With the release of DC Universe Online (DCUO) just a week away, early reviews on the public beta have been mixed between heralding San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment's latest creation as the quintessential superhero game, to the more acerbic opinions calling for bloodshed.
However, after spending some time playing with both the PS3 as well as the PC versions of the game, my opinion is that while it may not be perfect, DCUO has done several things extremely well, none the least of which being laying a strong foundation on which to build.
The story of DCUO opens with Lex Luthor foretelling of a war-torn future in which Brainiac has managed to enslave the planet.
As the sole survivor of this timeline, Luthor has returned to the present-day in the hopes of averting this fate by releasing scores of stolen "exobytes" into the atmosphere, which will infuse any citizen they touch with the same superpowers as Superman, Wonder Woman or the Flash.
His hope is that by raising an army of these "metahumans," humanity may be able to avoid its impending demise.
This back-story provides the ideal setting for the player to assume their role as a member of this newly empowered army as they dive into the character creator.
One of the game's premier features, the DCUO character creator can be a bit overwhelming at first due to the sheer volume of choices.
However, with players being able to customize everything from cowls to boots, to cape color, they should also have no trouble in crafting a hero or villain that is wholly unique to them.
Admittedly, while this feature is one of the game's strong suits, it still would have been nice to have seen a few more options in regards to face selection as well as body shape.
Another one of the features the developers from Sony Online's Austin studio managed to do extremely well is combat.
Unlike traditional massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) that tend to be rather slow, players will find DCUO extremely fast-paced, being more on par with what they would expect from a first-person shooter.
This also lends itself very well to the player-vs.-player (PVP) aspects of the game, which is where DCUO may find some of its greatest appeal.
That being said, however, perhaps the most impressive aspect of DCUO has to be the world.
Executive Creative Director/DC Co-Publisher Jim Lee, along with Sony Online directors Chris Cao and Jens Andersen, has managed to create a beautiful and immersive world set in the DC Universe.
Anyone familiar with DC Comics will instantly recognize many of the locations in the game and should thoroughly enjoy teaming up with others to take down iconic characters like Bizarro.
The voice-acting can also not be overlooked as Sony Online has enlisted the likes of Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy and Adam Baldwin to add to the countless hours of dialogue contained in the game.
Not to mention the comic-book style cut scenes that are the true highlight of completing some of the game's harder missions.
Unfortunately, despite all of its strong suits, DCUO does have a few problems.
For one the user interface (UI) and questing system could use some work.
I won't delineate all of the issues and suggestions others have already put forward about the UI.
However, in regards to the questing system, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more organization here, as quests can appear to be lumped together without any discernable sense of order at first glance.
Here I think DCUO could have taken a page from a story-driven game like "Guild Wars" and grouped quests based on primary chains as well as by area.
This would have made for a much more efficient experience for the player as well as giving DCUO a great way to layout the game's main story arc in a much more linear fashion.
Nevertheless, in spite of its problems DCUO will remain a groundbreaking addition to the genre.
Apart from the fact that it's one of the first MMORPGS to ever be released on both the console as well as PC simultaneously, the game has a vast amount of content to draw on.
It's still too early to say whether or not DCUO will be an immediate commercial success. However, with the foundation the developers are laying, it may very well turn out to be one of the must-play games over the long term.