Who would have thought when Nintendo Switch first launched in 2017 that we’d have practically every genre imaginable represented in some shape or form. Online shooters. Competitive fighting games. Full fat ARPGs. The lot. Who would have thought we’d have fully fledged MMORPGs on a portable Nintendo console? And DC Universe Online isn’t even the first. The likes of Warframe has paved the way for truly connected and optimised multiplayer experiences, and while Daybreak’s superhero simulator isn’t particularly special, the version that’s touched down on Switch in 2019 is the best it’s ever been.
For the uninitiated, DC Universe Online is a free-to-play MMO where you design your own metahuman and explore famous open-world locations from the DC Comics multiverse. In the game’s own canon, slaphead bad boy Lex Luthor travels back in time to warn the Justice League of Brainiac’s imminent invasion. This is Superman’s arch-nemesis after all so, naturally, he unleashes a wave of nanomachines that turn members of the public into potential new metahumans, thus setting the stage for your character’s creation.
It’s a cute little conceit that enables you to design your very own super friend (or super foe) and be taken under the wing of some of the most recognisable pop culture icons in comics. Creating a character in any genre is always a laugh, but there’s something even more engaging about building your own persona, designing your own costume and selecting the archetype of your powerset (such as Batman’s gadget use, Wonder Woman’s weapon prowess or Superman’s godlike abilities) that makes DC Universe Online’s first moments a blast. You can also develop more powers over time, so your choices here aren’t set in stone either. If you’ve ever played LEGO DC Super-Villains, you’ll know what to expect from this fun little creation suite.
The Switch version is running on its own independent server right now, so the issue of new players struggling to find names that don’t require five or six random numbers to qualify isn’t a huge issue at this point. Server populations are currently very high, but MMO launches always see large intakes of players to begin with so that’s not unusual. Cross-platform play could be introduced later on (it’s present on other platforms), but it makes sense to have players of a similar experience level playing together for the time being. Especially for those trying out an MMO for the very first time.
With six mentors to choose from (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Joker and Circle), you get to experience three storylines from two different perspectives. So you might assist the Caped Crusader in a mission to stop Joker unleashing a deadly gas attack, but if you opted to be a villain in Gotham, you’ll be helping the Clown Prince of Crime sow chaos in the streets. Yes, technically, it’s the same mission only flipped, but much of the difference comes down to your choice of powerset and playstyle. MMOs are built on repetition, but with so much customisation on offer, DC Universe Online stings less than many others in the genre.
Your customisation choices will also affect your overall experience. You might choose to create a metahuman with wings or the power of flight like Supes himself, or you may choose to don the acrobatic prowess of Wonder Woman. You can swoop over Metropolis and Gotham, or scale buildings and leap huge gaps simply by clicking in the right analogue stick. It’s a neat system that enables you not only to cover long distances across either open-world hub with minimal fuss, but leap into a slower, more combat-focused mode just as swiftly.
Combat will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s even loosely familiar with an MMO. It’s real-time, operating a bit like a messy brawler that throws tons of enemies at you along with a slew of powers with their own respective cooldowns. You can block incoming attacks and even unleash special super moves based on your power archetype. With lots of players on-screen things can get pretty difficult to track at times, especially in handheld mode, but as you start unlocking more powers from the skill tree, the ability to create builds aimed towards speed, crowd control and ranged attacks reveals itself. Just don’t expect anything particularly refined. It’s very much a product of its time, where you’ll spend most of your time hitting things until their meters empty out.
So is DC Universe Online really worth a shot? Well, considering you get a substantial amount of content without having to cough up a dime, it’s hard not to recommend. You get access to the entire main campaign, as well as plenty of side activities and co-op-style raids that gather players together to face enemies and bosses with far higher ranks. You can design your hero/villain and level them up without ever needing to pay anything. The restrictions are hard to miss, depending on whether you want to play for free or purchase an in-game membership. For instance, when you first design your character, quite a few power archetypes are gated off, whereas premium players can access everything from the off.
Further story content is available is special episodes (of which there are 34), and if you’re willing to invest in DC Universe Online, you’ll get to delve deep into DC’s vast multiverse of characters. There are also a lot of premium skins, sidekicks (think pets in other MMOs), cosmetic signals, the ability to call in famous heroes as backup and more. As with every other MMO (especially those that are free-to-play such as World of Warcraft and Black Desert Online), the content does eventually dry up for players that don’t want to pay more, and that’s when the grind sets in. Considering you can choose from six different mentors and experience six very different journeys (set in three locations across Gotham and Metropolis) for free, there’s as much bounty as there is a restriction for free players.
The transition to Nintendo Switch has been a smooth one, though. Visually, it’s very much representative of the era in which it first launched, full of mostly unremarkable textures and awkward animations, but even with lots of players milling about on-screen we rarely encountered much slowdown. Load times are fast, and transitioning between areas is just as swift. There’s a noticeable delay when shifting between normal movement and acrobatic speed/flight, but other than that it’s an impressively robust port of a full fat MMO.
DC Universe Online is one of the older MMOs on the market, so while it’s benefitted from quite a few updates and DLC packs, it still looks and plays like a game on PS3. If you can look past the dated visuals and repetitive gameplay, there’s a decent amount of content to be accessed as a free player. The customisation options are deep, although the need for a premium membership does gate some of these options off. However, with a solid server, a high population of players and enough content to keep you flying around Metropolis, Gotham and beyond, this is further proof that practically any genre can work on Nintendo’s latest hardware.