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.