Lego Marvel Heroes

You caught me.  I’m a sucker for Lego and for TellTale games.  Like stupid sucker.  Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings.  Got em.  Finished them all to 100% (on PC or console).  Marvel Heroes is the most recent one.  Steam + Big Screen + logitech controller = super cool.

Doc Oc is going down!

Doc Oc is going down!

First, the roster is pretty amazing.  Other games in the series, you were stretching the character base.  How many Uruk hai variants did you need in LOTRO?  Batman even had some weird ones.  You can’t say that so much here as Marvel is just chocked full of characters to pick from.  Each character has a subset of skills.  Strength, range, magnetic, telepathic, digging (really? Wolverine?) and a bunch of others.  Where past games might have had 6-7 skill sets, it feels like a dozen here but I could be off.  Plus, it’s hard to agree on what a skill set is.  I would think Peter Parker is a smart guy but apparently he’s not.

The game is open world, which is nice.  Sort of like LOTRO.  After the first few missions you can explore a fair bit.  Unlock enough and the world just seems massive compared to previous games.  You still need lego bits to unlock things, gold bricks, canisters and the whole wazoo.  I don’t get tired of these mechanics as the story is pretty interesting.

I like the humor in the games.  Sarcastic and self-effacing.  It knows how to make fun of the source material.  Again, not moving far from the pattern in other games just the particular implementation is rather nice.  “Levels” unfurl in a cool way, since they aren’t scripted to any known canon.  You have as much a chance of seeing Doc Oc in a level as you do Hawkeye or Hulk.  And that’s pretty neat.

The zones themselves are still linear but there are more puzzles and more 3d movement.  It really pays to explore off the beaten path.  I love the exploration and “wow that’s cool” moments in video games and this one does the job. It’s also something you can play for 10 minutes and not worry about lost progress.

If you’ve ever played a Lego game or are looking for a  Marvel Heroes roster that’s near complete, this is a sure fire bet.

Patch Day!

Both Marvel Heroes and Neverwinter are having kitchen sink patches today.  Well, maybe a bit less on the former.

Marvel Heroes, as I’ve mentioned in the past, has some problems with core mechanics and less to do with balancing.  Patch notes try to address a bit of that.  I don’t get why you need to login to see patch notes…  Anyhoot, they are upping the drop rate of heroes and costumes (I’ve seen a total of zero in about 60 hours, even though I’ve played the entire game with +drop gear), fixing some rather large combat bugs and adding more grouping to end-game content.  1) is cool.  2) is badly needed. 3) doesn’t even come close to addressing the problem of longevity.

Remember DCUO when it launched?  Everyone could reach max level in a day or two, then had nothing to do (raids were sort of in but broken).  Well, Marvel Heroes is the same except you’re not at max level.  You can complete all the content in what seems like 5-6 hours and get to level 25 or so.  With a max level of 60, you’re looking at about an extra 100 hours of grinding the same content (about a dozen dungeons) and no rewards from it, because itemization is more or less broken past level 30.  Yay?  There’s a tremendous, massive, gaping lack of incentive to keep playing as there’s no tangible progress.  I don’t change my appearance, I haven’t changed items in over 10 levels (I’m at 37 now), I haven’t had a new skill in 7 levels either.  The most “optimal” run for me right now gives me 5% of a level in about 7 minutes of work.  And I have 23 more levels of this to go.  Eh…there’s just no real carrot.  And honestly, 20$ for another character, which is basically another skin, is crazy pricing.

Neverwinter on the other hand has content a plenty but lacked balance.  This patch is a true kitchen sink.  Grouping is being fixed, threat, class balance, enemy difficulty, bugs, crafting, display… you name it.  I had tried a fair amount of Tier 1/2 dungeons, with friends and random folk.  As a Cleric, I just simply died after 5 seconds of combat due to threat mechanics.  Not only is that changing but the tank class is getting an across the board boost of 35% to threat plus a few more tools.  Maybe the game will actually have a trinity rather than just the current damage/healer paradigm.  If they get it right, I think it could be seen as the standard for F2P games from now on since it’s the only one that I know of that hasn’t been retro-actively made F2P but instead designed that way from the start.  Fingers crossed on this one!

PS.  For those looking for a decent ARPG, free to play, massive amounts of depth and challenge, try Path of Exile.  They are open beta, they are taking money but it feels more like Minecraft open beta than anything else.  I think it’s one of the best ARPGs out there, personally.  Here’s a picture of the skill tree, no joke.

Path of Exile Skill Tree

Path of Exile Skill Tree

Consequences and Challenge

Death in Marvel Heroes is an odd thing.  It happens through mostly lag up until you’re done the main missions, so a lot of people will never really see it – and if they do, people around them have 3 minutes to revive them.  That part makes sense to me.  Neverwinter puts a debuff on you once you get revived that way, the timer is shorter too.

If you play alone however, say in the mission terminals at the end, death is a different beast.  Scaling here reminds me a bit of Rift, where the mechanics of the game prevent you from doing content too far above your level.  3+ and you get an experience, damage intake and damage output penalty, starting at 20%.  You will get 1-shot.  Dying does two things.

First, it brings you back to the last checkpoint.  Sometimes this is the door to the zone, sometimes (like in Castle Doom), it’s invisible markings on the map since the map is so darn big.  Second, if leaves every enemy at the state they were when you died.  Boss at 60% hp when you died?  He will be when you get back.

Doctor Doom last night was 4 levels above me, took 5 minutes to kill and he killed me 8 times.  While I was happy to beat him, there was missing that “perfect run” feel that you get in other ARPGs.  Could I have done him in a clean run?  Maybe not last night due to skill lag but it certainly felt possible.  I remember trying to kill Belial in Diablo 3 for a few days in Inferno.  It was extremely frustrating.  Dying here had a repair cost plus a full reset of the boss himself.  Finally I got lucky and he died and I never wanted to see his face again.  The consequences here were such that I never wanted to play that part again.

I will be trying Doctor Doom again, hoping to improve.  It becomes an analog test with varying degrees of success.  I can improve on that.  Belial on the other hand, I was ready to punch through the screen.  When I beat him, it felt more like a digital switch – either I won or I didn’t.  When I did, I never felt an ounce of challenge in him again nor a desire to even attempt it.

I find it a difficult balance to show people “hey, this is tough but when you get through it’ll be worth it” and “hey this is tough, let’s pull out your hair”.


Filler versus Fuller

I remember in the vanilla version of World of Warcraft, green gear was awesome and each class had a preference for a given set.  You either used Strength, Agility or Intellect for damage and you picked up Stamina if you needed an HP boost.  This made Rogues happy with Monkey (AGI/STA) or Tiger (STR/AGI) gear.  Still, that left over half the combinations sub-optimal and I can’t remember anyone who ever wore a piece of the Boar on purpose.

People would should “but this is green gear, it should be at least useful“.  And their laments were ignored for many a year.  Burning Crusade took a first pass at fixing this making it much more complex but forgiving at the same time.  There simply was no more bad gear for you, simply sub-optimal.  MMOs since then have learned this lesson.  Rift, GW2, Neverwinter all have a logical set of stats on gear.  If it isn’t clearly marked as vendor trash, it should be useful.

Blizzard also learned something from this when they launched Diablo 3, since all the stats were harmonized.  You just couldn’t equip a piece of gear with stats that made you bad (say strength on a Wizard piece).  And the world rejoiced!  Well, when they could log in that is.

And now we get to the meat of it all, Marvel Heroes.  I finished the last boss, Doctor Doom at about level 25 (of 60).  You replay individual missions past that – sort of. It’s a long slog.  Anyways, the gear issue.

There are certain types of bonuses on gear, right?  You can have offensive stats, defensive stats and power stats.  Offensive you have simple +damage, crit and attack speed.  There are others but those are the only ones that really count.  Offensive stats are cool and mostly practical.  Some skills don’t crit and +damage works weird with some skills but that’s tweaking.

Defensively you have dodge, defense and health regeneration.  Defense is broken after you finish the main quest line, it caps at a numerical number rather than a % number.  So you block 1000 damage let’s say but the enemy does more and more each time, like 5000 on one boss attack.  Right now, defensive stats other than dodge are pretty useless.

Power stats are the really cool part.  Just like Diablo 2, you can get power boosts – like +2 fireball – or you can get power tree boosts – like 5% attack speed for fire tree.  Some stats only work until a certain rank, others add to your existing rank.  Some trees have no attacks, which makes bonuses to those trees, other than a flat +1, useless.  In the end, you’ll be aiming for 2-3 powers being boosted and the rest sort of falls into place.

All this combined to say that gear can have a lot of variables on it.  Unfortunately, due to balancing/design, some of these stat groups are useless.  100 defense + 5% attack speed to a passive tree are examples.  It’s not that they are sub-optimal, it’s that they provide no bonus at all and are more or less the same as not wearing any gear in the first place.

While the game officially launched a few days ago, there is still missing what I call a “final beta balance patch”.  Neverwinter is also missing this but they have recently posted that a a “kitchen sink” patch for their open beta is forthcoming.

Marvel Heroes is fun.  Still, it is in dire need of a core systems patch to make their “end game” viable.

Marvel Heroes – First Impressions

This post is brought to you by Marvel Heroes and the illusion of depth.  (That’s a pretty good pitch.)

The whole jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none concept shows up when I played Marvel Heroes.  I paid the $20 for 2 day early access and a different character, Rocket Raccoon.  I’m not one for day 1 access, as I have yet to see a single game launch smoothly (GW2 and Rift come close though).  For sake of argument, day 1 was last Wednesday and it has been a “soft” launch of sorts readying for the 4th.

Marvel Heroes is an action RPG but more of the loot piñata variety, akin to Diablo and Torchlight.  In contrast, DCUO and Neverwinter are clearly RPG MMOs with action elements.  Given my play schedule, as much as I love the second type, I really only have the time for the first one.  Looking at Steam, I have way too many hours into Torchlight 2, which turned into my go-to game after the D3 shenanigans.  I like the concept of random dungeons, random loot and comparing gear for a slight advantage.  I had 3 Outlanders, just to try out different builds.  A glaive build might need a wholely different stat, talent and gear spec than a poison build.  I did the same in D2.  D3, well you didn’t need a new character what with the slotting and the way gear worked, you couldn’t swap anyways.

Back to Marvel.  You get a choice of 1 of 5 characters to start, and they give you another free one (random) after 15 minutes of play.  After that point, any character you want has to be either purchased with cash or found as a super-mega-rare drop.  And the drops are player bound, so no 3rd parties farming here.  From a cash-stop perspective, I get that.  You’re essentially given access to all the content, for free, with 2 character options.

Here’s what you get in the game right now.  You get a single Act with 8 chapters (+prologue), enough to get you to level 30.  Once you finish those 8 chapters, you run daily/group quests for the remainder at a massively reduced experience rate.  This is very similar to Diablo 2’s end game I suppose.  You get a form of gambling with the crafting system (which requires materials).  This is more or less Path of Exile’s crafting system – which I think is awesome.  You get 1 weapon slot and 3 gear slots.  These have traditional stats but also can boost your powers.  These are reasonable stats too, where an item 10 levels above isn’t necessarily better.  So the complete opposite of Diablo3.  You get costumes to change appears.  Medals that provide a passive boost (more damage, stuns, etc…) that drop from bosses and 2 artifact slots that provide passive boosts as well but scale with level.  I have one that increased ranged damage by 30% (which is crazy powerful if you think about it).  That content is good.  It’s free too, so that’s a great deal.  There’s no real “end-game” but there never really has been in ARPGs loot piñatas.  D3 and Torchlight 2 have tried (I rather like T2’s map works and replays).

You end up with a rather linear path of progression that is identical for every future character.  Gear upgrades become the way forward.

On to heroes.  There are currently 22 characters, each with 3 “talent trees”.  I’d love to say there was some depth in those trees but I’d be lying – 5 or 6 choices per tree.  I’d also be lying if I said there was some semblance of balance within a character or between them.  Some skills are drastically superior to others and some other skills seem to do nothing at all.  If I said you could deploy a turret to assist in fighting, the default answer is “cool, a bit more DPS”.  In actual fact, that turret is more like a tank since it fires once every 2 seconds, can’t track a moving target (everything is moving) and somehow manages to taunt enemies.  Captain America, for those who bought him earlier since he’s “sold out” now, is a one person wrecking ball AND tank.  It makes it less fun to be in an area or in a group and you realize that your character is drastically underpowered/overwhelmed while other characters are breezing through.  I thought we were all super heroes?

The irony of all this is that even with the shortcomings, the game is fun.  It might be immersion breaking to see 4 Hulks on screen but it sure as hell is fun to see them all jumping on Venom.  It’s fun turning a corner and going “12 guys there, what to do?  Charge!”  It’s fun comparing two pieces of gear, with completely different stats to see which style best fits me.  The designer in me is screaming “why did you make this system work this way” and the gamer in me is screaming “I love that you made this system this way”.

I think I’m screwed.

Marvel Heroes – What Early Access?

You may or may not have heard that Marvel Heroes is coming out soon.  June 4th is the launch date.  Live.  Similar to what Neverwinter did, there are founder’s packs available.  $200 gets you every character, a few bucks in game and access 7 days early.  More on that in a bit.  $60 gives you 5 characters, less bucks and 4 days head start.  $20 gets you 1 character, pennies and 2 days head start.

A lot of people harp on Neverwinter since it’s in open beta and not truly “launched”, even though it’s taking in money.  The advantage to this model is that you can take down the servers daily to patch things up – which they are still doing.  The first few days were a mess but now, the game is quite playable.

Marvel Heroes on the other hand…they’ve been up a total of maybe 20 hours out of 72?  They are down right now and have been extending the downtime since 6AM this morning. When you promise access to a “launched” game on a specific date and are unable to deliver, this causes problems.  People, for some weird reason, take time off work and other duties on launch day to play the game like maniacs.  It’s pretty textbook OCD if you ask me but hey, to each their own.  When you say you’ll do something for money and then YOU DON’T, then there are going to be issues.

This reminds me of when UO launched and the servers were horrible to start.  There was plenty of downtime and for a few years, daily maintenance.  The box the game came in said 24 hours available, so out came the lawsuits.  EULA’s since then prevent that from happening.  That being said, today word of mouth is much more deadly than a lawsuit.  If the vibe out of the gate is negative, the game is going to tank hard.  RIFT has a positive beta and (ok) launch, did great for a long time. DCUO did not and tanked.  TOR isn’t much different here.

Maybe from this point forward there is no early access.  Maybe it follows Diablo 3’s concept of staggered entries (which itself had bad PR due to length).  Maybe you just soft launch and if people want to buy founder’s pack, sell them non time-sensitive features.  It’s obviously harder from a buy-to-play perspective, but in the F2P model, soft launch the crap out of a service to make sure there’s quality.

Launch day can break a company.  It’s impressive that companies are still repeating the same mistakes from 15 years ago today.