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They don't make spandex in my size anymore

I am surprised I never had an entry about DC Universe Online.  After all, I was a huge fan of City Of Heroes, and you can bet I was chomping at the bit when I heard about Champions Online and DC Universe online being in development.  What happened?

Well, Champions Online went wayward during development.  I arrived in beta just in time to see they had retooled the system to be something completely different than their original aspirations to have a completely-open-ended character design system (like the Champions RPG did).  Bill Roper did his best, I'm sure, but what was delivered was probably no more satisfying than whatever came before it, and the resulting limitation in flexibility in character generation ultimately made the game seem silly.  What's worse, Champions Online had none of the depth in the central gameplay mechanic that the original City of Heroes did, focusing on being more casual-friendly and dumbed down.
Last I checked, Cryptic Studios (now a "wholly owned Perfect World Entertainment subsidiary") has largely focused their efforts away from developing Champions Online as anything more than a free to play (F2P) cash grab, spending more time on Star Trek Online and their newest product, the soon-to-be-released Neverwinter.   While F2P is probably what they should have been trying to charge for Champions Online at release (the box price + subscription model was well-obsolete by 2009, but not many developers had realized it yet) when they made the transition to the new payment model they also made the already constrained-feeling character generation even slightly worse by forcing free-to-play players to buy "archetypes" which were basically characters on rigid templates.  (On second thought, a quasi-class-based system may have actually been an improvement considering the mess they started with.)  Considering its place in Cryptic Studios' overall web of development, I'm afraid Champions Online's rate of improvement will always be slower than it should be.

DC Universe Online, on the other hand, seemed to succeed on many tangents Champions Online attempted to develop but failed.
  • Champions Online has a heavy dose of consoliltus, and so does DC Universe Online, but only DC Universe Online actually managed to launch cross-platform, whereas all the console-limitations of Champions Online managed to achieve was to hold it back to unnecessary limitations when it was an embryo.  
  • The combat in DC Universe Online feels a lot tighter, and they actually managed to implement the idea of combos and attacks operating differently depending on if you tap or hold a button, something Champions Online planned to do but never quite accomplished.  
  • DC Universe Online also made fantastic use out of the DC Universe mythos which, chances are, the average player was going to be a lot more familiar with than the Champions RPG.
My history with DC Universe Online begins in the beta, shortly before launch.  I started up a Martial Arts/Gadgets character, and three days later I had reached level 30 (which remains the level cap to this day) and was largely done with the game.  Yes, the content was that quickly exhausted; supposedly, the "real game" begins at level 30 (it's mostly grinding for another 60 levels of worth of equipment) but the endgame was limited largely to instanced PvE raids or PvP scenarios, and I rather preferred the open-world theme park game that came before it.   Still, my time in beta was a wild romp, great fun, but how the heck was I supposed to feel incentivized at release to buy a $50 game and then spend $15/mo on a subscription on something I was done with inside of 3 days in the beta?
It took Sony Online Entertainment about 8 months but they finally wizened up and went F2P as well.  Now, a year and a half since going F2P, the game seems to be doing reasonably well for itself, with four servers (for PC and PS3, PvE and PvP) designed for larger-than-usual server capacity (read: built-in instancing).  The US PvE server seems pretty close to full during prime-time hours. I don't know if it's growing, but I do find it interesting they charge more station cash for a power retcon token than they do for a gun in Planetside 2... DC Universe Online would seem to be surviving!

Today, I am trying to get back into DC Universe Online again, and I am finding it difficult.  My trouble is that the previous super hero games left me spoiled for choice, they were created so you can come up with nearly any superhero concept you can think of.  DC Universe Online seems designed to encourage players to emulate iconic super heroes.  In fact, the idea is so engrained that it's actually part of the game lore: the player characters are all regular people who were injected by space machines with powers stolen from iconic heroes and villains; if you think you have come up with a truly unique hero or villain in DC Universe Online, the lore says you're wrong: you're a nobody elevated with borrowed powers from the real heroes and villains, and the first 30 levels are spent proving you deserve to stand beside them.

To these ends, there's only 9 power sets with a couple dozen powers each, three power sets per role (tanking, healing, or controlling).  You can also choose from 11 weapon types, but weapon type can be changed at any time for no real money charge, so it's not really a choice to worry about being locked into.  If I want to change power or travel method for a pre-existing character, I can, but only for $7-$10 real money's worth of Station Cash.  I'm not rich so, for a character without a massive amount of time invested in it (like a typical victim of my altoholicsm) it's not worth the money to respec power or travel method... I just keep starting over.
Take those circles, multiply by two, consider the option to swap in powers from the iconic pool, and that's all the power choices you have in DC Universe Online: it's quite limited.  But then, due to console limitations, you can only equip a deck of 7 at a time anyway.
I like to base my heroes on the idea of being technology-based crime fighters who use high tech moves to thwart criminals.   DC Universe Online gives me one, and only one, choice for being technology based: the gadgets power trees.   When it comes to weapons, the only ones that are particularly technological are hand blasters, dual pistols, or rifle - although some of the weapon skins of the other choices can at least pretend that (for example) a quarterstaff is a high technology weapon.  Along those lines, I could use a bit of imagination and pretend that any of the other power sets are being generated by my character using some technological means... but they don't really look the part (particularly the sorcery set which is as plainly magical as gadgets is plainly technology).

So what's the problem?  Just take gadgets, choose a weapon, and I'm good to go, right?  Well, unfortunately, given the limited selection of the gadget tree, there's actually only a very specific kind of technology being projected there, and that would be the idea of things batman could pull out of his utility belt.  Granted, I never really see him summon a security drone or call in a bunker buster, but there's always an exception to the rule, isn't there?  Anyway, the point is that my kind of "technology conquers all" superhero really is not supported; if you are a hero, and you are technology based, Batman will be your mentor, you will probably take Gadgets as a power set, and you either have to go dark knight or go home.  (Alternately, if you are a tech-based villain, The Joker will be your mentor - which is sort of odd, because Lex Luthor's the one wearing the power armor.)
In fact, a lot of the later game involves unlocking iconic battle suits that look like your favorite heroes: you'll end up imitating one whether you like it or not.
My altoholic MMOG nature is having a hard time accepting that I just need to imitate Batman, partly because an originality complex was always part of it, and partly because gadgets is the set in which I already reached level 30 with in beta and it has not changed all that much since then.  Further, I'm not sure I really enjoy any of the weapon styles except for martial arts, which I like due to having a wide variety of enemy-disabling moves at its disposal (more control methods).  It does not help that I hear controllers are treated as power batteries in the end game, either: apparently DC Universe Online's end game is ruined by elitist assholes as much as any other MMORPG.

Still, when all is said and done, DC Universe Online is gorgeous, fairly enjoyable, and reasonably deep for an action game (more so than Champions Online thanks to the weapon combos taking player skill to execute properly and the powers actually having effective secondary effects and chaining).   I could be having a lot of fun here, even moreso if  can get over my altoholicism and get a character back up to 30 again...

...that said, I do wonder how Marvel Heroes will be like.  It's already dated for June 4th of this year, and I hear they're up to some pretty ambitious tricks.

On the other hand, I hear they're slating players as actually playing the characters from the Marvel Universe, which is sort of weird: does that mean you'll log in and find several hundred people playing Spiderman clones (for example)?  I guess it's going to involve prefab scenarios for each character, and you unlock more heroes with micro-payments.  Wanna be Squirrel Girl?  She's in the game and you'll be able to play her for a few bucks.

Sounds like Marvel Heroes pretty much kills any worries I have about being original by making it absolutely impossible.  I mean, even in DC Universe Online, I can take in my gadget-based hero whose mentor is Batman and take a robotic sidekick iconic power and pretend I'm being slightly more original.  In Marvel Heroes, your character is not just emulating a preexisting Marvel Hero, they are a pre-existing Marvel Hero.  We're down to nearly zero character customization - I say nearly because I have seen a video that suggests you can change the color scheme, skin, and maybe some other things.

But how does it play?  Well, the gameplay has been compared to Diablo, and justifiably so judging by the gameplay video I've seen.  This leads me to suspect that, if Marvel Heroes is an MMORPG, they probably modeled their game off of Spiral Knights, except replace all graphics and sounds with Marvel trappings.  In other words, not an open world so much as an in-world lobby you drop into scenario map instances with.

Alright, forget all that: if Marvel Heroes is fun (read: actually has something of substance for my brain to enjoy) then it might be worth playing anyway. What Rock Paper Shotgun had to say about Marvel Heroes 5 months ago was not very flattering, but 5 months of development can make a big difference (I've seen it happen before), and so I'm willing to give the game a chance.  (A F2P price tag certainly helps along those lines.)

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