Tag Archives: Massively multiplayer online game

Why I Still Play Marvel Heroes: Part 1

Marvel Heroes (now Marvel Heroes 2015, probably soon to be Marvel Heroes 2016 or Marvel Heroes NOW, or Uncanny Marvel Heroes, or All New All Different Marvel Heroes) was released just about two years ago.  I have spent most of that time as an active player, with some lapses here and there.  I have been firmly back into the game for about two months now.  Since I last left in the late-summer of 2014, so much has changed in the game, and those changes are almost universally for the better.  So, I have a lot to talk about.

In the interest of full disclosure, before I dive in, those of you that know me know that I am a pretty huge Marvel nerd.  So, clearly that is one of the major driving forces behind my love of the game.  Aside from that, however, Marvel Heroes does so many things right that other, similar games either get wrong or have not even thought of attempting that this is a game that should have some amount of universal appeal.

Also, this was going to be one massive post, but I was closing in on 2,000 words and was only about half done, so I am splitting it up into at least three posts.  This first one will concentrate on the numerous ways to play the game.  Spoiler, there are a lot!

Modes, Modes, Modes

The first thing that sets Marvel Heroes apart is that there is so much to do, as long as you like constantly beating on the bad guys.  Put another way, there seem to be dozens (or maybe a dozen) of venues in which to beat the crap out of villains from the iconic (Dr. Doom, Magneto, Red Skull) to the mundane (Batroc the Leaper, Living Laser), as well as hosts of minions.

First, there is the Story Mode, filled with quests, quest rewards, dynamic events, treasure rooms, supervillain boss encounters, motion comic cut scenes, public combat zones, and instanced “dungeons.”  This mode has been in the game since the outset with a view revamps and now with multiple difficulty modes.  It is the first mode new players encounter and a good introduction to the game.

The next mode that most people will probably encounter are the patrol zones.  The first introduced was Midtown Manhattan, a zone that you cruise through with up to, I believe, nine other heroes and fight all sorts of randomly-generated enemy groups.  Usually they have a  couple elite characters in them and a ton of normal enemies.  You usually burn through them with AOE and collect the goodies they drop.  The real meat of this zone, however, is the boss fight that spawn every so often.  These consist of 2-6 theme villain groups (e.g., the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Sinister Six, the Fearsome Four).  The fights are hectic and sometimes dangerous.  Recently Gazillion (the devs) added mini-bosses that you can fight between boss waves or, for funsies, drag them to another group of bosses to make things even crazier.

The second patrol zone added was Industry City Patrol (or ICP, in this case, not Insane Clown Posse).  Industry City Patrol plays by some of the same rules as Midtown Manhattan, but it is driven more by scenarios.  So you may, for instance, fight waves of AIM creations, followed by MODOK, or you might travel around the map to save civilians from demons, then fight Loki.  Both ICP and MM are great to mindlessly grind out levels by just constantly fighting the enemies that spawn and collecting loot.

Next, one of the older features of the game, is the terminals.  The act like instanced dungeons where you replay one of about 12 levels from the Story Mode, ending in a supervillain fight.  They come in Green and Red variety, signifying different difficulties.  Once you hit level 60, you also get Cosmic terminals, which are some of the harder content in the game and offer some of the best rewards.  It is real easy to die in Cosmic terminals, so you have to be on your game.

In addition to Story Mode, Patrol Zones, and Terminals, there are these zones that I don’t have a name for but feature waves of escalating difficulty and reward.  These are X-Defense (as in defend the X-Mansion) and the SHIELD Holo-Sim.  You enter a short queue for each.  X-Defense puts you in a team of five with the goal being to reach a certain goal (either defeat certain bosses or a number of enemies) before they “capture” a certain number of students.  The SHIELD Holo-Sim puts you on a team of only two.  Each wave has a goal, but the real goal is not to die.  The mode ends when your team has had a total of two deaths.

Now we are up to four different modes.  In addition, there is a mode called a One-Shot Terminal.  These don’t appear anywhere else in the game, have a little story behind them, have various goals throughout the stage, have a main boss and usually some mini-bosses.  They also tend to be quite hard.  I have died many times on these, and I have even failed some of them and have been kicked out.  Currently, there are three in game, Wakanda, Bronx Zoo, and Hydra Island, with plans to add more.

There is also a MOBA-like PVP mode, which I have never played, but I know it exists.

Finally, on top of these six different modes, Marvel Heroes has raids.  There is currently only one six-boss raid, but there is a new raid scheduled to drop in weeks and another in the wings.  The raids are set up for 10 people, there is a group finder, and there are two difficulties.  I have only done the Green raid difficulty, and it was not terribly hard, as it should be.  I have heard the Red difficulty is much harder.  The bosses have some decent mechanics that you need to learn, but are not quite the level of a major WoW raid boss.  The interesting mechanic in this game is that you are fighting against both an enrage timer and a death counter.  Between the 10 of you, you can only have a total of 30 deaths, or the fight resets.  The mechanic is interesting in the fact that it recognizes that some amount of deaths are inevitable in an ARPG.

Finally, finally (yeah, I almost forgot this), there are portals that you can pick up or craft to various cow levels and also a Doop Training Level.  Fun and silly, yet challenging ways to burn through some experience or earn loot.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  A new game mode will be coming out with Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Cosmic versions of MM and ICP were just introduced and are meant to be challenging for well-geared max-level characters.  As said above, new raids are coming out soon.  The devs are also hard at work on the X-men’s iconic Danger Room, a mode that will reportedly allow you to run through a number of different “programmed” scenarios, with a number of different ways to find new ones.

One of the drawbacks to such a high number of options for modes is that people flock to those modes that give the best rewards, particularly when trying to level multiple characters.  As a result, Story Mode can seem relatively lonely compared to the other modes, and, as said above, that is the mode that most people encounter first.  The devs recognize this fact, however, and even the Story Mode is going through another revamp.

Goals, Goals, Goals

All of these various modes are nice, but what’s even better is that Marvel Heroes gives you plenty of reasons to visit these different zones.  Legendary Quests start to pop up at level 20.  They are the best way to earn experience and “Odin Points” which are used to buy powerful Legendary Items and Blessings to enchant your Artifacts (think trinkets).  The require you to complete certain objectives in either Story Mode, a Terminal, or one of the Challenges (ICP, MM, X-Def, or Holo-Sim).  You can reroll the Legendary Quest for a certain number of in-game currency, or you can let them drag you all over the game world.

In addition to Legendary Quests, there are also Daily Shared Quests.  There are three of them that give you sizable amounts of loot and experience for completing each one.  Each of the three will require that you put in a decent amount of time and effort into one of the games different modes.  One Daily Quest requires that you complete a certain number of waves of either X-Def or the Holo-Sim, another sends you through Terminals to defeat bosses,  and the third sends you to either Midtown or Industry City.

Finally, Marvel Heroes has a number of events that occur for a week at a time and rotate through every month.  Depending on the event, you may have missions to go to the Holo-Sim, to Industry City, or to achieve other goals.  Rewards from these events include powerful items, recipes, crafting ingredients, and most importantly the Agent Coulson team-up (want!).

And these are just the basic goals of leveling and general gearing-up.  Assuming you want your character to be the most powerful he/she can be, there are a host of things you can do to improve your gear and performance.  There are powerful rings that drop only in Midtown and Industry City.  There are boss-specific Unique items and Artifacts that you might spend hours trying to farm from terminals.  Your non-combat pets can now give you bonuses that you earn by “vacuuming up” the gear you don’t want.  There is raid currency that drops from some of the harder bosses in the game (including the raid bosses).  There are certain mission rewards from Story Mode that you will want (respec potions, extra skill points, some decent Artifacts).

That’s It for Today

When we talk next time, I will be focusing on the large, and ever-expanding game roster and what this means not only for gameplay (hint: it means a lot) but also for player inclusiveness.  We will consider what it means for an MMO/ARPG to have 46 (yes 46) distinct classes and what the actual depth of the different characters is.  I am also going to focus on one of my particular favorites: Rogue.  With the ability to steal powers from other characters, team-up heroes, and bosses and fully customize your kit based on more than 100 different available powers, she is easily one of the most impressive characters (or classes) I have run across in such a game.

And, there will be screenshots!

Unrealistic Expectations Lead to Real Disappointment

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.