Wednesday, November 2, 2011

F2P DCUO Day One

DCUO has finally gone free to play, and the Green Armadillo - yes, finally an MMO where my pseudonym is actually appropriate - has hit the streets of Gotham to investigate.  A few early impressions after a few hours in game:

I was dreading the attempt to play this thing with a keyboard and mouse, because the PS3 beta made it feel tailor made for a controller.  On this front, I've been pleasantly surprised.

The control scheme is definitely different - your character (hopefully) turns in whatever direction you move the mouse (no keyboard turning), and if you're extra lucky the camera turns with you.  Your melee attack is the left click button and your ranged attack is the right click.  You generally will only hit stuff that is in front of you at the time you click, and combos are executed by various combinations of left and right click/hold.  WASD handles forward, backwards, and strafing.

You have one hotbar that you cannot click - you have to actually push the number keys to use your non-basic-attack powers, and I believe you're only allowed eight total active powers at a time.  The "e" key is bound to interacting with objects, the "f" key is used to toggle "fast" mode, and there are other keys for various menus, as is par for the MMO course.

I'll have to take the PS3 version for a spin over the weekend, but after trying this on the PC I'm wondering if the less popular PC version isn't the better choice after all, if for no other reason than to let players type.  One aside, though, I think you probably need a real mouse - I don't hate my fingers enough to try and play this thing on a laptop trackpad. 

Costumes and Customization
I last attempted to play COH sometime circa 2007, but that game then had way more options than DCUO does now.  There are only three body types - muscular brute, almost as muscular but not quite so brute, and kid/sprite (i.e. disproportionately large head), each of which comes in small/medium/large and both genders.  You do have relatively broad discretion to change the color of your skin textures, but it's nothing like the more powerful character generator in COH/Champions.

Likewise, your power options are limited.  Everyone gets one of three travel powers - speed, acrobatics, or flight - and one of 6-7 powersets.  (The seventh, from the Green Lantern DLC, is a paid unlock for non-subscribers.)  Each of the powersets comes with a dual spec option - DPS and something that is actually useful for groups (tank, heal, or crowd control) - as well as two "trees" with something like 10-12 powers on each one.  There are supposedly respecs, but the variety does not look that impressive.

The style panel contains all the loot textures I have ever equipped.
One thing that is very different in DCUO compared to other MMO is the way cosmetics are handled.  Every time your character equips an item, they receive the permanent option to use it as cosmetic armor.  All of your armor is automatically recolored to match the three colors in your palette, though it may be possible to change this somehow.  Either way, it's an interesting feature that lets you keep your preferred superheroic look as you get gear.

Overall, the game feels a lot like a console superhero beat-em-up.   There's a lot of button mashing, a combo meter that I've already run up to 100 hits, and plenty of mobs to beat down.
The combo counter in action

Interestingly, every quest in the game that I've seen so far is effectively a public quest - you don't get credit for everything that happens around you, but most times I do get credit for a mob kill if I did significant amounts of damage, and most times I get credit for helping the beleaguered cops of Gotham if I damage something that is trying to stop them.  

There's also a dungeon finder equivalent that automatically throws together groups.  The only group quest I've gotten so far is a Halloween event against the Scarecrow, and it appears to be way too hard for a group of newbie F2P players of appropriate level, but at least the thing works in principle.

On the plus side, the feel of the world and the lore is alive and well - it's always fun when a new iconic character makes their appearance. 

The Business
As a free player, I didn't feel that badly limited.  There are some unfortunate quirks - NPC's send me mail that I'm not allowed to receive because free players can't open attachments.  In principle, I will eventually care about my bagspace.  I get only one weekly trip to "the vault" - effectively a slot machine for more cosmetic appearance unlocks.  I am completely banned from receiving items from other players in any way until I upgrade to premium, which is okay because I wouldn't have any cash with which to trade due to the game's escrow account - non-subscribers must pay real money to access their currency.
I'm clearly supposed to want to spend $5/500 SC for the permanent upgrade to "premium" status, which increases my character slots from 2 to 6, adds more than 50% to my total bag+bank slot inventory, and opens up the broker.  I just don't see precisely why I do want this, since I'm not feeling that I lack anything. 

If you are looking to spend the 500 SC, there are cosmetics and consumables in the cash shop, but probably the most attractive options to meet this quota are character slots (500 SC per, though I'm not sure if I need seven slots with only seven powersets in the game) or inventory and bank slots (300-400 for additional slots, unclear whether this is account-wide, and the numbers do not add up to a convenient way to spend exactly 500 SC).  If you're prepared to spend a bit more, there's the Green Lantern DLC, which costs 1100 SC but actually includes a decent chunk of content along with the Green Lantern powerset.  Alternately, non-Green Lantern fans could wait for future DLC, which will probably run in the same price range, and possibly snag a double Station Cash weekend for a hefty discount in the process.

I'm not at all hostile to the cash shop as currently organized, I just don't see anything that I really want in it either.  If this does turn out to be a good game that I'd be willing to support, this is unfortunate. 

The Outlook
If this game had come out as a single player game with paid DLC and optional online multiplayer, it would have likely been a huge hit - as it is, the game is reportedly three times more popular on the PS3, and that market is willing to pay $60 for a box and $10 for the occasional DLC.

Instead, SOE went for the monthly fee model and came up short.  Now the game is in the unenviable position of having gone Free to Play ten months too late, after having effectively failed to make it as a paid game and dwindled to the smallest number of servers the payment platforms allow.  (PVE and PVP rulesets are two phases on the same server, with shared queues for instanced PVE and PVP content.  It sounds like world PVP is problematic in any case, because apparently people who want to be Batman greatly outweigh people who want to be Killer Croc.)  Like many games that have had to retrofit their payment models, I'd argue that this one does not make a ton of sense. 

On the plus side, there's definitely some interest in the game, and I suspect that it will get many more players on the PS3 side - PS3 players will download anything they can get for free off the PSN store.  This may even translate into some additional money for SOE, though clearly much less than they were hoping for.  That said, I can't help but wonder that this game won't be around in a year - the only games SOE ever cancels are licensed IP's, and this one probably is not cheap.  The fact that there's little doubt in my mind that I can finish the content in the game before the lights get turned off doesn't do much to reassure me about the game's outlook. 

P.S. Two additional potential losers in this deal - the Marvel Universe online MMO, which will now arrive in a marketplace where all three previous superhero MMO's have gone F2P inside of about a year, and anyone else who thinks putting a subscription MMO on the PS3 is something the PSN customers will tolerate.  (I half feel bad for FFXIV trying this, they've already been through a lot.)


Yeebo said...

I realize you said you were pleasantly surprised, but the controls you describe sound atrocious. Sounds a lot like SWG until you figure out tapping the Alt key frees up your mouse. That scheme had me screaming and cursing at my monitor. Hopefully there are some gamepad options...

Bhagpuss said...

I just posted a long reply which Blogger ate, as it eats my first "publish" of every comment. Only this time i forgot to copy before I posted. Grrrr.

Short version: the control system isn't atrocious. It's surprisingly easy to get used to and very intuitive. Where it took me more than three days even to begin to get used to FFXI's UI, I was comfortable with DCUO's in minutes and by the time I left the tutorial it felt completely natural. (Very good tutorial, by the way. Both interesting and a good representation of actual gameplay, two things that can't be said about most MMO tutorials).

I played in beta on a PvE server, which was great, but at launch I played on a PvP server, which was better. Open world PvP , at least around launch, was balanced, frequent and fun. I'd recommend it right now, when there will be a lot of people playing at lower levels, although, at least when I was playing regularly, it was entirely possible for a level 12 to fight a level 16 and win.

kaozz said...

I've been wanting to pop into the game and give it a go since hearing it went FTP, sounds like something fun to putter around with on the side. I just need to set aside some time! Hope to read more about your thoughts on the game if you continue to play it.

Plus, it is always nice to have another game included on the Station Access pass.

Yeebo said...

@Bhagpuss: well if you and Greenarmadillo agree, I'll have to take it for a spin and see for myself. Even in SWG, I eventually got used to the camera being locked to my mouse. And if the system is designed for gamepads rather than a KB mouse set up, I have a USB gamepad I almost never plug in. I think the last time I used it was playing Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst.

Starseeker said...

Weirdly enough your character looks like an eq2 Woof Elf with green crazy armor....guess it is an SOE product. Glad to hear it went free to play I may actually try it out.

Anonymous said...

Still love the blog, question though, I want to start a new free to play game in December. (I've done LOTRO and been pretty good at it, paid about 30 dollars in a year and a half and had enough TP to get Isengard).

Which would you recommend for this? It seems like you've spent alot of time in EQ2, but I worry about the stability of that game (do alot of people really still play it)?