Firefall Beta Review: First 48 Hours

MMO gaming has been stagnant for quite some years, thanks to Blizzard’s seemingly domination from MMORPG to ARPG. Every time a new MMO game is announced, there is this hope that someone somewhere just may innovate and do something different. I have joined beta launches from Guild Wars 2 to Marvel Heroes, Neverwinter to now Firefall. The free-to-play (F2P) model looks to mature into a viable one. I am a reasonable player. If the game is fun and I spend considerable amount of time with it (like 40+ hours), I am happy to contribute to the development cost. Firefall is an interesting find. It has the potential even at this early stage of beta. I am finding it insanely addictive. Can the ex-team leader of World of Warcraft now the founder of Red5 Studio recreate the magic once again?

After trying out a few of the battleframes, I have decided to go with Dreadnaught, which is more or less a tanking class.
After trying out a few of the battleframes, I have decided to go with Dreadnaught, which is more or less a tanking class.

What Is Firefall?

It is a F2P shooter MMO set in a sci-fi backdrop. The music and some of the elements remind me of Mass Effect. You can toggle between first person shoot and third person shoot. Shortly after you have started the game, the first thing you notice is that the entire map is like a war zone. Hubs (or bases) are constantly being invaded by the Chosen. Tornados appear from nowhere ripping everything apart. I seem to be fighting the Chosen all the time but for what? I have no idea. Random events appear all around me. I feel obliged to help driving away the enemies and to donate my resonators for the hub upgrade. I travel afar to link up SIN Towers (really begin to sounds like Ingress). The land area I can venture into is constantly shifting depends on the outcome of the conflict. Something sinister is at work, if only I know what true evil is.

Players collaborate on the fly to tackle group missions. There is no mob tagging in Firefall. You hit with a single bullet, you get the XP and the loots.
Players collaborate on the fly to tackle group missions. There is no mob tagging in Firefall. You hit with a single bullet, you get the XP and the loots.

Wait, What Is Happening?

Even as a MMO veteran, when you first join Firefall, it is likely that you have no clue on what you are doing, where you are heading to. It doesn’t frustrate though because once you pay attention to the right information, learn the rope through exploration, making mistakes, or simply ask around, you shall get the hang of it in no time. Dropping into water could be fatal. Letting a thumper – a tool to gather resources in the open area – destroyed by the mobs and you would have to build a brand new one again. You see drop ships flying around and guess that there must be a better way to go from one Hub to another. Die too many times and your gears may be beyond repair. Your team fail to halt the incursion and all of a suddenly, everyone perishes as the melding floods over the hub. It is this level of exploration and learning by observation that I found refreshing in Firefall.

Drop ships are wonderful way to travel in New Eden. It is like a bus service. Each drop ship has a list of destinations. You hop in and then you hop out. Simple as that.
Drop ships are wonderful way to travel in New Eden. It is like a bus service. Each drop ship has a list of destinations. You hop in and then you hop out. Simple as that.

Oh Man, That’s Hard!

You know how it is like when you play recent MMO games whereby your characters just don’t die often, if at all. Everything seems too easy. While I am not an expert in shooter games, I have much experienced in Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer. I play Saint Rows 3 too. Firefall is much harder than most F2P MMO games. You may be able to solo some of the missions. However, it is much better when you are grouped or simply follow the crowd. Even so, on any given day, however much I have invested into gear upgrade or learned the maps by heart, my character would die due to all sort of bizarre circumstances such as someone kills a mob that explodes onto my face, someone has made a mistake in diffusing the energy bomb and killed everyone in proximity, or someone has detonate an objective literally behind my back. Or most of the time, I was overwhelmed by the enemies.

As you upgrade your gears, you would find that some gears are not repairable. Others have a constraint on how many times they can be repaired. Because crafting can be expensive, there is a price to pay every time you are defeated.

These are my real life buddies Mark and Melvin. We often group with one another to take down missions. They are shooter veterans. Even they think Firefall is hard.
These are my real life buddies Mark and Melvin. We often group with one another to take down missions. They are shooter veterans. Even they think Firefall is hard.

Has Someone Called A Thumper?

In most MMO games, resource gathering and crafting is one of the core experiences. Firefall is no difference. I usually dislike these mini-games. However, there is something special about how these activities are implemented in Firefall. There are three groups of resources in this game: material, gas, and organic. Within each type of resource, say material, there are a multitude of resource types such as copper, iron, and etc. These resources are dynamically spawned underground all over the map. You may use a scanner to measure the composition, the quality (with a score of 0 to 1000) and quantity (from 0% to 100%). Once you have found the right spot, you can begin the extraction by calling down a thumper. During the 5 minutes long extraction, you have to defend your thumper from attack. You may send the thumper back at any time. However, upon completion, there is a double bonus. Depending on how many times the local area is thumped, the resource may become exhausted. New one may spawn.

Thumping for resources is rather enjoyable. You can set the difficulty level too by choosing the thumper type and level.
Thumping for resources is rather enjoyable. You can set the difficulty level too by choosing the thumper type and level.

Once you collect the resources – which are also available as mission reward, loots, or crates – you may refine them. Crafting items require at minimum refined resources. Because the resources may have different quality as well as attributes (for example copper is high in conductivity while aluminum is high in malleability) and because crafted items have different attribute requirements, crafting in Firefall is an art. You have total control on the overall item quality (again, with a score of 0 to 1000) and the attributes that deem important to you. You may ask, why not craft the most powerful gear you can? Due to the fact that powerful gears have a high loading requirement, there may be tradeoffs to be made.

Before you can craft an item, you have to spend time and resource to research for it in-game. Because there is a constraint on how much you can do at the workbench, you have to balance your time between research and development.

Crafting in Firefall has much depth in it. And it is pretty satisfying when a product is finally ready for manufacture.
Crafting in Firefall has much depth in it. And it is pretty satisfying when a product is finally ready for manufacture.

How Does Leveling Work In Firefall?

As you complete missions and kill mobs, you gain experience point (XP). Unlike traditional MMO games, there is no such thing as character leveling. You have access to five battleframes (or more commonly known as classes). You are free to try out which suits you the best. Ultimately, you may wish to invest your time on one battleframe.

For a start, XP that you have earned for each battleframe can be spent to unlock that battleframe’s ability and gear slots. Once all the slots are unlocked, you may then use the XP as well as other resources to increase the battleframe’s attributes: mass, power, and CPU as per your gear requirement and personal preference. Each battleframe attribute has a total of 10 levels. As you level up the attributes, you gain another in-game currency called Pilot Points. These points can be used to unlock any of the 10 advanced battleframes (each battleframe has two advanced variations).

You can upgrade your gears through loot drop or crafting. There are in total 4 item levels. Each level costs more to research and build than the previous tiers. Gears do break eventually (yet another constraint). You may need to balance between play style aggressiveness versus how fast you can acquire resources in order to replenish the gears.

It is all about leveling your chosen battleframe.
It is all about leveling your chosen battleframe.

Let’s Talk About What to Do In New Eden

While the lore seems enticing, in this stage 1 of beta, there are no main story related missions. The map of New Eden is filled with dynamic events. Some missions can be soloed. Others need a group. If you have played other shooter games, you may be familiar with some of the objectives. Besides these open world solo and group missions, there are raid missions such as Chosen incursion and tornado attack. As long as you manage to kill one target or are within proximity, you earn the reward. During my adventure in New Eden, I often start out solo and very soon, squads are formed with random players. Because this game is hard, everyone seems to yearn for grouping.

Some missions can be soloed. But best to play with friends or group up with others.
Some missions can be soloed. But best to play with friends or group up with others.

When I prefer a more relaxing moment, I would do thumping and gather resources. Thumping can be soloed. However, as the group size increases, there are options to increase the difficulty level in order to reap better rewards.

Besides these dynamic events, resource gathering and exploration activities, R&D work at the Hub, there are three random daily missions a day. You don’t have to do them if dailies are not your cup of tea. Having said that, most of the time, I find that as I play the missions, I get to complete some of these dailies without consciously doing them.

And of course, there are PvP actions for those who are into competitive sport. I have not tried them yet.

I spend much time chilling out at the hubs too.
I spend much time chilling out at the hubs too.

Sounds Good But What’s The Catch?

Red5 Studio promises that Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. So far, from what I have seen, I tend to agree. Their in-game store sells cosmetic and convenience items. I like their game so I bought a bike and a rechargeable glider. I do get to places faster at times. But due to the fact that the terrain can be pretty hilly, especially where the missions are, having a bike is totally optional because traveling on foot with the jumpjet can be more efficient.

I love Firefall and Red5 Studio enough to purchase this bike for US$25 (with some change). You don't have to buy it. You can craft it. Or take a walk. A bike is totally optional.
I love Firefall and Red5 Studio enough to purchase this bike for US$25 (with some change). You don’t have to buy it. You can craft it. Or take a walk. A bike is totally optional.

Progressing through the battleframe takes time. Real money can speed up the manufacturing process. But the cost is high. I doubt many would do that. Majority of time I still need to be out there gathering resources and earning Accord Merit Points (another form of in-game currency) in order to upgrade my battleframe. It is something money cannot buy.

What money can buy though is the unlocking of advance battleframes. You can earn them in-game by upgrading the basic ones to near-max level (that may take hundreds of hours). Or if you have lost faith in your current battleframe or patience, you may opt to unlock new ones with money. Unlike other F2P games I have played, the basic battleframes are pretty good and sufficient. The advance ones may enhance the experience. But they are often harder to play. In short, I am happy investing my time with the basic battleframes.

This is the in-game store that sells all sort of cosmetic and convenience items.
This is the in-game store that sells all sort of cosmetic and convenience items.

What About Shortcomings?

Perhaps it is too early to criticize Firefall as it is still a game on stage 1 of beta. Having said that, I would love to see improvements on certain areas.

  • An overarching main story. Firefall reminds me of vanilla World of Warcraft. There are conflicts around the world we are in. Everything is evolving. However, for World of Warcraft back then, there was an ultimate villain, living and breathing inside Molten Core. While there is plenty of lore written in Firefall website, what we do in New Eden seems to only scratching the surface as far as the story goes.
  • Late comers for missions. As a squad leader, this is what I do. I check the map for the closest mission. Set the squad waypoint and direct my squad to the location. I do the same thing when I solo too. At times, once we reach the rendezvous point, the mission has been completed by the previous group. We head out to the next one and it is completed too. Imagine our disappointment. By and large, Firefall seems to be smart enough to spawn new missions nearby. Or large scale raid mission to suck up all the players in the region. Maybe the game needs to fine tune in some ways to split the players up with various new activities in the region.
  • Ability cool-down and health regeneration is too long. Like Mass Effect, besides shooting with your weapons, you can augment the experience with battleframe specific abilities. This makes Mass Effect insanely fun, mixing things up a bit. Firefall allows us to use four abilities but the cool-down is long (like half a minute for the battleframe I am playing). Health regeneration is long too when outside battle. Just too much unnecessary downtime.
  • There is no synergy between abilities and players from different battleframes. In other MMO games, very often, different abilities from different classes synergize with one another in order to create spectacular results. There is no such thing in Firefall. The strategy then becomes rather one-dimensional. That is, shoot anything that moves with the same set of abilities while trying to stay alive.
  • The entire action interface needs an overhaul. I think this game is designed with console gaming in mind. I haven’t tried it yet but I reckon you can play it with a gamepad. In order to say use a health pack during life and death moment, I have to hit the C key for call down support. Then scroll down to the packs category and click select. After which, scroll down a long list (according to what I have in my inventory) to find the health pack and click select. This health pack is then bound to the key 5. I then have to press 5, locate a clear spot on the ground and click so as to call down a health pack. Next, wait for the animation to complete and walk into it in order to replenish my health slightly. I end up not using it. This is just one example. Calling a bike to ride, inviting squad members, leaving squad, opening daily reward crates and etc., I have to go through the same routine.
  • Squad looting needs to be looked into. Firefall is the only MMO game I know of that group looting is free-for-all and free-for-all only. There should be some fair way of loot distribution, especially when we cannot trade items between us.
  • Gear durability may need to be looked into. Currently, I am slowly upgrading my gears to level 2. However, my existing level 2 items are also going to break soon. My challenge is that as a Dreadnaught, at least three abilities and gear items require the same specific DNA that is hard to come by. In short, I may lose my level 2 items faster than I can build them and hence, forced to revert to level 1 items. Regression is a hard pill to swallow.
  • More mission variety would be good. So far, we seem to do the same set of mission day in day out. I can’t wait to see more content.
In Firefall, the tide of war is constantly shifting. You have to be aware of the situation as it affects the things that you can do.
In Firefall, the tide of war is constantly shifting. You have to be aware of the situation as it affects the things that you can do.

In Summary

Despites some of the shortfalls at this early stage of beta, Firefall is a refreshing game much needed in the current MMO scene. It is a free-to-play shooter with a sci-fi background created by the ex-team lead of World of Warcraft. Firefall has an innovative crafting system with much depth in it. Time investment is expected to be heavy. To fully level a single battleframe (out of 15 available ones) – extrapolate from my current data and play pattern – may take 240 hours. That does not take into consideration of the item upgrade.

From what I have seen, Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. The basic battleframes suffice and do the job well. The advanced battleframes can be unlocked by in-game currency earned while upgrading the basic battleframes (or can be unlocked using real money). So far, the in-game store only sells cosmetic or convenience items.

Do not expect a linear storyline to handhold you through the game telling you to go from A to B. The entire map is a war zone with dynamic events of various scales spawning every moment. The most common thing that new players say in general chat is: I have no idea what to do. My advice is, take your gun, open your map, and start shooting!

Taking down a tornado - especially a high category one - can be challenging. And that requires a lot of players to join force.
Taking down a tornado – especially a high category one – can be challenging. And that requires a lot of players to join force.

Marvel Heroes Online Beta: Final Review

For two months I have participated in Marvel Heroes Online’s closed beta. Most weekends when the server was up, I would try to log on. Recently, the beta server is switched on 24 x 7 so I get to be more active. This game will be officially launched in a week’s time. If you wish to know more about this upcoming free-to-play massively multiplayer online game, you have come to the right place!

The cut scenes of Marvel Heroes Online look something like this.

What is Marvel Heroes Online?

It is a casual action role playing game. You don’t need to spend a cent to start playing and it is pretty easy to get the hang of it. Like the Diablo franchise, you hack-and-slash your way through waves and waves of enemies. The number of buttons you get to interact with is minimal. Left and right mouse buttons are for your main attack and then another five keyboard buttons to spice things up. One key is bound to med kit for self-healing. That is all you need to master. You are free to assign available powers into these seven keys and buttons. But we will get to the power tree later.

The entire story at launch has eight chapters. For the first four chapters your base would be in Avenger’s Tower. For the last four chapters, it would be Xavier’s School (disclaimer: I have only played up to chapter 7 so two bases is my best guess). The bases are where you perform your routine chores like managing your S.T.A.S.H., selling or donating items, crafting, stocking up on med kit, and etc. Unlike Diablo 3, there is no auction house but instead, Marvel Heroes Online has a store for you to buy heroes, costumes, and miscellaneous items using real world money. Also unlike Diablo 3, the open-world portion is a true MMO whereby you would get to see other players going around with their business. There are tough outdoor bosses and nearby players can join force to bring these bosses down. There are two types of instanced ‘dungeons’ for up to 5 players to go in as a group. One that is for treasure hunt and another is for the story development. Auto-grouping happens for story mode and not for treasure hunt. If you are someone who prefers to solo, you can turn off auto-grouping too.

There is plenty of action when it comes to Marvel Heroes Online. It is a feast of hack and slash!
There is plenty of action when it comes to Marvel Heroes Online. It is a feast of hack and slash!

Items and experience globes dropped in open-world as well as inside an instanced ‘dungeon’ appear to be for you and you alone. Health and spirit globes that boost up your vital resource are shared among the players in the area. Interestingly, these globes shrink in size over time. This forces you to go out of the way in order to grab these globes before they diminish in value. To me, this mechanic keeps the fight fun as you may need to abandon what you are currently doing, even to take risk in order to gain more experience or to refill your health and spirit bars.

‘Dungeon’ difficulty doesn’t seem to scale up as the group size grows. While ‘dungeons’ – even most of the bosses – can be soloed, that makes auto-grouping a great feature to have. Anyone who enters the same ‘dungeon’ within a similar timing would be automatically grouped up. This works perfectly when the server is vibrant with many active players. When I log in during US late hours, most of the time I am on my own.

All the boss fights require you to observe patterns and try your best to avoid huge damage. Be ready to burn those stacks of med kits in order to stay alive because most of the fights, there is no way to replenish your health in mid fight. Should you fail, you can always teleport back to your base, grab more med kits if need to, and try again. Boss’s health does not go back up immediately once you are defeated so you could keep trying till you win. There were times though when my character was not strong enough to face certain bosses, or it cost too many med kits. I either replay some of the previous content to gain more power and better gears and / or group with a stronger team. In one particular boss fight, it was really hard. A few days later, it was nerfed by the developers. So in short, this is a casual game and you should be OK to sail through the chapters.

Marvel Heroes Online does not seem to offer different difficulty levels like Diablo 3. I have found an area possible for end game dailies. With that many heros to choose from, I suppose there is always something to do.

The Story – The Good and the Ugly

Provided that you can get the narration in the right order, the overarching story is pretty good. Cut scenes are more or less presented in a comic strip style. Your hero choice does not have a bearing on the cut scene rendering. You may be playing Ms. Marvel but you may not see her being featured (in fact, I have not seen her in any cut scenes). You just have to imagine that she is there, together with the heroes in the cut scenes.

Or maybe, you are not the hero. You are just a replica like many others online players fighting with the real heroes.

On the right is the chapter layout. It opens up as you progress into the story. On the right is the hero's main stats that will increase over time as you level. As you can see, there are only 5 armor slots, 1 medal slot (on top middle), and 2 artifact slots (top). Not at all hard to fill them up with epic gears if you are into crafting.
On the right is the chapter layout. It opens up as you progress into the story. On the left is the hero’s main stats that will increase over time as you level. As you can see, there are only 5 armor slots, 1 medal slot (on top middle), and 2 artifact slots (top). Not at all hard to fill them up with epic gears if you are into crafting. Click to see a larger image.

The story is divided into 8 chapters and I am now on chapter 7. It does not seem to take long to complete (perhaps like going through Diablo 3’s normal mode). Each chapter has several missions that may have multiple objectives. Main missions are mixed with side missions and are arranged in a linear fashion. Because the appearance of the quest givers does not follow your story progression or simply because in an open world, you are free into venture into any area that may cause you to unknowingly skip the story, it is possible for you to miss the last few missions of the current chapter and dive into the next chapter. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that you may not enter the next chapter on the first mission. If the first mission happens to be a side mission, you may enter into the second mission instead. One time, I got the last mission opened for a chapter I have yet to enter. I wish to say that because the game is still in beta so the story mechanic appears as wonky. But early access program is due to start in less than a week. So I guess that must be how the story is implemented or the game is still buggy.

In short, going through Marvel Heroes Online story is like watching a movie on cable. You get to watch a fragment of the movie as and when you switch your TV on and off. Over time, through watching the same movie a couple of times, you may get the whole story.

It is possible to reset the entire story (perhaps you wish to play with your friend who is new to the game?). Simply wipe off your progress by talking to one of the non-player characters. Another point to note is that switching heroes erase your current story progress. I have no idea why that has to be so.

Crafting – Administrative but an Absolute Must

There is something really good and really bad about crafting. As you collect loots during your game play, there are three things you can do besides throwing them on the floor for others to pick up. First, you can sell them for credits, which I do not recommend unless you are short in credits. Second, you can donate them to a particular vendor and increase your rank with that vendor. If say that vendor is a glove seller, the higher the ranking you are with him, the better glove level you can buy from him. That is also not recommended. Because each vendor only sells one type of armor, you would have a quite a few vendors to level the rank with. On top of that, I have yet to see any blue (rare) or purple (epic) items sold by these vendors during my beta testing. So why bother unless you really hate crafting?

Crafting is really reward. Donate all the unwanted loots to the crafting vendor and level up the rank fast. You won't regret it.
Crafting is really rewarding. Donate all the unwanted loots to the forge vendor and level up the rank fast. You won’t regret it. On the left is your stash. As you can see, (1) crafting materials eat up space and (2) you can buy more stash slots using real money. Click to see a larger picture.

The more sensible thing to do is to level your rank with the forge vendor through item donation. Here is a list of benefits that should make you go wow.

  1. You can craft your med kit for 10 credits each versus 75 credits when bought from a vendor.
  2. You can craft your set of potions to temporarily increase your stats for 20 minutes, which is just about the time to return to your base after a hack-and-slash session in order to clear your inventory.
  3. You can upgrade any rare items into epic quality!
  4. You can transform any epic items that are not meant for your hero into one that is!
  5. You can unbound any items and pass it to other characters. This comes in handy for artifact and medal items that are not hero specific.
  6. You can add offense and defense affixes even decorative attribute to your costume (but the cost can be high).

Because the crafting materials drop so often, you can afford to waste them on med kits and potions. That is great.

Now, the down side – besides the occasional bugs – is that crafting materials do not stack. They can be combined into a higher tier but they do not stack. They eat up inventory and stash space like no tomorrow. The user interface for crafting is poorly designed making the whole exercise feels really tedious and administrative. Perhaps that is the intention, to get you spending more time with the game.

Select Your Power!

As you level your hero, you collect power points. You can spend your points across three talent trees like good old RPG. This is a casual MMO. I dare say nothing you can do would grim your hero. You can either spread your points across to all available skills in order to have a more varied play style or you can – like me – focus all your power points into the 7 abilities you are comfortable with. I enjoy efficiency and I like to min-max everything I can. You may prefer a different approach. I like it fast. And I like it furious.

As you can see, the power tree design is pretty simplistic. Ms. Marvel has an ability called Binary Overdrive at high level. With only 7 abilities to be active at any time, it doesn't really make sense to spread them across everything.
As you can see, the power tree design is pretty simplistic. Ms. Marvel has an ability called Binary Overdrive at high level. With only 7 abilities to be active at any time, it doesn’t really make sense to spread them across everything. Click to see a larger picture.

In general, when it comes to selecting your power, here are some points for consideration.

  • For most of the 14 heroes I have experienced with, one tree is usually for utility like escape abilities and etc. For hybrid build – which is my preference (read more here) – I level up both melee and range DPS trees simultaneously.
  • Your gears may add points to your trees. This makes min-max optimization a little bit tricky.
  • Some abilities synergize others. This was implemented very recently. I have yet to see how it works. My best guess is that you may be encouraged to build some combos into your rotation. Bottom line is that the power trees are still very fluid and may change in near future.
  • Some abilities may only be unlocked after you have invested at least one point in the previous tiers. To me, it is like an ability upgrade. Thankfully, your investment on the previous tier ability does all not go into waste. Because previous tier points contributes a damage bonus to your current tier.
  • I prefer to invest on passive powers.
  • To reset your power selection, you need to consume a specific item. I have seen that dropped very occasionally. Or you can buy from the store using real money.

Like I have mentioned in my previous post (Marvel Heroes Online: Picking Your Heroes), the power trees are designed such a way that you would want to reset your power as you level. I suppose that is a small price to pay for a free-to-play online game.

On a side note, as you gain levels, some of your hero’s base attributes such as durability will be increased making you feel more powerful.

In Summary

Marvel Heroes Online being a free-to-play online game is worth checking out. It is certainly built with casual players in mind. Do not expect much from the story presentation and graphic perspective. That aside, you can still expect to have fun slashing and hacking your way through hordes and hordes of enemies solo or group with others. Crafting is rewarding despite being administratively tedious. As of today, the game still feels very much in beta. There are rough edges to be polished and I shall expect more improvements to be made in the initial months.

This game offers one free hero (from a choice of five) for you to get started. However, to fully enjoy the game from day one, you are better off buying a premium hero of your choice from the store. Tier 3 and 4 heroes cost US$15 and US$20 respectively (with some gold left over). Tier 2 and 1 hero cost US$10. I would strongly recommend you to pick at least a tier 3 hero (more on that in my previous post) while buying a tier 4 hero does not always mean that it is better.

Marvel Heroes Online will be launched on Jun 4. You may register today.

Let's do it!

Marvel Heroes Online: Picking Your First Hero (Or Rather Second)

In about two weeks from now – June 4 to be exact – Marvel Heroes Online will go live.  From what I have observed, the mere mentioning of Marvel Heroes has already got the fans excited.  How not to be?  You’ll get to play out your favorite heroes joining others to battle the iconic villains.  Besides, to start playing this massively multiplayer online game, you don’t need to spend a single cent.  The game is free-to-play.  But is it really so?  How would your gaming experience be affected by going free all the way?

What an adorable ... thing!

Well, you have come to the right place.  I have been playing the closed beta for months.  Thanks to an account reset, I have tried out 14 heroes out of 21 using in-game currency provided during beta and have progressed pass the midway point.  Here are a few thoughts to share with regards to free-versus-paid gaming experience.  As a disclaimer, the game is still in beta and Gazillion may still change it as we speak.

  • To start playing Marvel Heroes, you get to pick one of the characters offered free-of-charge: Daredevil, Storm, Thing, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye.  I have tried all but Hawkeye.  My conclusion is that this basic tier feels underpowered compares to the premium heroes.  They are noticeable weaker and they lack some of the practical as well as fancy powers other premium heroes have.
  • While I did not have fun with these basic heroes, I really enjoy playing the game with some of the premium heroes.  You can keep on playing the game and hope to obtain one of these heroes for free – which could take some time (in fact, I haven’t seen one dropped yet).  Or you could spend real money and buy a hero that you would love to play.  I would highly recommend so since time is more valuable then money.  The rest of this article helps you to make that decision.
  • You are likely to stick to one hero until you have completed all the eight chapters because switching heroes reset game progress.  Also, since all heroes share the same inventory and stash, you would run out of space much faster by leveling multiply heroes at the same time.
  • The free edition provides you with an inventory space of 40 and a stash space of 48 shared by all your heroes.  This may seem a lot but it’s barely enough to get by.  Medical kits only stacks up to 10 per slot.  Crafting materials – the space eater – do not stack.  Also, if you plan to pass items to your other heroes, that 88 slots are going to fill up very quickly.  You can however spend real money to buy space.  Two more general stash of 48 slots each, three more for potions, and one stash for each of the 21 heroes.  I have no idea how much that would cost you.  From early levels, I have already been struggling with space.  It seems to me that I would need to buy one or two extra stash once this game is live.
  • Want to look different from the rest of the heroes?  Costumes are available for purchase with real money too.  Each costume may cost as much as the hero himself.  At minimum  each hero has three different costumes for sales.  Iron Man has eleven costumes at beta!
  • While some consumables like XP and rare item boost purchasable using real money seem optional, the ability to reset chosen skills to me is mandatory.  Why?  The skill trees are designed so much so that you have to go for a reset once new skills open up as you level pass a certain point.  Because only 7 skills can be active at any time, I would highly recommend to put all the points to these 7 skills (as well as the passive ones) instead of spreading them across to all skill options.  Rarely you need to swap skills for different fights.  Fortunately, I have seen this power reset potion (or device) dropped freely from time to time.  If you are desperate for a skill reset, the online store is your best friend.
  • There are some companions for purchase too.  In the past I used to buy them for other MMO games.  Again, totally optional like costumes but they are there if you feel lonely in a villain infested world.

In summary, my suggestion is to start the game with one of the freely offered heroes and go through Chapter 1.  Once you get to the point whereby you feel you may like the game, purchase a premium hero and be prepared to buy other stuffs like extra stash.  If you need some advice on picking your second hero, read on!  I have some insights to share.  What if you want to stick with the freely offered heroes?  Thing starts off good due to high durability and strength.  But due to a lack of mobility and speed, some of the boss fights would be pretty hard.  Storm is kind of weak and looking at the stats of Hawkeye, I am not impressed either.  Scarlet Witch is OK as a caster type of hero if kiting play style is your cup of tea.  Daredevil is a melee hero with range attack making it also a viable choice among the five heroes.

I have tried 14 out of 21 heroes on beta.
I have tried 14 out of 21 heroes on beta. That includes Black Panther, Black Widow, Cable, Captain America, Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, Jean Grey, Ms. Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, Storm, Thing, and Thor.

When it comes to picking or rather buying your heroes, I have some insights for sharing.  Now, I understand that this can be a personal choice because you may have a liking towards certain Marvel Heroes.  So, my insights are purely from a game play perspective.  My aim is to equip you with the right information so that you can make an informed decision.

  • Price Tag: Each hero comes with a price tag: 600, 900, 1200, and 2000 in-game currency.  Heroes with the lowest price tag are usually basic.  Their general stats are usually low or they are crippled with some aspects such as mobility.  At 900 and 1200, heroes often come with extra resources to manage.  Like Jean Grey being able to turn into a phoenix, Ms. Marvel fights better as she takes on punishment, or Thor gets more powerful as he is overwhelmed by enemies.  At 2000 price tag, some heroes can be real fun to play.  Like Spider-man’s ability to swing across enemies with his web and look striking too.  While a high price tag does not necessarily mean that the hero is for you, it is a good indication on where you should start looking.  I would start from 1200 up.
  • Hero Stats: Each hero comes with 6 stats.  They are durability, strength, fighting, speed, energy, and intelligence.  A detail explanation can be found at the bottom of this entry.  In a nutshell, the higher overall stats your hero has, the better the game play.  Higher durability and fighting increases survivability and damage output.  Speed affects both move and attack speed.  There should be a balance between strength (physical damage) and energy + intelligence (energy damage and mental a.k.a. DoT damage).  My preference is physical damage output because there is a certain edge to be at the front of the battle, collecting health and spirit globes before others do.  Or simply, progress ahead of the group.
  • Hybrid Build: Normally, in other online games, you may choose to pick a tank class or range damage class or melee damage class and be merry with whatever game play that suits you.  However, in Marvel Heroes, I enjoy hybrid builds much better.  Because tank classes such as Thing or Hulk aren’t that tough.  There isn’t a dedicated healer class therefore making a tank class less attractive.  Range damage classes such as Jean Grey may be powerful from a distance, she would need to do a fair bit of kiting against melee enemies.  Some melee classes like Black Panther is pretty fun to play being able to leap onto the back of the enemies and deliver melee damage.  But against bosses that require space may be a challenge.  Hence, from my experience, those heroes who are excel in both melee and range and with a decent amount of durability are the most enjoyable ones to play.  Such as Ms. Marvel, Thor, and Captain America.  All of them are able to deliver respectable damage up close and decent damage at range.  They are pretty high in durability too.
  • Escape Skills: While stats and builds may give a good indicator on how enticing a hero is, you have got to spend some time reading up on the shortlisted heroes utility abilities as well.  Take Ms. Marvel as an example, she is able to lunge forward knocking off enemies along the way and get behind them (Spider-Man has similar ability too).  She also gets to fly over enemies and obstacles (like Jean Grey in phoenix form).  That versus Storm’s leaping backward and still facing the enemies, I would much prefer lunging forward instead.  You would need sufficient escape skills to get you out of sticky situations, especially so during boss fights.
  • The Fun Factor: Sometimes, we play a character because it is fun.  Being able to fly around, turn into a phoenix, or swing around like Spider-Man does can be fun.  Having a high intelligence level hero like Iron Man and hence speeds up the leveling experience can also be fun.

Now that you know how to pick your hero, where shall you start?  First, visit the official Marvel Heroes website and check out the heroes’ stats as well as some story write-up.  Then, visit the official wiki website and look through the skills available for your shortlisted heroes.  Pay attention to hybrid build and the escape skills and pick one that suits you.

What about me?  My favorite hero has got to be Ms. Marvel.  She has a set of well rounded stats.  As a hybrid build, Ms. Marvel is able to neutralize enemies up close, from afar, and in a group at ease.  She also has the right sort of escape skills to get out of sticky situations.  Thor and Captain America both rank high on my list too due to their well rounded hybrid builds.  Looking at the fun factor, Spider-Man and Jean Grey score high.  Iron Man is another viable option though the game play seems a bit less exciting compares to say Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man.  But being able to gain experience points faster, that alone is quite a plus point.  Oh yes, did I mention that fun looking Mark I or Mark II costume for Iron Man?

Ms. Marvel is really fun to play!

Here is a little bit extra for those who want to know what the attributes mean.

Durability

  • Reduces incoming damage
  • Improves health regeneration
  • Reduces stun duraction on you

Strength

  • Increases your physical damage
  • Allows you to throw objects of increasing size
  • May add stun to your melee powers

Fighting

  • Increases damage with fighting powers
  • Reduces incoming damage from fighting powers
  • Reduces spirit cost for fighting powers
  • Increases attack speed with fighting powers

Speed

  • Increases move speed
  • Increases fly speed
  • Increases attack speed
  • Reduces slow durations on you

Energy

  • Increases energy damage
  • Increases mental damage (a.k.a. DoT)
  • Improves spirit regeneration
  • Reduces spirit cost for energy powers and mental powers

Intelligence

  • Increases experience point gain
  • Increases mental defense
  • Increases attack speed with mental powers

Why Guild Wars 2 Is Promising

As someone who has sunk in thousands of played hours and thousands of dollars into a single online game World of Warcraft, since 2004, no game has managed to tempt me to look the other way.  Until now.  I have recently participated in the Guild Wars 2 final beta weekend.  Putting my hyper-optimistic hat on, the game has blown my socks away.  Even with my skeptical hat on, S$59.99 is a no-brainer for such a fine game that has no monthly subscription fees.

When considering a MMO game, money is not the major component.  Time is.  In this blog post, I am going to critically look at Guild War 2 from the eyes of a WoW veteran as well as a loyal Blizzard customer.  I am not going to clinically dissect Guild Wars 2.  That I have already done so in Google+ and  the original write-up will be shared at the end of this post, together with a link to some of my favorite screenshots taken during the beta weekend.

Aesthetically Pleasing

From character customization to the environment, the art and graphics is top notch.  I have played many video games.  None has empowered me to create a truly beautiful and unique looking character to my liking.  From the finest facial features to body shape and height, even down to costumes and make-up.  I could spend hours customizing my character, name my character with a unique family name, and create a personal story. Why is this important?  As a role-playing game, emotional attachment is a key factor.  Guild Wars 2 just have that very edge.  To get us attached to our characters, and to the virtual world that is so beautiful to look at.  I want to be inside that world.

The Freedom to Progress

A typical online game usually consists of quest givers standing or pacing around a known location, dishing out known quests for us to earn experience points and rewards.  Collect 20 dried wood pieces and 20 metal scraps.  Kill 20 boars and loot 20 snouts.  Sure, there are quest texts that tell you why these wood and metal pieces, boars and snouts are so important.  Chances are, you yawn, skip the text, and do what is asked of you.  Everything is linear.  Predictability is a key feature for the traditional MMO games.

In Guild Wars 2, while there are still quest givers (like a few in the entire zone), most quests are driven by dynamic events.  What do I mean by that?  You venture into an area.  All of a sudden, there is a call-out signaling to you that there is an event happening nearby.  The farmers need some help.  You walk into the farm while other players may have already progressed into the event.  The event scales up as more players are in the area.  Multiple objectives are shown on your screen.  You can either help to drive out the waves of bandits.  Or put out the fire on the burning crops.  Or you could do some weeding, feed the cows.  The choice is yours.  If you feel like it, you could stay throughout the event, drive out as many bandits as you can or feed as many cows as you like.  Alternatively, after a certain level of contribution, you could walk away and do something else.  Chances are, there is another event happening next door.

So, what is the point in doing dynamic events?  Depending on your level of contribution, you may earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal that has a direct impact to your in-game currency and more.  But you don’t have to get a gold medal all the time.  You don’t have to collect 20 dried wood pieces, 20 metal scraps, kill 20 boars, and loot 20 snouts if you don’t feel it.  Participation is key.  You don’t enjoy the event?  Do a bit or none, then move on.  You like what you are doing?  Stay long enough and get a gold medal.  The choice is yours.

Another thing I notice is that in Guild Wars 2, there is no quest log, which in a traditional MMO, it is essentially a list of to-dos.  Online gaming should not feel like work.  As I enter a designated quest area, a quest would suddenly show up on my screen.  As I venture out of the area perhaps distracted by a nearby dynamic event, the quest would disappear, but the progress is saved.  The next time I return, the quest reappears, together with my past progress.

A Fresh Approach to Combat System

I wouldn’t say Guild Wars 2‘s combat system is far superior than other MMO games.  It is certainly sophisticated.  In a traditional MMO like WoW, you tend to have 20 or 30 buttons lined up on your screen.  You stand still, lock a target, and you cast a spell.  You mix a few spells according to some priority or rotation systems.  You may be required to occasionally move out of danger, or switch targets, that’s about it.  And then in a dungeon setting, there is this tank-heal-DPS trinity.  Each has a role to fulfill.  There is no go till the trinity is formed.

In Guild Wars 2, every profession (i.e. class) has a self-heal spell.  There is no tank or DPS concept.  Fallen allies can be revived.  You can move while casting spells.  You have a finite number of spells (like 10) depending on your profession and the weapon type.  You may switch to another weapon in the middle of a fight to switch 5 spells and potentially change your strategy.  Casting spells generates unique profession specific resources that can be consumed for a more powerful ability.  Even when defeated, you can still fight to survive using 4 abilities.  When you win, you get back up.  Is this a better combat system?  Too early to tell.  But I welcome a fresh approach.

The Freedom to Play When I Want, However Little I Want

Traditional MMO build their business model on recurring income.  To get you paying a monthly fee and continuing to play the game, they put in place incentives that compel you to play regularly.  Most are repetitive contents that may not even be fun by the time you have done it zillions of times.  But you will do it nonetheless; keep paying while you are at it; keep paying even when you hardly log on.

Guild Wars 2 by and large frees us from the above scenario.  You pay once and you can play as much or little as you like.  There is no monthly fees.  There will be micro-transactions though.  But I wouldn’t mind paying if the game is fun, although I don’t have to.  This is a fairer deal, I think.

A Few Other Things

Honestly speaking, I have no idea what the end game is like for Guild Wars 2.  Those who enjoy PvP would indulge into World versus World battle.  The level cap for PvE is 80 so I reckon there should be enough things to do before reaching there.  Cynthia and I have already pre-purchased the game and we will have a head-start this Saturday.  The game will be launched next Tuesday.  To join us, more information can be found in my Google+ profile.

  • Click here to see the beautiful screenshots I have taken during the beta weekend.
  • Click here to read more about my first impression.

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria Beta Test – First Impression

Hooray!  Blizzard has sent me a beta invite for the testing of their upcoming expansion Mists of Pandaria.  Not that it was a huge surprise, really.  Because I have signed up for their annual pass deal and I know, eventually I will get an invite.  Still, it is good to get a rather early invite as I have been a loyal subscriber since its 2004 launch (OK, my payment lapsed for a couple of months because my credit card has expired but they really should have follow-up).  One of the first 200,000 lucky ones, I am.

“Oh my, guess what I saw when I first logged into the beta test server.  So many pandas!  I think I am getting panda phobia!  Note: Each panda you see in this picture represents one online player.”

I enjoy beta testing.  The last one I did was for the upcoming Diablo III.  I get to see an evolving product, based on testers’ feedback.  That gives me more insight on Blizzard’s design strategy (like how they value UI friendliness in Diablo III looking at the tweaks they do).  If you do get a WoW beta invite, here are some friendly reminders to make your journey more rewarding:

  • Beta means that it is an unfinished product, although Blizzard does reveal beta at its finest quality.  You get to see its beauty at its rawer form.  But you also get to see some rough edges.
  • The server is going to lag like crazy, regardless of your network performance.  It could be frustrating.  Hey, look at the bright side.  How often do you get to see hundreds of online players crowded in one place?  Nightmare no doubt.  But you would cherish this insane moment looking back.

“So I created a female pandaren.  Character customization seems to give me 14 face options.  Unlike the male pandaren, there is no customization option for the female face shape.  Just different color patches. Is it because we are at the beta stage?”

Female Pandaren

I don’t think I would try out the 85-90 high level zones in this beta testing.  Because I want to save the experience for my 10 characters.  Moreover, I don’t want to be sick of it by the time Mists is released.  What I do not mind is to try out the new pandaren starting area a couple of times since at most, I would only experience it once when this expansion is live.

The new pandaren race – silly as some may say – is down right adorable, especially the female pandaren.  I must say though, the female race looks a bit plastic to me, almost like a robot in her god forbid cuteness.  Maybe just a matter of getting used to.  Also, I observe that not all customization features are opened as of now.  The male version’s face customization varies the shape of the face.  The female version seems to vary the color pattern only.  I am not sure if it will be the case for the live version.

You can have a black and white pandaren that looks more like a panda.  Or you can have an orange version that in Cynthia’s words, looks more like a fox.  Female orange pandaren comes with a big orange tail too.  Alternatively, if you wish, you could have a hybrid look.  Black and white face with an orange body and in the case of a female pandaren, a fat orange tail instead of a tiny stub.

Female pandaren, in my opinion, is a bit short and plump.  I think I may roll a male pandaren when the time comes to save me some money to do a sex change later.

“Stop humping that scroll you silly pandas!  How are we supposed to click it when there are so many pandas crowded at it?!  Note: The trick is to pan the camera as show and keep spamming right click on the top right corner of the scroll.  You will get it eventually.  Also, if too many pandas are standing on top of the quest giver, press SHIFT-V and interact with the NPC’s green name plate instead.”

New Monk Class

It has been a while since Blizzard releases a new class for World of Warcraft.  So I rolled a monk class.  This new class is quite possibly what I look forward to most when Mists is live.

Some online reviewers describe the new monk class plays like an arcade game, combo-like button meshing and all.  I was a bit weary when I first heard about.  After experienced 11 levels of playing a monk, it is not as dramatic.

True, there is no more auto attack.  It plays like a rogue and shares the same energy pool concept, except that the combo points are not with the enemy but upon the monk herself.  This new resource called Chi can be accumulated up to 4 points.  Chi does not dissipate over time, unless you log out.  Some abilities generate Chi while others consume it.  For example, at level 1, you can consume 40 energy, perform a Clobber, and whack your target with your weapon (in my case, a staff).  Clobber generates one Chi.  You can also consume a Chi and whack your target with your hand – Tiger Palm – while you regenerate energy.  Tiger Palm deals more damage when the target is above 50% health.  So common sense would tell you to whack your enemy with your palm at the beginning of the encounter.  Perhaps even unload your Tiger Palm at that early stage when you have excess Chi.

Once your enemy drops below 35%, you can perform a Blackout Kick that has a 3 second cool down.  Blackout Kick consumes 2 Chi and it refunds 1 Chi if the target is dead by your kick.  So in effect, it would consume 1 Chi if you kick properly.  The so-called combo move is really how you wish to optimize your abilities based on the target’s health.  You cannot spam Clobber because that consumes energy.  You cannot spam Tiger Palm because that consumes Chi.  And you cannot spam Blackout Kick because not only does it consume Chi, it has a cool down.  With a potential to specialize into tank, melee damage, and heal, the new monk class sounds interesting.

All you need to do is pray that you don’t lag.  Because there is no auto-attack to save you.

“The artwork of the new pandaren starting area is colorful and beautiful.”

The Pandaria Artwork and Quests

While I am not overly excited by the oriental theme (strange eh given my background?), the artwork is colorful and beautiful.  A lot of work must have poured into the new starting area.  The oriental music background sounds good too. Unlike the Cataclysm new races’ starting areas, in this upcoming expansion, Blizzard has minimized phasing technology so much so that it does not matter at which stage of the quest line you are at, you can always see your friends.

Truth be told, I am not against phasing technology.  The downside is that the world around you seems a lot emptier than it really is.  Players at a different stage of the quest don’t necessarily see each other’s presence.  Till today, I still think that the goblin’s starting area is the best, out of all.  Tight storytelling, full of colors and insane humor.  Questing in the new pandaren starting area appeared to be a bit bland, initially.

“OK, I need three carrots and three turnips.  Where shall I begin?”

The quests in pandaren staring area can generally be broken down into a few types.

  1. Help someone to kill some unpleasant enemies.
  2. Help someone to collect some useful items.
  3. Take someone to somewhere.
  4. Go somewhere with someone.
  5. Defeat a mini boss.

#1 and #2 often go hand-in-hand.  So in Mists, you can almost predict what your next quests are going to be.  To be honest, I yawned (staying up till wee hours trying to defeat server lag didn’t help).  But I got through them nonetheless.

“What is this creature following my panda?!”

Maybe I am getting too old for this expansion.  Mists seems to have a playful undertone to the entire setup, unlike the previous expansions.  You wake some creatures up.  Play with some creatures.  As a pandaren, you start off as a neutral race.  You get to interact with two pandaren NPCs that are supposed to help you decide if you wish to join the Horde or the Alliance at the end of your journey as an initiate.  Later in your starting area, you get to interact with traditional Horde and Alliance races as well.  I wish Blizzard could work more quests into this part of the journey, to give players a better sense of which fraction their way of life is to be.  As of now, it feels a bit too shallow.

In retrospect, I really enjoyed the blood elf and draenei starting areas.  The quests take you to around level 20 and reward you with some good blue quality items.  For pandaren starting area, provided that everything stays the same as beta, you will get to level 11, and wear a set of white inferior items.

I am quite a sad panda.

“When you roll a panda, you start on top of a giant turtle who has a Chinese name.”

Closing Thoughts

I must admit that I am not overwhelmed with the new race’s starting area.  Maybe because I was not playing with my friends and the server lag was understandingly horrible (no complain on the latter).  The new female pandaren artwork is a bit too cute and plump to my taste.  The overall artwork though, is beautiful.  The quests are still linear, not much innovation I have seen except the one you have to stand on top of a log to dual with other NPC monks.  The entire journey, coupled with the server lag, took me 5 hours to complete.  That includes reading the quest text.  By then I have chosen which side I am on.  When this is live, I would not expect anyone to spend more than 3 to 4 hours on this starting area, which is kind of short.

The new monk class though, sounds promising.  Now, I wish we have tri-spec instead of dual-spec.

“My life is for Horde!  Hellscream took me in with open arms, not without a very scary and lengthy speech (or wall of text).  When will Blizzard give us more voice acting?”