Interface Crisis

When someone buys DC Universe Online, the supervillains win.
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: February 7, 2011
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Humanity is threatened on a daily basis by malevolent space aliens, supernatural creatures and dangerous lunatics. In response to this, I don a set of garish tights and fly into battle, mentored along the way by the likes of Superman and Batman. On other days, when taken by a less virtuous mood, I can be found rubbing shoulders with supervillains in the Hall of Doom and plotting against those very heroes. There are many others like me who find themselves with strange new powers and whom I may encounter on the streets of Metropolis and Gotham City as allies or foes. We clash regularly, inflicting untold property damage and mental trauma upon the hapless citizens caught in the middle.

For anyone who has read a superhero comic book and fantasized about living it, the appeal of this experience is obvious. DC Universe Online, Sony Online Entertainment’s latest massively multiplayer online role-playing game, squanders this potential by being a clumsy, poorly conceived and atrociously executed product. Lest this review seem unbalanced, I will begin by discussing the few stillborn good ideas that drift in the choking miasma that is the rest of the game. Combat in DCUO feels closer to a brawler than an RPG, lending the action a sense of immediacy which feels appropriate to the portrayal of superpowered freaks smacking the living daylights out of each other. Stats and dice rolls still determine outcomes on a deeper level, but there is enough feedback so as to mask this somewhat. Dropping a hot load of justice on a posse of weak henchmen is fun and rewarding, though due to balance issues, boss fights tend to take ages in spite of not being dangerous (when met at the appropriate level), which is no fun at all.

The pleasure of busting heads takes a sharp dive when class roles and party dynamics come into play, a side of the game which is bizarre and very poorly explained. This lack of the game's ability to explain itself becomes a problem whenever a choice must be made, starting with one's class and mentor, and carrying through to power and skill point expenditures. Gear descriptions spew forth numbers representing attribute adjustments while giving no real sense of the net effect of choosing one pair of moon boots over another. In case it is thought that I'm simply easily overwhelmed, gaze in despair upon this litany of character statistics: Health, Power, Defense, Might, Restoration, Vitalization, Precision, Toughness, Dominance and Willpower. This excess of fiddly (and seemingly redundant) stats runs directly counter to the basic gameplay philosophy, which has an eye toward accessibility and directness.
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