Love on the Watchtower: GGG Plays DC Universe Online

It had been a few weeks since the Lex Luthor from the future, in a desperate gamble to prevent the timeline he’d been a part of, had traveled back in time to release Brainiac’s exobytes across the U.S.

Since that chaotic event, many previously ordinary citizens had gained superpowers. Two of them happened to be passing each other in the corridors of the Watchtower, the Justice League of America’s famous orbiting satellite, when they paused to regard each other.

One was dressed in a tight-fighting costume of black, white, and red, colors striking and bold. He carried a bow, and he had gained mystic powers over fate and sorcery. The other was extremely tall and broad, having been enhanced by the exobytes’ touch. His costume colors were rusts and browns, accented in gold. He used no weapon other than his huge fists, and he had some powers over nature, as well.

The two had paused, because both had chosen the same emblem…a bear paw. They regarded each other uncertainly, then some signal was given without words. They both relaxed, grinned, shook hands. The Watchtower was no gay bar, but these two bears had found each other nonetheless.

It’s my superhero story, after all, and it would *not* be approved by the Comics Code Authority!

The funny thing is, it’s also true!

The Heroes

Now, I need another time sink like I need a hole in the head, but here I am, playing DC Universe Online. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a superhero-themed MMORPG, specifically based around the DC Comics universe, stories, and characters. It launched earlier this month, and it’s already capturing my interest in ways other MMORPGs have not.

Firstly, there’s the DC Comics angle. I’ve been a fan of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all the rest for years and years. I’m an avid reader and a font of trivia on these characters, so getting to play a game set in this world is a blast. I played the original superhero MMORPG, City of Heroes, but I ultimately stopped because I just didn’t care about the world it was set in. Who were these people? Should I care if the town is threatened by sentient plants? I just couldn’t get attached.

Now, however, I’m in Metropolis or Gotham City. I *know* these places. I care about them. When I see Detective Bullock on the streets of Gotham, I grin, because this is a character I know the history and disposition of. When I hear that Gorilla Grodd is threatening the citizens of Metropolis, I spring into action, because evil, super-intelligent psionic gorillas cannot be allowed to devolve those poor people into his gorilla slaves!

There are many, many choices in creating a character. You can customize your costume almost into minutiae, and there are tons of different power combinations. You can even decide between being a hero and a villain. And let me tell you, the villainous content is *really* dark. Personally, I prefer being the hero.

It’s also worth mentioning that the game doesn’t make you work your way up to awesomeness. Your powers are pretty great right off the bat. I remember trying to play a character that flies in City of Heroes. At lower levels, you just kind of hovered or levitated. It took a lot of work to get to a level where you could actually fly with any sort of speed. In DCUO, I was flying around from the tutorial on. The iconic powers are there right from the start. And you’re not just fighting muggers or “rats”. You start right off by escaping Brainiac’s ship, smashing through his army of robots. No sooner are you on the ground than you’re fighting the Joker’s goons, or Grodd’s gorilla army, or punching your way through zombies. It feels much more heroic.

And you may be just one hero out of many in the DC universe, but it doesn’t feel that way. You’re rubbing elbows with Superman, rescuing the Teen Titans, and fighting alongside the Flash in no time at all. You feel like a hero worthy of his or her own comic.

And what’s more, it’s just so danged pretty! I sometimes find myself flying around Metropolis or leaping around Gotham, just looking around, feeling heroic, smiting an occasional hoodlum, then heading back up into the air. The details are rich. Gotham is filthy and dark, and the Batsignal often shines in the perpetual cloud cover. Blimps fly overhead, complete with scrolling messages along their sides. Rain falls, and everything looks slick and dangerous. By contrast, Metropolis gleams with bright skyscrapers, the very picture of the City of Tomorrow. The elevated rails of the Rail Whale public transit system snake among the towers, inviting one to fly along them, exploring and reveling in the simple joy of flight. The Watchtower is bright and shining, and clear panels allow one to look down on the earth below…so fragile and in need of heroic protectors.

Or villains to destroy it!

The Villains

Okay, gushing time over. The game is good, but it has some flaws.

Because it’s new and shiny, lag can be *really* bad. I’ve died in fights where I literally hadn’t yet seen my opponent approach due to lag. Gotham seems much laggier than Metropolis…maybe more folks just want to emulate Batman. I’ve also have very long waits to get online, and that can be frustrating.

The game suggests a universe, but the game actually sets about 99% of its content in Metropolis, Gotham, or the Watchtower. There are special missions to other areas, such as Area 51, but I’m looking forward to much more. I want to visit Happy Harbor, Central City, Atlantis, Thanagar, Oa, Gemworld…there are so many places in the DC Universe that excite me. I’m sure we can expect more with future expansions, so I’m trying to be patient.

The missions can get repetitive, of course; I have yet to find an MMORPG that manages to avoid this. Many of them consist of “beat up X number of folks” or “beat up X number of folks and collect the Y that they may or may not have”. There is a lot of variety within this structure, however. Bane’s minions feel very different from the Scarecrow’s minions, or LexCorp’s security teams, or Circe’s bestiamorphs. This adds variety to the missions, but ultimately, you know the rough outline of each mission you can expect to do.

The chat functions, which are the essence of being able to coordinate a group in such a cooperative game, are still screwy and being worked on. Voice chat is only semi-operational at best, which is frustrating. Again, I’m confident that it’ll all come out in the wash. For now, it’s merely annoying.

Overall, for me, the pros currently outweigh the cons. I’m not thrilled to pay another monthly fee, so I may drop the change and pick up a lifetime membership. That worked out very well for me in Lord of the Rings Online, and I have the feeling I’ll be sticking around with DCUO for a long time. After all, there are always crimes to foil and wrongs to right!

My Story

So, yes, I do have a character who’s a big bear of a fellow, complete with a bear-like name and a bearpaw symbol on my chest. And yes, I did meet a smaller bear…a cub, if you will. And the flirting has been hot and heavy, yes. Have things progressed beyond that?

Please. Would Superman tell you his secret identity? He would not. So don’t ask me to reveal such personal details.

But if you ever see a pair of bear-themed superheroes ducking into an abandoned warehouse, you might want to stay clear. They may be going in there to foil the joker’s latest plot to douse Gotham in his deadly laughing gas.

Or…they may not.

What About You? Two questions to ponder.

For me, one of the thrills of playing is to hang out with characters like Superman. I’ve loved Superman since I was a kid, and he’s still my favorite all-time comics character. Ironically, I also love Catwoman, primarily due to her careful walking of the line between right and wrong. Do you have a superhero or supervillain you particularly like? Let us know.

I have two characters. One is the big bear fellow mentioned above, who has acrobatic skills, brawling combat options, and powers over nature. Another one is a snarky kid who can fly, summon demons, and blast enemies with sorcerous powers. If you were going to create a superhero to play, what would your ideal power-set look like?

About GGG

Andy/GGG is a gay geek guy for sure. He's been playing D&D since he was 10, and he equates reading Tolkien with religion to some degree. He's a writer/developer for a Live Action RPG called The Isles, and he writes a comic called Circles, a gay, furry slice-of-life piece that comes out way too infrequently.

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