Monday, April 27, 2015

Marvel Mighty Heroes

When DeNA's Marvel Mighty Heroes (MMH) launched late last month (March 2015), I was immediately on board. After quitting Avengers Alliance after nearly two yearsof solid play and consistently winning at the top prize PvP tiers, I got tired of its time-consuming grind just to keep up. MMH promised quick matches with simple controls and cutesy graphics. It seemed like the perfect alternative.

Avengers Alliance is a time suck. Hours and hours of daily play with heroes I didn't like in costumes I hated were required just to keep up with new hero releases, collection quests, and a stingy RNG rates for critical equipment and premium currency. All this not to lose out on the opportunity (no guarantee) to acquire the next game-breaking setup. PvP was the worst example of play-to-win I've ever seen where obscene dumps of premium currency before each cycle bought huge numerical bonuses that practically guaranteed victory. And then there was the constant chase to play and defend against PvP metas that felt more like dirty cheats than strategy. I definitely don't recommend Avengers Alliance, especially for new players. After I quit, I looked for something fun but with less commitment than a second job.

I started with DeNA's Transformers Tactics (TFT). I liked the simple gameplay, SDF-Funko style graphics, and the hero collection aspects, along with the basic strategy elements. What I didn't like was the Transformers lore. I'd always been more of a comic book geek prone to the "make mine Marvel" slogan. I thought to myself "wouldn't this game be great but with Avengers and X-Men?" When I saw the announcement for Marvel Mighty Heroes from the same company behind TFT, I was over the moon.

Marvel Mighty Heroes is of a different stripe than Transformers Tactics. Whereas TFT runs a simplified JRPG style turn-based combat system, MMH is an action-packed top-down coop-competitive brawler. You pick a team of 3 heroes from your roster and join three other players in short (most last between 60 and 90 seconds), objective-based rounds. The coop part comes from the joint efforts needed to complete certain goals like defending 3 maguffins from waves of enemies for about a minute or trying to take down the issue boss. The competitive element comes from trying to deal the most damage in that round to earn a higher share of the Event Points (EPs) awarded at the end.

Gameplay is simple and intuitive. You move by tapping on a spot on the screen you want to go to. Tap an enemy and you'll start auto-attacking. Each hero can gain up to three special abilities by unlocking "suits" (alternate costumes based on Marvel events). Using them is as simple as tapping one of the three  icons on the right side of the screen. Some abilities then require you to aim by tapping a direction away from your hero on the screen. Swapping between heroes in your roster is as easy as tapping their picture icon on the left-hand side. Special abilities have different rates of cool downs but tagging in a new hero starts a global countdown for replacements.

However, the gameplay is quite buggy after four weeks. Your character doesn't always move in the direction you tap or move at all. Sometimes dodge rolls will take you right back into the danger you swiped away from. Auto-attacks don't always initiate when your hero moves into range. And special abilities won't always fire when you tap the icon and aim. These bugs can be frustrating and can often cost you first place at the end of the round.

Strategy is a mixture of teaming up your three highest rated (one to five stars) and highest level heroes who have the best abilities (AoE ranges and damages; multiple abilities) and finding the best spot on the map to achieve the objective. For Survival and Defend missions, this usually means camping the enemy spawn points and timing abilities to go off and hit the most foes. Boss battles sometimes require inflicting heavy damage quickly to the boss while dodging (swiping the screen in a direction) incoming damage. Sometimes it means destroying three maguffins before the timer runs out. The best strategy is usually to use a combination of your highest rank suits and that issue's Event Heroes.

The story is broken up into chapters and issues. Chapters are the overarching storyline. Chapter one involves the Kree, Thanos, Ronan the Accuser, and a galaxy-spanning terraforming cum genocide/ecocide plot. Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, as well as 2014s beloved outlaw misfits the Guardians of the Galaxy have stepped in to save the day.

Issues are smaller plots within the larger storyline and correspond with the EPs and Event Heroes. Each issue lasts roughly a week. Players compete in tiered rounds each issue to accumulate EPs to reach milestone awards and jockey higher on the league leaderboards to receive better prizes at the end of the issue. After completing increasing numbers of each game type (Survival, Defend, and Boss Battle), players move into a higher tier that offers a bigger EP multiplier. Your whole team also received a damage multiplier for using the Event Heroes and suits for that issue (x2 for one hero, x3 for two, and x5 if you use all three).

Speaking of heroes and suits, the methods for acquiring new ones will aggravate free to play and paying ones alike. There are three main ways to collect new heroes and suits.

First, every 24 hours, you receive a free random hero roll from the store. This method mostly rewards the lowest rank, 1 star heroes, so you'll fill out that meager pool quickly. You will receive duplicates. The first four suit duplicates you get will upgrade the special ability associated with that suit (up to a max level of 5). After that, you receive a small amount of ISO-8 for duplicates. ISO-8 is used to level up special abilities but the ISO-8 costs for second and third tier abilities is so prohibitively high and the amount of ISO-8 you receive is such a pittance that you won't really be using this method much to improve your special abilities. You can receive heroes rated higher than 1 stars but it's rare. In the 30 days or so since I've started playing, I've only received three 2 star heroes from the daily draw.

Second, you receive new heroes for reaching certain EP milestones per issue and finishing in certain ranks in higher ranked leagues. This method will slowly fill the rosters of most free to play players. 

Lower EP milestones, around 10,000 EPs, have awarded 2 star heroes so far. Higher milestones, around 250,000 EPs, have gifted 3 star heroes. Sometimes this higher milestone hero and suit is also one of the Event Heroes for the current issue. Using that hero in that suit on your team nets you a 2x damage multiplier which helps you get into first or second place and collect more EPs.

Players who finish the issue in the top half of the top league, vibranium, will receive a 4 star hero. This hero in this suit will be the Event Hero for the next issue. They also receive a second hero, usually a 2 or 3 star hero.

Third, you can buy a random hero in suit using the premium in-game currency "cash". The basic buy is 500 cash, or US $5, per random draw. On the plus side, this random guarantees at least a 3 star hero. However, you're not guaranteed a new hero or suit per draw. I've heard you still only collect neglible ISO-8 from 5 star duplicates. Acquiring cash without spending real money means playing many, many rounds to hit high EP milestones (200,000 EPs or more) and unlocking certain achievements but there is about 400 cash up for grabs each issue for players with lots of time and/or high-damage teams.

Your best bet is to spend your cash at the beginning of each issue in the first couple of steps of the Premium ladder. Sometimes you'll get a steep discount on the first few steps (300 cash for one hero then 700 cash for three, meaning you get four 3 star or better draws for the price of two) and sometimes it's not cheaper but you get a little extra (500 cash buys you a draw plus XP canisters).

Overall, the game is fun and quick. There is still a lot of work to be done rebalancing the extremely low value of duplicates in terms of ISO-8 and the exorbitant ISO-8 costs to rank up higher-level special abilities. Buying and earning new 3 star and above heroes and suits for strictly free to play players can be painfully slow due to competitive play against players with heroes in higher-tier suits. The devs have promised new game modes in the future.

Right now, on the other hand, I would not recommend trying Marvel Mighty Heroes. A widespread bug has frozen many players out of earning EPs, competing in leagues, and picking up milestone awards. The issue has gone on for over four days now but DeNA is being tightlipped about a potential fix date or compensation for affected accounts. So far, they haven't officially acknowledged the bug on their forums and support has not responded to most tickets about the issue.

All new games have bugs, especially multiplayer games that support cross-platform real-time play. But DeNA's communications blackout to affected players shows a lack of respect to the people who make their jobs possible.

  • simple, intuitive gameplay
  • quick rounds
  • cute art

  • poor communication about bugs and expected fixes
  • buggy controls
  • late round load-ins practically guarantee low scores
  • high costs for new heroes and suits
  • expensive IAP can result neglible in-game play value after too many duplicate draws