Wonderverse, the marketing department seemed to be making more of it than usual. I thought it was going to be something different for once. A new approach. Well, that's literally what they were telling us:

And maybe it is all of that, if you're a regular player with the required minimum CR of 300 and access to the full, permanent version of the zone. To me, when I logged in and knocked out a few quests for various Amazons yesterday, it felt pretty similar to all the other episodes I'd played.

But I was only in the Event version. They're always busy. I imagine the problem is that once the Event ends and a new Episode rolls in, no-one goes back to the old one. The usual built-in obsolesence that leaves so many MMORPGs bloated with forgotten content no-one uses any more.

The zone itself was nice enough, attractively designed on a Greco-Roman theme. Wonderful Mediterranean skies. Gorgeous terracotta tiles. All very Greek.

It was sprawling and "open" in the sense described in the Dev Diary, meaning it wasn't instanced. It was certainly chaotic and I did indeed run into other players, some of whom helped me kill stuff and some of whom poached my quest updates. That happens every Event, though.

I was hoping for something a little more like the original Metropolis and Gotham zones the game launched with. Those are true MMORPG open-world zones; huge, complex, unrestricted. Themiscyra is more like a non-instanced outdoor dungeon, lots of alleyways and plazas that interconnect but not too much wide-open space.

I freely admit that I may be missing something. Heck, I wouldn't even be surprised to find the zone I was in isn't even the "open world" zone they're talking about at all. I get incredibly confused in DCUO most times I visit. I was just happy to find the spot where the action was without having to spend half an hour flying round and round the Watchtower, searching for the teleporter, like I usually do.

For now, I think I've seen as much of Wonderverse as I care to but I'm keeping it under advisement. If it turns out there's more to it than I've understood, I'll be back. And anyway, I'll most likely tune in to see which Big Bad pops up next time around. They do kind of have that part of the comic book schtick down pat.

Other than that, roll on the tenth anniversary. I'm excpecting something special for that one, guys!


  1. I have heard several places that EVE originally stood for "Everybody vs Everybody". I cannot provide an official source, however.

    1. That sounds like a classic retro-fit explanation, although it could easily have been a developer's joke, I guess.

  2. I really need to give DCUO a more fair shake. I have tried it once on the PS3 and once on the switch, and it really hasn't clicked with me. In theory I am the target audience, I love superhero MMOs, and I love the DC cartoons (and a few of the movies). I think one of these days I will force myself to play it until I get a few levels under my belt to get a better feel for it. I will say that it comes across as a clunky button masher to the extent that I've played it. It also seems odd for your character to be mostly defined by what weapon you pick. I like for my character to be defined by my powers (like in COH or CO).

    1. All superhero rpgs have a very serious problem: superheroes, for the most part, do not progress. Their powers don't change and they don't gain advantage from new equipment. There are exceptions, particularly in the tech and magic fields, where the hero can upgrade his suit (Iron Man) or learn new mystical abilities (Dr. Strange) but mostly they don't do much of that. They establish their powers in the early days and then, at most, refine them. Most of the variety comes from using the same powers in different ways according to the situation.

      I found the whole gear thing in DCUO really weird when I started but I got used to it. It's better than having the character hardly change or progress at all, which would be the more genre-authentic approach but also very dull. I don't think I ever played enough CoH to notice how they handle progression there but I imagine there is some?

    2. In CoH basically you start with just a few powers, and then gradually gain more as you level up. You also decide how to enhance the powers you have, for example by making some powers do more damage, have better accuracy, enhance your defense more, cost less endurance to use, or whatever.

      CoH does suffer a bit from what you describe. There is no gear to find (save for cosmetics), and you pretty much are your powers. That makes some builds really torture to play until you get a decent variety of powers under your belt.

      One advantage the DCUO does at least have over COH from what I've seen is that any character you build is fully functional right out of the gate, with a variety of different attacks you can use.


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