We Could Be Heroes …

Note: As I said yesterday …

So, I tried DC Universe Online, and managed to get two characters to level 6. At which point I have decided that I have no interest in actually continuing the game. That’s a little too short a playtime for an actual review, but since I have a column that’s good enough for a commentary.

DC Universe Online, to me, had potential. Tying it into the DC universe made it interesting — even though I’m not a huge fan of DC comics — and a lot of the choices and the backstory sounded interesting. That the initial missions, at least, are story arcs made it even better.

So where’s the problem? The problem, at least for me, is in the mix of the action elements and the story elements. Or, rather, how they don’t mix. In the game, you spend most of the arc in the streets, dealing with outbreaks and the like in specific areas. You have a mix of “Defeat X minion” and “Retrieve X thing” and “Protect X person/thing” missions. Which all sounds good. However, you have them all at the same time, while you’re out on the street … a street that you share with other heroes that may not be in your group. Which means that you end up competing with them for scarce resources. In at least some cases, you can get credit for helping someone else while they actually do the work, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Well, at least it prevents kill stealing. But anyway, sometimes these things spawn rarely and so you have a long time to wait to get one. I, at least, felt the need to leap onto anything that popped up for fear that I’d lose it and have to wait longer.

Add to this that you have multiple objectives per step. So you’re killing things and destroying things and protecting things all in one go. And they aren’t all directly related; invariably you end up with one objective that you’ve barely started when you’ve finished the others. And while you’re waiting for one to spawn, you not only have to deal with things that spawn for the other objectives (like enemies) but with things that spawn just to make your life more difficult (like enemies). All in all, the street parts are chaotic and hard to keep track of, and you can get knocked out if you fail to keep track of what’s going on.

But where it really fails is in the instances. For the most part, they’re good. They’re even slightly less chaotic than the street missions, and there’s no competition. This is good. But the final battles tend to add the chaos back in, and add additional objectives that you have to meet. You may have to plan out a strategy to beat it, but it isn’t at all clear from the first try what you need to do and how to play it. That leads to playing it wrong and getting beaten. And every time you’re beaten, the health and objectives reset. So you keep plugging away until you stumble on the right strategy for your character, and manage to beat it.

All of this combines to not wanting to enjoy the story, but to get the missions out of the way as quickly as possible.

And that’s the problem: the chaos seems to be there to add to the actiony bent of the game. And yes, it does lend itself to a nice action-based combat system. And if I liked that, I might be able to forgive the game. But I don’t, and so the chaos takes me out of the game and into a strictly mechanical “hunt that down and finish the quest” mindset. Which means I’m not enjoying, say, stopping Scarecrow’s men from spreading their fear gas. Which means I’m not enjoying the story.

You can compare this to City of Heroes and the X-Men Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance games. The stories here are better than most of the arcs in CoH, and possibly the entire story in the Legends/Ultimate Alliance games. They’re really well-done, in my opinion. But I’m not enjoying them. And I’m not enjoying them because the action elements are getting in the way, and making me forget why I’m doing what I’m doing. That’s bad.

And CoH and the XML/MLA games both solve this conundrum in different ways. CoH solves it by instancing those competition missions, allowing for players to use strategy and take their time with them. They never feel rushed. While there are “Arrest 10 X” missions that are in the world, that’s a pretty minor competition that can be annoying but generally isn’t. But competing for glowies is non-existent, as they’re all in instances, meaning that you always have enough to meet your objectives.

XML/MUA goes the other way. While CoH toned the action down to get at the story (slowing down the game), those games ramped it up. You face a ton of enemies. Most of which are fairly easy to beat, especially since they I think allow you to set the level of difficulty to what you want. But there’s a lot of action. But the story fits around it; you’re told to go here and do these things, you clear out enemies and then do those things, story advances, and more enemies appear. So while CoH slows things down, XML/MUA speed things up. And at the end of the day, both are better at the action/story mix than DCUO is.

So … I will be cancelling my subscription. And maybe going back to CoH. While waiting for The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2.

So that I can be a hero again …

(I never did try GW2, am playing TOR, and wish I could play CoH again …)

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