Marvel Heroes – The honeymoon is over

I like Marvel Heroes, or rather I want to like it a lot. It’s a bit like Iron Man 3. I’m a big Marvel fan, I want to love it but I can’t.

Marvel Heroes has something amazing going for it, it’s set in the Marvel universe. It’s a bit like playing inside my favourite movie and that’s fun – for a while. Swtor is the same, it’s great to swing a lightsaber about, visit the Jedi temple and all that good stuff. However, if it doesn’t have a solid game underneath the IP, then you wind up disappointed. Now I’m not saying that Swtor isn’t solid, my criticisms of that are very different to the criticisms I have of Marvel Heroes. I’m just linking that it has the hook of the IP, but it needs more than the IP to survive.

I’ve written this post over the last three days. I’ve added a lot to it and I’ve changed some of what I wrote originally. I’ve gone through it and I hope it makes sense, if it doesn’t you now know why.

I’ve logged twenty hours with Marvel Heroes and I finished the story. I’m level twenty-four with the free hero I chose – Storm – which is still a long way from level sixty which is where the endgame would be. I want to put a proviso here that some of what I may say could be wrong. To the best of my knowledge I’m not saying anything incorrect, but I only have my experience to draw on, so if I’ve missed something, or failed to understand something, then I could be wrong. However, I still think that whatever I say is legitimate, as if I don’t know it’s incorrect, then it obviously hasn’t been explained sufficiently. I’m not a gaming novice, so if I can’t work it out, then those new to gaming couldn’t except by chance. Although that is a bit egotistical to say that, I don’t think it’s completely unfair.

How random is too random
Some people accuse Marvel of cash grabbing with Marvel Heroes and I can’t completely disagree. The argument against is that everything in the store drops in the game. The rebuttal is that while it might drop, the drop chance is extremely rare, it’s the same for all mobs (bosses might have a higher drop chance), and what you get is random. So there’s no grinding spot where you can try your luck, no area where you can try for a specific hero. It’s random drop, random loot.

Now the theory behind this random nature is that it keeps people playing, and every now and then like Pavlov they will be rewarded for their efforts. In theory I can understand this but in practice I think it’s been taken too far here. People have to have some hope that they will get a reward, and that it will be something useful to them. Without any hope what motivation is there to even try? It’s crossed the line between being a useful motivator to being a de-motivator, random can be too random.

This has been posted about a few times on the Marvel Heroes forums. I checked them out, and if you thought that Warcraft forums were bad, I’d say these are the same or worse. The complaints about the price being too high, not that it required money, but that it just required too much money were jumped on. If anyone suggested that they thought it was too much they got abused. Some of the points made in these posts I thought were well reasoned and relative. They talked about attracting players and people not being ready to make an investment right away, about player retention. They suggested that if the price was going to stay where it was then a trial period should be allowed. Buyer remorse can turn people off a game, and certainly mean that they don’t make future purchases, so allowing them to test drive whatever hero they are interested in could seal the deal.

As it stands I agree with the poster that suggested that Marvel wanted to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, as they haven’t organised the game so it retains players. They need to make their money now at launch, otherwise it’ll be a commercial failure. I could be misjudging them, everyone is different and perhaps I’m just too mean with my money. I can’t help thinking that the cost of one hero, should not be equal to a game, but perhaps times have changed. I’m someone that would love to try Guild Wars 2 but as I don’t know if I’ll like it, I don’t want to pay for it as it seems like a lot for an experiment. I prefer to think of myself as more careful than mean, but money doesn’t grow on trees and this is disposal income we’re talking about, and that is in short supply.

I would have much rather they had gone with a different method, or perhaps an additional method. After completing the story I have close to 40k credits on Storm, and this is just from playing, I didn’t really do any grinding, and I donated a lot to the crafter in the hope there was some “+ special drop %” enchant available, (from reading apparently there is at a higher level though I’ve yet to see for myself), as I’d like a new hero. I’m the same as everyone else I’d wager, I want to try out Captain America or Iron Man, which is why those are the more expensive heroes. It makes good business sense to price them like that, but it isn’t half annoying as a customer. It feels unfair, even though it obviously isn’t, as you don’t get anything extra for these heroes, they aren’t more powerful, they aren’t pre-levelled, it’s just more people like them.

On one hand changing more for popular heroes means you get more, as more people will be interested in buying them. On the other hand you have people who would have bought them, but who are aggrieved that they cost more for no extra benefit, who are perhaps turned off buying them as any hero costs a lot. So on one hand it makes good business sense to charge more, and on the other it might make better business sense to charge less. After all fifty sales at 20 bucks makes 1000 bucks, two hundred sales at 10 bucks makes 2000 bucks. So it all comes down to whether you are in for the short term, or in it for the long haul. A steady income over a long period of time, or a lot in a short period of time and nothing later, there is the saying “the turtle wins the race” so I know what business method I prefer.

So I don’t think it would be unreasonable if say a new hero cost 100k credits, or more, 200k, so long as it was reasonable, someone would still have to work for it, but it would be an aim that they could shoot for. They could keep the very low percentage drops of heroes as freebies. Costumes could work similarly though I don’t think they should cost so much. That way people rich in the real world can splash the cash to enjoy a new class, a new look etc. and those that would rather spend the time grinding, can get the same items eventually. It’s a lot more friendly way to do it in my opinion. People don’t generally like grinding, it isn’t a popular pastime, so I imagine that a lot of people would still use the store, only now it would be a choice to use it.

Heroes aren’t naked when you buy then, and so far as I’m aware they come with a default pre-set costume, probably picked to be the least popular. So if you want a different costume then you have to shell out more money, or hope for an extremely rare drop, rare enough to get anything, rarer by an order of magnitude that you’d get what you wanted. Now it’s all about respect. I think you should be able to choose which costume you’d like with the hero when you buy it. If you want another different costume, then you have to shell out for it but your first costume comes free.

Some costumes are priced ridiculously now. Take Cyclops for example, he costs 900 ‘G’ to buy, one of his costumes costs 1500 ‘G’, 600 ‘G’ more than him. Does that not seem bizarre to anyone? Why do some costumes cost more than others anyway? I’ve heard that it’s because they took longer to animate or something, but really? Equalize the cost over everything, don’t use it as an excuse to put a huge markup on it. They’ll make up any added investment really quickly, and then it’s just pure extra profit. I understand that they want to make the money, but that is not the way, it leads to bad feeling. As it stands right now I won’t buy anything from the Marvel store. If they changed a few things, maybe cut some prices, maybe made some deal packs, gave the illusion of choice with other options of obtainment, then I would definitely purchase something. I have no trouble supporting a game like that. So they are losing money with me, and not just me I’d imagine. There’s the saying ‘you catch more flies with honey’, give a little, get a lot more in return.

I mean think about it, I would love to play Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, maybe give Cyclops a go, that guy Punisher looks cool, what is his story? You know I want to invest my time and effort into this game. I’m willing to invest my money too, but I don’t feel that buying a hero right now is good value for money. I suppose you could say that I’d had the game for free, buying a hero would be like buying the game, so the cost of one hero is worth it. Perhaps that is true. I do feel though that this game revolves around the Heroes, and playing different ones. Purchasing one hero might make the game a good deal, purchasing more than that and what are you getting for your money? It’s like a mind trick though. If I had to pay the price of a hero, and for that I would get my hero and unlock the game, I’d think that was fair. However, having got the game, having to pay that price just for the hero seems wrong. That is ridiculous as it’s the same both ways but that doesn’t change how it feels.

Choice is important, or the illusion of choice anyway. I think it’s human nature not to like being told what to do. Giving people options means you can manipulate them to choose what you would like, but they are under the illusion they have made their own decision. It makes people happier and more willing to do whatever it is. Otherwise if there’s no choice people get stubborn and refuse on principle, in which case nobody wins.

The levelling game
I checked out the levelling arc quite early on. I think I was level 12 or something and I seemed to be progressing quite fast through these chapters, I was on chapter four out of eight. I’d read that there was 60 levels so I was a bit confused as to how I got to level 60 when I was half done and on level 12. I then got a moment of enlightenment when I remembered Diablo, and how it goes up a mode to hard or inferno or whatever it’s called, and you level through the story again at the harder difficulty. So I googled to check if this theory was correct and unfortunately it wasn’t. Apparently once you complete the story that is it, you need to get your remaining levels through daily quests.

On one hand I can sort of understand them not wanting to push people through the same content. If we think that each hero is like a class, and with the idea being to play different heroes (should you either get lucky or stump up the cash) then you are already playing through the same story multiple times anyway. There are a lot more heroes than there is classes in Diablo, so playing through again on a harder mode to level, in addition to levelling other heroes, could be seen as overkill. However, this is a dungeon crawler, not exactly quest based like Warcraft. It’s the same gameplay throughout, the settings change a bit, but you are still mowing down waves of mobs and dying to the occasional boss. So it’s intrinsically replayable by it’s very genre, unless they are worried that will make it too like Diablo and blizz will sue, in which case I can understand trying to be different.

David Brevik, the man behind Diablo 2 and Marvel Heroes, did a live interview last night. One of the things he said was that he wanted to do was put in difficulty levels, like how it works in Diablo, but that they hadn’t had time to do that pre-launch. Considering that a feature like that would change how people levelled, transform the game even, I find it odd that they postponed it. However, I have heard many criticisms that Marvel rushed the launch, so I guess this was a casualty. I certainly think it will be very good for the game, and I hope they do add it in.

In talking with The Grumpy Elf he told me the quests weren’t available to new heroes. I googled and he’s right, unless you reset your whole progress, then there are no quests second time around. This really doesn’t make sense to me. Either the heroes are separate, as the levels would indicate, or the progress is account wide. Right now Marvel seem to be trying to have it both ways which just doesn’t work. It really makes me wonder even more whether they intend to retain players. Perhaps their target audience is to make it a one hit wonder, people that play once, spend some cash to get their favourite hero, and then never touch it again.

The endgame revolves around these terminals, where you go in with a group and collect shards. I think that you then use these shards as currency to unlock a fight on another terminal. The there’s a third terminal for something. I don’t really understand it in all honesty. I did notice that as a reward for completing the daily quest for three shards, I got a fortune card. These fortune cards can award anything sold in the store, though I suspect that the cheaper items, like increased xp gain, rarity boost etc. are more common than heroes or costumes. Still it’s an extra chance to get them which good. From a guide that I read on the Marvel forums apparently the terminals are different in Avengers tower, X-Mansion and the Hellicarrier. I thought that they were the same so I’m glad I read that. Apparently you level using the ones in Avengers first, then the X-Mansion and finally the Hellicarrier.

Before I completed the story I wrote that I didn’t think the game was very friendly towards repeated or extended play, and to an extent I still believe that. Now, it’s less that I think the endgame doesn’t exist (which is what I’d been led to believe by forum posts) and more that it just isn’t explained very well in game. I’m someone that looks outside the game for answers. When I was stuck on a quest in chapter seven I googled to find the answer. When I didn’t understand the terminals, I hit up the forums and google for the answer. Now all games are sinners here, in that they rely on outside resources to explain things. However, with Marvel Heroes being so new, most of those resources aren’t in place yet, if they ever will be. I have a lot of spare power points on Storm as I don’t know where to spend them, and I’m not willing to guess as I can’t reset if I choose wrong. I really do think that they should explain things a little better in game.

The talent trees
I mentioned this in my first post, about how it wasn’t explained about specs, what was good or bad, and how I couldn’t see a reset button. Through googling I discovered there wasn’t a reset button, further googling turned up a guide on YouTube to Storm (the first hero I was playing) and apparently I’d dumped all my points into the wrong talents. How was I supposed to know? Thankfully you are provided with one free talent reset from a quest, to reset your points again you need to stump up in store or get lucky. So I managed to fix my newbie errors.

I really think that this is a mistake on the games part. I ran into a brickwall when I started chapter five, I couldn’t move ten paces out from the starting place without getting mauled to death by packs of mobs. I assumed that I’d gone through the story too fast and I needed to level up. So I dutifully went back to the earlier stage and grinded mobs until I dinged the next level, I fared no better. I then changed the talents to the suggested ones from the video, and suddenly I wasn’t having any issues. If I died I could tell it was down to skill, not because I was hitting a brickwall.

If something makes that big a difference, they really should be more user friendly about it. I looked into the matter and fixed my talents, I was also willing to go back and grind out mobs for no reason other than experience. How many new players would think to even do that let alone go and do it? They are far more likely to get frustrated and just give up. I suppose grinding is more common in a dungeon crawler, as that’s basically all it is about. Even so I do find it unfriendly towards new players to the genre (who might have been drawn in by the Marvel IP), people that just didn’t realize (much like myself) or people that just make a mistake. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Warcraft where, especially now changing talents has never been easier. If you get used to something being so easy to use then it’s more difficult to adjust to something less friendly. In my mind it’s another black mark against player retention.

Related to this but also unconnected is rested XP. I can’t be sure as it isn’t written anywhere but I certainly felt more powerful when I logged in and had rested. Perhaps you get a bonus to spell power or something when you aren’t ‘tired’. I guess that would make some people think twice about playing a lot in one go, and therefore chewing up all the content. If I’m right that is, it could be my imagination.

The very core of the game
All of the above Marvel could do something about. What they can’t change is the type of game they chose to make – a dungeon crawler. I’m not sure what type of game I would have chosen but it wouldn’t have been that. I’m playing Storm as I’ve said a few times and it just feels wrong to go about massacring all things. The X-Men have never, or at least in the versions I like them in, set out to deliberately kill. They are hero’s, they keep the peace, they stand against Magneto, and other threats, because if they don’t then humanity’s days are numbered.

Now I’m not saying that the X-Men don’t kill, Wolverine certainly does, and in great battles like the one against the Chitauri then heroes do kill. However, the setting isn’t a great battle, and yes I don’t know how they would do a game that didn’t revolve around combat, yes it is fun to fling lightning bolts about, but it does just seem wrong. I don’t feel heroic slaughtering countless waves of mobs. It doesn’t fit right with the hero I’m playing, or with how I think of heroes.

Perhaps it would have been better for the levelling, for the most part, to have taken place in the Danger Room as training. Then every so often there’d be these big missions where you would go out and take on a boss, and be the hero. They have these missions, taking on bosses, at the end of the chapters. These bosses are undeniable threats, they require heroes to stand against them. Running about in the world, killing everything you see is not the same.

Bizarrely I don’t have this issue in Warcraft. There my character is supposed to be a hero but I don’t have the same objection. There the killing is just part of the game. Sometimes I wish the AI was a bit more intelligent so nearby mobs would see me attacking their friend, and then attack me, as it’s odd to see them just wandering about when visually I’m right there. I also wish that some types of mobs wouldn’t attack me unless I’m threatening them, it’s like they have a death wish or something. I think to myself “I don’t want to kill you” but I have to as they are attacking me.

Anyway there’s nothing Marvel can do about the type of game they chose to make. I suspect it will be this criticism more than any other that will make me less willing to play. I also doubt that it’s an objection that many other players will share. The phrase “It’s just a game” springs to mind. I also suppose that if I had a real objection then I would have stopped playing it as soon as I started.

Looking to the future
It took me twenty hours to finish the story, sure I had some afk time, but still for a free game, it’s a respectable amount of time. After all I didn’t pay for those hours of entertainment. Plus you can experience the whole game with the starter hero, and the starter hero’s aren’t (on paper anyway) any less powerful than any of the paid for ones. So yes you aren’t disadvantaged by not dropping any money on this game. However, a big part of the game, certainly where the replay-ability comes in, where the player retention comes in, is in playing other heroes.

In playing Storm at the end of the prologue I got a hero drop from the quest there, another starter hero – Hawkeye. At the end after I defeated Dr Doom I handed in the quest and got another starter hero – Scarlet Witch. So I have two new heroes that I could play through the story. I am pretty sure that the quest rewards with heroes in is a one time deal. I do think this is a nice touch, giving another hero to play with. It might not be the hero you want, but it’s something. Plus the more you play the game, the higher the probability is that you will get more hero drops. I’m currently running with +16% special item find, I haven’t found any special items yet, but having the boost can only help. In David Brevik’s interview he stated that the droprate was a bit too low so they are going to marginally increase it, which is definitely a positive change.

I’m concerned that I haven’t been completely clear. When I suggested an in-game currency alternative to store items, so people could spend time rather than money, yes that could be construed as me wanting things for free. However, my intent there was to talk about choice. If someone has the choice to grind out, or get instant gratification by purchasing, most people will choose the instant gratification. There would not be the debt problem, there would not be all those “payday loan” companies, if people could wait for what they wanted. However, by telling people that they have the option to get it for free, they don’t feel ‘forced’ to go down the paid route. I think that it would seem like the company was respecting them more, and I would certainly give some money to a company that showed that my choices mattered. I think regardless heroes should be a bit cheaper, so then I’d maybe grind out one or two, get bored and purchase a couple more. I hope that makes sense. It’s not about getting everything for free, it’s about the value of the product, the more you give the more you get.

In the future they could add more content. Adding more maps, for example the danger room practice area I talked about earlier. Some of the new content could be content patches, other more substantial additions could be in the form of expansions, downloadable content. In keeping with their laudable f2p model, where free players are not disadvantaged, this content would be a sidegrade to what was available, but just something different to do would be exciting. Think about all the places in the Marvel universe it would be cool to visit, that would have cool backdrops.

There is no real incentive to play a different hero, beyond playing a different hero. You hack mobs to death with claws, you fling a shield, you toss lightning bolts about, you blast them with repulsors etc. but it’s all the same thing. To make new heroes have more playability, aside from just their different abilities, they could introduce a personal zone/quest for each hero. It could be ‘Trials of the would-be hero’ where you play through whatever event made them who they are. It could be a notable battle in their history. I realize that it’s a dungeon crawler, grindfest and that people don’t expect this sort of thing. That is why I think it would be great if Marvel went in this direction, it would be doing something new and exciting with the genre. Plus if they don’t want to charge less for the hero, giving somebody more bang for their buck, will definitely make for more sales and happier customers.

While I’m on the subject of the cash store, in addition to the ridiculously expensive packs on offer (£65 for four hero’s plus a couple of costumes?!?) you can also put buy packs of ‘G’ in order to buy specific items. I suppose Marvel think they are being clever with how they have structured this. In that in order to buy a hero you need to go up to the next ‘G’ pack, but only just inside it, so you then have leftover ‘G’. You then look and want to spend that ‘G’ but everything costs just a little bit more than what you have, so you need to buy another ‘G’ pack, and so on it goes. Now, this is clever but it’s also really annoying. I realize that this is what they have done, sound business practice perhaps, but I feel cheated. If I didn’t realize that they’d purposefully structured it like this then I wouldn’t mind, as I do well I don’t like it. Again it comes down to respect and options. Perhaps they should offer the chance to buy a custom amount of ‘G’ but that on a per ‘G’ basis it would work out more expensive than a pack. Therefore people could weigh up whether they would want more ‘G’ in the future, whether it was a one-off purchase etc. A lot of people would still buy the packs, but there would be the choice. They’d probably make more money in the end, from those that repeatedly bought custom ‘G’ amounts at the higher rate, as they just wanted ‘one more’ item.

I think they should also think about choice with the MMO nature of it. Right now it seems kind of divisive much like blizz’s forced CRZ. Diablo 3 got a lot of flack for requiring an internet connection, cloaking this in ‘MMO’ when it isn’t really, avoids the flack but still makes little sense. That’s not even mentioning how much it stutters and lags in public areas like the X-Mansion and AvengersTower. Allow people the choice to choose ‘offline mode’ where it would just be single player. This would also be purely on their own computer therefore reducing server load. You could also have a ‘play with friends’ option, which was much beloved in Diablo 2 I’m led to understand. For those that object to multiples of the same heroes there could be an option there too. This would be harder to code for, as it would require splinter instances which only accepted one of each type.

There is no cooperation in this ‘MMO’ mode, you get randomly grouped sometimes with people, if there’s a chat function I’ve yet to discover it, then people zone out, go their separate ways. If you leave the group you sometimes get ported back to the starting area, other times the group just disbands. Again it’s about choice, the more choices people have, the better they feel about it, even if they don’t do anything different than they would without the choices, it changes how they feel. However, I do understand a major draw of the MMO model for Marvel. Whenever I see Captain America about, flinging the shield, it looks so cool. The same with Iron Man flying, the animations, both of them are just so awesome, which is probably why they are the most expensive heroes. Seeing them erodes the self control, until you just sort of have to have them, it’s like waving something in front of your face, you just can’t resist. So from this angle, it was a very smart move of theirs, even if it makes little sense otherwise.

I had written here that I would like to see more openness from the developers. David Brevik’s interview granted that wish. It also gave me the reassurance that I was looking for that they would continue to develop the game. It makes me hopeful that Marvel Heroes could turn into something really special, it makes me think that contray to my earlier belief (that I would never log it again after finishing the story) that this might be a game, that I’ll continue to play. As it’s a different genre to Warcraft that might even be sustainable. I tried to play Swtor alongside Warcraft and couldn’t do it, they were too similar, and as fun as Swtor was when it came down to a choice I picked Warcraft every single time.

A small change I would like to see, and one that was mentioned as a possibility in the interview, is nameplates. In Warcraft I have enemy nameplates turned on, I like seeing at a glance what health my enemies are, plus where the enemies are. Especially on some of the maps in Marvel Heroes I really long for this feature, it’s hard to see differentiate between them and the ground it’s so dark. It would also make targeting a lot easier, you have to click on mobs for single target. This can be a problem on bosses too, especially world bosses as everybody is piled on them and it’s really difficult to find the boss. It’s a quality of life change, not something I remember seeing in Diablo, but something I really would love to see.

The Little Things
I’m playing Storm – an X-Man. So it would be nice to be acknowledged a bit while I’m in the X-Mansion. Not see things like “If we mutants had more allies like you.” in Professor X’s quest text. Now I know that most games don’t identify what is playing so you get funny little snippets like this. However, if the game is quality, then the little touches all add up to what makes it quality.

In any other game, well in most games at least, people name and customize their own character. That isn’t true in Marvel Heroes as you play as one of the Marvel Heroes, so there is only a very limited range of responses that they would need to code in. The recognition of the variable of the hero being played, any then a variable where an individual response could be inserted. Most of the time generic is fine but on occasions where something specific is called for, as in the given example, it would be a nice touch to make it a more personal response.

When I first wrote this conclusion I ended on quite a negative note. Maybe I’ve been inspired with a little too much hope thanks to the David Brevik interview. Just knowing that they will be doing more with the game makes me feel better about it. However, as it stands right now Marvel Heroes is very much “what might have been”. With the Marvel IP they could have done something really special, they could have made a game to rival any of the big names out there. However, even though I feel hopeful I’m concerned that even if they implemented all the suggestions I’ve made, or better ones, and a few more besides, even if they made it super amazing, it’s likely not going to matter. As Swtor proved, if you have a rocky beginning, you are unlikely to recover. Within a few months Swtor fixed most of the issues that players complained about, but that was too little too late. What players they lost they mostly never regained, and those players were now poisoned against the game, and warned other would-be players away. That’s just my opinion of course, but that’s how the situation appeared to me. Swtor slowly declined, did a botched f2p conversion, and well I don’t really know what it’s status is right now.

I really wanted to love this game. It had both a lead (the Marvel IP) and a poor start (dungeon crawler) with me. However, I gave it a chance, set in the Marvel world, all those familiar faces, being inside my favourite movie, it could have been great. I know everybody is different, and therefore everybody’s perfect game would be different. Sometimes though, and I’m sure that everybody does this, I almost wish I was a game developer myself. I get this urge to show them what I think a good game would be like. Maybe no-one else would like my game, and I’m not a game developer, I don’t have the training or the experience in that field. It’s said that game players actually make bad developers as what we think we want, and what we need, are two different things. That being said I do want to shake Marvel, I want to make them look at the state of the game, I want them to fix it, hopefully they will.

We’ll see where Marvel Heroes stands in a few months time. Only time will tell.