The upside to the compressed leveling curve is that you never encounter content gaps in which you have to search for things to do or grind until you reach the point where new missions become available. Missions come to you fast and furious from the talking-head heroes and villains anxious to push you toward your next task. Or, you might receive assignments from various non-player characters strewn about the cities and elsewhere. Almost all of these characters are fully voiced, many of them rather well. Mark Hamill does an excellent job as The Joker, as he so often does in other games and on television. The mentors all sound quite good, as do a few other lesser heroes and villains. Other voice-overs sound as if they were performed by the local junior high drama club and lack the tongue-in-cheek comic timing of the better performances. The beautiful comic-book cutscenes that conclude instanced story missions and other missions, on the other hand, are consistently superb. Some are funny; others are legitimately moving. But all of them are gorgeously detailed and colored, and they're animated as if multiple cels were layered on top of each other.
6286687Doing evil deeds is what evildoers do.None
The missions themselves aren't as vibrant as the scenes that close them. Kill a bunch of these things and interact with some of these other things is usually the extent of what you do, sometimes pausing to carry this thing over to that glowing spot. These copy-paste objectives can get old, though the mission voice-overs do provide an interesting context to some of these tasks. Villainous objectives are particularly enjoyable, as they often entail doing some horrible thing to an innocent bystander. These mission chains end with the aforementioned instances, where you get a chance to fight alongside a famed hero or villain--or beat up on one. These instances are usually more varied than your other tasks. For example, you might need to destroy computer terminals before Supergirl can utilize them. For even more mission variety, you can join other players in group instances called alerts. Alerts are longer--and more spacious--than story instances and might have you (for example) beating up on HIVE drones, taking down their mothership, and then facing a boss that may not be all that challenging but nevertheless takes a long time to defeat.
PVP arenas and group dungeons send you to a few iconic locales, such as the batcave and Bludhaven, though you will spend the majority of your time in DCUO's two main cities: Gotham City and Metropolis. Missions send you from one hot spot to another in either of these two urban centers at a slick pace, and you won't find any wondrous new vistas when exploring the nooks and crannies. Yet there is a good reason to keep a keen eye on your surroundings. Orbs dot the landscape, and investigating them unlocks little bits of backstory and other narrative scraps to collect. When you complete a themed collection, you earn new loot. There is another good reason to pay close attention during your travels, however: Both cities look lovely. Toxic yellow clouds hover over abandoned parking structures in a darkly lit Gotham. A derelict roller coaster is a stark contrast to the skyline in the distance. Green parks, sunny lighting, and tall skyscrapers make Metropolis a joy to travel in--and above. Some instances--warehouses, offices, and the like--aren't particularly eye catching, and many character models are devoid of detail. Yet these aren't huge faults in a game that excellently re-creates famous fictional cities and then encourages you to gild them with glowing rings of fire and colorful balls of energy.
Where'd you get that staff? It's absolutely stunning!
Whether you prefer to stay solo or group up, DC Universe Online goes out of its way to be friendly. In some cases, simply standing near another player that performs a mission task--successfully defending a pedestrian, for example--gives you credit for the same task. Kill stealing is rare because you get credit for the kill as long as you landed a single hit on your target. Furthermore, your travel options (flight, acrobatics, and superspeed) make it easy to get across town in a relative hurry, particularly if you upgrade your travel method in the associated skill tree. Even when you're on your own, missions stay relatively easy, though the frequency with which enemies respawn can lead to occasional frustration if you're adventuring alone. Of course, you can always group with friends or join a league (DCUO's guild equivalent) if you want company. And you need company if you want to take on bounties, which are familiar, powerful superheroes and villains that pop up in Gotham City and Metropolis. You can also take down opposing players by joining a player-versus-player server, temporarily activating your PVP flag to make you vulnerable to the opposition, or by joining others in the competitive arenas.
DC Universe Online's player-versus-player arenas aren't as potentially unbalanced as those in Champions Online, but stuns and knockbacks are prevalent, so skills that deliver and protect you from such punishment are more helpful than when you're dishing out pain on non-player enemies like OMAC cyborgs. PVP is one of DCUO's late-game mainstays, rewarding you with currency that can be spent on better gear, which makes you more powerful and, of course, then leads to even more gear. Grinding arenas to earn new items isn't the only endgame option, however. Once you reach that upper limit of level 30, you gain access to some of DC Universe Online's more entertaining options. These include larger raid dungeons, new four-person instances, and two-person dungeons called duos. Duos are particularly enjoyable, such as one in Gotham University in which you slash up (or beat up, or shoot up) swarms of mummies and scarabs before confronting a histrionic Isis. If you were hoping for a greater challenge from DC Universe Online, the endgame content is where you will find it. Don't expect to bring down Chemo, for example, without a game plan and a good player in the tank role.
Is that not the sweetest 'stache you ever did see?
Which version of DC Universe Online you choose to play depends entirely on which quirks you're more willing to endure, though some issues are common to both platforms. Voice chat is a nice feature when it functions, though that only happens to be some of the time. Sound effects sometimes go missing or get muddled when there is a lot going on at once. Neither platform allows you to drop missions or share them with your groupmates. PC players will be immediately struck by the console-focused interface and the overzealous profanity filter, which inexplicably can't be turned off. However, loading times on the PC are zippy, and the game runs smoothly as you soar across the skies. The PlayStation 3 version is noticeably more sluggish. Menus take too long to pop up; the frame rate chugs along every so often, or the game might freeze for a second or two; and the telltale texture pop-in common to games using Unreal 3 technology is all too prevalent. Yet all things considered, the menus are simple enough to navigate using a controller, and the combo-focused combat feels natural on the platform.
These and a few other scattered glitches aside, DC Universe Online is relatively stable at this early stage, which makes it an even more attractive option for anyone who tends to shy away from these sorts of games. If you are one of those people, DCUO's flashy, combo-driven combat and visual pizzazz will draw you in from the beginning and keep you entertained for a few weeks. It's also hard to ignore the license's appeal, which is best showcased in the excellent scenes that play at the end of instanced story missions. Yet DC Universe Online tips its hand early on; in all too short a time, it stops offering any real surprises, remaining approachable but never wading too far from the shallow end of the pool. If you've been around the block and are looking for a new virtual world, this isn't the universe to call home. But if you long to face off with Mr. Freeze or stop The Flash dead in his tracks, this is a fun way to flex your superpowered muscles.