Good DPS – the Unsung Hero of the PUG

I often read people’s horror stories of their terrible PUG experiences in just about every online game I have played.  I am regularly shocked by the alleged atrocities committed by seemingly average players on other seemingly average players.  We all come to the dungeon entrance with the same goal.  So, what goes wrong in the intervening 30 to 90 minutes?  I have no empirical data to answer that question, so I am going to agree with the masses – it is the DPS’s fault.

I base my hasty conclusion on a personal observation and a stereotype.  Who could find fault in those?  First, the observation.  I have had very few bad PUG experiences in my game-playing career.  While I play less often then most, I probably spend a greater than average proportion of my time PUGing.  I almost always queue as DPS, and I think that I am a somewhat better than average DPS player.  Assuming that I am not consistently PUGing with great, wholly rational players, I have to assume that being good at the DPS role has a significant impact on the enjoyment of my PUG experience.

Second, the stereotype?  Your average player queuing as a tank or healer is better than your average player queuing as DPS.  Why do I make the blanket assumption?  First, tanking and healing are perceived as harder than DPSing.  Second, the tanking/healing skillset is different than the leveling/grinding skillset.  Obviously, this is not universal, and there are bad (or poorly specced/geared) tanks and healers that queue for PUGs, but I have to think on average, if you are brave enough to jump into the queue as a tank or healer, you know something about what you were doing.  On the other hand, while there are certainly good DPS out there, you are more likely to find the lowest levels of skill and maturity taking the “easy way” and going in DPS.

Thus, based on very little actual analysis, I conclude that queuing as DPS means that you are more likely to take a spot in the group from an underachiever than you are to take the spot of an good player.

So, what does it mean to be a good DPS.  In other words, what rules should you live by to make your PUGing more enjoyable as a DPS player and what impact can you have?

Never Talk, Ever.

My first rule actually has nothing to do with how you play and everything to do with how you conduct yourself.  As DPS, no one cares what you think about anything, how awesome you are, or that speed at which you should kill things.  You will not have a smooth trip through a dungeon if you start talking, because everyone in the group assumes that you are a dumb, loud-mouthed, entitled jerk.  Oh, and you are the most easily replaceable member of said group.

With that said, the following are acceptable in small doses:

  • Hi! (exclamation point may be a little too pushy)
  • Ready (but only if asked, unsolicited readies make it seem like you are dictating pace)
  • R (better than ready, you show you are efficient)
  • Nice tanking (only if said following an actual display of nice tanking)
  • Nice heals (see above)
  • Thanks or TY (after rez or port)
  • Good Job or GJ (usually reserved for the end of the dungeon)

Finally, on a slightly more serious note, it is also acceptable to say at the beginning of the dungeon “My first time in here, any tips would be appreciated.”  That shows that you are willing to learn, but not so willing that you would actually read up on an encounter beforehand.  It also gives you an excuse if you die (you will).

But do Interrupt

It’s the tank’s job to interrupt, right?  It sure is.  When the tank misses the interrupt, you can curse said tank out, blame him for the wipe, and shame him until he drops group.  It should only be a few more hours before you get another tank, right?

News flash, even given my singing the praises of tanks and healers above, tanks in PUGs always forget to interrupt.  On top of that, some encounters have more interruptable abilities than the tank can keep up with.  As DPS, you usually have some tools to take that job on yourself.  Next time, instead of being resigned to the big damage that will result from a missed interrupt, do it yourself.  If you have a squishy tank or noob healer, you will make a nice impact on their ability to keep up with the damage from bosses and are much more likely to survive.

Remember the Basics, and Live by Them

Kill shit, don’t die, amiright?  Those four little words, however, are the key to making a dungeon run work.  If you can’t kill something before it kills your group, it’s game over.  This is why so much of the success you encounter in a PUG is dependent on good DPS.  No matter how strong a tank is or how leet the heals are, they cannot make up for the inability of your killers to kill things.  Good DPS, on the other hand, can help make up for shortcomings of any member of your party.

First, kill things quickly, in the right order (whatever the tank says), without pulling hate.  What impact does being good DPS have on the group by killing shit fast and right?  First, if you have other, really bad DPS, you serve as a counterbalance.  If your other DPS is closer to average, you help to shorten the fight and take pressure off your maybe undergeared tank or healer.  Again, participating the interrupt game further assists your tank and healer.

Second, stay out of the bad.  We all know that dead DPS is no DPS.  Moreover, the more damage you take, the less time the healer can spend healing the tank.  If you are doing your job and staying alive, you can get by with a fairly weak tank or healer.

In Summary, I am Awesome

Actually, not so much.  There are plenty of players who are better than me who have sworn off PUGs due to their horrible experiences.  The major difference I have seen is that they often play the tank or healer role.  Assuming my assumptions are correct (double-assumption, FTW!), by queuing as DPS, I have increased my chances of eliminating a very bad or very immature player from the group.  I also have the benefit of being one of the least likely in the group to be yelled at when things go to hell, unless it truly is my fault.

How’s It Goin’? What’s Goin’ On?

Contrary to popular belief, I am still around, although you would not know it by following this blog.  In reality, I am in that happy place where I am too busy gaming to have much time to devote to a blog on the gaming.  So I decided to use the voice recognition feature on my phone to throw together one of those “where I’ve been, where I’m going” posts before my current thoughts are replaced by new thoughts.

So you don’t have to read any more than you want to, here is what I will be covering: Where I stand with Marvel Heroes, a brief flirtation with WoW, a potential future and wild star, and my ascent to rock stardom.

Marvel Heroes Scratches Many Itches

That probably doesn’t sound good. For me though, it’s true. I love the characters and it’s a great action game. There’s nowhere else that I can jump on for 15 minutes or 3 hours and beat up bad guys nonstop. That being said, I often long for the open world, the exploration, the meaningful questing and group content. Therein lies a large part of the beauty of the free to play movement. I can turn my focus to something else without feeling like I am wasting money on a game subscription that I am not getting the most out of. Were I paying monthly for the game, I would have to consider canceling the sub and not playing at all. With Marvel Heroes, I don’t have to make that choice, and I can pick it up and play anytime I want.

What have I been doing in Marvel Heroes you might ask? Well, first I leveled Wolverine to 60, then went into the gear grind with him. He is pretty well equipped now. I then went back and leveled a bunch of other characters. Now Cyclops, Gambit, and Spider-man are level 60, Nightcrawler approaches 50, and I have a bunch in their 20s and 30s.

Doing all this levelling made me realize something: Wolverine wasn’t nearly as much fun to play as some of these other characters. So my favorite comic book character has been collecting dust for most of 2014. That should change next week, however, as Wolverine will finally be getting his character review. That is the process where the development collect info from players and revamp the hero’s powers to give them more builds, more diverse fun powers and the like. Once this lands, I will “prestige” Wolverine, which is basically resetting him to level 1 and leveling again from scratch. The reward for this – a new color for your name and a noncombat pet. That is more than enough for me, as playing a Wolverine that is as fun to play as some of the other characters will be reward enough.

Testing the WoW Waters

Looking to feed my sense of exploration and need to quest and see friends, I jumped back on the WoW bandwagon. At the time, my highest toon was still only 88, so I had seen very little of the new content. I threw of the shackles of my old server and jumped onto one where my old friends who still play reside. I thought it would be fun to check out the Timeless Isle and LFR for the first time. It was for a time. I hit 90, went to the Timeless Isle, and outfitted myself with a lot of purples.

The Timeless Isle was fun for awhile, but it really is mostly just a new spin on the daily quest. I quickly tired of it. LFR was an interesting experiment, but starting from the first tier of raids this late in the expansion meant that it was more a zergfest than anything else. My thoughts quickly became “how long can I repeat this before it becomes old?”

The answer was “not very long.” You see, at the same time I started playing WoW, most of my friends who still play WoW were checking out the WildStar beta. I was well aware of WildStar and followed it in a noncommittal, “looks pretty cool, maybe I’ll try it” sort of way. I looked into it a little more, and it started to look like the game that might scratch the itch that WoW couldn’t quite reach.

Before taking that excellent segue into WildStar, I must digress into the top of ability culling in WoW. I agree that button bloat is crazy. I disagree with Blizzard’s strategy to fix it. As a hunter whose glory days (maybe that’s a stretch) were in TBC, Wrath, and the first part of Cata, we had to manage a rotation, sometimes easy sometimes not, plus Rapid Fire, trinkets, pots, and maybe pet abilities. On top of that, you had the rarely used but situationally very useful abilities like Distracting Shot, Wyvern Sting, and Concussive Shot. In MoP, Blizzard also threw at use longer CD abilities like Murder of Crows, Dire Beast, and Stampede. These are not situational abilities but ones that have to be inserted into, and further complicate, your rotation. So, what is Blizzard’s solution? Let’s cull out those useful situational abilities that have been part of the hunter toolkit for years and keep many of the abilities that complicate a hunter’s life on an encounter by encounter basis. Don’t like, no sir.

Wild about WildStar

What can I say about WildStar that hasn’t been said more eloquently before? It does so many things right, at least for me. The style, the tone, the action combat, and the level of customization and a player freedom are all spot on. Yes, it is buggy and sometimes the game crashes on me for no reason, but that can be fixed. The game is built on a very solid foundation, and I hope people check it out and support it.

Really not much more to say than that. I will be playing at at launch, and probably for a while thereafter, assuming my friends stick with it.

I’m Going to be a Superstar!

In non-mmo news, I am also learning to play guitar. I played for a few years over a decade ago, and I got a hankerin to try it again. Part of my desire was that I learned I of a program called Rocksmith, which is a little like Guitar Hero with an actual guitar. Knowing that the program existed and reading good reviews of it, this seems like a perfect way to learn. No weekly lessons and no struggling with guitar tabs.

About 2 months ago I picked up the program and a cheap electric guitar. It was an excellent choice. It comes with about 50 songs and more that you can download. Notes fall down the screen just like Guitar Hero, and you play along with the song. The songs start simple at first, but as you get better, they get more complex.

In addition to playing along with songs, there are lessons old-school video games where the guitar takes the place of a joystick. In short, it makes learning guitar fun and accessible for a gamer.

The best part, however, is that you get rated at the end of a song. When you think you’ve killed it, but the computer guy says “average performance.” But on the other hand, when he says “brilliant performance,” I can look over to my wife and say “See, the computer thinks I’m brilliant.”

Unfortunately, the computer guy might not be the best judge of talent. After I played one song very well, he exclaimed “You’re going to be a superstar!” If any bands out there need someone to sit in front of a computer and play guitar badly, I’m your man!

Seriously though, Rocksmith has taken me from being embarrassed to pick up a guitar to having some level of confidence in about two months. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any gamer who wants learn guitar.

Cable Action

Twenty-Nine Classes and Counting

Happy New Year to my ten readers out there.  Marvel Heroes has been eating up a ton of my time lately, and it doesn’t look like that will be changing in the near future.  I have been playing fairly consistently for the past seven months, with my activity waning substantially around the launch of FFXIV.  I am back to almost exclusively playing Marvel Heroes, and there are a lot of things that I am digging about the game.

Chief among the features that are compelling me to play more is the strong encouragement the game gives you to play alts, and the vast number of choices that you have.  Now, this “encouragement” is likely also meant to get you to spend money on the game.  Characters can be purchased or earned in game.  Additional storage space and costumes must be purchased. The more alts people play, the more money they are likely to have spent or to spend in the future.  Despite this, however, these systems that compel me to play alts end up increasing my enjoyment of the game because there is such a variety to the gameplay of each character.  There are 29 different characters, and each represents a different class.  That means that, as of today, Marvel Heroes has 29 different classes.  A year from now, it will have at least twelve more – a staggering 41 or more classes.

Although there are many different characters and classes, there is naturally a bit of overlap between them.  This post is my brief perspective on the classes I have played to some extent.  I plan to make additional, more detailed posts going into each character’s playstyle.  We’ll see if that actually happens.

Why Alt?

So, how does Marvel Heroes encourage you to play alts?  First, for each character that reaches level 25, you gain a synergy that all heroes can use.  You gain a second synergy bonus for reaching level 50 with a hero.  These “synergies” are slight bonuses to a hero’s stats that are thematically consistent with the hero you have leveled, such as brutal strike rating for Wolverine or projectile deflection for Captain America. These are great bonuses and add a level of customization (each character can only have a max of 10 synergies active), but alone are not a huge motivation for me.  Given the current state of the game, they are not going to make or break your character.

More important for me are Legendary Quests. Recently added to the game, these quests are randomly selected, appropriate for your level, and send you to various places in the game world to complete their objectives. The rewards are a large amount of experience and Odin Marks, a currency that you use to buy new Legendary Items that give you a huge boost to some stats.  The Legendary Items also can be leveled through experience gains, so they give you more motivation to play a max level character.  In short, I want.

Legendary Quests lately have been the order of the day for me. The rub here is that the first Legendary Quest you complete for each character per day awards you an extra Odin Mark, and you can’t access Legendary Quests until level 20. That means the more characters you have at level 20 or higher, the faster you will accumulate Odin Marks and get your Legendary Item.

Finally, I have a bunch of Relics taking up space in my bank.  Relics are stackable items that increase health and one secondary stat, with each type of Relic affecting a different stat.  Relics are only usable by a character at or above level 20.  See a pattern?

Because of these factors, in the last several weeks, I have gone from having one high-level character, one mid-level alt, and a bunch of characters under level 10 to having five characters at least level 30, and one more on his way.  As such, I am starting to get a better feel for several characters, how they are similar, and how they are different.  Lets take a look at them.

Disclaimers and Stuff

First, there are some characters who excel at crowd control (Storm, Scarlet Witch), others who are excellent bruisers/tanks (Colossus, Hulk, Luke Cage), others who are pet-based classes (Emma Frost, Luke Cage), and still others who are AOE farming powerhouses (Jean Grey, Human Torch).  I have not invested a substantial amount of time in any of these characters, so I can’t say much about them and they are not part of this post.  I do have characters that fall into each of these categories, so maybe at some point, I will do a follow-up.

Also, I included action screenshots for the fun of it.  I took all of these in the Midtown Manhattan zone because it is a fun zone and there is always plenty of action.  There is much more variety to the environments in this game.  Please don’t think every zone takes place in the same city area.

Finally, it is worth noting that almost every character received major tweaks to damage and survivability in the last couple of weeks.  There is no terrible character out there right now (except maybe the Thing), and if you have played a character during an earlier build, they will in all likelihood be substantially different today.  There are also going to be several rounds of updates to many characters over the next six months, so things can still change from today.

Now, on to the characters!  I will be grouping them by three broad, basic categories: melee, ranged, and hybrid.  Let’s start off with…

Melee (Berserker Barrage!)

Naturally, my representative in the pure melee category is Wolverine.  He is fast and hits hard when built right.  He has a nice leaping AOE bleed that has been in consistent use since launch.  He also has a great lunge ability that will zip him around the screen and out of danger or straight to it.  He mixes medium-range dodge and armor with his crazy healing ability, which works in three parts – passive regen, life-leech, and a click-to-heal.  Currently, his secondary resource – Fury – powers some of the highest damaging attacks in the game.

As a longtime Wolverine fan from the comics, they have done a good job of porting his character into the game.

Ranged (I got nothing clever to say)

My first and highest level ranged character is Cyclops.  You see him above taking on the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants.  Notice the red eye lasers going all over the map?  That is one of the most insanely fun basic powers in the game – Ricochet Blast.  Did you know that, in addition to being a natural team leader with the red eye laser power, Cyclops is also really, really good at geometry?  It’s canon.  So, without costing any Spirit, Cyke can almost continuously fire blasts that hit every target in the area.  Awesome!

Cyke also has some nice Spirit-spenders in the form of an AOE DoT and a channeled blast that does continuous high damage in any direction you point.  This nice array of ranged powers couples with some good movement abilities to keep you alive and some group buffs (including one to experience gain), because, you know, he is a leader.

Cyclops was fun but his powers lacked oomph before the December DPS review patch.  Now, he is very powerful and fun to play.  As a longtime WoW Hunter, he gets the thumbs up.

Cable Action

Cable, my second-highest pure ranged character, is a cyborg mutant soldier from the future who just happens to be the son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey.  If nothing else, Cable proves that characters with mysterious origins should remain a mystery.  I like Diet Coke, but please don’t tell me how it’s made.

Cable is a monster in-game with a very different style from Cyclops.  He has a speedy, high DPS, single-target ranged basic attack.  Other than that, he has no less than four powerful AOE DoTs, three of which you can see above (yellow circle on ground around him, purple lightning-ish circles, column of yellow fire).  Cable is all about strategic placement of your DoTs, getting yourself in the right position, and destroying everything.

Speaking of positioning, do you like games that let you teleport (e.g., a mage’s Blink)?  Cable is one of a handful of heroes with a teleporting power with no cooldown (in PVE, travel powers have a CD in PVP).  Being a point-and-click game, it is simple to hop around the screen, either into or out of the action.

I <3 Hybrids!

Gambit Action

My new love in the game is hybrid characters, such as Gambit (above), Captain America, and Spider-man.  Each of these characters seem to have viable ranged or melee builds, but players are encouraged to mix and match skills.  And let me tell you, mixing it up is where its at.

Not to be outdone by Cable, Gambit is the X-men’s resident Cajun thief/scoundrel with the power to charge up objects with kinetic energy, which then explode on contact.  Naturally, Gambit’s weapon of choice is playing cards (and a bo staff).  Above you can see Gambit’s first ranged move “Royal Flush,” which throws five cards in a fan pattern that eventually explode.  Because of that move, the hybrid build I am preferring is referred to by some as the “Shotgun” build.

Gambit Action 2

Above is an illustration of the Shotgun build in action.  Gambit has a few auras, as do many hybrids, that synergize your ranged and melee attacks.  Following a hit with an energy power, with the “Black Suits”  aura turned on, Gambit’s melee powers do much more damage.

Above, Gambit just landed a Royal Flush and is vaulting through the air to land in the midst of the enemies in an explosive attack.  If there are elite enemies who do not die after these attacks, follow up with a melee AOE, roll out, and Royal Flush again.  It is a little complex, but extremely rewarding when it works out.  Gambit is not quite as durable as a Wolverine, but he has some nicely varied attacks and is very fun to play.

Cap Action

Above is Captain America in mid shield throw.  Cap is a hybrid who bears some similarity to both Gambit and Cyclops but with added durability.  Cap’s best AOE attack is Shield Bounce, which, like Ricochet Blast, is a hit it and forget it bouncing around to a ton of enemies.  Shield Bounce also decreases an enemies defenses and increases the damage of your melee attacks so, you guessed it, after Shield Bounce, it is time to jump into the fray and punch people in the face.

Being a shield slinger, Cap also has a damage shield (thorns) ability and a number of defensive abilities that reduce incoming damage for a time.

Too Soon to Tell

Thor Action

Finally, I have been invested in Thor lately, mainly because I want another character running Legendary Quests and I like his Synergy (+2% to Melee Damage).  I am just not sure how I want to play him yet.  Ultimately, his lightning attacks are pretty sweet (see above), as are his hammer throws.  At the same time, however, he gets some nice bonuses to melee attacks and is more durable than any other character I am currently playing.  Odds are, he will become a hybrid-tank for me.  Not worried so much about getting out of the way of bad stuff, taking hits, and dealing out damage wherever necessary, be it close by or at range.

Final Thoughts

I hope that the above illustrates a bit of the range the characters in Marvel Heroes have.  Yes, there is some overlap between some of them, but I have learned that even those with similar power sets can feel very different.  There truly are 29 classes out there.  By the end of January, there will be 30, with the addition of Nightcrawler, an agile dodge-based melee character, who likes to fight with swords and whose mutant powers include teleportation and a prehensile tail.  Yes, he will play differently from other characters in the game.

It also important to note that, since the December patch, there are no really horrible builds out there.  It is still worth min-maxing to a degree, since there are a limited number of powers you can have active at any given time.  It is also worth investing some in passive abilities, since they will increase your damage, survivability, or both across the board.  My advice is play the character/class you want and invest in the powers that appear fun so that you can see how they work for you.  You can always respec later.  Each character has access to three free respec potions by beating Bullseye in Chapter Four in each of the three difficulty modes.

Finally, of the characters above, Captain America is the only one I have significantly played who is currently a free Starter Hero.  I have no problem recommending him to anyone giving the game a shot, although you need to consider whether he fits your playstyle and whether there is a hero you simply like more.

Marvel Heroes Tips & Tricks from a Non-Diablo Player [Version 2.0]

Way back in May, I published a version of this “guide.”  I use the term liberally since it is more a collection of tips that I have learned, rather than a comprehensive new player guide.

Since then, a lot has changed in game (Eternity Splinters introduced, Asgard patch, etc.), and the old Tips & Tricks is pretty outdated.  Here is my updated version, and I hope it helps.

What is Marvel Heroes?

First off, Marvel Heroes is a blend between the Marvel Universe and Diablo set in a massively multiplayer environment.  It is not a traditional MMO, nor is it a single-player dungeon crawler.  You will select a character from over 25 pre-made established Marvel heroes and play a large part of the game alongside many others.

I came into late-Beta of MH having never played Diablo and coming from a traditional MMO background (WoW, SWTOR, CoH, CO, etc.).  Not having played Diablo before, a lot of things were not immediately obvious to me and the blend of genres also creates some challenges.  Here is my highly incomplete and subjective selection of tips and tricks for making your first couple of hours in Marvel Heroes more user-friendly and hopefully more enjoyable:

Movement and Control:

Having not played Diablo, the lack of WASD controls took some getting used to.  Everything here is click-to-move and click-to-attack, in an isometric perspective.  Here are some tips to make movement and control easier:

  1. Force Stop and Force Move: Holding Shift will root you in place while you attack.  This is especially useful for ranged characters, as your left mouse button will move you and also activate your primary attack.  Hold Shift to ensure that you attack and don’t accidentally move.  On the other end of the spectrum, Control forces you to move.  If you are trying to get out of the way of an attack, hold Control to ensure you are actually moving and not accidentally attacking.  Particularly useful for a melee character trying to dodge a big attack.
  2. Remap you keys: Other than the left and right mouse buttons, your powers are hotkeyed to A, S, D, F, G, and H.  Being a Razor Naga user, I immediately remapped them to 1-6, and have every attack on my mouse.
  3. You can also assign powers to F1-F6 as “Hot Swap” keys.  These will on-the-fly change the power assigned to your right mouse button.  This is a great place to put toggle powers or seldom-used ones.
  4. Players and mobs are solid: This is standard in ARPGs, but I have not seen it much in traditional MMOs.  There is collision detection in Marvel Heroes, and it is easy to get trapped in a large group of bad guys and lose the ability to move (really bad for ranged characters).  Most characters have a dash or a roll ability that will ignore collision detection and get you out of a jam.  Depending on character, these powers can often be acquired at early levels.  Make sure you spend at least one point on these powers to acquire your escape button.  Early on, it can also serve as a ghetto travel power.

UI Elements and Slash Commands

Most of your menus are selectable at the bottom left of the screen.  They are the character panel/inventory, powers (skill trees), cash shop, team roster (where you switch characters), mission log, and option menu.  There is a social panel button at the top-left of the chatbox, which gives you a friends list, ignore list, guild roster, and “nearby” list.

Most importantly from a UI perspective, is the “Bodyslider” button at the top-right of the screen (looks like a house).  It functions as your hearth stone.  Clicking it in the field will take you back to the town area to sell crap, craft, access your bank, etc.  While at the town, clicking bodyslide will bring you right back to where you left off.  The cooldown is very short, around 7.5 minutes.

Those familiar with slash commands will pick them up very quickly.  For talking, /p = party chat, /s = say, /g = guild chat, /w = whisper.  For social, /invite = group invite, /friend adds a friend.  Pretty standard stuff.

Finally, while in a group, you have an unlimited ability to teleport to any team member.  Right-click on their portrait and select Teleport.  When I say unlimited, I mean unlimited.  You can do it as many times as you want and from any point in the game world to any other point.  It is easy to lose teammates with the isometric perspective.  This is a surefire way to find them.

Power Selection and Growth:

At first glance, the talent trees and power progression look similar to those in traditional MMOs (pre-Panda WoW, TOR).  In many ways they are.  You put points into a skill, it gets stronger.  Other than your starting powers, you don’t get a power unless you put a point into it, and most powers have a level requirement before they are unlocked.

One major change from WoW or TOR is that, unless there is a direct prerequisite for a higher-tier skill, however, you do not need to put a certain number of points into a tree to access it.  Select and invest points into those powers that you are most interested in.  Plus, don’t forget that you will only get seven active powers (plues Hot Swaps) at a time.  If a power is not going to be active on your bar at some point (or it’s a passive boost), it is not worth putting any points in the power.  The system gives you tremendous choice in whether to completely min-max or to have several skills that you may swap out depending on the situation.

Also, if you want to respec your powers, Retcon Devices can be purchased from the Cash Shop or drop very infrequently as loot.  Thankfully, there is a quest in Chapter 4 to defeat the villain Bullseye that rewards a Retcon Device.  This quest can be repeated on each difficulty level for each hero, meaning you can get three free respecs for each hero that you level.  Also, if your hero gets a significant revamp, which occurs with some regularity, you will get your power points reset, so that is another way to avoid using Retcons.

Two other points worth making:

  1. There are many powers that people refer to as “One Point Wonders” meaning that investing one point in them gets you a large benefit, with pretty steep diminishing returns thereafter.  Some control powers, travel powers, and defensive powers may fall into this category.  Investing only one point in some powers will free up more points to strengthen key powers.
  2. Many pieces of gear will give you extra ranks to powers or make them available at earlier levels.  When vendors first open up, visit them to see what they have, and hit the refresh button to change things up.  This is a great way to expand power selection early on and helps put a little more super in your superhero.  This is especially true on your second and third run-throughs, when you will have more credits to spend and higher-level vendors.  Getting early access to key powers is a great way to make your hero more powerful and fun.  Getting an item that lets you try out a power before you invest points in it is a great way to avoid using Retcon Devices.

To Group or not to Group:

In public areas, it pays to fight alongside other heroes.  Even if you are not grouped, experience is shared, regardless of who tags or kills an enemy, and loot is instanced.  There is no loot stealing in this game and no need to camp.  You can travel though public areas on your own, but the experience will be smoother, faster, and generally more enjoyable if you fight in the area of others.  A recent addition was that group buffs are shared even if you are not in a group.

There are times when you may want to group however.  Some instanced bosses can be tough and will be much easier with another hero or two.  Control+Right Click on a hero in game will give you the option to invite that hero to your party.  If you are working with some other heroes to get to an instance door, throw out a couple of invites to people, and you will likely find yourself with at least a small group for that instance.

Also, Marvel Heroes added an Auto-Party option for private instances.  It is a check-box in the Gameplay section of the Options menu.  Basically, it attempts to group up people who have entered the same instance.   If you are having difficulty with a particular instance or want to try group play without having to look for a party, definitely check out this option.  It is also worth noting that 90% of the time, people will drop group after the instance is complete.  If you find a really good group and want to keep questing together, make sure to ask people before the instance is over.

Vendors/Crafting:

You can sell unwanted gear to vendors for credits to buy other gear just like in any other game.  In addition Alt+Right Click will trade in your gear for “Vendor XP.”  Through these trade-ins, you level up the vendors and get access to better gear or crafting recipes.  All vendors of a similar type are linked, so if you level up one weapons vendor, all weapons vendors will be similarly leveled (there are also gear vendors and crafters).  Right now, the conventional wisdom is to level up the crafter first (Hank Pym, Forge, and Reed Richards, depending on your hub).  This will give you access to some fairly significant stat upgrades for your costume as you level.

Spend Real Money and Splinters Wisely:

Marvel Heroes is a Free to Play game.  Its primary revenue stream comes from selling you different heroes to play (and different costumes).   How you earn heroes and how much they cost has changed drastically since the first version of this guide.

You get to choose one hero from now nine free Starter Heroes .  You can spend money to get in-game currency (“Gs”) to buy new heroes immediately, or you can collect “Eternity Splinters” in game.  New heroes cost between $4.50 and $14.50, with the bulk of them around $10.00.  There are three levels of heroes costs for Eternity Splinters: 200, 400, 600.  Eternity Splinters drop slowly, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel for getting new characters.  

Costumes drop very infrequently in-game.  If you really have your heart set on a costume, you will probably need to spend real money on it.

The starting heroes currently are:  Black Panther, Black Widow, Captain America, Colossus, Hawkeye, Human Torch, Luke Cage, Punisher, and Storm.  Also, you will get a total of 200 bonus Eternity Splinters for defeating the Green Goblin in the introduction and Dr. Doom at the end of Chapter 8 (100 ES for each mission).

Here is a fantastic guide by The Brave Little Abacus on the official forums that shows the costs of all heroes in Gs and Eternity Splinters.

Another quick issue, each character really plays as a different class.  You have tanks, melee dps, ranged dps, stronger support, etc.  While there is some overlap in heroes’ abilities, the designers have done a good job of making the heroes different and true to their roots.  Read up on the heroes you might buy before you drop money on them.

Knowing all of this, it pays to put some thought into your “hero acquisition plan” before you jump into the game.  Whether you have only a passing knowledge of the Marvel Universe or have been reading comics since the 1970s, there is probably a character (or two, or six) that you want to play more than any other character.  The nine Starter Heroes you can choose from fill a variety of roles, are fun to play, and may include your favorite hero.   On the other hand, they might not.

To make your dollar or Eternity Splinters go further, think about which hero you want to acquire before you select your free Starter Hero, that way, you can have characters that fill multiple roles.  If I know I will buy Wolverine if I enjoy the game, then I would want my free Starter Hero to be a ranged character.  On the other hand, if you only like to play tanks, you are going to take Colossus as a starter, even though you might pick up Thing later.  Combining your knowledge of who you want to play with who fits in your playstyle will maximize your enjoyment of the game.

One tip from Green Armadillo in the comments that is very valuable is that players also have the option of buying a “random hero box” for 175 Splinters, less than the cost of buying any specific hero.  The downside is, you don’t have control over who you get, and you could get a duplicate hero token.  The upside is that it is the quickest way to gain new heroes outside of spending money.  When you are just starting out, and the chances of pulling a dupe are smallest, this upside is pretty huge.

Another point – don’t spend money until you are sure that you actually like your Starter Hero.  You only get to choose one starter for free with your account .  If you get to level 10, and you absolutely hate your Starter Hero (but still want to play the game), you can fairly easily create another account to try out another character.  I only recommend doing this if you hate the character, as there are advantages to maintaining all of your characters on one account (leveling vendors and crafters + shared inventory and credits).

Finally, there is no in-game method of testing out heroes before you buy.  Thankfully, however, the development team puts up a Test Center a week or two before a new patch to test things out.  On the Test Center, they give you free Gs, so you can use this as a trial before you lay out real money or Eternity Splinters.  Keep your eyes on the official forums to see when the Test Center will be open.

Reserve Judgment:

There are a couple of different jumps in awesomeness early on in the game.  Do not let your level 1 play through of the Raft (the tutorial) color your judgment of the game.  You will start to get a better idea of the game when you get into Hell’s Kitchen and start fighting alongside other heroes, when you kill Electro, and when you find your first mini-dungeon door (hint: go through it).  World Boss events and these side missions are completely optional, but they can be very fun and very rewarding.  Recently, they added a new Intro mission ending in a fight with the Black Cat.  This is a little more indicative of the bulk of the game, but things still ramp up over time.

The second big jump in enjoyment will likely happen at level 4, 6, or 10, depending on the hero you pick.  Every even level, you will gain access to new powers.  You will not start to get a feel for how awesome many of the heroes can be until you gain some of these powers.  For example, Scarlet Witch becomes an AoE powerhouse, but you wouldn’t know that at level 5.  Similar story with Cyclops, who gets very key powers around levels 6 and 10.  (Note: these illustrations are from an earlier build, but still illustrate the point)  Some characters start slower, and the slowness lasts longer, than others.  If you are concerned about this issue (which is present in many games), read up on the various heroes.

Bottom line:  Marvel Heroes is fun, free, and different from most other games currently on the market.

Making WoW Timeless

As my three regular readers know, I spent several years playing and raiding in WoW.  My heyday was from mid-BC to mid-Cata, what most consider to be the golden age of WoW, based upon both the sub numbers and the quality of the content.  Like many others, my love of WoW has waned, and I have not played with any regularity for about two years.  I still, however, follow the community and read several blogs out there that either focus exclusively on WoW or hit on it with some regularity.

From reading those blogs, I have a good sense of where the game is and where people want to see it heading.  A couple of posts from The Godmother, Green Armadillo, and Lonomonkey got me thinking – the way for WoW to move forward is to look back.    On what will soon be the 10th anniversary of WoW, two of its greatest strengths and weaknesses are: (1) its extreme wealth of group content; and (2) nostalgia.  So how could Blizzard take advantage of this, and what the hell am I talking about?  First, my thesis.  Then, I will answer those questions.

I believe that Blizzard, which is no stranger to recycling content, should make every existing raid tuned to and available for max-level characters in the next expansion.  There, I said it.

The Good and the Bad of Nostalgia

I am a textbook example of why nostalgia helps and hurts WoW.  I often look back on my time spent in WoW, with the friends I made, and the battles we won and lost together, and it makes me smile.  In fact, I often wish for those days.  The last couple of times that I have come back to the game, I find that it does not live up to the image in my mind.  Friends have moved on, mechanics are different, I am not as invested in the storyline as I once was.  That is the double-edged sword of nostalgia that Blizzard has to deal with when trying to attract a player like me back to the game.  Given the trend in subscriber numbers, there are probably millions out there like me.  Well, at least thousands.

The same goes for content.  WoW now has hundreds (I think) of beautifully constructed raid encounters.  The problem is that only a few dozen, at most, are actively being raided because they are the only ones that are current, are challenging, and are rewarding, outside of maybe getting a transmog piece.  Good luck getting  a group together for Gruul, because no one needs anything from him anymore.  Even if you do get the group together, he would likely be trivial.  So WoW has all of these great assets, but there is no way for players to easily take advantage of them.

Well, I have given it some thought.  By mashing together a hodgepodge of ideas from the WoW of today and yesterday, as well as stealing from a few other games, I think a system like this could be implemented.

Crawling Before Walking

Right out of the gate, let’s move past the basic issue of “can it be done.”  Blizzard has shown no lack of willingness to recycle and update old raid content – Naxxramas, Onyxia, Ragnaros.  Moreover, every Heroic dungeon has to be tuned for leveling and endgame, so the know how is there.  If Blizzard wants to undertake a project like this, it can do it.  The harder part is making it accessible to players and providing the proper motivations to get people to use it.  I have some ideas how to do that, but of course, they will not be perfect.

Making it Work

If Blizzard implemented this system, I think it would need to go on the LFR with the standard 25-man raid team.  There would be a ton of balancing issues and loot ilevel issues, and having LFR, Flex, Regular, and Heroic, 10s and 25s, might spin this project out of control.

So, each raid is accessible through LFR in the 25-man variety.  Larger raids, like ICC are split up into wings.  Loot rules are the same as LFR, but any class can get any drop.  Taking a page from the Timeless Isle, the drops are BOA, so any of your alts can use them.  I would also like to see some, if not all of the drops be of the heirloom variety, so that your alts can start using them right away.

But why, you ask, would a progression raider ever set foot in one of these raids?  First, at max level, make the equipment that drops in one of these raids equal to loot drops in Heroic 5-mans (a step below current progression LFR) so that it helps you gear up for the current progression cycle.  Throw on top of that a drop from the final boss of a raid (“Rune of Amplification”) that can be applied to any piece of gear obtained through one of these “Classic Raids” that would raise the ilevel of the piece to that of the current content LFR.  Doing this, however, binds that piece of gear to the character.  You might also require different numbers of runes for different slots.

How, you say, will you have people running 30 different raids without severely dumbing them down?  Well, some mechanics will need to be simplified, that is for sure.  Let’s also take a page out of FFXIV’s book here – in the early “learning” instances, helps pops up on the screen to tell you exactly what you should be doing in an encounter.  For these Classic Raids, the first time a deadly boss mechanic is used, a brief message can pop up saying “When this happens, this is what you should do.”  Of course, it should only pop up once so people have to learn something.

Finally, with so many raids, how will your queue ever pop?  Let’s steal a page from late-Wrath here – the weekly raid quest.  Each week, you get a mission to do a different Classic Raid.  The rewards are something that is relevant to the current level of gearing.  In the first tier of the expansion, it could be more Runes of Amplification, it could be Justice or Valor.  Whatever motivates players to run it.

Why Should Blizzard do it?

A system like this will capitalize on the two points mentioned earlier – it stokes people’s nostalgia while also making largely irrelevant content relevant again.  Many guilds will organize Classic Raid nights like they already do, but there will be a greater incentive to do them.  In addition, having a weekly raid quest that sends you to a different raid each week means that you are not running the same thing over and over and over again for months.  In any given week, you may get to run a raid you have not set foot in for years or maybe one you have not set foot in at all.

 

FFXIV: Push It To The Limit

I have just recently learned about Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy XIV.  What I have learned makes me very excited.  Limit Breaks give every member of your party an “Oh shit!” button.  The problem is, if you use yours, no one else can use his or hers for a while afterward.  Let’s explain.

Approaching the Limit

The concept of Limit Breaks dates back to FFVII, that early-90s classic with big hair and bigger swords.  In VII, each character had a separate Limit Break gauge.  Each would fill up over time when the character took an action in combat (attacking, spell, healing).  Once full, the character could perform a suped-up move that differed from character to character.

Walk Along the Razor’s Edge

The basic concept of Limit Breaks remains the same in FFXIV.  Combat actions charge up a gauge that, once full, unleashes a powerful ability that differs from class to class.  The major difference here is that your party shares one meter.  Each party member’s actions charge it up, but when anyone uses it, the meter goes to zero.

The different Limit Breaks generally are:

Tank classes: essentially a group Shield Wall, increasing defense for all party members for a short time.

Melee DPS: High-damage single-target attack.

Caster DPS: Big AOE explody.

Healer & non-magic ranged DPS: AOE heal.

Now think about all the different mechanics you face in an MMO dungeon, and you will understand the beauty of the system.  For example, is there a burn phase you are struggling with?  The extra, powerful single-target attack could fix that.  But, if you use it, you deprive your healer and tank of some defensive tools.  I have also heard of casters using their AOE Limit Break to make short work of trash.

Limit Breaks are a great addition to the game.  They encourage people to bring each type of class (where melee DPS may otherwise be disfavored).  More importantly, they encourage a different type of cooperation and coordination.  In Full Parties (8 people) you are probably going to designate one person to trigger each type of break.  Beyond that, does the raid leader micromanage the use of them, or do you trust that to the team?  The answer probably is dictated by fight mechanics, which is the way it should be.

The only thing I don’t like about the system is that Archers/Bards share a Limit Break with healers.  You are always going to have a healer in your group, which means the ARC/BRD Limit Break will always be unneeded.  In my mind, ARC/BRD should share a Break with casters.  That puts them on the same level as other DPS, but does not take away one of the benefits of melee bringing a unique ability to the table.

Wait, What?!

Two posts in one week! I blame a slow workweek. Don’t expect things to change too much around here long-term, since work will be getting crazy again soon. This post is mostly an apology to what I said about Marvel Heroes in my last post. Well, not so much what I said but what was implied.

One of my headings was “Love for Marvel Heroes Waxes and Wanes.” That heading suggests that, for some reason, I love Marvel Heroes less than I used to. That could not be further from the truth. While I play Marvel Heroes less than I used to, my love for the game remains as strong as it ever has been and, in fact, continues to grow.

So, why is that?

Simple. Great content, great devs, and continued constant refinement and development of the game. The IP brought me to the game, but the job Gazillion continues to do keeps me coming back. I don’t play it all that much right now because, for me, ARPGs are treats to be enjoyed now and then, but not a meal that I can eat night after night for weeks or months on end.

So, let’s talk about what is great in the game right now. Many early reviews faulted the game for lack of a true endgame. The storyline ends around level 25, and originally, there were few options for content between levels 25 and 60. That has been fixed, for the most part, and continues to be refines. Here is what’s up:

My Least-Favorite Bug Seems to have been Fixed

I mentioned in my last post how much fun the Midtown Manhattan Survival Mode is. Constant waves of enemies, multi-boss fights. 10 players per zone. Everything sounds perfect for non-stop mayhem. The major problem, however, was the fact that you could not bring a team into the zone. Major fucking problem there. Well, last night, me and a guildie were able to zone in together and take on Sentinels, Magneto and the Brotherhood, Elektra, and all manner of bad guys together. To me this was the biggest bug in the game. If it truly is fixed, I am happy indeed.

The devs also made a series of tweaks to improve the zone. Bosses spawn more frequently, more mobs spawn, and new types of mobs were added. All vast improvements.

The X-Mansion is Destroyed Again

The X-Mansion has been destroyed in the comics so many times that you have to wonder why they bother to rebuild. Taking a page from the comics, the devs added an “X-Defense” mode. Basically, wave after wave of stronger and stronger enemies try to storm the mansion and capture a group of students. You have to achieve a goal (kill a boss or a certain number of enemies) before the bad guys do to make if through the wave. You go until you lose, and the further you make it, the better the loot and xp.

Technically, X-Defense is in an unfinished “open beta” state and continues to be worked on by the devs. It is, however, a lot of fun and requires some different gearing and playstyle choices from players.

Things get Difficult

The devs recently added difficulty modes to the story aimed at heroes in higher level ranges (25-60). The difficulty does ramp up in these modes, and it gives you the opportunity to run missions for improved loot rewards and extra skill points. It’s not revolutionary, but it is content and a nice change of pace from other modes.

Everything Else

In addition to these modes, there are still terminal missions (dailies) of multiple difficulty levels and various group survival challenges.  Bottom line, Marvel Heroes gives you a lot of different ways to beat up bad guys.

In the Year 2000

So, what does the future hold?  We know there will be more story missions added, centered around Asgard.  My guess is we will see Loki as a boss and it will come out around the time Thor 2 is released in theaters.  PVP is getting a big overhaul, and it looks like they will be using a MOBA model for it.   Other than that and more heroes, I don’t know what the future holds, but it sure looks like a bright one and one that I will be there to see.