In my household’s ongoing quest to find enjoyable multiplayer outings, we’ve found plenty of fodder. But lately, continued interest on both our parts has taken a dive. It Takes Two was a great thing, but not one to revisit; Bethesda’s offerings of ESO and Fallout 76 haven’t drawn either of us in lately (despite my subscription to the latter); and Neverwinter, with its recent cavalcade of updates, has fallen to the perennial backburner, too. We recently tried Tribes of Midgard, but survival isn’t our thing. We’d like to take up Elden Ring together, but we know we don’t really have the time right now to get mired in a game so fierce. In a twist, the likes of Final Fantasy XIV has been calling mildly from the sidelines, but it’s not been nearly loud enough for us to want to invest in it now.
What to do? In our case, the route to go was to find some free MMORPGs to try. Path of Exile came first, but it didn’t resonate strongly enough. Then we tried Torchlight 3, which was actually quite fun, but again, it just lacked that must-play feel. And finally, there was that day we tried valiantly to play Black Desert Online and mostly failed in a hilarious fashion. It’s a very pretty game that was just far too system-dense for this casual duo.
I would say that “fourth time was a charm,” but, as you may have already gathered from the title, that hasn’t been the case. Yet, the fourth game we picked has so far had the most staying power, and it is the superhero MMO called DC Universe Online (DCUO). We watched a thousand (or maybe fewer) videos on the game before opting in, because it only ever looked…good. Only good. Not great, not compelling, just good enough, if a bit dated, to be a game to try someday. It helped that we’re both familiar with DC characters and lore, so DCUO had that going for it, at least. And so, we dove into its world as a couple newbies with the best intentions.
As proof, upon choosing characters and not knowing any better, I went the villain route while my husband picked a hero. I don’t know why I thought differently, but that’s a no-no if you want to play on a team together. I quickly scrapped my evil ways and made a hero of my own. Meet Sunnie Daze! She is nothing if not punny.
We each started off playing through the game’s tutorial, which set up a classic bid to take over the world by staple DC villain Brainiac. It was short, solid, and offered a decent introduction to the gameplay, controls, and our new characters’ abilities. For Sunnie, I quickly took to her acrobatic ways and hand blaster combat; no quarrels there. With Brainiac “defeated,” we were then whisked away to a police station in Metropolis where we were introduced to the mechanics of leveling up, picking abilities, changing gear, and inventory management. After figuring out how to group, Sunnie Daze and her new companion were off like lightning!
Well, almost. We wandered around the police station for a while longer, finding things to find, talking to NPCs that would talk, and becoming generally distracted looking at all the other characters folks had built. I don’t know how populated the game is these days, but the station felt like a hive of activity.
Once we finally made our way outside, we eagerly greeted Metropolis and started doing what needed to be done. The Brainiac storyline remained, and in order to defeat him, groups of “mentors” – Superman, Batman, or Wonder Women for heroes; Lex Luthor, the Joker, or Circe for villains – had been tasked to seek out and train new metahumans (the players) for the coming battle. Our mentor was Superman, and he began guiding us along a series of related quests, the kinds of quests that regularly populate games of this sort – go to an area and eliminate a certain number of enemies, gather a certain number of items, escort a certain number of people to safety, and so on. Tick off all the boxes in one spot, turn in completed quests for rewards, move onto the next area, rinse, and repeat. In that regard, DCUO in its beginning throes offered nothing unique. It also didn’t bring anything new to the table in its boss battles that cemented the end of each quest line. However, because these battles featured, in our case, different classic DC villains (and cut scenes about their backstories capped off each confrontation), they proved very enjoyable and at least gave us something to look forward to with each new quest line.
As much as the game wanted us to move from main quest to main quest, we picked up multitudes of side quests and went off the beaten path to just explore. We spent most of our time in the bustling and bright streets of Metropolis (which were also teeming with enemy mobs), but a few quests led us briefly to Gotham in all its delightful gloom. Both maps were relatively impressive. As superheroes with superpowers, we scaled buildings with ease and found several secrets hiding in high or usual places. The game doesn’t offer much in the way of environmental storytelling, but there are definitely some familiar visuals within each city, and players can even complete quests that offer up decent amounts of DC lore.
This might make it sound as though all’s been on the up and up in DCUO, but…there’s definitely a “but.” Two of them, big ones. The first I already mentioned and it’s that the game itself doesn’t hold much wow factor. It’s fine in that the mechanics work, gameplay isn’t glitchy, character creation is fun, and it’s neat to see all the heroes and villains running around doing their thing. But progression quickly became bland and its systems uninteresting. I get that we haven’t really even made it into the game proper, as it apparently really takes off around level 30 (we’re sitting around 25); however, when the drive to get to a certain level before the fun happens just isn’t there, it doesn’t really matter what’s waiting in the wings. To test this, free DCUO accounts are allowed two characters, so I went back, created another (returned to capture my villain status), and played solo for a while. I made it to about level 15 before the interest leveled off.
The second “but” is that while we played the game as a group, it never felt like we were much of a team. Again, some of this can be chalked up to us not knowing the ropes, but most of the time it simply felt as though we were playing solo together in the same area rather than as a duo that helped and energized each other. I had roughly built Sunnie to be a healer, but within the game’s stretched-out mobs, I never seemed to be in right spot at the right time to heal when needed. In fact, most of our time within each to-do spot was spent apart checking off necessary tasks. Sharing tasks was confusing, and because mobs continuously regenerated (as they should with so many players about), we sometimes found ourselves stuck in a loop of bashing enemy after enemy. And, because being a team didn’t feel at all team-y, we began questioning the need to group while just tackling rote quests. The only time teaming up made any notable difference in the way we played was during the instanced boss sequences.
Hmm, was this a longwinded way of saying that DCUO is a decent game that’s probably not for us? Perhaps. The game has clearly resonated with a good number of folks, as it would appear to have a decently strong community after eleven years of existence. The game also recently received its forty-third episode (these are what come after reaching level 30, I think?), showing that the developer’s commitment to the game isn’t waning, and which means that anyone wanting to get into the game will have plenty to see and do. I don’t know if we will continue seeing and doing in DCUO, but I’m glad we gave it a shot.
All images, including lede, were captured by author during Xbox One gameplay of DC Universe Online (© Daybreak Game Company, Sony Online Entertainment).