Saturday, November 18, 2017

Old Dog, New Trick : DCUO

If there's one MMO I've played longer than any other yet never given the attention it deserves it could be... well, it could be quite a few of them, now I come to think about it, but the one I had in mind was DCUO.

I've been playing on and off - mostly "off" - since beta. I always enjoy myself a lot and yet I don't play very often. There are several reasons but the main one has to be that the game - as a game - is far too difficult.

Difficult in a couple of significant ways: first, it has an extremely intense and demanding endgame. Not that I've ever come within hailing distance of it. I wouldn't even know one existed had it not been for Tipa's long series of increasingly despairing posts detailing her failing attempts to keep up with her partners in Team Spode as they scaled the game's attritional progression, a "curve" that often looked more like a cliff face.

Someone's overcompensating.

If the prospect of a never-ending gear and stat ladder wasn't enough to put me off - and it was - there's also the simple matter of player skill: I don't have any. Not, at least, when it comes to ARPG mechanics. I don't play my keyboard like a concert pianist, I fail at reading tells even when they're telegraphed with gestures that would put a mime to shame (if such a thing is possible), and I get hand-cramps and shoulder pains from too much fast mouse-clicking.

Add to that the kind of relentless forced grouping that makes FFXIV's look like an introvert's daydream and it becomes apparent that DCUO was never going to be my ideal MMO. And yet, as I said, I have always enjoyed it anyway.

Mostly I enjoyed leveling up. The first 30 levels  - theoretically the only 30 levels since level cap is 30 - may be not much more than a very extended tutorial these days but they're good levels. DCUO always had a fun leveling game - it just didn't last long enough.

I never imagined Smallville so...industrialized.

I've mostly entertained myself in short bursts over the years by making new characters and leveling them towards that low cap. I began on a PvP server at launch and did it the hard way. Then I kicked back for a while on a PvE server.

Eventually SOE came up with an elegant mechanic that let Heroes and Villains all play together without having to fight unless they chose to do so (a mechanic which it looks as though Blizzard is about to emulate almost to the letter when it removes dedicated PvP servers from WoW). Around then I moved to a different account and started over yet again.

That's the character I usually turn to on the odd occasions when I remember to log in although I also have a Level 30 character that I've never played, courtesy of one of DBG's frequent free boost handouts. Once I do get the urge the problem isn't who to play, it's what to do. Yesterday I discovered to my amazement that DBG are not only aware of that problem but that, as with the PvP dilemma, they seem to have solved it.

I'd heard there was a new Chapter or Scenario or whatever they call them, this one featuring the Crime Syndicate of Earth 3 (don't bother trying to keep DC's Earth's straight - no-one can). I had a little time free so I thought I'd take a look.

I know very little about how these Episodes (that's the name!) work. Every time I've tried to get involved in one until now I've failed to work out how to join in before my energy and enthusiasm ran out. This time, though, I had read that there was an Open World element to the update and if there's one thing that motivates me beyond all else it's the chance to explore a new map.

When I logged in I found myself inside my Lair. Lairs are DCUO's version of housing and a rather good version at that. It was particularly handy finding myself at home because the game was telling me I had a batch of posters waiting for me in my Claim window.

I don't think any of those effects is from anything I'm doing.
As I was claiming them a mysterious voice began to harangue me. Something about collecting things. Then Superman chimed in to order me to Smallville, where a spaceship had crash-landed (I know! What are the chances?).

I was too busy to pay full attention because I was putting my posters up but once I was happy with the decor I saw from the UI that I was supposed to join a Duo and go to Smallville. This is how DCUO rolls. You aren't really supposed to do anything alone. You can go by twos, fours or eights but solo is no go.

Except surely not in "Open World"? Isn't that kind of what the term means? Which is how I ended up running aimlessly around The Watchtower for the umpteenth time, trying to find the Teleporter to Earth 3 Gotham, the new zone that comes with the Episode.

I have issues with The Watchtower, The Justice League's orbital base. I can never find anything there, ever. This time I only wasted a few minutes before I gave up and went to Google. And that's where I found this lengthy dev blog explaining some radical new thinking:

"We have enormous diversity in our player base - players of all types with all sorts of expectations - and in Episode 30, we wanted to have more freedom to design content specifically for more of these different kinds of players.

What does that mean? Earth 3 will have three different types or versions of content. You're used to seeing two versions - normal and elite. Additionally, this episode will also have an easier, stat-clamped version of all instances. The stat-clamped versions - essentially a Starro-sized major event - will launch alongside and in addition to the full episode, for all players over level 10, and will remain until Episode 31 launches next year....

The stat-clamped content is highly accessible (and of course open to players of any level), so it is a light, easy-going experience. The regular end-game version is more challenging, but still accessible to the majority of players...
We expect the player (or alt) who is not yet at end-game to enjoy the easy event content, the end-game player to enjoy the accessible end-game content as usual, and the elite player to rise to the challenge of the elite raids to get that improved elite gear, all while the increasing currency rewards and extended vendor discounts keep everything within reach. "

Wait? What! Everyone can play?! You don't need to be a Member - you don't even need to be at the baby "cap" of 30 let alone be an actual end-gamer? What is this? Communist Russia?

Seriously, how good an idea is this? A limited-time free-for-all after which the trainer-wheels version goes away, but gets replaced by new, equally accessible content. And, before the Welfare Epics contingent have a coronary, there are a whole set of different, playstyle-appropriate rewards too.

I'd quote all the good stuff but there's too much good stuff to fit. I just hope ANet are taking notes.

The devil is always in the detail but a quick scan of the forums suggests this is a popular move. It certainly motivates me to log in more frequently, not least because there are plenty of housing items in the mix and I'm becoming increasingly attached to my Lair.

My "partner" hovers impatiently at the zone-out while I listen to Supes and Lex yakking it up

I was so motivated I even queued up for and completed the Duo instance in Smallville. It went as well as could be expected considering I have quite literally no idea what any of my abilities do, don't have clue one as to how to play my character and am wearing gear I haven't upgraded for about ten levels.

Actually, it went better than that because my silent partner didn't yell at me even when I died for the third time. We eventually made it to the Gotham of Earth 3, where we promptly split up to do our own thing, which in my case was to skim up to the top of a skyscraper and start taking screenshots.

All of which bodes well for my continuing future in DCUO. It was always a good MMO but I do believe it just got significantly better.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide