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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
- You can craft your med kit for 10 credits each versus 75 credits when bought from a vendor.
- 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.
- You can upgrade any rare items into epic quality!
- You can transform any epic items that are not meant for your hero into one that is!
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.