Sometimes, a news story about a game will remind me that I have it installed on my system somewhere. This was the case with me and DC Universe Online when they launched their stats revamp update. So, since my curiosity was piqued and I was feeling in a pretty superheroic mood anyway, I decided to see what free to play DC Universe Online was all about. In my return trip to the world of DCUO, I was reminded of a few things.
I’m not a really big DC Comics guy but there’s something to be said for creating your own superpowered character and getting to take marching orders from the likes of Wonder Woman and Batman. When I first played the game around its 2011 launch, I was still pretty well involved with City of Heroes, so DCUO left me feeling a bit wanting. Now that the book has closed on CoX and I’ve since come to a measure of grips with what happened, I felt that I could come back to DCUO with a slightly fresher eye.
That fresher eye didn’t really clear up a lot of my initial gripes about the game back at its launch. Combat is action-oriented with a mouselook aiming system, which I’m normally fine with but DCUO’s version of action combat feels rather loose and oily. Aiming isn’t terribly precise, though it is helped by using the Tab key to lock on target, and the combat animations overall appear very jerky and weird. It’s this strange combination of slippery combat mechanics yet stiff-jointed animation that makes DCUO feel inelegant and rushed.
That said, the stats revamp has made a significant difference to this game’s overall feel. Where previously I didn’t really get the sense that my superpowered character was super or powerful, the revamp has changed things up pretty significantly. My little dual-wielding Quantum ninja lady was able to draw in foes and send out waves of gravitational force before leaping in and carving things up. In that sense, DCUO felt very good.
The game’s little stories are entertaining enough too, having you square off with some big (and not-so-big) characters from the extensive DC Comics universe. I would probably be a lot more into it if I was a larger fan of the likes of the Teen Titans or Supergirl, but it’s fun enough. I wanted a bright and enjoyable comic book experience, and DCUO has certainly got it.
I’d be lying to myself, however, if I didn’t consistently realize that this game can never hold a candle to the way City of Heroes felt. I admit that it’s perhaps a bit unfair to compare an operating MMO to a now-shuttered one, but CoX looked, felt, and more importantly played leagues better. Still, the stats revamp has done a great job of putting the strength back in the arms of my created crusader, and it’s been around for the length of time it has likely for a reason. I can’t fault that one second.
Of course, I’m not here to write a full review of the game, I’m here to offer my thoughts on how DCUO handles its free players. Those thoughts are divided into four different categories: Account Limitations, Store Interruption, Store Offerings, and Store Reliance. Each category is then rated as either Minimal, Acceptable, and Oppressive with explanations on why I came to those ratings. Finally, I’ll offer up a summary of what I think DCUO offers its free players.
Account Limitations: Acceptable
What are Account Limitations? Anything that locks content away from you, from character or class choices to hotbars, access to dungeons or end game. These are things that flag you as one of the “freeloaders” and restricts your play.
As one would expect, a lot of the really neat stuff is hidden behind paywalls. Additional Issues of content, certain powersets, and even some quality-of-life features such as a cap on currency earnings and limited inventory space. Even so, these roadblocks were generally anticipated and didn’t feel like a terrible hindrance to my play. It would have been nice to not have my extra money stuffed in an escrow account, but I also didn’t find myself buying a lot of things from vendors either.
What’s nice about the way this game handles account limitations is the three tiers of access. Where most F2P games are “buy in or go take a hike”, this one has a middle-of-the-road Premium Access, which opens up to those who spend at least $5 in the store. This access enters you into a new, smaller login queue and eases a few of the restrictions on your character. Combine those perks with the fact that Premium Access is permanent once you achieve it, and it’s a pretty small price to pay for getting a couple of chains taken off, in my opinion.
Store Interruption: Acceptable
Store Interruption is based on how frequently you’re reminded of the in-game store during play. This either occurs through pop-up reminders that dominate your screen or buttons that redirect you to items offered in the store.
I’m giving this one an “acceptable” grade, but only just. While there are a lot of redirects to the game store, including at character creation and through clicking on a couple of specific buttons, I also didn’t feel like those reminders were terribly in-your-face. The most up-front reminders were at the point of character creation and with a pop-up window at login. Otherwise, it’s what I’d call tolerable. Barely.
Store Offerings: Acceptable
The Store Offerings section is a quick look at what the store has to offer. From the selection to the variety of items, this is your at-a-glance idea of whether the store is interesting and if prices seem to be fair.
I’m actually rather surprised at what little the store offered in terms of cosmetics. The cosmetic items were certainly unique, but they also were a bit less robust than I was expecting. Beyond that, there’s a selection of convenience items, boosts, and content packs that can be purchased. It’s perfectly serviceable; not exactly an astonishing storefront, but effective and easy to navigate.
Pricing also seemed pretty fair, with some of the cooler looking cosmetics going for less store currency than I expected.
Store Reliance: Minimal
This is an overall score of whether a game enters the “pay-to-win” realm with its offerings. Does the in-game store have an abundance of boosts? Does the leveling curve feel like you need to buy pots in order to progress? That’s what Store Reliance measures.
The XP was flowing pretty fast and thick during my time with DCUO, so XP boosters were certainly not incredibly important to me. Combine that with the stats revamp making my character feel like a heavier hitter, and I didn’t see the need for any healing items or other boosts whatsoever.
If anything, because of all this the fact that there aren’t even more cosmetic options in the cash shop kind of feels almost like a missed opportunity to me. Still, I assume that DCUO is making most of its money off of content pack sales, which are things that you’ll likely find valuable if you’re fully invested in the game.
Discounting my feelings about DC Universe Online versus City of Heroes, this is definitely a solid MMO for those who are looking to make their own comic book name for themselves. There’s plenty of base game and comic character fun to be had here and there aren’t too many things standing between you and enjoying the ride.
If you’re feeling the itch like me to see what’s different about DCUO since the stats revamp, or you’re looking for some more personalized comic book fun than what Marvel Heroes has to offer, then this is a free game that you can get plenty of mileage out of without coughing up a cent.Related: Column, DC Universe Online, F2P Kingdom, Free to play, MMO