Editorial | 2/7/2012 at 1:00 PM

MMO Co-Opportunities Vol. XVIV: DC Universe Online Goes Free to Play

Grab your cape and mask to save the world (and a buck or two)

This month here at Co-Optimus, several of the regular feature writers are swapping our February columns. Normally, Tally, our resident MMO expert, brings you the latest on all the shiniest new massively multiplayer online games in MMO Co-Opportunities. This month, you are stuck with me and my ten-year old son, as we explore the freshly free-to-play superhero (or supervillain) quest-fest DC Universe Online.

My own experience with MMOs, at least recent ones, is quite limited. I played Everquest for four years at launch, and World of Warcraft on and off for around three years. Other than that, I have only dabbled in a handful of other MMO games, several in superhero genre, including City of Heroes and Champions Online. While these latter two games were great, I found myself missing the big guns like Captain America and Batman. When DC Universe Online was announced, I was quite intrigued, due to the draw of a huge stable of stories and characters from the beloved DC Universe.

My son shared my excitement, being well and truly raised as a comic book geek from a young age. But the $15 a month price tag (almost guaranteed to double so we could play DCUO together) kept us from pulling the trigger at launch. However, after the recent switch to the free to play model, we eagerly downloaded the client (twice!) and took our first steps into a vast world populated by the Justice League and dozens of other iconic heroes.

Andrew already did a great job covering the basics of DCUO in this column last spring, so I won't spend much time covering the same ground. Suffice it to say that the MMO model, popularized and polished to a solid standard by World of Warcraft, works very well in the superhero genre. From the beginning of your character's career, you interact with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman as quest givers. You'll rescue the Teen Titans, fight with Nightwing, and take down Lex Luthor's evil plots, with each event interpreted through the MMO lens, including gear upgrades, skill trees, fetch quests, and more. It meshes together quite well, but especially for the comic book fan.

So what exactly does a user in the new free-to-play account model get? More precisely, what is a free-to-play account lacking, when compared to the other options? There are three types of accounts in DCUO: free, premium, and legendary. Free is just what it sounds like; premium is for those who have spent $5 for in-game purchases, and legendary is the typical $15 a month subscription. Legendary members have access to all features, including downloadable content, with no restrictions.

The differences between free and premium are significant. Free accounts are limited to two character slots, while premium get six. Similarly, inventory and bank slots are increased when you upgrade from free to premium. Premium accounts also get access to the auction system, and item trading. While the free account is still fun, a premium upgrade is all but required to get the most out of the game. Fortunately, spending just $5 on a DLC pack or special character skin is enough to upgrade, providing a tremendous amount of gaming value.

The free-to-play model is fantastic for casual gamers, as you don't have to pay for an account that is falling into disuse. It's like having an extended demo, where there is no time limit, and you can play through a huge amount of content before you commit a single penny. For our two-hero household, the model is even better, as both dad and son can team up when the mood strikes us without spending the equivalent of half a new release game price each month. 

Overall, I have been very pleased with DC Universe Online. The free-to-play model gives you lots of bang for the buck, especially at the premium level. While DCUO's features probably won't change any MMO haters into rabid fans, the game merges the superhero and MMO genres into a highly polished package that is the best combination of the two genres yet.