How many times have you gone into a movie expecting it to be the greatest thing ever, only to have your expectations shattered and walk away disappointed? On the other hand, how many times have you flipped on HBO or TNT to catch a movie that you had little interest in when it was new in theaters or on DVD, only to find yourself sitting through to the end of the movie and enjoying the hell out of it? GI Joe, I am looking at you.
Since I am primarily writing about a Marvel game in this blog, I will use some Marvel movies as an example. Thor and Captain America came out the same summer. I was expecting to love Thor, and went to see it in the theater. Something about it, however, fell flat for me. On the other hand, I had mixed feelings about Captain America. I knew I would see it at some point, and I eventually did when it came out on DVD. I found myself really enjoying the movie and rooting for Steve Rogers from his first appearance to that doomed flight. Is Captain America an objectively better movie than Thor? I can’t say. In my mind, however, I hold Captain American in higher regard than Thor.
So back to the point of this post. I have seen a lot of grumbling on the official Marvel Heroes boards about the state of the game, the state of endgame, the price of things in the shop, the rate of hero and costume drops, etc, etc. A lot of these people have valid, well thought out points. I believe the majority of these complaints, however, come from expectations that are out of line with reality. This post is going to touch on two of those issues, hero drops and endgame.
The End is the Beginning is the End is the Beginning
Conventional wisdom and a lot of our expectations as MMO gamers are that the game really doesn’t begin until we hit max level. I could say that that is a silly expectation and people are dumb for feeling that way, since it ignores hours of varied gameplay to focus on repeating the same content over and over again, but truth be told, that expectation derives from incentives and structures created by the game companies themselves. Grimmtooth has touched on this a number of times in WoW – Blizzard tries to make the leveling game meaningful, while at the same time allowing players to subvert it to power level their characters so they can begin the endgame. In the end, many players look down at the leveling game and only focus on “what can this game do for me once I reach max level.”
If you bring that expectation to Marvel Heroes, you will be sorely disappointed. In a recent, excellent post by Rockjaw, he explains the endgame philosophy behind Marvel Heroes, and surprise, surprise, it is different from your standard MMO endgame experience. Does that mean it is objectively wrong or bad? Of course not. All it means is that Marvel Heroes may not fit into the rules of “endgame” that we all expect our MMOs to fit into.
For those that don’t know, endgame in Marvel Heroes starts in the late-20s. By level 30, you have every power you will ever get (unless you get an artifact with an on-use effect). The rub comes from the fact that, while endgame starts at this level, max level is level 60. That means that for 30+ levels and well over half of your leveling experience, you will be engaging in endgame activities.
People have criticized this for two main reasons. One is “there is only enough content to get you half-way to level cap.” The other is “there is nothing to do at level 60.” Both of these arguments are based on our expectations that there is something inherently special about reaching level cap. That is true in most games, and it is certainly an achievement in any game. As Rockjaw points out in his post, however, in Marvel Heroes, they expect few people to reach level cap.
From an objective standpoint, other than the fact that you still gain XP during endgame, there is little difference between the endgame in Marvel Heroes and that of other games. Let’s take a look.
What is Marvel Heroes endgame? First there are daily missions (shock!). These missions consist of short instance runs of bosses from the leveling game that are scaled up to your level. You can run them alone or there is a matchmaker feature that will group you up. Second, there are harder versions of these missions with substantially harder bosses and minions (heroics, anyone?). Third, there are “Group Challenges,” that pit groups of up to five against a ton of enemies, followed by a random, strong boss. These challenges only allow for a fixed number of deaths before they are failed. Fourth there are “Survival Challenges,” which pit 15 heroes against waves of enemies followed by a strong boss. Finally, there is PVP. PVP is admittedly broken, and there are some issues with the different modes, but the game is only three weeks old, and it is being tweaked.
Bottom line, endgame offers a lot of different options for things to do, and according to Rockjaw, more is coming. Again, the only major difference between this and other games is the number by your character portrait may not be the highest number possible in the game.
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don’t ask me why I am quoting that song, other than I heard it a few days ago. I could be wrong, but it seems as if a lot of the complaints about the very low and very RNG drop rates of heroes arise from an expectation that the game should be as fun and satisfying long term for the nonpaying customer as it is for the paying customer. It is not. Free to Play is not Free to get Maximum Enjoyment, and that is especially true in this game. Why is that? Simple – it is the IP, which is also the big selling point of the game.
I will use myself as an illustration. I spent $60 on the X-men pack. Today, I am 36. I religiously read X-men comics from fourth grade through my high school years. I have read the odd collection since then, watched all the movies, and watched some of the cartoons. In WoW or TOR, my connection with the character I created in game started the day I played. In Marvel Heroes, the connection to my heroes goes back 25 years. There is an inherent joy in taking these characters out for a spin. When I tear through Reavers with Wolverine, I am taking revenge on them for that time the crucified him years ago (that’s right, Wolverine was crucified). When I fight Sinister, I think back to the Mutant Massacre he caused. My experience with this game is amplified by my years of experience with these characters.
Now, how would I feel about the game if I refused to spend money on these characters? It is a fun game, but I have never been the action RPG type. I would probably have chosen Daredevil as my starter, since I did read his comic for a time and have some connection to him, but it is not nearly as strong as the others. I would have gotten two random starter heroes as quest rewards, but that is all I have seen for new heroes. So, in this fictional world of today, I have one character I have a minor attachment to, and two that I do not care too much about. RNG has not been kind to me, and the characters I really want to play are behind a pay wall. In all honesty, I would probably feel pretty frustrated. Now, is that the game’s fault or my own fault? Is Thor a worse movie than Captain America?
No one’s experience with Marvel characters will be the same as mine. There are many people who have read these comics and enjoyed these characters their whole lives. There are many more people who may have fond memories of the X-men 90s cartoon or the Avengers. Because these characters are in our pop culture and almost everyone has some exposure to them, there are bound to be some characters that you feel more strongly about than others. Denying yourself the opportunity to play the character you want to play because you believe that the game system should reward that character to you for free will lead to your disappointment and frustration with the game.
The bottom line is that this is a game that becomes much better if you sink money into it. It is not because it is Pay to Win. Maybe it is Pay to Have Fun. But isn’t that what every game is in some form or another? Yes, you can play the whole game for free, but are you going to get the same satisfaction playing as one of many Hawkeyes that you get playing as Iron Man?
So, what does that mean for expectations? It means don’t start playing the game thinking that you are going to get whatever you want from grinding through the game and without spending a dollar. You could get your first new hero in 15 minutes or 150 hours. That is a recipe for disappointment. Not to mention the fact that the odds of getting the hero that you want most out of an in-game drop is exponentially smaller (there are 21 total in game). Instead, understand that, if you enjoy the game playing a free hero, you should want to spend money on the hero of your choice. Put another way, if you can have fun playing as someone you have zero affinity for, imagine how much fun it will be now playing as your favorite hero?
How and why it works
I have been having a blast playing this game in large part because of the IP, but that is not all. In addition, the ability to swap characters is unparalleled. For example, if I wanted to switch to an alt in WoW, I would hearth back to town, log out, log in on my alt, take a FP to where I was leveling, and then finally start playing. In this game, I click on my alt’s portrait in game and switch over after a five second cast time. I then bodyslide (hearth) back to a hub, and take a waypoint to the level-appropriate area. If I am in a team, everyone can click on my portrait and warp to where I am. It is incredibly easy and pretty quick.
Last night, I ran some “endgame” dailies with guildies as Wolverine. We had some fun. I felt like I was Wolverine tearing through huge crowds of bad guys. At some point, one of our team left, and the remainder decided to switch to alts. A couple minutes later, I am on Cyclops blasting my way through the mutant-hating Purifiers. A completely different playstyle from Wolverine, and a character who I am almost as fond of. Later in the night, I switch back to Wolverine and quickly knock out a few more dailies.
I had a blast all night and didn’t want to stop playing. Now, if I was just grinding endgame on a character I didn’t care about, I would not have had nearly the fun. I have four other characters that I have tremendous affection for and cannot wait to play. By not forcing myself to grind to level 60 and by being willing to spend some money, I have gotten more than my money’s worth. I have gotten a game that I will enjoy for a long time.