Friday, May 22, 2015

Rican's Free 2 Play Friday: Marvel Heroes 2015

Rican's Free 2 Play Friday, a weekly look into free-to-play gaming such as MOBAs, MMOs, Team Shooters, and more! This week we look at Marvel's foray into the MMO/Action RPG space in their recently revamped Marvel Heroes 2015.   

  On Tuesday, March 17, 2009 Gazillion Entertainment, founded by Diablo and Diablo II designer Dave Kosak, announced a 10-year partnership with Marvel to release an action/RPG MMO. The game was to have the same feel of the Diablo franchise, with the Marvel Universe as its backdrop, and the social components of an MMO including: hubs, an in game economy, and perpetually updated endgame content. The result of this was Marvel Heroes, which was released on PC (and a Mac Beta is now available) June 4, 2013, after a long gestating closed beta and later open beta.

Oh, so much promise wrapped up in such a shite game!

  The basic premise of the game, which employs a free to play business model with an in-game currency to purchase "Heroes," is that you pick a Marvel hero from the ever growing roster, level them up to the current cap of 60, via the click and loot Diablo action-RPG vein, and off you go into endgame: raids, "Cosmic" terminals (read: dungeons), PvP, daily quests ("Patrols"), and so on. The variety of choices in the initial build was utterly atrocious, which was also impacted by the fact that, by being a social game, meant you would see popular heroes being used by everyone (it wasn't that uncommon to see 20-30 1990's yellow and blue spandex Wolverines flying all over the screen in Midtown screaming "Bub!" while slashing away at armies of Sentinels)

  As far as first impressions go, Marvel Heroes couldn't have done worse: clunky mechanics, shoddy presentation, buggy Unreal engine, and not to mention balance issues plagued the game - certain Heroes in the roster also had an unfair advantage over others, which was further a problem with PvP content (Player Versus Player) was added to the game. Basically, your choices didn't matter and you were almost forced to play one character out of XX+ (depending on the roles available, such as: melee, ranged, hybrids) making the roster, instead of a "Create your own Hero" option a la DC Universe Online, seem pointless in retrospect. The only real benefit was having legendary Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis as its lead writer.

Oh, and it does have some pretty baller animated cinematics!

  Enter Marvel Heroes 2015, Gazillion's redemption. While the core game remains the same, it IS a loot driven action RPG at the end of the day, the balance issues have been put mostly to rest and Heroes more often than not see revamp passes that fix their issues and bring them up to speed. One notable example is Captain America, who was a fairly weak yet sturdy melee oriented hero. After a notable buff to his abilities, Captain America is the standard bearer for the company's ideology of what a hero's damage and play style should be. Basically, playing Captain America in the current build is like a window peering into the developers philosophy regarding how they will design and build heroes from this point on. An exciting prospect considering that, since my self imposed exodus of the game, the roster has grown dramatically, as has the "Costume" Store, which enables you to buy all sorts of alternate universe/Marvel Event/Era specific costumes for heroes (including certain gender bender swaps like Black Panther and Captain Marvel) which gives the game a much welcome variety, and one that softens the idea of seeing those 20-30 Wolverines down in my endgame cosmic patrols, now with just one yellow one in the pack.   

"Loot... loot everywhere."

  And while the initial build of the game had a pretty robust crafting/professions system in place, the game seemed to lack a bit of direction for how to customize your character outside the parameters of endgame gear (such as: unique, legendary, and artifact gear) and how they looked visually via costumes. The Hero Synergies system between Heroes helped a lot, basically allowing you to try other heroes and leveling them to 25 for a perk and then to 50 for another perk. A common example of a popular synergy is Cyclops, who, upon leveling to level 50 allows for the use of a synergy that gives a 10% experience increase to any Hero that activates this synergy (you're allowed 10 hero synergies that you can toggle on and off at your leisure). This makes leveling Cyclops a compelling choice to anyone that initially may not be interested in him, if only to gain that 10% experience gain to help level a character you actually want to use; not to mention that he makes leveling other Heroes for Synergy purposes that much more quicker!

  Another fun new system is the Omega System, which apes Diablo III's Paragon, an endgame leveling curve that accrues points when you are playing a max level character that allows you to allocate said points into a grid of almost infinite stats to pick and choose from, you can tailor your character to your exact play-style and stack the odds in your favor by adding things like +Fighting (a monstrous all encompassing super stat) or life regeneration. In essence, it makes your time spent with the game never feel like a waste of time since you're always (and I mean always) actively improving yourself.

On the next episode of "Hoarders..."

   It's been fun rekindling my love for the Marvel Universe via its comics and now this game, especially since I always felt that it had infinite potential, which now is slowly coming to light. With the recent additions of villains to the roster (Magneto and Juggernaut being two of the most requested ones that didn't ship with the initial build when they should have, and Doctor Doom slated for a summer release) and more heroes based on recent movie successes (like the entire Guardians of the Galaxy roster) Marvel Heroes 2015 is looking like a sure winner this year and might actually have a healthy future ahead. "Most Improved MMO" indeed, Gazillion, most improved indeed.     

"To Infinity and Beyo-... hold up."
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