Farewell Marvel Heroes, Hello Warframe

It’s been a while since I was so immersed in a game that it caused me to lose all track of time. And yet Warframe, a story-light shooter of all things, sucked me in over the weekend and, before I knew it, I had been playing for over four hours.

Oddly enough, the reason why I gave Warframe another try was because of Marvel Heroes. I was reading some forum and comment threads about what people were replacing the game with. Of course, there were a lot of people saying that there’s nothing out there to replace it, because a lot of the charm of Marvel Heroes was wrapped up in the Marvel name. I expected to see a lot of Path of Exile–both games are shameless, online Diablo clones, after all–but I was surprised to see Warframe popping up just as often, if not more so. Warframe is obviously a who different genre than Marvel Heroes, so at first it feels kind of strange, but beyond that, it actually has a lot of similarities. Both games are sort-of-but-not-quite MMORPGs with a lot of mindless action. They’re both heavily instanced, with random group matching, or not if you like playing solo. They both have a ton of “classes”–52 Warframes to Marvel Heroes’ 63 heroes–and both games have excellent free to play models, with all of those classes being earned in game or bought with money. And, as I thought about it, I realized that that was one of my favorite things about Marvel Heroes; it fed into my altaholism in the same way that Warframe had the potential to do. Another thing that both games have in common is that they’re both kind of hard to get into, so it took a couple of attempts, but now I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

I’m still mourning the untimely loss of Marvel Heroes, but at least some good came out of it. I had dabbled in Warframe before, but I wouldn’t have given it as serious a look if I hadn’t read so many glowing reviews of it from ex Marvel Heroes players.

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Alas, Poor Marvel Heroes! I Knew Him


Well, it’s official. Marvel Heroes is dead, or at least it soon will be. Of all the MMOs I have played over the years, I never would have guessed this would be the first to go. It’s never been one of my main games, but it’s always been something I come back to from time to time. It’s the perfect game to pick up a new character, blow some stuff up, and move on. No big time commitment, not a lot to think about, just punching bad guys. There aren’t many MMOs that do that well. Back in 2013, I wasn’t a big Marvel fan (I hadn’t even seen most of the movies at that point), but I was fresh off of an obsession with Torchlight II, and was just thinking how cool a Torchlight MMO would be when I saw an announcement for Marvel Heroes. I was initially excited about it because of the kind of game it was, but later I recognized what a perfect game it was for the IP, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been as interested in the Marvelverse as I am if it hadn’t been for this game. Marvel Heroes educated me about a lot of Marvel characters–Rocket Raccoon, Deadpool, Captain Marvel, and, most importantly, Squirrel Girl–long before they showed up in movies or TV shows. Translating comic book characters to ARPG power sets sounds almost as fun to design as it is to play. There will never be another game quite like it.

I was sick yesterday morning when the news hit Massively Overpowered, so I immediately logged in, and there were a lot of mixed reactions. At that time, the official forum announcement hadn’t yet been made, so a lot of people were in denial about it, even coming from legitimate sources like MassivelyOP and Kotaku. Most were stunned or sad. Some people were angry, perhaps rightfully so for those who had just dropped money into the game with little hope of a refund. I feel worst for the console players, who had already been a bit price gouged, and now won’t even get to enjoy their purchase for a whole year before it’s unceremoniously ripped away from them.

I’ll keep the game installed, but I don’t know how much I’ll play before the lights go out December 31st. I’d like to get a couple characters to cap, just to say I did it. I was never good at sticking with a character, especially once I had most or all of my skills unlocked. The whole thing is really sad. We aren’t even clear at this time on why it’s happening; some say it’s because of harassment accusations leveled at the CEO, some say it’s due to lack of money. Maybe a bit of both. I don’t really care what the reason is, I just know I’m going to really miss this game.

You know, in hindsight, we really should have seen this coming. I’m not talking about the lack of communication or legal allegations, I’m not even talking about what a terrible track record superhero MMOs have, I’m talking about back in Spring when they changed the game’s name to “Marvel Heroes: Omega,” and then announced that Ragnarök would be coming. Clear signs of the end times for this game.
…too soon?

How To Ensure I Never Come Back To Your MMO

Ever feel like it’s too much work to go back to a game you used to enjoy? Like games have put up as many road blocks as they can to prevent you from coming back and possibly giving them money? I feel like I’ve been running into that a lot lately in some of my favorite games. Here are a few of the biggest ways to ensure that I won’t be coming back to your MMO any time soon.

Merge Your Servers and Don’t Give Me Slots
Let’s start with the bantha in the room. I logged into Star Wars The Old Republic the night after the server mergers and was greeted with the above. All thirty eight of my characters merged down to one server, with only nineteen character slots. Guess I’m not going to be making any new characters on that game ever again. On top of that, maybe a third of my characters had name conflicts. Granted, some of those were “vanity” names I’ve had since launch that I knew I was going to lose, but some of them are randomly generated names that just happen to collide with someone, somewhere. Now I have to come up with new names that still fit the character that I’ve grown attached to with a name that I can no longer have. The really crazy thing is that, for a couple of my oldest characters, this will be the third time I’ve had to rename them due to server mergers. I ended up just logging out without even activating any of them, and I don’t feel particularly motivated to try again.

Nerf Your Free to Play Model
While I’m ranting about SWTOR, let’s talk about their free-to-play model. When they went free-to-play, they didn’t have the best model, but it was passable. The purple gear restriction was annoying, but at least there’s an account wide unlock. The dungeon and raid restrictions were dumb, but at least there were weekly passes that could be bought from the cash shop or other players. The credit cap was harsh, and to this day it doesn’t really do anything to stop bots, as is its (supposed) purpose. I was hoping that one day they might dial all of it back some, especially that last one, given that their business model is now primarily build around lockboxes (which isn’t on this list, but really could be), but I was sadly disappointed. With Knights of the Eternal Throne, they unified everything in this Command XP thing that’s only available to subscribers. The idea is good–you can get endgame gear by filling a Command XP bar, and there are a variety of different endgame activities that give Command XP, so you can pick and choose what game type you enjoy most–except that it tells free-to-play players that they might as well not waste their time playing this game, pretty much guaranteeing that I won’t ever be back seriously.

Go Radio Silent
When all lines of communication out of your studio suddenly go dark, you lose a lot of consumer confidence. This is what’s currently going on over at Marvel Heroes. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, your players are over here assuming the worst. And, given the track record of superhero MMOs being shut down or shelved with no warning, players probably have a right to panic.

Never Add Solo PvE Content
Ah, WildStar, how I miss thee. But there’s only so much time I can spend doing dailies in Arcterra before I get bored. There are only so many times that I have fun can rolling new characters. Yes, WildStar has added new group content, but group content is something that I can only do at specific times, and only when I feel like interacting with my guild. Solo content is something that I can do at any time, which is a lot more likely to keep me interested in the game.

Add Content That Leaves Me Behind
This is a weird one, and it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I come back to a game and just so much has changed that it takes a lot to get me back into it. Usually games are smart about just tacking things onto the end of the game–level cap bumps and such–but I can think of two instances when this has kept me out of games. One is RuneScape, and that was a matter of years of updates under new leadership. In the time that I was away from that game, there was a combat overhaul, a graphics overhaul, and several new skills introduced, not to mention the massive economic changes. The other is Marvel Heroes, with their “biggest update ever.” Every single character had their skills completely redone, meaning that players basically had to relearn how to play each character. To make matters worse, they also handed out a lot of compensation boxes, meaning that it was a few hours before I was able to dig out my inventory and bank and actually get to the point where I could play those freshly reworked characters.

Looking Back At April, Ahead To May

April turned out to be a busy and stressful month for me, with a lot of short gaming sessions and not much worth writing about. Still, I covered a lot of ground, so I thought I’d check in with what I’ve been doing.

Master X Master
So this one was a surprise. I’m not really into MOBAs at all, and when I saw this title announced, I pretty much ignored it. It’s just NCsoft jumping on the bandwagon, right? Yawn. But, to prove the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, in the midst of the announcement of Statesman as a playable character, and the (predictable and wholly understandable) outrage that followed, I heard some people talking about how great its PvE game is. Bite-sized PvE dungeon runs with a wide variety of characters/classes? That I can get excited about. I felt a little bad for supporting a game that stomped all over what little hope there was for a City of Heroes revival (not that there was much hope to stomp on at this point), but I’m really glad I tried it. My favorite moment was running the Ascalonian Catacombs Dimensional Rift, which is surprisingly accurate to the Guild Wars 2 dungeon. I’ve never played any of NCsoft’s other games, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the dungeons from their games, but this one really impressed me. I’m considering buying a founder’s pack, but we’ll see.

The Elder Scrolls Online
Apparently controversy has been following me around the MMOverse this month, because I managed to get back into ESO right as a big kerfuffle erupted involving a bunch of nerfs coming with the expansion, which many players believe are simply to prop up the new Warden class. I’m a super casual ESO player, so maybe I’d be more bothered by this if it was one of my main games, but it seems to me that this is mostly just MMO players complaining about MMO class balance. Nothing new to see here. Honestly, I’m not too worried about it; MMO class balance is always in flux. What’s good this month won’t be next month and vice versa. That’s the great thing about MMOs; there’s always a chance for studios to fix their mistakes (and make new ones). What is different about it is that, back in my day, players would go to the forums and throw a temper tantrum until they hit the post size limit, and the average person didn’t really notice unless they went to the forums looking for it. Nowadays, with the popularity and accessibility of streaming and YouTube videos, certain players have been given much higher visibility than they used to have (some of them were even promoted by Zenimax, according to someone in zone chat), and when those players ragequit, people notice.
Ironically, the classes getting hit hardest with the nerfbat are the healer templar and the stamina DPS nightblade, which are my two main characters, but I’m not worried because the Warden looks super fun and I would probably be dropping my current characters in favor of the Warden even if it was garbage. At the rate I progress through ESO content, there will probably be two or three balance patches before I get half way through the expansion anyway.

Lord of the Rings Online
I started out strong with LotRO in April, but ended up tapering off in favor of Elder Scrolls later in the month. Man, I forgot how clunky the Legendary Item system is. It’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t seem very well designed. I did make it back for some of the anniversary festivities. I’m too low level for most of the 10th year scavenger hunt stuff, but I did the usual firework launching and pub brawling activities. I’m excited that this year’s mount selection included a fast goat. I’m all set for Moria now!

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
I’ve been playing Zelda a lot lately, more than I expected. I “beat” the game (that is, finished the final boss), more because I didn’t want to go into it super overpowered than for the actual feeling of completion. I’ve continued to put a decent amount of time into it, and I’m still discovering new things. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite single player game from Nintendo. Yes, I think I even prefer it to Metroid Prime, which is saying something (though Metroid can feel free to take that title back any time now…).

Mass Effect Andromeda
I became a big Mass Effect fan fairly recently, and binged through the trilogy. I was pretty excited when Andromeda was announced, with its return to its RPG roots and more open, explorable maps, but it really hasn’t drawn me in. I like the game, but it just doesn’t grab me the way I thought it would. I don’t know if it’s the writing, or the design, or even just the awkward interface and longish load screens, but something about it just feels less engaging than the other games in the series. Granted, it took me a while to warm up to the beginning of some of the other games as well, so maybe I just need to push through, but so far I’ve put way less time in this game than I expected.

Plans for May
So that’s what I did in April. In May, I’d like to get more time in Elder Scrolls Online, hopefully getting a character to cap by the time Morrowind comes out. I’d also like to get some more time in LotRO, hopefully digging a little deeper into Moria (pun intended). Guild Wars 2 will certainly get some time as well, with the new Living World episode and accompanying zone to explore. Star Wars the Old Republic has been calling to me, as it often does when I play another BioWare game, but I’m more interested in playing through the story and then leaving than actually doing anything MMOish. I also just recently found out that OldSchool RuneScape is available to free players (it probably has been for a while, but when it launched it was originally going to be for subscribers only and didn’t realize that had changed), so I’ve been toying with the idea of giving that a try. Trying to go back to the live game is, for whatever reason, completely uninteresting to me, but going back to the game I knew and loved more than ten (!) years ago sounds appealing. I don’t know if I’ll ever sub up, but it would be fun to roam the world and noob it up for a while.

When MMOs Need An Overhaul

MMOs are somewhat unique in that they are, by nature, persistent and ever changing and expanding. Single player games may come out with a few expansions or DLCs, but other than that, the developers generally scrap everything and create a sequel. In MMOs, however, you can’t really scrap anything, you have to constantly add new content if you want to keep players happy and coming back for more. This is one of the things that I love about the genre, but it also creates a problem. Sooner or later, the game gets bogged down in so many things–progression systems, extra gear slots, gear augmentation, etc.–that, at some point, it really starts to overwhelm new and returning players–sometimes even consistent players who don’t spend a lot of time reading forums and wikis and the like–and it really needs and overhaul. Marvel Heroes’ new 2.0 update (“Biggest Update Ever”) got me thinking about this. I had a big post written about the update that I never posted, partly because, to talk about all of the changes, it ended up being a mile long, but also because it ended up sounding more like a review, and there are people out there who can do that a lot better than I can. To summarize, I really like the update as a whole, I can also see where it went wrong in a few places, but most of all, this was a totally necessary change that, aside from a few hiccups, was handled more or less in the best way possible. So, I’ll be using Marvel Heroes as a case study to talk about overhauls in general.

If at all possible, updates should be done a little at a time. Overhaul one system, then, when that’s settled down, overhaul another. Marvel Heroes, for example, reviewed and overhauled one older hero a month for years. This approach is great because it allows the team to focus on one thing at a time, and it keeps panic down in the community. Speaking of community, they often know the state of the gameplay better than its developers do, so involving them as much as possible as early as reasonably possible is ideal. From what I’ve heard, this is something Marvel Heroes didn’t do so great at with 2.0, but hopefully they’ll take feedback into consideration for future updates. Sometimes, as is the case in Marvel Heroes’ most recent update, you really have to overhaul everything at once (you can’t just rework the whole way power work one hero at a time, and while you’re shaking up hero’s powers is the only really good time to redo the rather arcane and convoluted Omega system), and, when that’s the case, it needs to be communicated early and often.

When a massive update needs to happen all at once, the developers need to sit down and figure out what needs changed, what needs streamlined, and what needs removed altogether, and focus on that alone. I like that Marvel Heroes didn’t pair this update with a new content expansion; they just worked on streamlining the game and balancing all of the classes, and that’s pretty much it. Not only does it allow more crucial manpower to go into the overhaul part, but it also disassociates the overhaul from any other added content. For instance, I heard a lot of negativity about WoW Cataclysm, not because the endgame content was bad, but because it streamlined and accelerated the leveling process, removing and changing a lot of content from the beginning of the game that people knew and loved. As a non-WoW player who knows several WoW players, I don’t really know a whole lot about what Cataclysm added; I mainly know about what it took away.

At the end of the day, no matter what you do, someone’s going to hate it. It’s best to just resign yourself to that fact, both as a developer, and as a player. People who are content don’t tend to get on forums and write lengthy posts about how the update is nice, or at least marginally better than what we had before. It’s the people who are upset that their favorite class isn’t as OP as it used to be, or who have some reason why they liked the game better when it was inaccessible to new players, that will stamp their feet and threaten to leave the game forever if something isn’t done about it by next patch.

I know all of this is much easier said than done. I’m actually in the process of developing a single-player RPG with a friend right now, and just balancing that is hard enough, I can’t imagine a game with sixty classes that’s constantly being picked apart by min/maxers. I know video games are made by companies with higher-ups that aren’t always as interested in what’s best for the game so much as what’s best for the bottom line, and sometimes the only way you’re going to get funding approved for a major systems overhaul is if you bundle it with a paid expansion or other major content drop. But overall, I think Marvel Heroes has done a good job managing this update, and I’ve been really enjoying it so far.

Marvel Heroes: Anniversary Apathy

I hate it when games that I’m not currently playing run events. Take Marvel Heroes for example. It’s a great game, and I enjoy playing it from time to time, but right now I just want to play WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online (yes, it’s sticking more than I initially thought it would… more on that another day). But Marvel Heroes is running its third anniversary event this month, and, as its players know, that always means lots of free goodies and, more importantly, massive XP boosts. I feel like I should take advantage of this opportunity to level a few of my characters and grind enough cake slices for a free hero ticket. I’ve got several characters around 35 or 40 that kind of stalled, and I should probably at least get them to 50 for their second synergy boost. Also there really aren’t any new heroes that I’m excited about at the moment. I’m planning on buying Ultron and Nick Fury when they come out, but, of course, that doesn’t help me now. A while back I considered picking up Green Goblin, but I’ve literally only seen him once, and that was in a hub, so I’m guessing he’s not much fun. I also got Black Cat from a pack, but have yet to do anything with her, so I guess that’s an option, but she doesn’t really seem like my type of character.

I’m generally feeling really apathetic toward the game right now, playing a little each day because I know that at some future date I will be mad at myself if I don’t take advantage of the XP boost and get at least one hero ticket. I hate this feeling of obligation to a game–it’s a game after all, it should be something I do for fun and not because I have to–but I hate the idea of missing getting something that I want for free even more. Fortunately the event runs all month, so hopefully I’ll be able to do a little each day and get everything I want by the end.

Licensed IP MMOs Aren’t A Bad Thing

Licensed MMOs
I saw a player proclaiming in Guild Wars 2 the other day that he or she would never play a game based on an unoriginal intellectual property. Their reasoning was the usual; since the creators do not “own” the story, they are limited in what they can do with the lore. It also opens the developers up to all sorts of criticism for “breaking lore” (don’t bring up the Rune-Keeper in LotRO global chat; it’s still a huge sore spot in the community over seven years later). As someone who just got back into Lord of the Rings Online for the umpteenth time, I actually disagree with this rather strongly. While ultimately gameplay is what makes a game good or bad, I think a licensed IP can actually be a really good thing for a game.

The License Sells The Game
Let be honest, MMOs are businesses, businesses need to market their products, and brand recognition is huge. I know it’s hard to imagine, but there are people out there–gamers even–who have never played an MMORPG and know absolutely nothing about Guild Wars, EverQuest, or possibly even (gasp) World of Warcraft. Those people, however, can probably identify several super heroes and have seen at least some of the Star Wars movies. Unless this hypothetical person has a friend who plays, there’s not much of a chance a game like Guild Wars 2 will catch their eye at Walmart, but if they recognize a franchise they like they’re significantly more likely to give it a try.

Many Players Already Know The Lore
I still feel fairly lost as to the lore of Guild Wars 2 after playing it for a couple of years, but as soon as I stepped into Lord of the Rings Online, I already knew the world because I had read the books and seen the movies (yes, in that order). The enjoyment in exploring Tyria is discovering new locations, whereas the enjoyment of exploring Middle-Earth is all of the moments that make you say “Oh! These are the trolls that Bilbo defeated!” or “Hey, this is the spot where Frodo got stabbed by a Nazgul!” or “Man, the Old Forest is a huge pain to find your way around in, just like Tolkien described it!” Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but I tend to prefer the latter a little, mainly because I don’t have to trawl dev posts and wikis to learn the lore. The game may have to fill me in on the current political climate of The Old Republic era or the fallout of the destruction of Romulus, but the game world at large is already familiar to me long before launch day.

Storytelling Limitations Aren’t Necessarily Bad
Licensed IPs are like the storytelling equivalent to Twitter; some people prefer it because of its limitations. And really, it’s not that limiting. There are still plenty of stories to be told in the Marvel universe or the Star Wars universe. If there weren’t, there wouldn’t be an ongoing franchise beyond the game. Furthermore, the vast majority of the individual writers, even in a game with an original IP, have a story pretty much handed to them. They may have the freedom to add a few minor characters or create events that change the world in small ways, but for the most part, by the time the game is a few years old the people who wrote the original story likely doesn’t even work there anymore, and if they do, you can be they don’t write every day-to-day quest added into the game. At that point the writers for a game based on an original IP is basically the same boat as someone who’s writing a story for a game whose IP is owned by a major movie studio. Yes, there may be more red tape and approval process for the licensed game, but either way they don’t have total freedom/

All of that said, I agree that there are downsides to licensed IPs. The biggest and most obvious downfall is the license itself. If Lord of the Rings Online was an original game it could go on indefinitely, maybe shifting into maintenance mode at some point, but still there for the loyalists to hang out in. I don’t mean to bring this up every time I post about LotRO, but its Tolkien license comes up for renewal next year, and I think there’s a real question as to whether or not all parties involved will feel like it’s worth their time and money to renew it. The other downside is that, for every player the IP attracts, there will be one more that it pushes away, like the player mentioned at the start of this post. I’ve played some pretty awful movie tie in shovelware games in my day, and I can see why players would associate those games with games like LotRO, SWTOR, or DCUO.