Why I Still Play Marvel Heroes: Part 3

I have been lax in getting to this third post on why I still play and love Marvel Heroes.  I think that is mostly because it deals with intangibles – those things that are hard to nail down but, in this case, just make you love something even more.  This first two parts dealt with easy to quantify things like the number and diversity of characters in the game or the vast number of game modes that let you play the game in a number of different ways.  All easy enough to arrange in your head and vomit onto the page (or screen).

So what are the intangibles in this game?  First and foremost, it is the development team.  I have never seen a group more invested in a game or the community.  Once you get to know them, you want the game to succeed for their sake, and you feel happy for them when it does.  It also includes the game itself, the love that is put into it, and the striving to always make it better, including its free-to-play elements.  Finally, the Marvel Universe is a beautiful place, and no game captures it quite like Marvel Heroes.

This post will meander through a number of seemingly disjointed topics, but they all have one thing in common – they help make this game great.

The Devs are Fans, are Responsive, and Care

Let’s start with a story.  There is this band that my wife and I are fans of.  They have met with middling success, but they have been a national touring act that headlines smallish venues.  Their music is great, but along the way we got to know the guitarist/lead singer.  When he would see us before a gig, he would make a bee line to us.  When I would show up alone, he would ask how she was doing and where she was, remembering her by name (probably helps that she is purty).  We became friends or at least friendly.  When that happened, we also became more invested in the band.  We more strongly felt their successes; we more deeply felt their missteps.

And so to it goes with just about everything in life.  If I have a personal connection with the producer, I am going to more readily accept the product.  I, of course, still enjoying quality products to which I have no personal connection, but I will more readily and joyfully consume that which is provided by the people I like.

And that is the first intangible that Marvel Heroes has going for it.  Once you get to know the dev team, through Twitter, the forums, a convention, or any other similar venue, you will love them.  Having been through a number of games and viewed community interaction from other companies, Gazillion is one of the most invested, not only in their games, but in their community, in their source material, and in gaming in general.

I am going to mention a couple of them here.

Let’s start at the top with Gazillion’s CEO David Brevik.  Creator of games like, you know, Diablo 1 and 2 and a host of others.  David is active on Twitter and, to a lesser extent, on the official forums.  He will at times directly engage gamers in discussions about Marvel Heroes on Twitter.  He does all sorts of interviews about the game and all his past experiences.  In short, he is a great spokesman with a great pedigree.

What really endears me to him, however, is that, somewhere between 2 and 4 nights a week, he and his wife stream themselves playing Marvel Heroes and drinking Scotch.  I haven’t been able to catch a stream due to the late hour at which they do so and my otherwise busy life, but I just love the fact that he does it.  How many other tip-top executives in the game industry regularly stream themselves playing their marquee game in varying states of inebriation.  Not only do I love that he and his wife are so into the game that they stream it regularly but, as a practical matter, it is a great way for them to connect to the community on a more personal level.

Next up is Ryan Collins, or Ryolnir as he is known to the Marvel Heroes and Twitter communities.  Ryolnir is the Creative Designer & Community Manager (and chief lore nerd) for Marvel Heroes.  The guy is all over the forums interacting with the community, like here (scroll down) where he drops in to a thread to be one of many welcoming a new player to the game.

Beyond this, however, a short span of time following him on Twitter will prove to you that he is the perfect person for his job.  The guy loves video games.  He love tabletop and miniature games.  He loves Marvel.  If you don’t believe that last part, click here to see a picture of the sheer joy on Ryolnir’s face a scoring a great deal on a Moon Knight statue.

Finally, for my list of shout-outs, is the Dink.  I don’t think she is on Twitter, but she is all over the official forums.  She is one of the character model artists at Gazillion, and many believe that she is the strongest.  She is (almost) single-handedly responsible for female heroes’ hair now having body instead of looking like they just stepped out of the shower.  Here is some of her work:

Astonishing Storm

More than just her skill, however, the Dink is constantly on the forums listening to praise and often criticism and discussing what she can and cannot do, what limitations are placed on her, and what projects she is working on.  She gives fans a little behind-the-scenes view of the process, and players love to feel in the loop.

Beyond just the, “if you like the people who make the game, you will like the game more,” line of thinking, the dev team’s conviction to the game has real world impacts on the quality of the game.  This is a team that wants to make a great game for the sake of making a great game, for themselves to enjoy and for the gamers and comic fans to enjoy, rather than a large company that is in it for the money.  Or, if you’re cynical, this is a team that is smart enough to know that, if they make a great game and listen to the fans, they will make a lot of money.  Either way, they listen, they respond, and at the end of the day, they care about the experience that the consumer of their product is having.

To highlight this, I’ll bring you back to beta, approximately two years ago.  The incident is now referred to as Tokengate, since every incident must now end in “gate.”  The devs announced the method of acquiring new heroes after launch, as well as the monetization plan for the game.  “Tokens” would randomly drop in game or could be purchased through the store.  Each token could be redeemed for a hero, but the hero would be chosen completely at random.  Thus, whether you paid real money or played the game without spending a dime, you would have no choice of what heroes you obtained.  The sole exception was if you bought a founder pack, you could get a specific hero.

This initial plan represented the worst of the “gambling boxes” seen in SWTOR, GW2, and others, but it also forced those who wanted an actual choice to plop money down pre-release.  The backlash was fierce and immediate.  Rather than take the “we know best” attitude that many game companies take, however, Gaz listened to the community feedback and immediately assured players that they would be re-examining the system.  Within a day or two they rolled it back to one where you could buy the hero of your choice (without the gamble) or wait for specific heroes to drop randomly.  It was not perfect, but it was far better than the original plan.  A month or so, this plan was also scrapped to the joy of the gamers, in favor of one where you earn a currency just by playing and can spend that currency on any hero you want, thus eliminating the random chance completely.

A much smaller version of Tokengate happened a few months ago when Gaz introduced “limited edition” costumes.  They were costumes that you could buy with real money, with only minor variations from other available costumes, but were limited in number and had a few other special features.  The idea was to make them like collectibles that comic geeks love.  The main problem that the community had was that, being limited in number, if you were away from your computer the day the costume you wanted went on sale, and it was a popular one, you might miss out on it altogether.  Again, Gazillion listened and, rather than limited in number, these costumes are now available for a limited time (about 2-3 weeks).

Bottom line, Gazillion is connected with its fans and wants to make a great game for them.  How can you not love that?

A Unified Marvel Universe

This really is an intangible, mostly because it is only applicable to a subset of Marvel fans.  That is the marginalization of the X-men and the Fantastic Four by Marvel as a result of its not owning the movie rights to these teams.  Until there is  major shift in the ownership of movie rights, Marvel Heroes is likely to be the last great game set in the Marvel Universe in which these major characters receive equal billing, or even appear, alongside the Avengers and Spider-man (Spidey movie rights are owned by Sony, but they cooperate with Marvel Studios).

Think I am overstating things?  Here is the Disney Infinity trailer.  While you can play little-known characters like Nova and Iron Fist, there is no Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Thing, etc.  In the recently-released mobile games Marvel Future Fight and Marvel Mighty Heroes, you can fight as Marvel “stalwarts” including Sharon Carter, Black Bolt, and Angela, but again, no X-men or Fantastic Four.  Beyond video games, Marvel is erasing the X-men and Fantastic Four from images from its history: like these t-shirts.

I am a fan of Marvel because I started reading X-men comics at around age 9.  I believe that without the success of the X-men movies, Marvel wouldn’t be seeing the success that it has with its other superhero franchises.  I am not the only one.  It angers me to see the marginalization of the characters that brought me into the universe because they don’t generate the cash for the parent corporation as efficiently as other the characters for who they own the entire bundle of the rights.

Putting that rant aside, however, the unified Marvel Universe (not to be confused with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is a rich and diverse place with great history.  There is an excellent piece about its representation in Lego Marvel Superheroes here.  Like Lego Marvel, Marvel Heroes understands that.  Three of its nine story chapters are devoted to Xavier’s School and its many adversaries, from Sentinels to anti-mutant bigots, from Magneto and the Brotherhood to dinosaurs in Antarctica, from parasitic aliens to cyborgs on tank treads.  These settings and characters are as much a part of the Marvel Universe (and in the 80s and 90s more a part of the Marvel Universe) as Hydra, Shield, and the Inhumans.

The Story Mode in Marvel Heroes reads like a Marvel Universe greatest hits record would sound.  You start battling street-level Avengers, Spider-man, and Daredevil villains through New York and Madripoor, you move on to fighting X-men villains in the mutant slums and the Savage Land, and then you return to fighting higher-level Avengers and Fantastic Four threats, like Modok, the Mandarin, and Dr. Doom, before eventually heading to Asgard to fight Loki.  Social hubs include major mutant locations like Xavier’s School and Genosha.

Little known and less-widely beloved characters that are shoved down your throat in some of the recent mobile games are not even playable in Marvel Heroes yet.  Instead, you can choose from each member of the Fantastic Four plus the Silver Surfer, and next month Dr. Doom, and 14 X-men plus Magneto and Juggernaut.  Those X-men include Cable, Colossus, Cyclops, Deadpool, Emma Frost, Gambit, Iceman, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, and X-23.  Kitty Pryde will also be added this year.

Marvel Heroes is the complete Marvel Universe experience.  There is no other game that can compare, and there probably never will be.  If you love Marvel, then that is a reason to love the game.

Truly Free to Play

Finally, the game really, truly is free to play.  I have spent money on it, of course, but I have never felt like I had to.  Some times it was because I really wanted a costume.  Other times it was because I was feeling guilty for getting so much enjoyment out of it without spending any money recently.  While there are items that go beyond convenience or cosmetics that you can buy with real money (like boosts and respec potions), the game gives you enough of them as log-in rewards or rewards for quests or achievements, that you never really have to spend money on them.

The closest you get to having to spend money on anything is extra storage, but that depends on how much you hoard more than anything, and sometimes extra storage is thrown in to a package you might want to purchase for a character or costume.

This matters to me because, like GW2 where I own the box, I can pick up or put down the game whenever I want.  If there is a period where I am not playing as much, I don’t have to feel guilty about wasting the sub money or unsubscribe altogether.  If I want to pick up another game with a sub, nothing is stopping me.  If there is another game that strikes my fancy, I play it for awhile, but I always seem to come back to Marvel Heroes.

I enjoy Marvel Heroes when I want to and how I want to, and I spend money on it in the exact same way.  That too makes me love the game.

Well, that is it for now.  At some point in the near future, I will be typing up a second revision to my Tips and Tricks for Marvel Heroes post, since it appears that it is the post that drives the most traffic here, and it is way out of date.

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.