“It’s not uncommon to say we didn’t have a super-stellar launch” was one of the first things Gazillion Community Manager Ryan Collins told me during our Marvel Heroes play session on Thorsday. (No, that’s not a typo.) Since its June launch, the team’s been working nonstop to improve the game experience and make it more enjoyable – and more affordable – for players.
“We’re patching every week, adding tons of new features, one or two characters per month, new game modes, new story content,” Ryan said as we explored some of the newer areas and game modes. “We’ve redone pretty much every system relating to heroes’ damage and defense.” There are new powers to be gained past level 30 – a big sticking point upon the initial launch, where heroes didn’t gain any power during the climb from 30 to 60 – and the most recent update added a new way to add power to existing items through the addition of Norse Runewords.
Runewords drop like any other loot, but Gazillion has fun with the drop rates. As the days of our week are mostly named after Norse gods – Odin’s/Wodan’s Day (Wednesday), Thor’s Day (Thursday), Freja’s Day (Friday), etc. – Runewords related to those gods drop more frequently on those days. Also, to commemorate Australia Day on Jan. 26, the devs boosted boss villain Pyro, a native of Sydney, but also buffed his loot. It’s little touches like this that will make comics fans smile.
But even if you’re not so hardcore as to know Pyro’s birthplace, there’s lots to do in Marvel Heroes. We tried out some of the game modes that have been added since the game’s launch and had a blast.
Terminals. Ryan mentioned something about the Cosmic Cube and dimension-hopping… all I could tell was that Terminals were a kind of brief procedurally generated instance that led to a boss battle. Simple and easy – unless you scale up the difficulty – and a good way to kill 10 minutes or so and get some loot.
Midtown Patrol. Midtown Patrol is what Ryan called “casual random play.” You can exit Avengers Tower and run around in an open zone in midtown Manhattan where pretty much anything happens at any time. To prove that point, as Ryan was trying to explain to me something on a subscreen, a Sentinel rudely touched down right on top of me, necessitating a quick window closure and subsequent beatdown. You’ll encounter other players and minions and bosses from all parts of the game, and get random quests you can fulfill for even more loot. It’s easy to see how you could get distracted to the point of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
X-Defense. Enemies are storming the X-Mansion, and it’s up to you and your group of five players to defend the students! It’s your fairly typical “horde mode” gameplay, with 30 waves of enemies and ascending difficulty and rewards. I think we got to level 15 or 16 before the last of the students were taken. Not bad for a team that had to carry a derpy Gambit player like me.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Holo-Sim. Going live today, the S.H.I.E.L.D. Holo-Sim is another new content type. As Ryan described it to me, it sounds like a miniature version of the X-Mansion for one or two players. You’ll fight “crazy waves of enemies,” including a boss version of the Hulk or Venom.
All of these instances are “level banded,” meaning that players close in level can play together and be adjusted so as to be on par with each other. You can’t take a level 60 and a level 40 and expect them to play nice, but 39 and 44, for instance, will be fine. There’s more in the works, naturally, including a PvP mode that’s in beta, a Bronx Zoo-based instance filled with vicious, “lizard-ified” animals, and a full-on raid, which Ryan was loath to commit to a date other than “in the next few months.” Next time, I’ll have to use Cerebro to aggressively scan his mind.
In addition to the new content modes and the usual bug fixes, there are more starter heroes now, nine in total, and it’s easier to get the heroes people want. Instead of random drops of hero tokens – a major bone of contention at the game’s launch – players get Eternity Tokens, which they can turn in to “purchase” the hero of their choosing.
ARPGs are notorious for their “million clicks a minute” gameplay, and when you have multiple players batting hordes of enemies, it only gets worse. My only real gripe while playing was that it was hard at times to distinguish friend from foe when there are non-hostile NPCs around, like the X-Mansion students. You can’t hurt them, but with all the powers and effects going off, the screen can get overcrowded and gameplay feels more spammy than strategic. Ryan told me that’s something they’re working on. “Everything we do, we’ve been doing in response to the fans.”
Still, if you haven’t given Marvel Heroes much of a look since its launch, now might be a good time to jump back in. It won’t match Path of Exile for complexity, but for the casual ARPGer who also likes superheroes, there’s plenty to do, and more is on the way. The dev team seems dedicated to listening to player feedback and improving the game based upon it, and if my time with Ryan was any indication, they have fun doing it.
By Jason Winter