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Dev Blog: Biggest Systems Update Ever!

I am TheArtofRawr, Lead Systems Designer for Marvel Heroes 2016, and it is my special privilege to tell you about some of the exciting new developments we have under way. We’ve been quietly cooking up a storm here on the design team, and we will be revealing a host of great upgrades across many systems in the coming weeks. Did I mention that this will be the biggest systems update in the history of the game? Well, it is, and we are quite excited about what’s in store. Over the course of several game updates (and associated blogs explaining them in more detail), we will be modifying or retrofitting these core game systems:

  • Hero Power Updates
  • Item Updates
  • Omega System Updates
  • Personal Difficulty Slider

Today, we wanted to take a moment to share with you about the flagship for this fleet of upgrades – the Hero Power Updates.


“Quality of Life” updates have been the topic of discussion for almost the entire lifetime of Marvel Heroes. Over the years, we continually update Heroes as we develop new ideas and new technologies. This was done most notably for our “Level 52 Reviews,” and we’ve executed others for some heroes on a more occasional basis. But for this update, every Hero is being updated at once, in one single patch.

That’s right. Every single Hero in the game will be receiving a design update. All. At. Once. Naturally, we are spending more time on this project than most of our previous updates. In this post, we will be discussing three systems involved in this endeavor: Power Points, Talents, and Traits. Let’s start with Power Points.

Power Points

One of our main design goals for this suite of Hero updates is to offer more meaningful choices in character builds, and we want players to be able to understand and make those choices easily. In other words, we want to enable you to more quickly dive into playing your Heroes the way you want to play them, without spending a lot of time “balancing your Power Point checkbook.”

With that in mind, we’ve made things as direct and simple as possible. Powers will now have the benefits of maximum Power Points allotment incorporated directly into their base stats (scaling with your level), rendering Power Points obsolete. With this change, all Powers will be fully viable immediately upon unlock. When you unlock a Power, you don’t need to re-allocate Power Points to try it out at full potency. With this system, just slot it on your Power bar and go to town!

But what about Items? With the removal of Powers Points from Heroes, those types of bonus are being removed from all items, and all of those items are being updated with other types of bonuses to ensure that their relative power stays fairly constant. There are many other exciting additions in store for Items, but more details regarding that are coming in the Items Update blog, so stay tuned!


One of the most successful features in Heroes is Specializations, which you may recall are modifiers to Powers that can radically change the way a Power functions, both mechanically and visually. In this update, we’re taking that notion a step further by introducing Talents. Instead of one or two Specializations, every Hero will have 5 sets of Talents. The combination of Talents you choose from each set will result in all new customization possibilities for each Hero.

So with the update, Talents have effectively replaced Specializations, ensuring all Heroes have an enticing number of progression and customization options available, though the details of what their Talents do will vary wildly from Hero to Hero.

Talents will unlock as you level your Hero, offering choices over time as you learn the nuances of your abilities. They can range from passive bonuses, to mechanic changes, to completely removing a Power from your Power tree and replacing it with a new one. These Talents occupy the Hero’s third Power tree, with all Active skills being migrated to the first two trees.


Traits are passives “native” to a Hero at level one and remain constant throughout their progression. These serve to help reinforce the theme of the character by outlining their power set, and also serve as itemization vectors by giving you an idea of what item affixes you should seek out. All Heroes will have one Defensive and Offensive Trait. In the last year or more of Hero updates, we’ve been trending toward this system already, merging passives together so the source of passive power for a given goal (DPS or survivability) is visible in one place. Traits are the new expression of these passives, but are in a common location for all heroes, easing the understanding of a new character.

Defensive Traits contain the defensive “archetype” of a Hero, which was established in the Defense System Update last year–a bonus multiplier to two scaling defensive layers (Defense, Deflect, Dodge), and a bit of those ratings to get you started. They also house the Melee or Hybrid damage reduction mechanics normally found in defensive passives. Lastly, each Defensive Trait will also contain one flavorful affix for the Hero, reinforcing the character theme.

Offensive Traits contain a new offensive “archetype”, similar to the defensive ones that were set up last year. Each Hero will have two Attributes selected for them, and all damage output will be increased based on how high you are able to scale those two Attributes. This means that Heroes will be able to itemize for the Attributes that are flavorful to the Hero and be rewarded for doing so. While Fighting will still be the baseline best for pure offense, characters like The Hulk should probably itemize for Durability and Strength since he will get much more damage as a result, which makes the most sense for the character. The values for Attributes will also be changing with this update, with the goal of making all Attributes useful for all Heroes, so you don’t mind if you end up focusing on something other than Fighting.

Offense Traits will also contain a flavorful offensive affix based on the Hero’s former offensive passives. Critical Rating will not be included as part of these Traits – instead, all Heroes now have a base chance to critically hit at level 1.

Finally, some Heroes may also have a Mechanic Trait, which serves as a better method of explaining alternate Primary Resources, Secondary Resources, or just complicated mechanics that deserve a dedicated Power to explain them. These Mechanic Traits only serve to establish how a Hero's unique mechanics work, and do not confer any actual stats or effects.


Let’s take a look at some concrete examples. First off, the Human Torch:

Torch’s new Offensive Trait encourages him to itemize for Energy and Speed, which are his best innate Attributes (and the most iconic for someone of his Power set), and his Defensive Trait has combined two former passives into one, increasing his Deflect and Dodge ratings.

In the center of those lies a Trait to explain his new Mechanic, an all-new Primary Resource called Heat.

Heat is a new type of resource unique to Human Torch. By default, no powers ever spend heat–you can use anything, anytime, unrestricted (much like Deadpool or Hulk). Heat starts off empty, and builds up over time when any enemy is burning from Human Torch’s burn effects. When Heat reaches maximum, Torch enters an Overheat state, and most of his powers will now spend heat to perform additional effects. While Overheated, Torch moves faster and leaves behind a trail of fire wherever he goes, but cannot generate more Heat while in this state. After Heat has been completely spent, Torch returns to normal and begins building up towards Overheat again.

Below the Traits, Human Torch now has 5 sets of Talents, which can augment powers, change his Heat mechanics, passively provide bonuses, and much more. Let’s take a look at a couple:

Flame Wave transforms Scorching Wall into a different power, which sends forth a wide wave of flame, coating enemies in fire. This is a talent for those who may not enjoy Scorching Wall’s static placement and who prefer a more active playstyle.

Human Torch’s Fiery Uppercut has been upgraded in his Talent Update to Flame Tornado - a powerful mid-range attack, with a far greater radius than its former punch version.

If Flame Tornado is a power you enjoy using, consider augmenting it with the Cyclone talent, which spawns a moving Flame Tornado for a short duration, incinerating enemies at it travels.

By utilizing Talents to tailor your Hero to your unique preferences and playstyle, you can customize your Human Torch to play very differently than someone else’s Human Torch.

As mentioned before, new Ultimate powers are also on the table as part of a Hero’s Talent Update. Here’s a preview of one of my personal favorites–Luke Cage’s brand new Ultimate power.

Lastly, we’ll show you some of the changes to a Hero who has been on the lower end of the hero quality spectrum for a while: Loki.

Loki has received more updates than most Heroes given his age and length of time from his last patch. He’s been granted a brand new first tree, incorporating many magic sources from the Nine Realms - not just Jotunheim. New spells, sourced from the magics of Muspelheim, Asgard, and Hel help to round out Loki’s power kit. One example is Spirits of the Dead, a spell which conjures dark magic spirits from Hel to seek out enemies.

Spirits of the Dead, among other powers, enchant his sword–Laevateinn–with magic, creating an all-new potential Melee build for Loki.

If fire is more your style, try out the Searing Embers talent, which transforms Spirits of the Dead into a Muspelheim-fire-flinging version of the same power, which hits multiple enemies at a time.

And of course, enchants Laevateinn with a fiery effect.

And to top it all off, Loki’s Frost Giant Form has been replaced with a new Ultimate, utilizing the grandiose power of the Norn Stones to devastate enemies.

As you can see, we are talking about an extensive set of changes for this update, and many Heroes have received all new mechanics as a result, which takes us to our next talking point...

Streamlined Design

While we’re in the process of such a broad update, this is a perfect time to streamline a major base underlying system to enhance the usability of these brand new Talent choices, while simultaneously shepherding our Heroes into a far better state of balance.

In the last year or more of Hero designs, we have been using a combination of shared cooldowns, Power effects that do not stack (damage over time, buffs, debuffs), antirequisite Powers, and Specializations that lock layers behind them in order to put a skill cap on Hero Power rotations. To put it simply, we do not feel that needing to press more than 8 active buttons in a rotation is enjoyable for the vast majority of players, and it needlessly adds complexity without adding any real depth. It also makes balance impossible when some Heroes have access to far more layers of damage than others in a given build. Let me explain that last bit with a design question:

“Ignoring melee/ranged differences and mobility, purely theoretically - If Doctor Strange uses 11 different power buttons, and Colossus uses 6, should Doctor Strange deal more damage?”

Either answer to this question is unhealthy for the game’s balance. If the answer is yes, Doctor Strange will always be strictly better than Colossus. If the answer is no, then Doctor Strange has to utilize more brainspace and perfect skill in order to get the same output as Colossus, since his maximum damage potential is only realized if he uses all 11 buttons given to him. Real balance becomes nigh impossible to attain so long as this problem is present. We want to make awesome Powers for every Hero, but we don’t want you to feel like you have to use every single one in order to be at maximum effectiveness.

The solution was clear, and has been clear for some time, but it could only be paired with a very large-scale Hero design change such as these Hero Talent Updates. The restrictions we had been trying to install on a per-Hero basis needed to be a clear part of the game’s mechanics, so we can freely design Heroes without trying to solve core game issues in the Powers system.

The intended play dynamic from the Hero Talent Updates is to choose and slot eight Powers that you enjoy and want to use, and five Talents that will support those decisions. This will get you to the meat of the game much faster than tediously assigning Power points and scrolling through multiple action bars during combat.

With those things in mind, we have removed the second and third action bars, but in the same breath, removed almost all cases of shared cooldowns, non-stacking effects, Specializations locking Powers, and antirequisites. You have full freedom to choose the 8 Powers you want to use, and the Talents to create your build in total. We’ve already removed Travel Powers as a Power bar slot, and in this pass, have also done the same with Cleanse Powers. Movement Powers (such as Dashes and Teleports) will now immediately free you of crowd control effects, so there is no more need for a dedicated active slot for Cleanse effects.

The Hero Talent Updates project is being spearheaded by @MichaelMayhem and the Powers design team, who have a solid track record of performing Hero updates in the past. As we proceed forward, he’ll be answering questions and detailing some of the upcoming changes to specific Heroes.

When Is It Coming?

This is just the first of many holistic, game-wide upgrades in the works, each aimed at engendering more meaningful choices for each Hero and reinforcing visceral gameplay. The sum of these changes will unequivocally be the biggest update since launch! In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing a lot more dev blogs like this about the other updates on the docket. Next on our list: Items!

As for the actual Hero updates themselves, we plan to open up a Test Center build with many (if not all) Heroes available to test in October. This timeline may change, but we wanted to give you some insights about what is in the works. Keep an eye out for the next dev blog to find out more details!


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