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A Mild-Mannered Reporter: Marvel Heroes' strengths and weakness

Eliot Lefebvre

Those of you who have followed the column for a while are familiar with the fact that I'm not the biggest fan of Marvel Heroes, though it's more an issue of apathy than malice. Still, early access has started, players are starting to get what they paid for up front with Founder's Packs, and it's time to stop considering what the game could do before testing ends and start considering what it's actually doing.

Leaving aside the discussion of whether or not it fully succeeds at its goals, I think Marvel Heroes has a couple of big positives in the current market and one staggeringly dumb decision. So we're going to look at that sandwich-style. And then let's talk about the future of the column at the end -- if we're talking about Marvel, we really need a shocking revelation at the end or it won't ring true.

For example, there's the costume form when Iron Man joined Cerberus.Costumes, costumes, costumes

Superhero fans love to play dress-up. A casual glance at any supehero game should make this immediately obvious, as most games spend more money on developing a costume creator than on developing incidentals like "game mechanics" or "network architecture." In some ways, Marvel Heroes is going to be a different ball game simply because you aren't creating a hero from scratch -- you're just using an existing hero.

The hidden advantage here, of course, is that Marvel characters frequently go through costumes on a rapid rotation. Spider-Man has been rocking the same red-and-blue webbed suit for most of his time in comics, but he's still had a plethora of other suits, ranging from the slight costume variants you see in the movies to full redesigns like the Ben Reilly costume (which is still one of my personal favorites, and not just because it wound up being used as the Spider-Girl costume during that run).

So I'm pleased to see that Marvel Heroes is capitalizing on this by grabbing costumes from every conceivable source and tossing them into the game. There's a rich vein to be tapped here, with various Marvel relaunches and redesigns, even without touching on the plethora of outfits that most long-running heroes have used anyway over the years. Playing Iron Man without being able to change into a dozen different suits feels somehow wrong.

It's a minor thing, but it's a nice touch that lets you play the character you want to play instead of just another clone of Captain America. At least you're not precisely a clone. And the team is doing a good job of providing those looks.

I guess if thirty levels of doing this over and over didn't turn you off, another thirty without a story won't.Halfway to level cap

At launch, Marvel Heroes' main leveling content will get you halfway to the level cap. After that, you can just run dailies and do group content to reach the level cap, at which point you can... well... do more dailies and group content?

I'm not going to lie to you; at first blush, this struck me as really dumb. But then I thought about it some more, and... wait, no, still really dumb.

I have absolutely nothing against dailies and the like as a form of endgame content. It's a system that works and works well, and while dailies can get tedious at times, that's more a function of how frequently you play and how dedicated you are to doing the same things every day. When games do them well -- which several have managed -- you feel like there's still plenty to do at endgame, new things coming in, and plenty of alternatives. You can always start a new character if you want to step away for a bit.

Except this turns fully half the game into an exercise in repetition and tedium. This means that you've seen everything new and interesting the game has to offer and are then expected to be so entranced that you just want to keep going into a grinding void. Compare this to the competition in the same design vein and it seems like a staggeringly odd decision, and maybe an outright foolish one.

Can it work? Yes. Will it work? Considering that the game's fans are mostly of the "pop in for a little bit and then leave" variety, I think it seems unlikely.

A Rob Liefeld character is in at launch.  A Stan Lee character is held back for later.  I want you to think about that for a moment.Holding back what's needed

The game had to eat crow a little bit by holding back several of its planned characters. Five of the planned launch heroes are going to be open for play post-launch -- Emma Frost, Luke Cage, Nova, Squirrel Girl, and the Human Torch. Turns out these just weren't quite ready for prime time yet, and so the development team is trimming up the details.

This is something I'm going to go ahead and laud the development team for doing because when you're dealing with a free-to-play title, there's always the slight temptation to throw caution to the wind and assume that balance issues will get sorted out later. Having the restraint to say that something needs to wait is all too uncommon. Hopefully the four characters people actually care about will be in better shape by the time they see the light of launch.

Equally classy: These characters are still included in the packs of players who purchased one of the pre-launch bundles. Again, the temptation to do otherwise is there, and it was not taken. That's noteworthy.

The future of A Mild-Mannered Reporter

Back when I changed the column's format in December, I mentioned that this was an experiment. I've had six months with the experiment, and the truth is that some parts of it simply aren't working.

See, there's no real way for me to do for multiple titles what worked for City of Heroes. I can cover all of the titles in a broad sweep, but it's not possible to get that same sort of in-depth look at how a single title works or doesn't. Nor is it possible for me to focus in with the same degree of intensity. Speculative columns are all well and good, but there comes a time when you're doing too much speculation and not enough talking about realities.

So it's time for a switch in format. Starting with the next column, we're going to a monthly roundup for the genre.

This isn't a change mandated at an upper level but a decision I made based on what is and isn't working in the column as it stands now. It doesn't mean that I'll never be doing other material under the column title; I've done the occasional extra in the past, and this allows me to be more liberal with MMR columns when there's stuff for the column. It just means that the regular schedule will be a monthly roundup, and there will be extra material along the way.

Feedback on both the meat of the column and the future of it may be left in the comments below or via mail to Next week will be a roundup, and then we'll be moving on to our roundup-with-extras format from there on out. Like any good title, this isn't the end, just a hiatus.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre spent years in City of Heroes before the world-shattering event that destroyed his home world. But he remains as intrepid as ever, traveling to other superheroic games and dispensing his unique brand of justice... or lack thereof.

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