It’s been just over two weeks since I waited in line at a local Target for just over an hour to be one of the first people (other than you midnight release folks) to own a Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild. My thoughts two weeks later are: “Switch, where have you been all of my adult life?”
For refreshers, I am like many other “grown up” gamers. I have played games all my life. My family had a second-hand Pong system, followed by an Atari, and an NES. I completely skipped the last generation of consoles in favor of PC gaming. My life today is not well set up for traditional gaming, with two kids, a demanding job, and a spouse who does not care about video games. With its portability and ease of use, Nintendo seems to have designed the perfect console for me.
The Hidden Benefits to Portability
When people think of what it means for the Switch to be a console/portable hybrid, the first image that often comes to mind is throwing it in the backpack/suitcase and bringing it to a friend’s house, on a business trip, or on vacation. I plan to do all of those wonderful things in the future, but I feel that I have have made excellent use of the Switch’s handheld mode to date without doing any of those. Well, okay, I did bring it to a friend/single father’s house so his kids could play it while we shot the shit and drank a few beers.
Day-to-day I use the Switch in a much different way. My “down time” often comes at the end of the day when my youngest is in bed and my oldest is taking a bath, brushing teeth, etc. I usually lay in bed and read or mess around on my phone. Now, however, I can lay in bed for half an hour and play a full feature console version of Zelda. Similarly, my wife might spend a half-hour before bed on her phone. Old me would do the same. New me, Zelda. Kids are watching a cartoon in the living room? Maybe another quick hit of Zelda. Not being tethered to a TV or PC monitor allows me to fit gaming in to those little windows that were impossible to use in a meaningful way before.
Efficiency and Security
The other real difference maker is the ease in which I can jump into and out of the game. Our youngest is a crazy 2-year-old who climbs on or digs in to everything within reach. For that reason, the PC is upstairs and far enough away from our router that an ethernet cord is required to maintain a stable connection. It was impossible for me to jump in to a PC game. By the time I hooked up the cord, maybe booted the PC, and loaded the game, 15 minutes would have gone by. At the end of my session, I would spend almost as much time shutting everything down.
The same bundle of joy makes a traditional console risky as well, as he is constantly rummaging around the entertainment center. He would find a PS4 and dismantle it in some way. I have older-generation consoles in our unfinished basement, but I am not going to spend serious time down there gaming.
The Switch dock and console, however, are so small that I have them tucked behind the TV, and he still has no idea that they are there. When I am going to play, I move it around to the front, slide out the Joy Cons, drop them in the controller frame, and I am ready to go. Takes less than a minute. If I am playing in handheld mode, I just pull it out of the dock, charged up and ready to go. Either way, I go from zero to gaming in less than a minute.
Then there is the load time. Yes, Zelda has load screens that can take 10-15 seconds. Starting from a turned-off console, however, is a dream. Press the Power button at the end of the night, and your game is suspended. Press it again the next morning, press the A button a three times, and the console comes on at the very point you turned it off. Less than a one second load time. It is amazing.
To put it all together, if I want to squeeze in a half-hour of Zelda while my daughter gets ready for bed, I grab the handheld from the dock, bring it upstairs, and when I am ready to play, start up is instantaneous. Nintendo could not have made it any easier.
On the Road Again
Although I have not brought the Switch on the road, I am looking forward to it. I picked up a beautifully constructed and compact case that is big enough to hold the console, 9 games, and a charging cord. And that charging cord? The Switch uses a standard USB-C port. I picked up a USB-C to USB cord on Amazon for $6, and the Switch will charge off of any USB outlet, be it a phone charger, a PC, or the one in my car. My Switch will be accompanying me on many business trips and vacations in the future. Down time no more!
Final Thoughts – Yes, They are About Zelda
I can’t say too much about Zelda that hasn’t been said by reviewers before. It is beautiful, large-scale, open world game. Often times, there is little direction given. Other times, you know where you’re going, but it takes so long to get there because there are hills to climb, horses to tame, bad guys to fight, or just something that looks worth checking out that catches your eye.
The most telling thing I can say from my own experience is that, I have showed friends videos on Youtube of boss fights I have beaten or puzzles I have solved to show them what the game is like. In each one so far, the person in the video has completed the encounter using a different strategy than I employed. Not only are there varied boss mechanics, but there are a variety of ways to best them. That is a high mark in game design.
Despite always feeling that, “this time I am leaving WoW for good,” I find myself subbed again and getting ready for Legion. What brought me back? I still have a larger group of online friends in WoW than any other game. That, and I wanted to see what was going on with all of these Hunter changes!
Well, not quite all. Never been a big fan of BM, although I have played it from time to time when the situation called for it (like all of TBC and the first few months of Wrath). Other than those dark days, I have mostly trended towards MM and Survival. Survival has had its moments of greatness (Wrath trap-dancing, come on!), but MM usually was the better option from a pure kill-the-thing quickly perspective.
With that history, I did a little reading up on the current state of the specs and decided that I would try out MM and Surv in the Broken Shores scenario and Legion invasions and try to figure out which spec suited me for Legion. My plan for Legion was questing, dungeons, and maybe some light raiding, so I don’t need to be the greatest DPS of all time. That being said, I like seeing my name at or near the top of the Recount list, because I am a bit of a narcissist. So, I went to Icy Veins, figured out the ideal DPS setups and went out to test them in the real virtual world.
After some hiccups, I decided that I loved the feel of Survival and its new, rather complex rotation. It had some nice synergies and big numbers. After a little while, I even started getting use to being in melee range. The one thing, however, that I could not get past was that Disengage was gone. In its place was Harpoon, a 30 sec. CD ability that pulls you to your target. On paper, this sounds like a great idea, since you need to be on your target to be doing damage now. In practice, not having Disengage frankly sucks.
Back in the day, I went to the Frostheim school of Jump-Disengage. It provides amazing mobility, particularly when you can use it out of combat. On top of that, the Posthaste talent gives you +60% move speed for 8 seconds after disengaging. People are complaining about the change to Aspect of the Cheetah (short speed boost on a 3 minute CD), but Disengage+Posthaste makes Aspect of the Cheetah almost irrelevant. Moreover, it always brought me great joy flinging myself all over the place, even when completely unnecessary or somewhat annoying to others in the group. By contrast, Harpoon only works in combat, and the speed boost of Posthaste seems very situational.
So, the lack of Disengage ruined Survival for me, and I turned to MM instead. Actually, I turned to MM earlier, but I didn’t like it. The optimal DPS setup of Sidewinders (replaces Arcane Shot and Multi Shot, has a cooldown, but applies Vulnerable) plus Patient Sniper (Vulnerable debuff does not stack, is much shorter, and Marked Shot and Aimed Shot do quite a bit more damage) almost roots you in place for several Aimed Shots and can be quite boring.
Realizing this might get a little technical for non-MM people out there, the core of the spec revolves around applying and utilizing, eh, screw it. Just read the first two paragraphs of what Wowhead says here, and you will get the gist. Okay then, the optimal DPS build replaces Arcane Shot and Multi Shot and changes around the stacking nature of Vulnerable to make it more powerful and of shorter duration. That basically reduces the rotation for MM to Barrage (when available)>Sidewinders>Marked Shot>Aimed Shot*2. There is a little nuance, but I said “basically.” I dislike.
After abandoning Survival, I tried MM again. Still, ick! So, I played around and came up with what is likely to be a sub-optimal build, but I like it. Hopefully, I will not get laughed at too much. There also is not a ton of guidance out there on MM builds that do not use Sidewinders/Patient Sniper. So here it is, my help to getting your MM Hunter to the middle (or bottom) of the pack.
First, is Lone Wolf. The other talents kind of suck, but I do like my pocket tank, I mean pet. When questing, I will probably take Steady Focus and keep my pet with me. When I have a tank, all signs point to Lone Wolf being head-and-shoulders better than the other talents. Alternatively, Black Arrow, with its taunting shadow fiend, is a decent choice for questing if you really hate pets but want something to keep the hate off you.
The meat (or lack thereof) in this build is Sentinel and Piercing Shot. These are, in no way, a DPS increase over the other, preferred talents. They do, however, allow you to apply Vulnerable in a less stressful, easier to manage way, and deliver a huge amount of damage every 30 seconds with Piercing Shot.
Here is the general idea of the rotation for a single target. For multiples, just replace Arcane Shot with Multi Shot:
Fire Piercing Shot on CD, when your Focus is 100+. The damage scales from a lot to a whole bunch depending on how much Focus you have, so you may want to Arcane Shot your focus up if it is about to come off CD. It is also a great Misdirect opener!
Next, fire Barrage. If you just used Piercing Shots, you will likely need to weave in an Arcane Shot to build focus. Also, neither Piercing Shots nor Barrage benefit from Vulnerable, so fire these firsts.
Next, get your three stacks of Vulnerable up on the main target. You can do this either through natural procs of Marking Targets, or force the situation with your two charges of Sentinel. Between those two charges and natural procs, you should be up to 3 stacks in no time.
Any time Marking Targets comes up, fire Arcane Shot to trigger Hunter’s Mark, then fire Marked Shot.
When Marking Targets is not up and your other shots are on CD, fire Aimed Shot to dump focus and Arcane Shot to build it up.
You also have Lock and Load procs (2 free, instant cast Aimed Shots) to account for. Aimed Shot does less damage than Marked Shot, so in the priority list, I would place these free shots below Piercing Shot, Barrage, and Marked Shot, but above an Arcane Shot with Marking Targets (or any other Arcane Shot). If Piercing Shot is coming off CD, however, I might go with the Aimed Shot proc to build some focus over Barrage or Marked. In addition, if I have less than three stacks of Vulnerable and the ability to apply more (Sentinel, Marked Shot, or a Marking Targets buff), I would get the stacks up first. I have nothing to back either of these point up other than general feel.
The only other major issue to account for is your DPS cooldown, Trueshot. Trueshot makes every Arcane/Multi Shot apply Hunter’s Mark, meaning you can sit there and fire Arcane Shot>Marked Shot repeatedly during the life of the buff. This is a great way to reach three stacks of Vulnerable without using Sentinel, which can then be saved for times when you want to get off another Marked Shot. In addition, Trueshot increases haste, lowering the cast time of Aimed Shot. I’m still not sure whether a long burst of Arcane Shot>Marked Shot beats using hasted Aimed Shot.
Since this build does not use Sidewinders, Arcane Shot is always available for focus regen and applying Hunter’s Mark. Along with Sentinel, in my limited experience, you will be using Marked Shot in this build much more than in the optimal build. Piercing Shot also gives you another massive damage dealer on a medium cooldown. The combined result is less of a reliance up Aimed Shot than the optimal build, which means more mobility. In addition, no CD on Arcane Shot means small mistakes (like firing off both charges of Sidewinders right before Marking Targets procs) shouldn’t hurt as bad.
More important that all of that is that I like this build better than others and see myself enjoying it. I hope that it is somewhat competitive with the optimal build, so that I am not gimping myself or my group when rolling it. It is tough to sit at a dummy and compare different MM builds because it is very RNG dependent. In my limited testing, however, this build did appear to come in only about 5% lower than optimal.
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:
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 theset-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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
And the practical effect is this:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.