Why I Still Play Marvel Heroes: Part 2

In Part 1 of my short series on why after two years and several breaks from Marvel Heroes, I still love the game and currently devote about 90% of my game time to it, I discussed the many different modes of play that the game has to offer. Since that post last week, the game has introduced “Cosmic” versions of its popular patrol zones.  Cosmic is the Marvel Heroes version of “Heroic” or “Veteran” – really hard even for max-level, geared characters.  It also introduced its second raid and associated faction.

Anyway, options are the name of the game in Marvel Heroes.  And this post is going to talk about another option – the class (character) that you choose.  As with the game modes, you have more options in Marvel Heroes than any other similar game out there right now (that I have played and can think of at this very instant).  I realize MOBAs probably have more, but these characters are a bit more fleshed out than the average MOBA (again, with limited data points upon which to base that statement, but hey, this is my blog).

First, I am going to generally discuss the large number of characters that players can choose from in the game.  I will follow that up with a discussion of what the diversity of these characters means to player inclusiveness.  Finally, I am going to discuss perhaps the greatest concept character to ever appear in one of these games – Rogue!

So Many Characters, So Many Classes

How many classes does your favorite online game have? Eight, ten, twelve?  As of today, Marvel Heroes has 46 different characters, each representing a different class in game.  Don’t believe me?  Here they are:

Characters
48 pictured, but Dr. Doom and the Vision have not been released yet. Rest assured, I do know how to count.

Is there some overlap?  Sure there is.  Hulk will play more like the Thing or Colossus than Cyclops or Storm.  Even within broad archetypes, however, there can be significant differences.  Captain America, Spider-Man, and Gambit are all hybrid-capable characters, who can specialize in melee, ranged, or both.  Still, Cap is a little more in-your-face and tanky, whereas Gambit and Spidey need to move and control enemies to stay alive.  Spidey adds a bit more acrobatics, while Gambit is a little more explody.  Even Wolverine and his female clone X-23 (female clone? Because comics!) have different play styles.  Wolverine is a more get in your face and slash you character, while X-23 has a tree devoted to movement powers that turn her into a whirling ballet of claws and dismemberment.

Bottom line, Nightcrawler has a robust set of powers that include combinations of swordplay, crazy teleportation, crazy acrobatics, and stealth.  He is the ultimate rogue/thief/ninja archetype and is unlike any other character in the game.

Nightcrawler Powers

Whereas Jean Grey boasts crowd control with telepathic powers, the ability to inflict massive aoe damage through telekinetic abilities, and two distinct forms, either normal or Phoenixed up:

Jean Powers

And this only scratches the surface.  Want to play an archer archetype, try Hawkeye.  Like stealthy assassins, maybe Black Widow or the Winter Soldier.  Like to have pets, try Luke Cage, Squirrel Girl, or Rocket Raccoon.  Lasers and missiles, how about Iron Man?  A tank with strong ranged aoe?  Thor is your man.  Crazy elemental powers?  Why that is Storm, of course.  Burn things?  Human Torch.  Freeze them solid?  Iceman.  Like some humor in your beatings?  How about Deadpool or She-Hulk?

When the game started, Gazillion had a generic resource called Spirit that fueled all characters powers.  Currently, many characters have different resources with different mechanics for spending and recovering the resource.  Wolverine has Fury as a resource.  Hulk has, I believe, Rage.  Juggernaut has Momentum, which literally results in him moving almost all the time to maximize his damage.  Other characters have secondary resources that add damage to attacks.  The coolest example of this I have seen thus far is Magneto’s shrapnel resource.  As you use some destructive powers, shrapnel is produced as a result.  It starts to collect around you, and you can use it in various attacks (think about the scene in X-2 where Magneto rips the iron out of the guards blood).  The visual effect looks like this:

Magneto Standing
I am Magneto, Master of Magnet!

And the practical effect is this:

Magneto
Welcome to die!

As if 46 characters with a large variety of powers is not enough, there are tons of gear selection options, enchantments, and other means to customize your hero.

Cyke Gear
Professor X is impressed with Cyclops’s progress. Star-Lord, not so much.

You have five normal gear slots, which you can improve to the level of “Unique” items that are lore specific to the character or another aspect of comic history.  You have rings, costumes to which you can attach various bonuses found in the game, team insignias that can only be used by characters with the right team affiliation, medals and medallions that drop from bosses and give bonuses consistent with the boss’ powers, relics that stack and give additional bonuses, Uru-forged items that can get a large variety of enchantments, four artifacts each with a variety of effects, and legendary items that are super-powerful and need to be leveled up.  The level of customization and effects of it are crazy.

And that is just gear.  Leveling heroes also gives you hero synergies that you can activate for other heroes to give them bonuses.  As you gain experience, you also gain Omega Points for all characters, which you can spend on hundreds of different small, and sometimes not so small bonuses to various stats.  It’s almost mind-numbing, but that level of customization helps keep people engaged in the game.

It also helps that each character has a well-developed personality that sets them apart from the others.  Each character is voice acted by top-notch voice talent like Steve Blum, Tara Strong, and David Hayter (yes, Solid Snake is the voice of the Winter Soldier).  Many of these voice actors have voiced these same characters in cartoons, and you may recognize many of the voices immediately.  There are probably hundreds of lines per character.  Characters randomly say things during fights.  They may have specific dialogue with bosses.  They have lines where they interact with each other (Thing to Wolverine: “Hey shorty! Point those claws somewhere else!”).  They also have 10-20 lines that you can bring up using the Num-Pad (my guide is here).  It is a great touch to make you connect with the character you are playing, unless you find the voice annoying.

Finally, there are also team-up heroes, which will be getting a revamp shortly.  These heroes can act as always-present pets, as DPS-boosting cooldowns, or as passive enhancements to your stats.  Currently, I have movie-Falcon, Havok (Cyclops’s brother), and Domino.  Aside from the passive stat boosts, I view these team-ups as mainly another fun way to customize or add flavor to my game experience.  You can bet that, if I am playing an Avenger, you will see Falcon.  Whereas, if I am playing an X-man, it will probably be Havok or Domino, depending more on how closely the characters are related to one another rather than the synergy of the bonuses they bring.

Inclusiveness

One point that sometimes does not get enough attention is that, with such a large roster, Marvel Heroes is a game that can offer a lot of choice to a lot of different people.  Not just which class to play, but which character appeals to them on a more personal level.

Being a white male in my late-30s, I probably spent most of the first three and a half decades of my life not giving too much thought to the concept of diversity and inclusiveness in entertainment.  Hell, most of the cartoons, comics, action movies, and video games I watched, read, or played through adolescence to adulthood featured white male protagonists.  Why should the issue jump out at me?

Through a greater accumulation of life experiences, through my work, and through watching people’s reactions to GamerGate, to black Spider-Man, to black Captain America, to female Thor, 38-year-old me certainly has a greater appreciation than 20-year-old me that although I can relate to the typical white male protagonist, those of a different gender, a different color, or simply a different background might not share the same connection with these characters.

Thankfully, the Marvel Universe is a fairly diverse place, and Marvel Heroes is certainly a reflection of that.  Let’s look at the roster again:

Characters

While nothing is ever perfect, of the 48 characters who will be in the game as of June, 12 of them (25%) are female.  While that number does not scream “Diversity achieved!” there is a nice cross section of player archetypes.  You have tanks and bruisers, you have assassins and scrappers, you have mage-types, controllers, and support characters, and you have Rogue (more below).  Moreover, another eight male heroes have “enhanced” costumes that swap their gender (Black Panther, Deadpool, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Loki, Punsher, Spider-Man, Thor).  With all new voice-overs, lines of dialogue, and sometimes power effects, this effectively gives you a choice of 20 different female characters out of a total of 48 (now over 40%).  That’s not too bad for a game based on comic books which were originally targeted to adolescent boys.  There are also at least two more female characters releasing in 2015 – Kitty Pride and Black Cat.

As for racial diversity, things are not quite as great, with only three African-American characters (Black Panther, Luke Cage, and Storm) and one arguably Asian character (Psylocke).  There are two more African-American characters on their way this year, War Machine and Blade.

In addition, among the characters, you have a wide range of backgrounds and dispositions that are reflected sometimes in their power sets but most often in their dialogue and interactions with others.  You have a Russian, a German, a Southerner, a Cajun, an African king, people from the country, people from the big city, old people, young people, and you have a several characters ranging from anti-hero, like Punisher and Deadpool, to straight-up arch-villain (Dr. Doom, coming in June).  Aside from gender and race issues, these other aspects of these characters can impact your enjoyment of them, by simply relating to the sound of a voice or digging the persona that they project.

Rogue is the Greatest Concept Character Ever

Those of you that follow me on Twitter may have heard me praising Rogue’s character design before.  She represents probably one of the greatest concepts ever to be introduced into an online class-centric game like this.

For those who have only a passing knowledge of the character Rogue, she has been a central figure in X-men comics for years.  She was played by Anna Paquin in the movies and was a main character in several of the cartoon iterations.  Originally, she was an evil mutant whose core power was to absorb the powers and memories of others with whom she had direct skin-to-skin contact.  In (I think) her first comic appearance, she by accident permanently absorbed the thoughts and powers of Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel).  While this gave her enhanced strength, flight, and invulnerably, she was also cursed with having sort-of a split personality between her and Ms. Marvel.  She became an X-man because she hoped Professor X could help her control her powers and quiet the voices in her mind, and since then she has been a heroic character. This was Rogue’s status quo for maybe 15 years or so, through the 80s and into at least the mid-90s.  Since then, she gained some other powers, lost the Ms. Marvel powers, gained control over her own powers, lost control of them, gained some more, etc., etc.

So, from a game design perspective, it would be quite a challenge to represent her in a manner that would do justice to her history as a character while still be fun and balanced. After leveling Rogue to max level, I have to say that Gazillion did a brilliant job with her.  First, they devoted a tree to her “Ms. Marvel powers,” showing respect for the classic Rogue with which most are familiar.  In addition, however, Gazillion created a power tree devoted to “borrowing” powers from players and team-up heroes and a tree devoted to “stealing” powers from boss villains.  You gain powers from clicking and “touching” players or bosses, and you retain them until you right click the power to delete it.  Each hero or villain has only one power that you can borrow/steal, and there are limits on how many of certain types of powers you can have.  For example, you can only have three passive powers so you don’t inflate your stats to ridiculously unbalanced levels. It is truly a brilliant system.  You can mix and match over a hundred different powers.  Rogue can be completely ranged, a melee tank, a summoner, or a hybrid of some sort.  You can truly customize here into just about any type of hero you would like.  You will go out hunting certain bosses to try their powers or chasing down heroes as they run off to “borrow” their powers.  And one of the coolest features – every time a new boss or hero is added to the game, that means a new power for Rogue.  Rogue can even steal powers from raid bosses.

Rogue Powers
My Rogue’s Powers, with my lame descriptions.

Just as an example, my Rogue currently is a ranged/melee hybrid with insane survivability.  For passives I have Drax (increases Brutal Strike Chance/Damage), Gamora (good for melee/ranged hybrids), and Sabretooth (health regen).  I can turn to steel like Colossus and shoot a Cyclops ricochet eye beam.  I perform a massive AoE slam that I “borrowed” from the Hulk, and I can lay down electric fields like Electro.  I have two damage cooldowns, one from Rogue herself, and one borrowed from Gambit.  Finally, I can teleport like the ninja I stole the ability from.  All of this is mixed in with Rogue’s invulnerability, flight, and boss-killer power. It is quite a package, I will typically lay down the electric field, teleport in to the group, Hulk-smash the minions, then either target a boss or ricochet blast the remaining minions.  It has been a lot of fun playing her this way, but I also know that there are tons of other ways to play her and be successful.

Rogue Transform
Rogue “Toggling On” Colussus’s Steel Form

Designing your Rogue power sets (dual-speccing is a thing) is a mini-game into itself.  Stalking a player character, a team-up hero, or a boss to try a new power, finding how it works with your other powers, deciding whether you like it enough to invest points into.  All of these activities can take minutes or hours.

Rogue Action 2
My Rogue shrugging off attacks with Colussus’s power and her own defensive passive and dishing one out with Cyclops and Gambit’s powers.

Limitless, yet relatively well-balanced, possibilities make Rogue a joy to play and also allow to play her in many different ways and keep her fresh.

Until Next Time

My next and last installment of this series will be a love letter to the developers of this game.  People who love games, love comics, listen, and respond to positive and negative comments seem to be rare.  This group gets it and have made an ambitious game that I have faith will only continue to get better.

Why I Still Play Marvel Heroes: Part 1

Marvel Heroes (now Marvel Heroes 2015, probably soon to be Marvel Heroes 2016 or Marvel Heroes NOW, or Uncanny Marvel Heroes, or All New All Different Marvel Heroes) was released just about two years ago.  I have spent most of that time as an active player, with some lapses here and there.  I have been firmly back into the game for about two months now.  Since I last left in the late-summer of 2014, so much has changed in the game, and those changes are almost universally for the better.  So, I have a lot to talk about.

In the interest of full disclosure, before I dive in, those of you that know me know that I am a pretty huge Marvel nerd.  So, clearly that is one of the major driving forces behind my love of the game.  Aside from that, however, Marvel Heroes does so many things right that other, similar games either get wrong or have not even thought of attempting that this is a game that should have some amount of universal appeal.

Also, this was going to be one massive post, but I was closing in on 2,000 words and was only about half done, so I am splitting it up into at least three posts.  This first one will concentrate on the numerous ways to play the game.  Spoiler, there are a lot!

Modes, Modes, Modes

The first thing that sets Marvel Heroes apart is that there is so much to do, as long as you like constantly beating on the bad guys.  Put another way, there seem to be dozens (or maybe a dozen) of venues in which to beat the crap out of villains from the iconic (Dr. Doom, Magneto, Red Skull) to the mundane (Batroc the Leaper, Living Laser), as well as hosts of minions.

First, there is the Story Mode, filled with quests, quest rewards, dynamic events, treasure rooms, supervillain boss encounters, motion comic cut scenes, public combat zones, and instanced “dungeons.”  This mode has been in the game since the outset with a view revamps and now with multiple difficulty modes.  It is the first mode new players encounter and a good introduction to the game.

The next mode that most people will probably encounter are the patrol zones.  The first introduced was Midtown Manhattan, a zone that you cruise through with up to, I believe, nine other heroes and fight all sorts of randomly-generated enemy groups.  Usually they have a  couple elite characters in them and a ton of normal enemies.  You usually burn through them with AOE and collect the goodies they drop.  The real meat of this zone, however, is the boss fight that spawn every so often.  These consist of 2-6 theme villain groups (e.g., the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Sinister Six, the Fearsome Four).  The fights are hectic and sometimes dangerous.  Recently Gazillion (the devs) added mini-bosses that you can fight between boss waves or, for funsies, drag them to another group of bosses to make things even crazier.

The second patrol zone added was Industry City Patrol (or ICP, in this case, not Insane Clown Posse).  Industry City Patrol plays by some of the same rules as Midtown Manhattan, but it is driven more by scenarios.  So you may, for instance, fight waves of AIM creations, followed by MODOK, or you might travel around the map to save civilians from demons, then fight Loki.  Both ICP and MM are great to mindlessly grind out levels by just constantly fighting the enemies that spawn and collecting loot.

Next, one of the older features of the game, is the terminals.  The act like instanced dungeons where you replay one of about 12 levels from the Story Mode, ending in a supervillain fight.  They come in Green and Red variety, signifying different difficulties.  Once you hit level 60, you also get Cosmic terminals, which are some of the harder content in the game and offer some of the best rewards.  It is real easy to die in Cosmic terminals, so you have to be on your game.

In addition to Story Mode, Patrol Zones, and Terminals, there are these zones that I don’t have a name for but feature waves of escalating difficulty and reward.  These are X-Defense (as in defend the X-Mansion) and the SHIELD Holo-Sim.  You enter a short queue for each.  X-Defense puts you in a team of five with the goal being to reach a certain goal (either defeat certain bosses or a number of enemies) before they “capture” a certain number of students.  The SHIELD Holo-Sim puts you on a team of only two.  Each wave has a goal, but the real goal is not to die.  The mode ends when your team has had a total of two deaths.

Now we are up to four different modes.  In addition, there is a mode called a One-Shot Terminal.  These don’t appear anywhere else in the game, have a little story behind them, have various goals throughout the stage, have a main boss and usually some mini-bosses.  They also tend to be quite hard.  I have died many times on these, and I have even failed some of them and have been kicked out.  Currently, there are three in game, Wakanda, Bronx Zoo, and Hydra Island, with plans to add more.

There is also a MOBA-like PVP mode, which I have never played, but I know it exists.

Finally, on top of these six different modes, Marvel Heroes has raids.  There is currently only one six-boss raid, but there is a new raid scheduled to drop in weeks and another in the wings.  The raids are set up for 10 people, there is a group finder, and there are two difficulties.  I have only done the Green raid difficulty, and it was not terribly hard, as it should be.  I have heard the Red difficulty is much harder.  The bosses have some decent mechanics that you need to learn, but are not quite the level of a major WoW raid boss.  The interesting mechanic in this game is that you are fighting against both an enrage timer and a death counter.  Between the 10 of you, you can only have a total of 30 deaths, or the fight resets.  The mechanic is interesting in the fact that it recognizes that some amount of deaths are inevitable in an ARPG.

Finally, finally (yeah, I almost forgot this), there are portals that you can pick up or craft to various cow levels and also a Doop Training Level.  Fun and silly, yet challenging ways to burn through some experience or earn loot.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  A new game mode will be coming out with Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Cosmic versions of MM and ICP were just introduced and are meant to be challenging for well-geared max-level characters.  As said above, new raids are coming out soon.  The devs are also hard at work on the X-men’s iconic Danger Room, a mode that will reportedly allow you to run through a number of different “programmed” scenarios, with a number of different ways to find new ones.

One of the drawbacks to such a high number of options for modes is that people flock to those modes that give the best rewards, particularly when trying to level multiple characters.  As a result, Story Mode can seem relatively lonely compared to the other modes, and, as said above, that is the mode that most people encounter first.  The devs recognize this fact, however, and even the Story Mode is going through another revamp.

Goals, Goals, Goals

All of these various modes are nice, but what’s even better is that Marvel Heroes gives you plenty of reasons to visit these different zones.  Legendary Quests start to pop up at level 20.  They are the best way to earn experience and “Odin Points” which are used to buy powerful Legendary Items and Blessings to enchant your Artifacts (think trinkets).  The require you to complete certain objectives in either Story Mode, a Terminal, or one of the Challenges (ICP, MM, X-Def, or Holo-Sim).  You can reroll the Legendary Quest for a certain number of in-game currency, or you can let them drag you all over the game world.

In addition to Legendary Quests, there are also Daily Shared Quests.  There are three of them that give you sizable amounts of loot and experience for completing each one.  Each of the three will require that you put in a decent amount of time and effort into one of the games different modes.  One Daily Quest requires that you complete a certain number of waves of either X-Def or the Holo-Sim, another sends you through Terminals to defeat bosses,  and the third sends you to either Midtown or Industry City.

Finally, Marvel Heroes has a number of events that occur for a week at a time and rotate through every month.  Depending on the event, you may have missions to go to the Holo-Sim, to Industry City, or to achieve other goals.  Rewards from these events include powerful items, recipes, crafting ingredients, and most importantly the Agent Coulson team-up (want!).

And these are just the basic goals of leveling and general gearing-up.  Assuming you want your character to be the most powerful he/she can be, there are a host of things you can do to improve your gear and performance.  There are powerful rings that drop only in Midtown and Industry City.  There are boss-specific Unique items and Artifacts that you might spend hours trying to farm from terminals.  Your non-combat pets can now give you bonuses that you earn by “vacuuming up” the gear you don’t want.  There is raid currency that drops from some of the harder bosses in the game (including the raid bosses).  There are certain mission rewards from Story Mode that you will want (respec potions, extra skill points, some decent Artifacts).

That’s It for Today

When we talk next time, I will be focusing on the large, and ever-expanding game roster and what this means not only for gameplay (hint: it means a lot) but also for player inclusiveness.  We will consider what it means for an MMO/ARPG to have 46 (yes 46) distinct classes and what the actual depth of the different characters is.  I am also going to focus on one of my particular favorites: Rogue.  With the ability to steal powers from other characters, team-up heroes, and bosses and fully customize your kit based on more than 100 different available powers, she is easily one of the most impressive characters (or classes) I have run across in such a game.

And, there will be screenshots!

There and Back Again

I started this blog almost two years ago in large part to chronicle my adventures through Marvel Heroes.  Honestly, it was mostly because I had this post in me and didn’t have any other place to put it.  So it was fitting that, when I largely stepped away from Marvel Heroes, most activity on this page stopped.

That was somewhere between six months and a year ago.  A large part of the reason I left was that I had a yearning for a more immersive MMO experience again (it happens).  I also had left the supergroup (guild) I was in and formed my own little off-shoot supergroup to host an event for some old friends who had not played the game before and who did not continue after the event.  So, in essence, I was guildless, which makes it easier to drift away from playing.

So I picked up my bags and moved over to GW2 for a while.  I don’t think I have played GW2 for any more than two or three months at a time, which is probably why I always enjoy a new, brief stint in it.  It gave me the immersion I was craving and still felt fresh enough that I was always excited to log on and see what new things I would stumble upon.  I found a fairly active guild and had myself a little fun bashing things in the face as a warrior.

After that, however, I was bitten by the WoD bug.  Some friends were trying to get the gang back together and the content looked interesting, so I pre-purchased and made the commitment.  Things were great at the start.  The content was engaging from questing to garrisoning, and I was progressing along nicely.  In fact, I was so up on the content that I almost ran to this blog to talk about how Blizzard had crafted the perfect expansion.  Before that happened, however, I hit some walls.

First, I was in an almost completely new guild.  None of my friends were in leadership positions and most were rarely on when I was on.  That guildless feeling returned.  Second, I started to feel the now oft-maligned garrison chore burnout.  Finally, and most significantly, we welcomed a new baby into the household in mid-December.  That added up to me, a former semi-competent raider who would like to raid again, not being able to actually raid, having little play time, and spending that play time doing things that were not very fun to maximize the chance that, at some indeterminate future time, I might have the chance again to raid with mostly strangers.  Paying $15/month for that did not seem like a wise investment.

And that is what brought me back to Marvel Heroes.  Not having to pay a sub and being able to play how and when I wanted to, for 15 minutes or three hours, was an attractive proposition.  I was also fortunate enough to be welcomed back by my very first supergroup in Marvel Heroes, so I now have a fairly active group of semi-familiar faces to run with.

Upon my return, I was struck by just how different and more diverse the game is than it was a year ago.  Granted, you are still punching, zapping, slashing, or shooting waves upon waves of sometimes nameless goons, but there are now a lot of different ways and a lot of different reasons to punch, zap, or stab the enemy.  I will explain that variety some in an upcoming post.  For now, however, it is sufficient to say that it is that variety, not just in how, but why I play each day that is holding my attention in this game.

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.