My Take on Marvel Heroes

I signed for the beta test of Marvel Heroes a long time ago, so long that I completely forgot about it. When I received an email confirming that I was in the closed beta, I surely thought I could give it a go. While creating my account, I saw that I had to “sign” a NDA. Although I hate the idea of such thing (and I did complain a lot on Twitter about it), I decided to follow it as it should.

But, yesterday, the news that the NDA had been lifted hit the web, which means I can give my impressions of the game.

What’s “Marvel Heroes”, anyway?

For those unaware, Marvel Heroes is an MMOARPG. It’s basically a Diablo game where you can find other people roaming around on the maps.

There are closed sections, much like dungeons in other MMORPGs, in which you (or your group) have your own instance.

Before Getting There

Before you get into the game, you have to deal with the launcher. The launcher was showing the beta even timers in my local timezone. No need to keep converting timezones back and forth, which was something that really impressed me.

The launcher also uses the same “streaming” feature WoW uses: You can join the game as soon as you have the map downloaded. So even before I had the first zone map, I could already join the game and play around.

On the other hand, the launcher and intro for the game shows one of my greatest gripes with the current generation of games: lots and lots of intros. So you have the launcher, and you have to pick “Launch” to finally get into the game. After that, you see the Marvel Heroes splash screen while the game loads; then, when the game finally launchers (which takes about 20 seconds on my really slow 5400 RPM disc) you’re greeted with the Marvel intro (pretty much the intro we see in every Marvel movie these days); then you have the Unreal Engine intro; then you have the Gazilion intro (the company behind the game); then you have the Marvel Heroes intro; then you finally have the option to log in (which still requires you to type your password, without an option to remember it). Does it show only one time? Nope, every single time you launch the game you have to continuously skip those intros before you can finally play the game.

Sure, sure, you can at least skip all those, but it doesn’t mean it’s satisfying having to continuously click so you can finally play the game.

The only issue I had the launcher — which I truly believe it’s a beta issue — is that on every launch it tried to download and install DirectX 9. It doesn’t seem to check if it’s installed or not, it simply calls the DX9 installer on the background before letting you launch the game. Again, it seems a simple beta issue and not really a game breaker.

It’s Your First Time

As soon as you log in, the game let you chose your hero. There is a couple of the “lesser” heroes: Daredevil, Storm, Thing, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. I’m calling “lesser” ’cause, even if they are interesting heroes, which curious stories and powers, they are not in the mainstream media this points. Other heroes can be unlocked with a special currency — which, at this point, I don’t know if it’s something you can only buy with real money or convert some in-game currency “credits” to this.

And then there is the “Founder” program. It’s basically a “give us money NOW and we promise some cool stuff later”. It’s common these days, but I really don’t like it. The reason is simple: You have a less stellar cast as default; if you decide to fork $20, you can get one of the starter packs, which comes with a single hero and some skins (plus in game currency and other stuff). The problem here is that, again, the Starter Pack doesn’t come with the heroes in mainstream media these days: Black Panther, Black Widow, Cable, Colossus, Cyclops, Human Torch, Jean Grey, Ms. Marvel, Punisher and Rocket Raccoon (which seems to be thrown there due the fact that there is an upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie). For the heroes that are now all around, you’ll have to go down with $60, which seems a bit too high in my opinion, but then you can get Wolverine, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Spiderman, some of those together, some of those in their own packs with all the skins. Some packs even include heroes from other packs — for example, Iron Man appears in 3 different packs, including one that have only Ironman and all his skins — and there is no information what would happen if you buy a pack with an hero that you already unlocked. Do you get the money as in-game current? More skins? Nothing?

On top of those, there is the “Ultimate Pack” with all heroes and skins, in the absurd price of $200. I mean, seriously? $200 for 22 characters?

Ok, ok, maybe it’s not that absurd if the game is worth that much. I’ll get there.

The issue I found the store is that the in game store does not check if you already bought the character before letting you buy the skins. Beta testers got some currency for testing purposes and I happily used it all in skins ’cause I had the initial impression that I was, actually, unlocking the character and the skin at the same time. Again, beta things.

Getting Down to It

So you pick a character and then you’re throw in the tutorial level. And I say “tutorial” very loosely here, as there is very little tutorialling: You’re basically throw in a very narrow corridor level, very little options of which path to take and you simply click your way around.

Clicking seems to have taken a lot of consideration in the game: 2 hours of gameplay and I barely can use my right hand for anything, due the amount of clicking I did. Yes, I know Diablo 1 was pretty much this, but Diablo 2 fixed this with a more fluid gameplay. Sure, you could still spam-click to victory, but if you played smart, it was just a matter of two or three clicks most of the time and then click-and-hold. Clicking and holding, in Marvel Heroes, is basically broken: In one of the boss fights, when I tried to click and hold, my character started attacking and then simply stood there, looking the boss in the face, doing absolutely nothing; another time, a mob decided to run away, in which my hero run to the position I clicked and then stop following the mob.

Mob variety is, to be completely honest, atrocious. You basically see only 2 types of enemies all the time. Some are melee, some are using guns, some are using energy weapons but they all share the same 2 skins. And after the tutorial, they will spawn like you suddenly walked inside a beehive just a few minutes before the bees start their way back.

But let me return to the tutorial to talk about what happens after it: you move to the Avenger’s Tower, which is the first player hub you’ll find. There, you finally get a glimpse of the “MMO” part of the game: lots and lots of people going around. There, you’ll find vendors, crafting “vendor” and some special characters to talk with.

After running around, you’ll get the first real mission. If you waited for the game to download or the background streaming got the map, you’ll be able to move to the larger zone. And I think this is, again, where the “MMO” part shows up: Instead of being a huge instance for yourself, you see other people moving around, doing missions and trying to find their targets.

As I mentioned, you have “instantiated” zones, like dungeons, which your main mission is around. So you don’t need to worry about someone sniping your target or having to wait till the boss spawns again: It’s your zone and nobody else can get there to mess with your target (unless they are in your party, that is).

The problem here is the extremes the world and the instances go: While the instances are, mostly, corridors with very little choice, the world is incredible large with very little direction about it. So you simply walk around, trying to move to a place where an arrow with a “?” in it will point to one of your missions. And this gets really frustrating ’cause, as I said before, you will have 2 types of enemies in the screen. So you aimlessly walk around, fight the same stuff over and over again, till you finally stumble upon your target. I found it hard to find it fun: It’s boring, it’s tiring, it’s too damn close to a grind and it’s annoying that you never know where to go. Diablo 2 used some clever map designs to appear huge while still giving you some direction (mostly, you had a main “path” to give you a direction); Marvel Heroes provides very little direction in the world, which basically is a large square with some obstacles around, which also looks the same: Are you in metropolitan area? Prepare to see lots and lots of buildings, cars, bus stops and trash, all “throw” around. Are you in the night club zone? Lots and lots of club entrances, with bouncers in the front, all looking exactly like the other. If there was, at least, some indication of something bigger in some point — like, for example, indications of a highway in the distance, and some quest that mentioned a highway — you could at least have a sense of direction. But not here, you could be pretty much going towards the highway or towards the red light district, with very little indication around of doing it so.

While trying to have a purpose on life and with the hopes that you will, somehow, find the damn villain hideout, you may find some small events and some large events. Small events are, basically, events that you complete alone, like saving some guy from tugs. The problem with those is that you have no idea you’re in the middle of one till you complete it: You get some “XP orbs” and, in the middle of the XP notices going up, you get the message that you completed some event. There is absolutely no indication at all that there is an event nearby or that you’re in one — or, better yet, what you need to do to complete it.

Large events require groups to complete and you’ll get stomped to death if you try to solo them (or so it seems). Events like those include fighting Venon and Rhino. Those fights are pretty close to instance bosses: They have some red indicators of places you don’t want to be and you use your powers to fight them. The problem is that most fights are, basically, “stay out of red things”. And, sometimes, not even that. In one Venon fight, I simply gave up trying to come with something smart and decided to keep my left mouse button pressed on top of the boss, using my shield ability when out of cooldown and drinking health potions when they were also out of cooldown. I won, but with no feeling of accomplishment whatsoever.

Staying out of red stuff may also be hard sometimes. In the Rhino fight, he’ll do a charge in one direction which will basically kill your health pool in one shot. Fortunately, he will show which direction he’ll charge with some red arrows in the ground… which you hopefully will be able to see if there is only 3 people. More than that and the sparkling effects going around will completely hide it and you’ll have no idea which direction Rhino will charge and kill you if you’re not paying attention. Yes, it’s a problem with every MMO these days but just because every MMO have this problem it doesn’t mean it’s ok, specially in a new title with a new perspective.

You can resurrect other players, but there is no reward in doing it so — and, again, no explanation about it whatsoever. They simply appear with a purple skull over their heads and that’s it. If you click, you’ll start a resurrect process, which shows as a progress bar; once you fill this progress bar, the other player may chose to accept the resurrection or return to the previous waypoint. If you’re hit mid resurrection, the progress bar will stop and you’ll have to start over.

Being resurrected is… weird. When you lose all your health, a popup will appear in the middle of the screen — basically, over your character — and you have an option to return to the previous waypoint or wait 3 minutes till someone resurrects you. The problem is that, as I said, the popup appears in the middle of the screen, over your character, covering any action happening with you. And, if someone starts resurrecting you, you get no notification at all. So either you sit there, with your arms crossed for 3 minutes waiting for someone to res you or you bite the bullet and return to the last waypoint.

Vendors and Crafting

As I mentioned, there are vendors in the main base. You can also find those spread around the map, so you can get rid of those materials you have no use — like, for example, some fantastic shield for Captain America, a character you don’t have yet. Besides vendoring and getting credits, vendors can also sell you stuff and you can request a “refresh” on their wares, in case they have nothing interesting. On top of that, instead of selling stuff for credits, you can “give” the vendor an item, increasing their level. On my time playing, I didn’t manage to make any vendor go above level 1 (but, then again, I tried to level 2 different vendors instead of focusing in just one; also, then again, I had my inventory completely full more than once during my gameplay).

There is also a crafting system but, at first glance, it seems someone said “this can’t be a MMO without a crafting system” and someone cooked something in about 2 hours. Basically, mobs will drop some special crafting materials (like “Pym Particles”) and you use those to craft potions or med-kits. As with vendors, you can also give items to the crafting person, in order to increase their level. That’s probably when things get interesting, like being able to craft some massive armor for your character but, as I said, during my playtime, I didn’t manage to bring any vendor to level 2, including the crafting vendor.

Also, I didn’t found any way to “break” items I didn’t want into basic materials.

Skins and Your Progression

Items can have 4 levels: White items are normal, green items have some better stats, blue items are better and purple items are legendary. Yup, pretty much the same level distinction every other MMO use.

If I had to describe one of the problems with the game progression, I’d use this phrase that appeared in the map chat:

[Person] Do any of you Wolverines want a blue mask?

This is the problem with the “we sell skins” mentality: Because you profit will come from selling skins, you can’t simply give skins/appearance straight away. So all Wolverines, which are using the default skin, will all look the same, no matter if they are a level 100 with all purple items or a level 1 wearing no items at all. And this can be frustrating as hell for most people.

Diablo 2 solved the skin problem (which Diablo 1 also had, in a very small scale) by showing, on top of your character, an “icon” version of the item: Do your helm looks like a skull? So your character will look like he has a skull as helmet. You could see when your character was wielding a sword or a staff. But Marvel Heroes? Every hero have their own weapon and they will always wield the same weapon.

Not much for being that unique snowflake, isn’t it?

What You See Is What You Get

Besides the problem with the resurrection popup, the interface is too damn busy: You have a health orb, a “spirit” orb, two buttons near each one of those — one for your left mouse button and another for your right mouse button — and 6 other buttons in between, using the main area of the bottom of your screen. Three small buttons appear in the left side and another 3 on the right. A minimap appears on the top right corner. And some controls appear on the top left corner. And, around the orbs, trails appear, to give that “this is a printed circuit” feel.

Maybe it’s hard to describe without a proper screenshot, but you can guess that the screen is busy as hell. A lot of those controls could be hidden into the main toolbar, the “circuit” thing could be removed, to give a more “focus on the game, not its interface”.

Conclusion

I can’t say the game is bad, but I can surely say it’s not great. Basically, I played for 2-3 hours this weekend and I can say I had enough of it. Sure, sure, it’s beta and such, but it seems there is a lot to work before the real launch at June 4th: The maps really need to be redone, to give that distinct direction Diablo had instead of being large grids with some trash thrown around; the bosses need to be revised to not simply be “the boss stay there, he’ll do something with a red circle/arrow around, move around”; animations need to be reviewed to be more fluid. And, somehow, your progress need to be shown so you don’t look like every freaking Wolverine in the map.

So, answering the question I dropped somewhere: Is $200 worth in this game? And my answer is: At this time, in this beta, the answer is very clear “No”. If I could buy 3 heroes — ANY 3 heroes –, maybe each with 1 or 2 skins, for $20, I’d say “go for it, it’s an ok diablo”. But with hero restrictions in packs and mainstream heroes going for about $60… it’s hard to say “enjoy it”, unless you’re a super Marvel fan or have a hipster taste and only enjoy heroes that are out of the mainstream media.

PS: If I find the motivation, I’ll install FRAPS and try to capture some screenshots.

PPS: Here are the notes I wrote while playing the game:

  1. Animations seem a bit slow
  2. After beating green globin, no idea what to do (too used with the waypoint thingy)
  3. Why can I use “a” if I got my first new skill?
  4. Leveling seems a bit slow. Starting game is really boring wit just left+right click.
  5. Can’t walk through the door to talk to Fury. Had to click on it.
  6. Store: do not allow buying skins without having e hero unlocked before.
  7. Managed to “drag” a barrel around, when trying to throw it in a chasm.
  8. Scripted parts unaware of everything going on (got a message about “in the right place” for Electro after beating him)
  9. No idea I was doing quests/events till I got a bunch of xp orbs and saw a quick message about it.
  10. Strong contrast between corridor sections and open world sections. Feels like two completely different games.
  11. Tried to install directx again next day.
  12. Map discovery not saving during sessions.
  13. Jersey docks is barely playable. One more person in the screen and the game craps itself into the single digit FPS.
  14. Splash, marvel intro, unreal intro, gazillions intro, marvel heroes intro
  15. Voices, voices, voices.
  16. “Any of you wolverines want a blue hood?”
  17. Mob variety is a joke
  18. Bosses are really uninteresting

About those:

2. That’s one thing that pissed my off right out of the bat: There was this door, I walked to the door and nothing happened. I did the whole map again, trying to find out where the heck I could find Fury to complete the level. About 20 minutes in and I finally figured out that I had to click the door, not go through it. Again, it is a missing point in the tutorial level.

3. Another missing thing in the tutorial: Near the end of the level, I got a level and unlocked a new skill. Quickly thinking, I clicked the “A” skill button, much like I did with the left/right mouse buttons… erm… “buttons”. Nothing happened. I got a message, way later in the game, that you had to drag the skill from the talent window to the skill bar. It’s really weird that you have the same looking buttons behaving in complete different ways — and no tutorial pointing that out.

13. I’ll admit that my laptop is barely in the minimal configuration zone. Either there was some missing optimizations going there or the minimal specs needs to be bumped out before release.

15. This is something I didn’t mention in the review: Your hero will, sometimes, talk to another hero nearby. For example, Daredevil will say “I don’t like your methods, Punisher, but I’ll admit they work” if there is a Punisher around or “Shut up Deadpool, just… Shut up!”. It’s interesting in the very first times, but after you keep bumping into Deadpool in the large map and your hero keep saying the same line over and over again, it gets really annoying. By the end of my 2 hour play, I wanted to punch Daredevil in the mouth, so he would stop saying that same lines.

Path of Exile, Early Review

I think I should name this “Super Early Review” instead, as Path of Exile is still in beta and I played it for only one hour (reaching the 3rd waypoint of the first act). And, so far, I have only one thing to say: WOW! But let me expand that.

Don’t Cross the Streams

Before going into the game, let me clear some misconceptions that are floating around: Path of Exile is not a Diablo clone. Sure, both are action RPGs, but that’s were the similarities end.

The graphical style is much closer to Titan Quest than Diablo (any Diablo).

There is huge selection of skills and they are all passive. Obviously, this is not Diablo 2 or 3.

Thinking this was a Diablo clone actually hurt my gameplay. But I’ll get there.

Remember Your Colors

The first thing you must learn about Path of Exile is that there are three basic stats, each one identified by a different color: Strength is red, Intelligence is blue and Dexterity is green. This is important ’cause the colors will guide and follow you around the game, from your skills, to spells, to your class. For example, a Marauder is a pure strength character, much like you would expect of other games call a Warrior. There are “mongrel” classes, which mix different stats, like the Templar, which uses Strength and Intelligence.

For me, this is a blessing. I’m a “melee with spells” kinda of guy, so picking a class was damn easy: Templar. No more “Oh, do I want to play as a Paladin or a Druid? What’s the difference?”. You like casters, you pick the Witch, which is a pure Intelligence class; you like a ranger class, you pick the pure dexterity class, Ranger; you like to go fast into melee, you pick the Duelist, which is the mixed dexterity and strength class (although I must say it’s not that obvious at first).

But everything will revolve around those 3 colors.

Skills

The thing that made me look at Path of Exile with interest was the huge skill tree. Or, should I say, trees.

The trees follow the basic stats: One spreads through the Strength line, another through the Dexterity and another though Intelligence. And you have the mongrel trees.

There is nothing stopping you into picking, for example, Dexterity for your Templar, but that also doesn’t make sense.

And all skills are passive. All of them. You get skills like “+10 Strength” or “Increase melee damage in 6%” — and you get those more than once sometimes, as you can’t put more points in the same skill. There is no skill that will give you a spell.

Spells

With all skills being passive, were the spells come from? I found that in the hardest possible way.

You see, everything have a socket in the game. Ok, almost everything, potions don’t. But every single piece of gear have it. And I was, ingenuously, thinking that the spell was attached to the socket combination or that sockets and gems worked like they work in Diablo. But the spells are, actually, the gems you get after completing missions (or maybe you can buy them later but, again, I only reached the 3rd waypoint).

And sockets and gems come in 3 colors: Red for Strength-based spells, Blue for Intelligence-based spells and, obviously, Green for Dexterity spells. So, for a Marauder, a piece of gear with only blue sockets is almost useless, even with better stats. Almost ’cause you can get Chromatic Orbs, which will re-roll the colors of the sockets in the piece.

This causes a weird rush for gear: Not only you want gear with the higher stats, but you also want the gear with the right sockets to hold your gems/spells.

Potions

As any classic ARPG, there are potions. But, again, Grinding Gear Games, the creators of Path of Exile, decided to change the way they work. In a good way.

You can find potions scattered all around the world. They come in two different forms: Health potions and Mana potions. So far, it’s the same, right?

The difference is that the potions you use do not simply go away after consume — or get completely consumed, by the way. What you get are actually vials (vial of health and vial of mana). When you need health, you drink a vial partially: On my templar, using a minor vial of health would consume half of it; a medium vial of health, about 1/3.

But that’s not were the differences stop: After each killed enemy, the vial would regain a bit of content. Again, half minor vial of health would require about 5 or 6 enemies to go full again.

Not only that, but Vials also have special stats: My medium vial, besides healing more and holding more, also increased the speed my health regenerated after drinking and reduced stun duration after drinking.

Basically, Vials turned the common health potions into another piece of gear — sans socket.

Casting Spells

Some ARPGs decided to use a single bar for spells and potions. Some ARPGs decided to go away with potions completely, so you cast bar is simply your spells. Path of Exile have two bars: One for potions and one for spells.

The potions bar is accessed pressing 1 to 5. The spells bar is accessed pressing Q to T. This way, your hand is always in the same position and everything is readily accessible. There are also binds for right button, left button and middle button, all for spells.

Everything else

There are a couple of small things that are worth mentioning:

Hovering your mouse over an item in the ground will display all details of the item. This is nice for quickly deciding if you want to take the item or not.

Also, you have a stash, which is shared between all your characters. And it’s huge.

Currently, because it’s beta, there is no way to sell your items yet. You can buy items, but there isn’t an unified currency in the game yet. You see, currently the vendors are requesting the small items that may be useful to you in other ways, like the Scroll of Wisdom (which identifies items).

That kind of mixture between useful, small items and purchases makes the game really interesting. Should I use this and identify that item or should I keep it to buy better gear?

Conclusion

There is no way I can’t root for the guys of Grinding Gear. While other companies are dumbing down their games, making skill trees so simple you can be wrong in any turn, those guys come with a game that will completely wreak you apart with doubt. “Should I pick this skill or that skill?”, “Should I identify this item or use the scroll to buy a new item?”, “Should I reroll the colors of my gear or should I use it the way it is?” are some of the questions you’ll be asking yourself all the time. And that’s good! Nobody likes a game that takes your hand and show you what you need to do, but there is this bad idea that developers can take away every single decision point in the game and that’s ok ’cause the game is not “holding your hand” — when the game is actually putting things in front of you so you don’t realize that they are not just holding your hand, they are holding both hands, your shoulders and your head and pointing you exactly where they want you to go.

On that hour of gameplay, I didn’t notice any glaring bugs or inconsistencies. The game wasn’t so hard I died every minute or so easy I was steamrolling everything. The only thing I would like to see is a minimap option, as the map currently covers all the screen. But, then again, it’s a personal preference and I can work fine with the overlay map.

Then again, I only played in the starting zone, which probably was checked and rechecked and re-rechecked over and over again by previous beta testers.

Even if the game runs fine right now, I bet this is not a good time to release the game. With Skyrim just out of the doors, every single RPG aficionado is playing this game and releasing it right now would only be shadowed. And this is a game that doesn’t deserve be in the shadow of any other game. After I complete my current plans for my HoM points, this will probably be my time sink till Guild Wars 2 is released. And then, maybe after that too.