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DC Legends

Longbox Graveyard #170

I wrote before that I finally kicked the Marvel Puzzle Quest habit — and I did, I swear! But part of that effort involved parking myself on another game these past several months. That game was DC Legends. After nine months of daily effort, I’ve exhausted this game, as well, and I am here to tell the tale.

What wisdom might I offer, aside from “avoid playing games that never end?” Read on!

First things first. What is DC Legends? It’s a mobile game where you collect and level-up a roster of DC heroes and villains so you can win fights to level up to win fights to level up to …

(Are you sensing a grind? Good on you. This game is the king of grinds!)

How does it play? Well, if you’ve played Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes, you can skip to the end of this review. DC Legends is effectively a re-spray of Galaxy of Heroes, with DC’s characters standing in for Jedis and Stormtroopers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I tried Galaxy of Heroes and didn’t much like it, while DC hooked me for several months — theme matters!

For those coming in fresh, here’s what to expect from DC Legends.

There’s a story — something to do with Black Lanterns and evil wraith versions of DC characters running amok — but the story is at best chrome on top of the same basic thing that you are going to do over and over again. And that thing is leading four characters into turn-based RPG combat against four other characters, either in player-vs-event or player-vs-player mode.

This is a lavishly-developed game, with a lot to recommend it. The good things first! I gave the story short shrift but the game is nicely themed. There are dozens of characters to collect and level up, each with a set of powers and gear to earn. All characters are nicely rendered in 3D with spectacular attacks, like Supergirl tearing up a chunk of floor and tossing it at the bad guys, or Siren whirling her blades around before sending them spinning off into the other team. Each character has three powers, generally falling into the attack one/attack all/buff or special effects category, and even after playing the game all the way to Level 70 I never really tired of watching the animation. Battles play out in signature DC locations that are nicely detailed, and the game has a lush soundscape of music and sound effects that are actually worth listening to — a rarity for a mobile game. It’s fun to learn how to best employ your characters and to build up your roster as you grind through the game content.

But, ah, there’s that word — “grind.” The degree to which you enjoy this game is heavily bound up with your love of grinding. This is true of most free-to-play games, and to be fair, the grind in DC isn’t as bad as many (*cough Marvel Puzzle Quest *cough), but you are still going to have to put in an hour or so a day to make any kind of decent progress. Purchases are available to speed your development, though to tell the truth I never spent a dime on this game (a rarity for me). If I could have found a way to meaningfully spend five bucks I would have done so, but the value proposition in the store just wasn’t there, what with nearly everything being a blind purchase, and seemingly everything worth purchasing being up on a high shelf somewhere. I found it easier to grind …

… and here the designers have done us a favor, building grind tools right into the game. On the most basic level, you can speed up game animations, so fights won’t last so long. Once you’ve gotten to the point where repeating low level content doesn’t pose a challenge, there’s also an autoplay button that will let the battles play without requiring your input at all (and you can always jump in and start playing again, if your characters start to lose the day). Finally, you can auto-complete missions straight from the menu by spending Speed Force, a somewhat-plentiful currency that grants an automatic win and gives you a roll on the reward table for whatever that node offered.

(And, yes, it is bizarre to laud a game for a feature that lets you get it over quickly. Not sure there are any other games where playing less is the goal. Golf, maybe? Dunno).

There are a blizzard of things to collect and spend in this game. Heroes are awarded via shards. Some minimal number of shards is required to unlock a character for play, then more shards to advance the hero up through the ranks, from one to five stars. After five stars, the character can advance to “Legendary,” triggering a costume change and a new set of supplementary powers. I had several characters up to Legendary-3 level when I quit, with Cheetah sniffing Legendary-4. In addition to shards (of various rarities, of course) there are raw materials for leveling up gear, experience points for advancing character levels (which are distinct from stars and Legendary levels), the aforementioned Speed Force, hard currency gems to buy just about everything, and at least two other expendable currencies that lubricate the whole engine.

It’s all rather confusing, and comes down to never having enough of what you need. And what you need will change over the course of the game — for a long time I was starved for basic Essence, and was swimming in Experience; when I quit the game I was out of Experience, and had millions of useless Essence. The economy is confusing and I think the game suffers for not having a single screen where I can see all the different stuff I own all at once — your inventories are referenced only when needed to make a purchase, which makes it difficult to assess your progress through the game, or to reliably decide whether your WhosiWhatsits are better invested in Cyborg’s Boom Tube Manipulator or Zatanna’s White Rabbit. Short of spending literally thousands of dollars, you won’t be able to develop all of your characters equally, so you will have to concentrate on maybe 4-8 characters to get you through the game — and when you eventually arrive at your choices, you will grit your teeth a bit realizing you can’t recover the precious resources invested in secondary characters along the way. Live and learn.

Your experience in the game will go through levels of understanding. At first you’ll concentrate on collecting those characters that you like best or that are most easily available; later you will try to exploit the rock/paper/scissors relationship between energy/physical/mystical heroes; finally you will graduate into the meta of trying to assemble the best squad of four characters that mutually support each other with the right attacks and buffs. It is fun to develop your roster and learn how to squeeze the most performance out of your teams. Mission nodes identify the hero shard they (sometimes) award, so you can direct your grinding to collecting the maximum daily Flash shards on offer (or whoever), and more-or-less control which characters you build up. There are escalating levels of basic and advanced content to chew through, weekly events, special hero challenges, player-versus-player, free spins of the prize wheel, and more. There’s plenty to do.

Problem is, it’s just the same thing, over and over. The stakes may change a little, but it is still always your four guys versus four other guys. The expense of taking characters to high level is going to lock you into a handful of playable characters, meaning you are going to see the same guys over and over again, and your options for swapping in characters from your bench will be limited. I sense there are all sorts of synergies to try out but I never had the roster to take advantage of them.The game adds new characters every month, but the new content couldn’t retain me because it was so tedious and time-consuming to level new characters to viability. By the time I quit the game, I was only using five characters.

And I can’t say that I chose those characters with a lot of knowledge or forethought. The game is loaded with granular details but not a lot of explanation. I mean, I guess it is good that my attributes went up …

But how do those attributes translate to game performance? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know they are good to have, and I know how I got them, but I got here by grinding, rather than making hard choices. I’m sure there is a skillful meta game here where I am supposed to evaluate my many buffs and powers against the enemy roster to give myself the best chance of victory … but remember that part where I said I could really only develop five really competitive characters? Yeah, well, that means options are limited — you pretty much just put your best guys out there and bottom-feed.

Lots of details, but few ways to find your way through them. Lots of characters, but few that can be made viable. Lots of content to unlock, but few meaningful differences between fighting Solomon Grundy in Metropolis instead of Sinestro on Thanagar. Lots of currencies to manipulate, but resource gating ensures you can only be working toward one or two critical purchases at a time. There are lots of different horses to ride on the merry-go-round, but they only go in one direction, and you always end up where you started.

resource gating … grr …

There are some curious choices, too. The character roster is peculiar — multiple versions of Green Arrow, for instance, but none of the New Gods. A highly anticipated system of clans and daily missions was added to the game but all it really did was unlock another layer of grind. The player-versus-player ladder seems clogged with an uncommonly high number of cheaters and hackers (at least to judge by community message board complaints), but this appears to go largely unpunished. And as noted, I could never really talk myself into purchases.

Chris Hemsworth as Aquaman? I might buy THAT!

(The game is a damn memory hog, too — at 1.5 GB, it chewed up three times the memory of anything else on my iPhone).

But what probably bothered me the most was the narrative choice of making my enemies into “Wraiths.” They’re the same heroes and villains that are on my own team, for the most part … but they’re all grey, a color scheme that obscures their details. The result is that many of the game’s characters — with all their 3D details and animation — are just grey blobs on the screen. It’s a rotten choice — an answer to a question no one asked — and it robs the game of much of its spectacle. I can already go into battle with multiple versions of Batman on my team. Believe me, I won’t get knocked out of the fantasy if I see Batman on the other team, too. My guys are on the left. I can deal.

nice to see DC’s movie slate supported with in-game content

So what does it all mean? Is DC Legends worth a download? On the one hand, I played the game every day for about nine months, and it was fun enough — an hour a day spent with DC’s characters. Figuring everything out was a challenge and finally beating each layer of content was rewarding. But it was a long ride to nowhere, and it was surprisingly easy to quit the game. I suppose I’d say its ok to date this game, but not to marry it. High level play is too opaque, and too expensive. I suppose you can churn around at low levels and just collect the character of the month (Doctor Poison! Oh boy!) but as soon as you think you’ve seen it all, you should stop playing …

… because you have!

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts. Have I missed some hidden layer of this game? Did I quit just when it was getting good? Should I be more enthusiastic about Doctor Poison? Lay it on me … and please check out my Superhero Games page, where I’ve collected all my many game reviews from here at Longbox Graveyard!

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