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DC Universe Online: The heroic and the villainous

Our new contributor Michael C. Black shows us the heroic (and villainous) side of MMORPG’s

I’ve had something of a love-hate relationship with MMOs. I love having a huge sense of scale in an online setting, but hate the monthly subscriptions or (in EVE’s case) the commitment to do enough each month in order to play for free the next month. What brings them all down is the same single word: “Grind”.

Having tried Everquest, Shadowbane, World of Warcraft, EVE Online and DC Universe Online, it’s DCUO that has managed to keep me playing… Barely. The first draw for me was the DC Universe itself; nothing quite gets you into comics like an iPad and, just as the DCUO beta was given to PlayStation Plus members, I had been really getting into the DC Universe. That created a feedback loop between playing and reading, each richer for my interest in the other.

Of course, there’s no point in a good universe with crappy gameplay. Luckily, DCUO’s physics-based combat is a breath of fresh air in the MMO space, providing more gratifying and responsive fights than any other MMO can muster.

That’s without the best part: Flying! With the two main cities alone, Gotham and Metropolis, the act of flying around is a pleasure within itself. Finding yourself taking to the skies just for the sake of it is inevitable.

This brings us to the best and worst thing about DCUO: Its grind. There are really two phases of the game: Level 1-30 solo questing, then the game. Flippant? Sure. But true. The grind doesn’t really take hold until you hit 30, but even then there’s less grind here than in any other MMO (that’s the best bit). But, and it’s a big “but”, the grind is still there.

The grind of DCUO has changed slowly to become the kind of free-to-play nickel-and-diming we’ve all come to know and hate. You see, each tier of gear requires different marks (T1 is Marks of Triumph, for example, or “MoTs” in chat) and you only get them from certain activities… Which you’re only allowed to do once a day or, in the case of raids, once a week. That is until the recently implemented Replay Tokens came along. While paid subscribers get a certain amount given each month, everyone can buy them with real money too. This makes character progression less about skill and more about how much money you’re willing to fork out.

So what’s my point? If it’s anything, I suppose I’m saying developers could get away with removing anything that’s simply there to draw things out, because having long-term goals is still possible without running Gates of Tartarus (a T4 raid), or anything for that matter, 100 times in a row. As far as keeping subscribers to pay for those servers, you’ll find if you try to make the best game possible, as opposed to the most profitable game possible, positive buzz will keep people playing for years.

Do you agree with Michael? Are MMORPG’s all grind and no bump? Let us know in the comments below.

Published inEditorial