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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:

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:

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.


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.

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.

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 ❤ 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.