Thoughts on the Changes to Marvel Heroes in the “Biggest Update Ever”

Marvel Heroes Biggest Update Ever

A bit over a week ago Gazillion released part one of their sweeping changes to their online game, Marvel Heroes.  The game originally launched in June 2013 and has grown and evolved like many other massively-multiplayer online (MMO) games do, and not always for the best.  With fifty-nine heroes currently available, and the sixtieth currently in testing, the game was due for a massive overhaul to many of the core systems.  This is actually the second major overhaul the game has received since launch, but even since then more fixes have been necessary.  This may be just part one of the changes in this latest overhaul, but they have already been controversial.  I’m going to take a look at some of the major parts of the currently released changes and give my thoughts on them.

Keep in mind I do not engage in end game content and I rarely group with other players, so this is not a discussion of how raids function or how to properly (re-)gear your characters.

Changes to the Dash/Travel System

The first change I want to look at is far and away the most controversial.  Every character in Marvel Heroes has at least one ‘dash’ move where they quickly zoom from one point on the screen to another, often doing damage to bad guys along the way.  The dash could take the form of a teleport, quick rush or a leaping attack.  Additionally they also have a ‘travel’ power which lets them move with increased speed throughout the world at the expense of not being able to use other powers along the way (although passive powers, including those with attack components, do still work).  Some characters rode vehicles, others flew and yet others just ran really fast.  The net result was the same, though.

Marvel Heroes - MandroidIn the recent changes the ‘dash’ power was adjusted so that it has only three charges which regenerate over time, meaning you can no longer just dash across the entire game world without restriction.  On top of that the ‘travel’ powers now have a short charge up time before they activate, and the speed boost was reduced.  The idea behind these changes is to force players to experience more of the content of the game by restricting fast travel options.  In theory since you can’t just spam the dash button anymore you have to go at a walking pace and fight the enemies in your way, or wait a few seconds to use your ‘travel’ power instead.

In practice, at least for me, this has actually resulted in me being more likely to bypass content rather than stop and deal with it.  Prior to the change I could fly or dash around the map and choose to engage whichever enemies I wanted.  Now, since I know there’s a charge time on my ‘travel’ power, short though it may be, I am less likely to disrupt my current use of the power.  The ‘dash’ power has been removed from the equation entirely, and I even have some characters that I don’t have it setup as a hotkey for at all.  It is a largely useless skill now, and not worth keeping in my rotation (it is still useful for raiders as a quick escape).

As far as I am concerned this adjustment as had the exact opposite effect of what the developers wanted.  I am now skipping far more content than I was before, and have removed a skill that I used to have attached to every character I play with.  The ‘dash’ is still useful for getting out of the way of certain boss attacks, but little else.  I am not a game developer, but I do know that the philosophy I tend to lean towards is “incentivize players to play the way you want them to rather than punish them for playing the way you don’t.”  I think Gazillion needs to think about that one a bit.

The Omega System Becomes the Infinity System

The other major change that has caused some controversy is the change from the old Omega System to the new Infinity System.  In the old system you earned omega points which you could then use in various omega power trees that gave stat boosts, special passive powers and so on.  In theory it was a great idea, but in practice it was a gigantic mess that was poorly balanced and impossible to decipher without a guide.  There were a couple hundred choices in powers to choose from (many of them providing overlapping benefits), and they all cost different amounts.  Trying to figure out what points to invest in was needlessly complicated, and it was truly only something the hardcore players engaged in.  My own use of the tree was haphazard, at best.  The good part was that, like the paragon system in Diablo 3, all Omega points were given to all of your characters, so playing as one character could boost up your other characters.

With the update the Omega system was stripped out and the Infinity system put in place.  All Omega points were converted into Infinity points so all that work over the past three years didn’t just disappear.  Instead of the layers of trees found in the old system, the Infinity system has six trees with their own points allotted to them, and six choices within each tree.  It is simple and straightforward, although perhaps too much so.  While I do consider it a vast improvement over the Omega system it definitely went too far in the other direction and lost a lot of character in the process.  Under the old system we could get abilities that would call in orbital bombardments, launch glittering disco balls and all sorts of such things.  The new system is straight stat boosts with no heart, and little personalization.  A middle ground needs to be found between the Omega and Infinity systems, but I will still call this one an improvement.

Removing Skill Points

Marvel Heroes - ShockerThe original Marvel Heroes had you distributing skill points that you earned from leveling up into various skills.  Originally those skills were locked in unless you had a retcon potion to allow you to change them before they ditched that requirement.  It wasn’t a bad system, and it didn’t necessarily need replacing, but I would overall consider this one a success as well.  Now your character has access to all of their skills (once you have reached a level high enough to unlock them), and they are fully powered up with no need to distribute points.

You do still get some customizability starting at level 32 when you choose between three traits.  You can switch between these traits as you wish, but only one can be chosen at a time.  You get another set of three a few levels later, and so on until you are at level 60 with five sets of three traits to choose from.  It is a good mix of customizability and keeping it simple.  You do lose some of the personalization from the older system, but honestly I prefer the freedom this system affords players.

One thing to note, though, is that it can be quite frustrating to be given a choice of three traits and realize you use none of the abilities they enhance.  It feels like you are being forced into playing those skills, or you are wasting a skill trait.  For me it has only happened two times out of the seven heroes I’ve tried out (thirty-five sets of skill traits to pick), but both times it was annoying.  This goes back to that idea I mentioned above of rewarding players versus punishing them.

The Fallout of No Skill Points

Because of the skill points being removed a far bigger, though less immediately apparent, issue comes up.  Most of the items in this game, whether they be artifacts, gear, rings, etc, got most of their value from boosting skill points.  With skill points gone these items needed to be given new abilities to compensate for their old ones.  This has, predictably, resulted in people scrambling to replace gear that was previously top tier but now isn’t.  The retuning of these old items is still in progress so I expect there will be further changes down the road (in fact, one was announced earlier today), but this does seem to have changed how people play the game to a certain degree.  For me it has neither been a good nor bad change, but then I also don’t spend my time theorycrafting ideal builds and whether one point in this skill is better than fifteen points in that stat.  I do know that for people who play multiple heroes at an end game level it has been frustrating having to retool them almost from scratch.

Separating Costume Cores

This is a small change, but one I am fond of.  Previously you could attach certain power ups and visual effects to your costume, with the downside being that it only applied to that one costume and it placed a level requirement on the costume.  This was absolutely minor since there were things in place to transfer these items between costumes for a small fee, but it was something that affected how I played.  With the change the powers and effects have their own slot on your character sheet now, and the costume is independent of that.  For me it feels now like I am free to use any costume I have access to without jumping through (minor) hoops.  Absolutely not a big deal all around, but an appreciated change.

The Future

Marvel Heroes - Angela and Gamora (and Baby Groot)We know a few things coming in the future, with the most notable being the change for hero gear.  Right now the best equipment are called ‘uniques’, and some are specific to a single hero or can be used by all heroes (a select few can be used only be a certain subset of heroes).  We don’t have the full details yet, but we do know that the uniques will be replaced by something else which should provide more flavor.  Those should come in the next major patch.

Beyond that little is known.  Small things like the costume closet for storing the various hero costumes has long been in the works.  Personally I would like to see the non-unique gear streamlined, as well as a cutback on the number of currencies we have.  Right now we have nineteen equipment slots on our character sheets, and frankly that’s about nine too many (the actual number is debatable).  We also have fourteen different types of currency right now, and it should be half that or less.  Ideally we would have our monetary currency (gold), premium currency (G-coins), one to three different event currencies, PvP currency and raid currency.  More than that is needlessly complicated.  Of course PvP needs to be fixed and balanced before worrying about PvP currency, but that’s a whole different can of worms.

There’s still a long way to go for Marvel Heroes, and it would be best if they could continue to streamline and optimize the game before the inevitable (but still unconfirmed) console release of the game.  They are now trailing behind their closest rival, Path of Exile, and with Marvel/Disney ramping up their traditional video game production Marvel Heroes needs to prove it deserves to continue existing.

The current changes are a step in the right direction, and the projected changes are another, but it is not enough.  The game is too complex for its own good right now, but not in the right ways.  Too many different currencies, too many different equipment slots and too many items that don’t have immediately obvious functions litter the game.  This is not to be confused with making the game easier or dumbing down raids and end-game content, and indeed new end game content is sorely needed.  The game needs to be streamlined, not simplified.  We will continue to watch and see if Gazillion has what it takes to keep this game moving into 2017 and beyond.

You can see some of the game in action below.