DCUO Switch Impressions: Reassessing DC Universe Online in 2019
Daybreak Games’ superhero-themed MMORPG, DC Universe Online (DCUO) just released on the Nintendo Switch last week and I’ve been playing it since the weekend before.
After playing it off and on for a week, I wanted to provide my early impressions of how it plays on Switch, how it shapes up to the MMO competition, and whether it’s worth your time in a crowded market in 2019.
What is DC Universe Online?
First things first: DC Universe Online is an old game. It first launched back in 2011 as a pay-to-play subscription-based MMO for the PS3 and PC. It later came to the PS4 in 2013 and Xbox One in 2016.
The game essentially didn’t even last a whole year as a subscription offering following a rocky launch, but it has flourished since then with a steady stream of new content and new features. PS3 support was shut down in early 2018 and PS4 and PC players share the same server. Xbox and Switch are separate.
Since DCUO is a free-to-play game, that means you don’t need to pay a dime to download and play it at all, whatsoever, on any platform. There are tons of ways the game tries to get money out of you, though, and if you enjoy it at all, I highly recommend exploring some of those avenues to compensate the developers — but it’s not required to experience a big chunk of the game's content.
Being that this is a comic book-based MMO, updates are doled out a bit differently than you might be used to in other MMOs.
In games like Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, and other MMOs, new expansion releases often bring a ton of new content, maybe some new classes, new land masses to explore, and more. DCUO is different in that its content is actually formatted as shorter episodes, and it gets more consistent releases over an entire year.
Instead of, say, a half dozen expansions over its eight years of life, as you’d expect, it’s actually received over 30 episodes.
The episodes are a bit like comic storylines, or issues, that focus on specific characters, regions, and villains. There are episodes about the Titans, there was a big Atlantis episode, and right now, Justice League Dark is the focus.
DCUO As A Free Player
If you’re a free player, then you get access to the base game and its storyline. There are a handful of powers to pick from, a bunch of costume designs, and plenty of ways to make your hero your own.
Each time a new episode releases, that new episode is free for all players to until the next episode releases. This means if you start now and want to play past episodic content, like Atlantis, then you need to either buy the episodes individually, which usually cost between $4 and $10 each, or you need to pay the game's optional subscription fee, which starts at $15 per month.
If you pay that fee, you get access to all the episodes, more character slots, every character power, and a bunch of other perks.
The generous thing about this system is that if you know you want to play DCUO a lot one month, then you can pay the $15 and binge a bunch of the episodes over that time, then just let your membership run out without renewing it. You’ll keep the gear you earned after its over.
Additionally, subscribing for one month permanently unlocks four more character slots on top of the two free ones that you will keep even after your membership ends — even if they were characters that had paid powers.
You can renew to check out more old episodes any time you want. But if you stay subbed, you get lots of ongoing perks that let you swap builds easier, get recurring currency to purchase upgrades and cosmetics, and more.
If you really don’t want to pay, you don’t have to, although there are some annoyances you’ll find as a strictly free player, like slower loot drops as well as spending money on some feats, which award skill points.
DCUO Combat and Customization
DCUO has a surprisingly deep combat and customization system that’s mostly open to all free players.
My main is a hero named Jaggerzone, who has ice powers and fights with a staff. Each weapon has its own unlockable combos with skill points, which really adds a lot of depth and nuance to fighting. This isn’t a tab targeting MMO ,and it’s not a game where you just sit there and click through your ability rotation. Combos require timing whilke mixing your light and heavy attacks in rhythm.
Using a staff feels great and the fighting is extremely fluid. I can throw in ice powers to do some AoE damage, reflect attacks, and generally boost damage from my allies.
Instead of picking traditional classes, you create your own, in a way, by choosing a weapon and then picking a power-set separately. From the start you also get to choose either flight, super speed, or acrobatics as a movement style, which has a big effect on moment-to-moment gameplay.
You get a lot of freedom to design your character for free, but a large chunk of the powers are behind the paywall, which might be off-putting to some.
DCUO Content and Game Flow
In terms of content, DCUO is a very PvE-focused game. PvP content does exist in the form of team battles, lair battles, and a Legends mode that lets you play as and fight against iconic DC characters, but the core of the game is centered around PvE stories and group content.
There is an “On Duty” queue full of instances for one, two, four, and even up to eight players, as well as the episodic content that has team missions, and the overworld itself that’s full of enemies to fight. And as far as I’ve seen, most of these “On Duty” events seem to be included for free players, too.
I’m only Level 15 on my main hero at the time of this writing (the base level cap is 30, then it switches to being about your “Combat Power” and gear which can get much higher), but my Journal is overflowing with things to do. My villain is around Level 10 in the same situation.
Mission variety hasn’t been great so far, but the story beats are good. For example, I recently fought a possessed team of Titans as Raven’s father was trying to take over, so beating back Cyborg, Starfire, and others was really cool. But the missions themselves so far have all just been "Kill X enemies," "Walk over and hold 'A' for a few seconds on random things," "Go fight this boss," etc.
That’s par for the course in most MMOs, but the combat in DCUO has kept me entertained. It helps that this one has some of the best voice acting in the entire genre, and the comic-book-style illustrated cutscenes are cool and actually worth watching. Many of the key characters are voiced by their animated show counterparts, so you’ll recognize voices often.
DCUO Switch Performance
With regard to the Switch port specifically, I’m extremely impressed. Performance wise, I have not had any issues in either docked or handheld mode. I actually prefer playing it handheld because it seems a little blurrier when docked. Although it runs great either way, having it on a handheld screen is just super impressive.
I still can’t believe an MMO of this size fits on a console like the Switch.
In fact, I played it on the train recently using my Pixel 2 as a mobile hotspot, and it worked flawlessly, even when the train went underground from Oakland to San Francisco. It never lost connection and ther was no lag.
Honestly, it’s just super impressive it plays so great on Switch. I wasn’t a big DCUO player prior to this version, but having it available in a such a magnificent portable version means I can easily hop in and out with zero hassle.
I can see myself investing quite a bit of time this way.
DCUO Switch Impressions: Bottom Line
Overall, DC Universe Online is a great MMO with tons of content that respects your time — and it’s definitely the perfect MMO for the Switch.
If you want to spend cash on it to get more content and more options, you can. There are over 30 pieces of DLC full of interesting stories to explore if you’re still hungry for more after exhausting the base game. While this was about the Switch version, DCUO’s content and gameplay are essentially the same on all platforms.
The bottom line is that this is a free, AAA MMO on Switch, and it is frankly the only MMO of its kind on the Switch at all. Hopefully, it will serve as a bat signal to other devs to bring their online virtual worlds to Nintendo’s latest platform.