DC Universe Online is meant to be grind-free; players will advance by completing missions, not menial tasks. So what's an MMO novice to do when he hits a tough mission and can't simply level up to overwhelm it?
Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.
What I Played
When last we left our combustible biathlete, Ballisto had hit level 10. Still a little unsure of the correct way to proceed, if there is one, I focused the second week on leveling further, while mixing in more cooperative gameplay elements.
There's two ways to do this. You can invite people to group up and take down a guy who's giving you problems. If you work well with these folks, someone can suggest that the group extends that into a legion status, more or less a persistent team-up, or clan for those who play these more than I do.
There's also a game mode called Alerts, in which (for heroes) Martian Manhunter puts out a distress call for you to pitch in with others. It's a good introduction to structured cooperative play without forcing you to do all the organisation yourself.
How It Went
I answered a call for Area 51 and was dispatched there to beat some Brainiac robot arse galore. Brought in as a damage-dealer instead of a Tank, I didn't have much difficulty with the assignments, which break down to kicking minions' asses or destroying their assets, followed by taking out a series of bosses. Cooperative play proceeded roughly like a random encounter in Metropolis when everyone's going after the same objectives. I didn't hear much coordination of powers and roles, just everyone jumping in for a good time. The group loot we got was unimpressive and not worth the greed-or-need call.
Back in the main world my journeys now took me to Gotham City, which is a colour negative of bright, gleaming (if a bit beat up in spots) Metropolis. Gotham is perpetually in a state of gloom, occasionally with rain, playing to type of course. This part of the map was considerably tougher on me as I slogged from levels 12 to 15, taking out Bane at the lighthouse in a spirited battle.
In my first MMO log, the only character who'd given me much trouble was Queen Bee, and that's because I fought about a level under her. Two levels above Harley Quinn and the Funhouse mission, I was getting pounded by the Joker's knife-throwing goons. Harley herself was a real bi- well, bear. She goes into a hammer-thrower's whirl that's tough to break.
I backed out of the Funhouse and reconsidered my situation. A few invites to tackle Harley went nowhere, as by now most of the serious players are level 20 or above and she's small fry to them. So I learned another fundamental truth of MMOs: Know your powers, how they interact with each other, spec them purposefully and have a strategy.
I went to the Justice Society tower and respec'd Ballisto, branching differently in my immolation and ignition power trees to mix their effects. Many of the powers have an advanced effect on a burning enemy, so I arrayed them in my tray more strategically. In other words, I was going to go in and set someone on fire, then either use the detonate power, or the heat drain to maximize the damage effect.
Skills - in weapons and movement - become considerably more important as there's no power cost associated with them. I discarded some earlier bad choices and loaded up on melee and range combos, avoiding the power talents (there's a whirlwind you can create that pulls your enemy closer to you. As a guy with a bow and arrow, selecting that one was kind of dumb.)
Back in the Funhouse, with a greater sense of myself I sat on block and defensive moves and toughed it out against Harley Quinn, finally taking her down with a detonation combo (basically, I caught her on fire, and moved in with a close range explosive attack that multiplied its effect thanks to her conflagrant state.) I gave a deep sigh, happy to know that this game hadn't plateaued because of a single difficult enemy, I was just a novice who needed to learn how to fight.
It was time to get out of Gotham and clean up some unfinished business. But first, I was invited to a group excursion against some of Poison Ivy's minions. You'll see it in the video below. Lo and behold, Solomon Grundy wandered by, and I'd answered a wanted poster to take his arse down. The party turned its focus toward him. But not to me.
I was knocked out twice going after the big guy, and as the lowest level player in the party, is there any, I don't know, etiquette regarding helping a brother out? Twice they failed to resuscitate me - the last time, my compatriot apparently forgot which button revives a comrade (hint: it's circle.) The KO timer expired right as Grundy was taken down, giving me the feat and the XP. You can see it in that video below.
The Story So Far
My frustrations with the game - the map (which displays two objective arrows at inconvenient times), the manual labour required to activate and redeem certain missions, the near radio-silence you're in as a console player - are likely aggravated by being a complete newcomer to the game. The loot I have gathered is across-the-board unimpressive; I'm proceeding incrementally both in experience and in gear. The money I acquire buys health, more or less.
The game seems built toward hitting level 30, something I hope to do in the next week. At 30, you unlock Duo missions and Raids in the game's multiplayer settings, and can avail yourself of badass armour sets on display up in the tower.
There is still a ton of game left to go in this, and when I came back from Gotham to my Metropolis turf to clean out some missions, I found that I'd gotten a better sense of how to handle this action MMO, to mix in defence, and to approach missions with more than a button mashing instinct - although this game still conditions you to do plenty of it.
My goals for the next week will be to create a villain character and explore an early chunk of that continuity; invite or join more group activities and get a spot in a legion, and ultimately hit level 30. Tall order for someone trying to get to bed before midnight, but Batman willing and the creek don't rise, I'll get there.